Q&A with Canadian musician Jim "Dan Dee" Stefanuk, an indelible mark on blues in North America and beyond.

"Just to keep learning. It is absolutely incredible how you can play and write in a particular style, and there is always still so much to learn. It is never-ending. That is the gift to the performer, its a type of fuel. If you are open to it, there's always something new and interesting to try and get better at."

Jim "Dan Dee" Stefanuk: Real Blues

The name “Jim Dan Dee” comes from the expression “Everything is just Jim Dandy”, an old cliché often used with expletives inserted. Jim Dan Dee (affectionately known as ‘J.D.D.’ by their fans) is not only a blues band, but also a character; an idea that embodies the spirit of the music and Jim Stefanuk’s frontman persona. On stage Jim’s intensity is like a man possessed, his soulful baritone voice juxtaposed against cutting vintage guitar tones. Tying the melodies together is the silky-smooth saxophone of Bobby Sewerynek, veteran horn player and former big band session player. The backbeat is solidly held down by Dwayne Lau’s growling basslines and Shawn Royal’s unmistakably solid meter and slick groove. When you see Jim Dan Dee, you get it, and their electric energy on-stage will leave you craving more.           (Jim Dan Dee / Photo by Corey Kelly)

Jim Dan Dee’s sophomore album, titled “Real Blues”, released in May 2022. The album is Jim Dan Dee’s approach to the hundred-year-old blues genre. Selecting their “bluesiest” songs from their “Covid Amassed” catalog, the band have laid down some truly tasty tracks. Destined to catch the ears of industry and fans alike, Jim Dan Dee is set to make an indelible mark on blues in North America and beyond.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I've always been a rebel, and every rebel has a cause. The world is a messed-up place, humanity isn't very good at taking care of one another, and though we are still babies on this planet, our leaders act as if they have all the answers, and WE expect them to. I always say don't tell me what to do, or I will just do the opposite. Some say its neurosis, but I like to do things my own way. Music nurtures individuality and expression. I've never wanted to be part of a group or clique; my friend base has always been from every walk of life... I used to rip off and black out any labels on my clothes as a teenager. I suppose counter-culture of all kinds has been the biggest influence on my path as an adult in this world.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does "Real Blues" mean to you?

The Blues taught me to take it slow. As a youth I was very much into guitar playing, I wanted to be the best. I used to teach other kids songs in my high school. But I'm not much of a music reader and have had pretty nasty arthritis my whole life... After practicing 8 hrs a day for years and sleeping with my guitar I realized I'll still never be able to shred the way some of my idols did. But I have been singing since I was a baby, I used to keep my parents up at night. So I try to do that with my guitar as well, and the Blues fosters this type of musical expression. Getting the emotion across in a beautiful and meaningful way, to me that is the "Real Blues".

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

JDD's sound is gritty, rockin' Blues with a lot of Soul and Motown influence. I LOVE SOUL, I love great singers. That's my jam. I don't even care if it gets poppy, sometimes I flip through the radio and if I hear a great voice that's where I will land. Genre means nothing to me. Being open-minded can really help drive your songwriting in new directions, which is both fun and enlightening. In my case this ability took time; as a youth I was only interested in one or two types of music, and everything else was "stupid" or "lame". Now I still think tons of songs are stupid and lame! But my mind is open to all styles and sounds. Our songwriting philosophy as a band is simple: First, to create some great hooks and a feeling without sounding repetitive. And secondly, to write a song that sounds full and complete with the addition of overdubs and instruments that wouldn't be present in a Live situation. We write to play live.

"I would like some of the sticklers to try and have a more open mind as to what Blues really is. There is an invisible dividing line between Blues and Rock, and its funny how that line can really move with the success of a given artist. For example, I've always been a fan of psychedelic era music; I consider Hendrix, the Doors, Janice all Blues bands." (Photo: Jim Dan Dee)

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album Real Blues"?

Well, the demos were pretty fleshed out by the four of us before everyone got fully locked down again, but most of the album was recorded with only one or two people present. We recorded and produced the entire album ourselves, which was something we wanted to do for a long time. So not a lot of stories as so much was done remotely, but what we did do was absolutely minimize any overdubs or even doubling of tracks; everything you hear is our own amps and instruments, plugged in the same way you will hear us live. Every song started with Shawn's drums, so recording wasn't super unlike playing live; just you jamming with your drummer. But no ghosts or adventures to tell of, just another day at the office for Jim Dan Dee.

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

I mean, I am young by Blues-man standards so I can't really have a genuine yearning for the old days... But I can tell you my best and worst live misses.

I will always beat myself up for missing SRV at the El Mocambo in Toronto. I knew a fella in Art school that would remind me on a regular basis of how incredible that show was and how it changed his life! It's a salty wound. Luckily, we have a pretty great video of the whole show! My fave show I DIDN'T miss was Buddy guy at the Silver Dollar in Toronto. A truly greasy little club that is long and not deep, so everyone is pushed up against the stage. Buddy is right there, his sweat dripping on you and LOUD. So damn loud. It was wonderful, and I think he played for about two hours.

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

I would like some of the sticklers to try and have a more open mind as to what Blues really is. There is an invisible dividing line between Blues and Rock, and its funny how that line can really move with the success of a given artist. For example, I've always been a fan of psychedelic era music; I consider Hendrix, the Doors, Janice all Blues bands. Or whatever they WANT to call themselves. The Blues community can be very protective of its sound; not unlike people and provinces being protective of their language. The important thing is to be protective in an inclusive way, not an exclusive way. Don't tell artists what THEIR genre is, they will tell YOU. Exclusivity is a fear-based reaction and fear is a destructive force, and stunts creativity.

"Music nurtures individuality and expression. I've never wanted to be part of a group or clique; my friend base has always been from every walk of life... I used to rip off and black out any labels on my clothes as a teenager. I suppose counter-culture of all kinds has been the biggest influence on my path as an adult in this world." (Jim Dan Dee / Photo by Adrianne Jones)

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

Oh man, I think nowadays especially, if we can all just sing and dance together, I don't care what kind of music you are playing.

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

Just to keep learning. It is absolutely incredible how you can play and write in a particular style, and there is always still so much to learn. It is never-ending. That is the gift to the performer, its a type of fuel. If you are open to it, there's always something new and interesting to try and get better at.

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