Q&A with canadian Terry Blankley - music with an honesty and soul that only years of experience can bring

"Jazz and Blues are highly emotional art forms as are any and all types of music."

Terry Blankley: Shallow North Blues

Terry Blankley, AKA TerryB is a Canadian songwriter, singer and keyboard player. He has toured extensively and played on countless recordings. Keyboard based Roots music and Male Vocals. From Blues to Jazz, Cajun Funk to Country, to sizzling Boogie Woogie, his piano and voice sing with an honesty and soul that only years of experience can bring while doing Singles, Duos, Trios up to full bands. A charismatic gigging musician, he has been fortunate to have played, toured and recorded with, and still does an amazing assortment of musicians and musical Styles. His tastes are eclectic as is his product. Has worked everywhere from Vegas to Dublin, played The Grand Ol' Opry and was a piano player on the Opry North Radio Show (Toronto). Terry presently is working with Jazz saxophonist Bruce Gorrie. His understanding of the blues and respect for the tradition behind the blues is apparent in every song. Most have the feel of acoustic blues or of the sort of electro-acoustic sound we often heard in the Fifties.

He owns a small studio and records local artists from this area and also mentors young inspiring musicians. Having held down three top ten spots in the Australian Indie Jazz Charts, at the same time, including the number one chart topper, "Money Talks" (from the DRMS Award nominated Blues Roots C.D. Money Talks) Terry Blankley is the epitome of a fine Canadian Artist/composer. A credit to his versatility, Terry B, is equally at home writing and performing a wide range of musical styles. He remains the ultimate industry outsider, giving a myriad of musicians the benefit of the musical knowledge seated deep in his bones, yet also a devoted family man, content to live in the area of Oshawa, Ontario. Terry was born and raised in Saskatchewan and Toronto and has lived in a lot of cities including Winnipeg, Calgary, Dublin Ireland, and L.A. USA.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Jazz n’ Blues music and culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Jazz and Blues are highly emotional art forms as are any and all types of music. My Mother was a piano player and when I was born she was doing as many as 6, one nighters a week while holding down a day job as well. The earliest things I recall involve piano music and at the age of three I remember a new Piano at our house and a recording being made by a machine that turned a record and the sound was etched into it in real time. I lost that record somewhere and I still remember the tune, it was “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington and I interrupted it telling somebody “That’s a Pinaneeo”. I aspired then, to play and almost succeeded, but still practice daily. My main strength however (in my mind) is the ability to interpret a song and put it across… Or so I think (“..The music I write is inspired by  various song writers, JJ Cale,  Mose Allison,  Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Hank Williams are a very few. I co-write often another mind helps a lot although, I’ve had songs ruined in my mind, by going along with the other person’s thoughts, getting tired of the arguing. I remember Dr. John telling someone how he was asked to get some songs finished he had started with Doc Pomus after, Pomus’ death. John said there was 10 minutes of music followed by a half an hour of arguing, on rolls and rolls of tape. Heh Heh I can see that happening. Anyway “philosophically speaking” I like it all and how I got pegged as a Blues Musician I guess was simply because the feel was Blues..

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?               Photo by Kevin Norman

I worked with Johnny Ellison as a Duo for a spell. John was writing every day in fact borrowing my little battery keyboard to do it leaving me with nothing while we were on the road. All is work came to little or nothing except for the first song he wrote “Some Kinda’ Wonderful” which made him wealthy... So I think it’s all a crap game if you’re in it for money. I believe Music is a disease rather than an avocation in most cases and it’s incurable! I‘ve been fortunate to play  with a huge amount of artists as just a keyboardist in Canada a whole lot were Country as I did a stint with a radio show featuring only Country Music and I also recorded in Nashville where I was asked to do the Gospel Hour. I was in the studio working on a project when I was asked to do it and I said sure off handedly thinking it was at a Church Basement or something. Anyway later my ride came and it was at the Grand Ol Opry…That evening turned me off Country and I decided I’d sooner be a Drywaller. I was not impressed with New Country at all. Finally it’s starting to turn around, with fine players/singers and some real fine online radio stations that play roots music. KDRP in Austin comes to mind as well as several New Orleans stations who kindly play some of my music as well...

