Q&A with Detroit area bluesman Chris Canas - Blues n' Jazz are fused together with fresh Funk and tall glass of Soul

"Well Blues and Jazz has always been pretty influential when it comes to race, politics, and socio-culture. I mean just the creation of this genre alone was an act of defiance and rebellion from the old plantation workers in the cotton fields."

Chris Canas: The Soldier For The Blues

Chris Canas (aka Christopher Lenard Cottingham) has grown with music in his life whether it be his Mom singing to him or taking him to see Ray Charles at Hart Plaza or his Dad singing and dancing him to sleep as a kid. Music is part of his very soul and is the main reason he has grown into such a musical person today. His first true instrument was discovered when he chose a Coronet over all other instruments because he was too shy to speak up and claim the Saxophone in 5th grade. But he loved it nonetheless and treated it as if the sounds he could make were doubling as a musical release as well as a therapeutic one. Chris quickly rose through the rankings of 5th grade band only to find his music instructor David Drake promoted him to Jazz band. It was this move to Jazz that truly piqued Chris' interest in another realm of music. While in Jazz band Chris played all over eventually landing with the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts group. He was being primed to follow in the footsteps of Miles, Monk, Baker, Parker, and Marsallis. But something happened to this young man at the tender age of 10 that was just starting to boil over. The Blues had taken him and it wasn't going to ever let him go. Chris' Uncle Jamerson rolled up in a Cherry Red T-Top Camaro and was bumping King’s "Thrill Is Gone" with all his speaker systems might, and an innocent shy boy immediately began his transition into a Blues Man.

Chris eventually discovered a rickety old dusty P-Bass in his grandmother's garage which only had 2 strings on it. Chris took it upon himself to clean it up real good so he could play it. Only problem was he didn't yet know how to fix a Bass so he just learned on those 2 rickety rusted strings. His parents eventually realized that music was his passion and got it completely fixed so he could finally learn how to play the full Bass. Eventually even that wasn't enough and Chris picked up Piano, Sax, Drums, Harmonica, and eventually found his true love...The Guitar. His first guitar was a cherry red Squire with a celebrate diversity sticker on it and a rainbow strap. Yeah Chris likes color apparently. Now he was ready to go off and learn guitar. He spent days locked away in his room and after learning every BB King, Albert King, and Freddie King song note for note for 6 months he wrote his first album at the age of 15 "Shades of Blue". Chris went on to win the Ann Arbor Talent Show performing 2 of his songs off of the SOB album "Unforgiven" which he still plays to this day and "The Blues" which was inspired BB King's "A Blues Boys Tune". He landed a gig with Ejuana "Fire" Taylor and went on the road with her and her band for a bit while honing his skills at the Tap Room jam session in Ypsilanti which is still running every Thursday to this day. Chris eventually hooked up with Thornetta Davis and was taken under her wing at the age of 18 and opened his eyes up to the rich Detroit Music scene as well as exposed him to countless Pro musicians. In 2003 Chris formed the, dare I say it one last time, "Chris Canas Hyper Dynamic Blues Revolution" which was later shortened to "The Chris Canas Blues Revolution" which shortened again to "The C2BR" and finally, finally ended with the "Chris Canas Band". Chris has since released a total of 5 albums with his latest being "She's Breaking Me" reaching heights he never thought possible. His is currently finalizing his 6th album "Would You Mind" and is set to unleash it sometime in 2016. Chris has written and arranged well over 150 Original songs and has reimagined a plethora of oldies but goodies. Chris "The Soldier For The Blues" Canas, has put together a who’s who of veteran musicians over the years and has learned many many lessons the long hard way to help keep the blues alive and moving forward for all music lovers. The Chris Canas Band has a well-blended set of classic covers and clever, roller coaster like originals that keep you captivated and coming back for more. With their diverse mix of Blues, Funk, and Soul they are always well equipped to bring the house down wherever they go.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I learn a lot about myself when playing or listening to any kind of music. I tend to listen to certain songs depending on the mood I’m in at the time. Tempo, Lyrics, Genre, and Instrumentation all play a part in what I decide to listen to. Blues means the world to me. It has been therapeutic in every way for as long as I can remember.

How do you describe Chris Canas sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

My music philosophy is quite simple. If it sounds good and grooves good then I will play it. I write quite a bit of music and rearrange my own songs as well as cover songs as I see fit. Sometimes I do this on the fly. Actually most of the time I am making new things up while on stage. My band mates and I are almost psychic in that we can feel where each other are trying to go musically.

