Q&A with Canadian guitarist Jack de Keyzer - driven blues around the globe, an artist at his peak powers

"I miss authenticity, I miss blues with a feeling. There’s way too much importance put on how many guitars you have on stage, and what vintage they are, and how fast you can play and  which fancy venue in which country you toured. It’s just faking it- there’s no real feeling there. Rich people playing and buying their way into the blues - I can’t go for that!  No can do."

Jack de Keyzer: Tribute To The Masters

Acclaimed guitarist, singer, songwriter, band leader and producer, Jack de Keyzer rarely sits still. For 46 years or roughly a couple million miles, de Keyzer has been hitting the road, air and studio to bring his brand of guitar driven blues around the globe. With 12 records, 1 DVD, 2 Junos and 7 Maple Blues Awards, de Keyzer delivers the goods wherever, whenever he performs. Playing over 100 shows a year, de Keyzer’s music is steeped in Chicago blues, London England’s (de Keyzer’s birth place) blues rock, Detroit’s Motown, Muscle Shoals deep soul, Memphis’ rock and roll, and Philadelphia’s funky soul jazz. De Keyzer knows firsthand as he has played with many first-generation pioneers of these sounds and styles, Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, Etta James, King Biscuit Boy and Ronnie Hawkins to name a few.                   (Jack de Keyzer / Photo by David McDonald)

His latest recording TRIBUTE (2020) features twelve rousing new original blues, rock and soul songs and pays tribute to the great blues and rock guitar masters, singers and song writers de Keyzer has been influenced and inspired by through the years. A tour de force by an artist at his peak powers. Jack says: "My new album is a musical gift of gratitude, respect, and admiration to the many artists who have and still inspire me. I’m not trying to copy anyone, these are all original. It’s a wild , loud and proud, rock n roll , blues and soul album! I think you’ll dig it." See and hear Jack de Keyzer with his incredible band on the TRIBUTE tour.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I grew up in the era of hippies and psychedelia and very liberal views and I haven’t really changed through the years. I’m peace and love guy.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound is very blues oriented with strong elements of British blues rock. I grew up with the Beatles the Rolling Stones and a few later years later, when I’d been playing the guitar for a couple of years I was heavily influenced by Clapton, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and a few years after that Led Zeppelin. A few years after that I became very influenced by the original blues people starting with Robert Johnson, and a lot of the Chess records Chicago Blues masters. I am also very influenced by soul jazz, hard bop and a lot of the Blue Note jazz musicians.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My first big mentor was a guy from Canada named King Biscuit Boy aka Richard Newell. He had one of the largest blues record collections in Canada and was an internationally acclaimed recording artist singer, songwriter and harmonica player. He turned me onto all the great bluesman, on Chess records, Specialty records, Excello, King, Sun, just to name a few. It was a great education and my first big time pro gig.

"What I love about music is that the possibilities are limitless. I consider myself a lifelong student of music and love every day that I get to play, practice and compose. Music is a never-ending fountain of inspiration."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I played a series of shows with Bo Diddley in the 90s. We were rehearsing at the El Mocambo night club in Toronto getting ready for our first of two nights. He looked at the drummer and said do you know the Bo Diddley beat? The drummer nodded yeah man of course! Bo looked at him and said, ‘don’t play it.’ Because- Bo Diddley played that beat on his guitar! Nobody else was supposed to play that. We all  had to play counterpoint rhythms to what he was playing. I Also played for a week with the incredible Etta James. She called me “the Canadian Keith Richards”, I also got lots of great advice from classic Blues people like Muddy Waters drummer, the late great Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.  Whenever I got too fancy, too high up the neck, or too fast, he’d look at me and say “Take your time son- play the blues” These guys they only played with  feeling -if you can’t play with feeling -you may as well  not play at all! And that’s my little bit of advice.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss authenticity, I miss blues with a feeling. There’s way too much importance put on how many guitars you have on stage, and what vintage they are, and how fast you can play and  which fancy venue in which country you toured. It’s just faking it- there’s no real feeling there. Rich people playing and buying their way into the blues - I can’t go for that! No can do.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Canada. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

The blues scene in Canada is the strongest it’s ever been right now. There are so many great artists. Classic artists like Colin James. Sue Foley is a very good player and singer, my friends in Monkey Junk, Paul  DesLauriers Band, Steve Strongman, Dawn Tyler Watson are all world-class. And also, young up-and-coming guys like Spencer MacKenzie are making great records.

"My sound is very blues oriented with strong elements of British blues rock. I grew up with the Beatles the Rolling Stones and a few later years later, when I’d been playing the guitar for a couple of years I was heavily influenced by Clapton, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and a few years after that Led Zeppelin. A few years after that I became very influenced by the original blues people starting with Robert Johnson, and a lot of the Chess records Chicago Blues masters. I am also very influenced by soul jazz, hard bop and a lot of the Blue Note jazz musicians." (Photo: Jack de Keyzer)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

What I love about music is that the possibilities are limitless. I consider myself a lifelong student of music and love every day that I get to play, practice and compose. Music is a never-ending fountain of inspiration.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Nietzsche said it best, "Life without music would be a mistake". And here’s my quote “Music is the glue that binds us together.”                                                 

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Jimi Hendrix Experience debut at the Bag o’ Nails club in London England November 25, 1966. Every British blues rocker was at that gig, the Rolling Stones, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page, John Mayall. That’s one date I would’ve liked to have been in attendance!

Jack de Keyzer - Home

(Jack de Keyzer / Photo by David McDonald)

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