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

I’m a practical joker. I have a small studio which used to be a Garage. I kept the opening garage door and put a wall in front of it with a Man Door. When recording, to keep noise out and in I close it. There’s a side door into my back yard which is very private and as quite often the case with Musicians they like to have a toke and maybe a taste out in the back…Well when they leave and this happens a lot, they get to where the door was they came in from off the driveway and it’s not there the interior door is down and it looks like a wall. “Wasn’t there a door here”? I’m asked. ”No”, I reply just this side door into the patio... They get this fear in their eyes its bloody hilarious until they realize what’s happening... I was very fortunate to record with some major Musicians in Nashville as well, Lloyd Green, Steel, Kenny Malone, Drums, Joe Allen, Bass who was usually the session leader. Joe was a laid back Cat, his Bass always had this horrendous buzz going on, the Engineer said he never had to look up to see who it was when Joe was playin’. Joe would pick me up at the Airport in his Jeep Half ton. One time it was pissing rain and as we rode along I look in the back and his Bass is just layin’ there in the rain. I said “its rainin’ out Joe” he said “ oh yeah been rainin’ all day” no concern what so ever with his bass.. ha ha ha. He played it on the session an hour later. He’s a great player by the way he played with Johnny Cash on and off for years and is Neil Young’s favorite when Neil does his Country thing” The International Harvesters”... Also Kenny Malone the Drummer I had a tune that was really difficult a Folk Rock kinda’ thing not one of mine but Hughie Leggatt’s. The musician’s would stand listening with a sheet of paper and a pencil writing down the changes. When this one song came up the confusion on their faces was obvious. Kenny, the Drummer explained it with all the changes. I was blown away. It was Kenny that told me I was a Jazzer not Country he invited me to a Jazz Joint where he was that night but sadly, I couldn’t make it I was playing the Opry as a guest on the Gospel Hour.   (Terry & Andy Earle, Photo by Dan Charuk)

"Music education. It should be a compulsory subject in Schools if only, for teaching self-discipline. Some of these “Artists” lately are sadly lacking and pretty sorry. In my opinion!!"

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

I miss seeing more Piano Players that sing. At one time they seemed to be the majority, I guess that would be back in the Forties early Fifties. There still are some killer players around New Orleans and a few in Canada but the Guitar seems to be the weapon of choice these days. Not that I don’t like Guitar but I do see a lot of ho hum players making a lot of noise with the public who seem to be flash, over substance.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Music education. It should be a compulsory subject in Schools if only, for teaching self-discipline. Some of these “Artists” lately are sadly lacking and pretty sorry. In my opinion!!

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

Here where I live these days there are a lot of very talented players and Singers. Bobby Watson who records with me often, since his return from Memphis, Rick Fines, a Blues Guitarist/Singer/Educator and Historian with great Personality well founded in honesty. Al Black a writer/Harp Player/Drummer and Singer, Carlos Del Junco a Harp player of considerable note, I played on a gig were he headlined and I watched him play, as I can play a little Harp myself. The man is astounding he won a world championship in Germany? I think it was while still in High School, and a more decent guy you couldn’t meet. These guys travel extensively and you may see them in your neck of the woods one day. There are many, many “blues” players around but these three come to mind immediately. Johnny V was a friend who recorded with me on Cold Weather Blues a true blues maestro sadly he died at a young age 66 or 7 three years back. Lenny Breau was a friend and teacher for me, his idea of the Blues was actually Jazz .Lenny was considered one of the finest Guitarists in the world when I was hanging out taking lessons from him. He, had got his knowledge fron Piano players so it came full circle...I wrote the song Lenny about the day we met…I have two versions one with Rob Bulger on guitar who, had known Lenny as well, he sounds eerily like Lenny on the recording. I redid the song with Johnny V on guitar using an old Yamaha Flat Top he called his Campfire Guitar, it had a beautiful tone and he had used it on many recordings..

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues and Jazz from United States to Canada?                                                                Photo by Stu Blower

Blues of course originated in the Mississippi Delta and was a Black Person’s form of expression. My Grandfather who was born in Detroit grew up in Ontario in an area settled by many Blacks coming up on the Underground Railroad. Grandpa played Fiddle, well, and he taught me many songs I don’t hear anywhere in this Country and I realize after all this time where he got them from. He played a lot of Rags and sang songs of an obvious southern origin. Many musicians cross the border going both ways, Jazz of course was in Canada as well as the States at the same time and the border was just a line on a map you could come and go at will. Sadly that has changed. John Ellison who I mentioned is from West Virginia and lived in Rochester N.Y. before moving here...

What touched (emotionally) you from the sound of organ and piano? What are the secrets of Hammond B3?

I wasn’t very aware of the Organ before hearing Jimmy Smith then of course that was all I could think of for a long while. The organ is a very different instrument from Piano in that all your dynamics come from the swell pedal not your hands. Few people know this it’s an entirely different discipline. Personally I’m not that good of an Organist and use it on my recordings for padding which it is great for. I love playing with, an Organ player!

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

There are no racial barriers in music this is undoubtedly one of music’s greatest legacies. Sometimes it will come up in humor though. An Organ player I know was on the road in his first band and he was the only white guy. He told me he was told every day, the only reason he was in the band was that they couldn’t find a Black guy. heh heh

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

Probably New York or Toronto or Chicago in the late 1940’s when Jazz, Swing, Blues and Roots were the popular music everywhere. Played by exceptional Musicians!!

Terry Blankley, AKA TerryB - Home

Photo by Corey Lueck

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