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

Blues and Jazz has severely expanded my views of the world. Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way. Blues has allowed me to to travel to certain parts of the world I would have never been able to go and it has shown me that there are enormously big hearted and beautiful people all over the globe that share the same love for the Blues that I have.

"I learn a lot about myself when playing or listening to any kind of music. I tend to listen to certain songs depending on the mood I’m in at the time. Tempo, Lyrics, Genre, and Instrumentation all play a part in what I decide to listen to. Blues means the world to me. It has been therapeutic in every way for as long as I can remember."

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

I would consider everyone I have met on my journey to be a bluesman whether good or bad important and integral to my own growth and success. I tend to learn from other people’s mistakes and take to heart other people’s success. I tend to get advice from my fans on what songs they like or what moved them during the show. There are always critics and i like to hear the good with the bad. But the biggest advice I got was from my Mother. She told me to always represent myself with the highest of standards. So I dress in my Sunday Best whenever I perform on stage. I represent the Blues like a gentleman should, exactly like the late great BB King would have wanted me to. 

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

I have been told of many things that have happened while I was on stage, but the thing is I tend to lose myself while I perform and once the first note hits I don’t remember anything until the last note is played. LOL! I will never forget when I performed in the middle of the ocean at the Santa Maria Blues Festival in the Azores Islands on Santa Maria Portugal. I got to hang out with Mr. Sipp from Mississippi, The Midnight Club Blues Band from Portugal, Johnny Lawrence from the UK, and Manu Lanvin from France.

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

Blues of the past used to have a certain energy. I miss that energy most of all. You can sense it when listening to older recordings and watching older videos but I think nowadays people aren’t as interested in that older Rock N’ Roll sound that blues had. The older guys used to have something important to say and they said it with their solo’s and with their lyrics. Back in the day, people were so excited to hear some good Blues because it was fresh and edgy. It seems like we lost that edge a little and people only concentrate on how many notes they can squeeze into a 12 bar progression or how fast they can play a scale. In the Blues of old, they didn’t really care too much about all of that, they just played what they felt and that was the sound they put out. I’m afraid that Blues will lose it’s identity one day and just like country is nowadays (which I also love) it will lose what made it great. But it is a delicate balance when trying to honor the legends of the past while trying to keep everything fresh. I think my band and I do a great job of honoring the past while creating something new for the future. The older guys also had a certain comradery. It was not as cut throat as it is today. They appreciated each other’s gifts and celebrated one another by playing together instead of having that every man for himself type mindset.

"I think Blues affects our musical enculturation by being the base of almost every genre. I hear Blues influence in almost every culture of music I have ever heard. It truly is the root of most songs kind of like African drums are the root of all rhythms."

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

For people to enjoy and appreciate all music. Not try to claim one genre as being superior than the other. I am a classically trained musician and was classically trained in the cornet. I only picked up Bass, Guitar, Piano, Drums, and Saxophone later in my life and played by ear with every one of them. I listen and appreciate every type of music from Rap, to Country, to Motown, to Bluegrass, and even a little Techno as well.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Michigan. What touched (emotionally) you from the local circuits?

The local Blues scene in Michigan is building day by day. We are having a lot of festivals and new groups pop up all the time. We are having a heavy stream of international artists come through as well. I myself am trying to help bring the Ann Arbor Blues Festival this year and bring a bigger broader Blues in the Schools program to Michigan. I would say the forecast for Michigan is changing and we are headed to “Brighter Days” which is also a song I just wrote 2 weeks ago. LOL

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

I would take a trip to 1974 to Africa where BB King played on of his best performances. He was in his prime and as big as he could possibly be. Either that or take a trip to 1982 to attend a Prince concert. He is another one of my musical idols and had probably one of his best performances at the Capitol Theater.

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

Well Blues and Jazz has always been pretty influential when it comes to race, politics, and socio-culture. I mean just the creation of this genre alone was an act of defiance and rebellion from the old plantation workers in the cotton fields. It’s always been political as well, just look at Ray Charles when he refused to play in Georgia because of the Jim Crow laws. I think Blues and Jazz are fused together very closely, I just recently found out that my great great grandfather was none other than the father of ragtime Buddy Bolden. I think Blues affects our musical enculturation by being the base of almost every genre. I hear Blues influence in almost every culture of music I have ever heard. It truly is the root of most songs kind of like African drums are the root of all rhythms.

Chris Canas - Official website

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