"In the earliest days blues was a form of communication and outlet for a group of people who were put at a serious disadvantage by society, and one thing that makes me very sad that not much has changed for the ancestors of those early African-American blues performers."
Jay Moonah (Broke Fuse): Moon Blues
Jay Moonah (Broke Fuse) has been active on the Canadian music scene for more than 30 years and is a former member of a number of bands including indie-roots-rockers Uncle Seth and retro-folk act The McFlies. Jay is also co-founder of the Scarborough Uke Jam. While probably best known on the Toronto blues scene as a harmonica specialist, Jay plays a number of different instruments and is also a singer and songwriter. One man. A suitcase kick-drum. A box of harmonicas. A beat-up guitar. Also a mini-washboard, and a bit of kazoo for good measure. Broke Fuse is a one-man blues band from Toronto, playing original songs along with classic blues. Broke Fuse has performed throughout Southern Ontario, including opening slots for acclaimed artists such as Suzie Vinnick, Tim Williams, Al Lerman and Greg Godovitz, as well as a showcase at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. (Jay Moonah aka Broke Fuse / Photo by Macy Moonah)
The all-original debut EP The Underground was released in 2015, with the follow-up Broke Down + Blue arriving in early 2017. "Subway Blues", the lead single from The Underground was featured on Global News Toronto. He has been active in the Canadian music scene for more than 25 years, and is a former member of indie-roots-rockers Uncle Seth and retro-folk act The McFlies. Jay is also co-founder of the Scarborough Uke Jam. In 2017, Jay teamed up with legendary guitarist Mike McKenna (Luke & The Apostles, McKenna Mendelson Mainline) to form McKenna Moonah Blues Duo. Mike and Jay later formed the rockabilly band Mike McKenna's Rockin' Redcoats which also features bassist Mark Sinclair (Up All Night) and drummer Cleave Anderson (Battered Wives, Blue Rodeo). Canadian Blues & Roots artist will be released on June 25th, 2021 his new album titled Rocket Ride. The release of Rocket Ride comes exactly one year after 2020’s Why Should I Be Blue? Like its predecessor, the new album was recorded at the home studio of Jay Moonah, the man behind Broke Fuse, with remote contributions from a variety of musicians. The title track features contributions from two Toronto music legends: Debbie Fleming (renowned singer and veteran of a variety of groups including vocal jazz act Hampton Avenue) and guitarist Mike McKenna (McKenna Mendelson Mainline, Luke and the Apostles, and many others), both of whom also play along with Moonah in the rockabilly band the Rockin’ Redcoats.
How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?
Broke Fuse was something I started as a way for me to focus on “pure” blues (or at least my version of it.) That included songs that I have written as well as songs from great classic blues artists that I love such as Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed. I’m not sure where my “drive” to play music comes from exactly, but I know it’s something that’s essential for me. There have been times where I haven’t been playing in bands or doing gigs, but I always quickly found myself back to doing something musical. I’m really just compelled to do it, I get uncomfortable if I’m not able to play music for too long.
What musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What do you hope What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
There are many, but Paul McCartney jumps to mind. The McCartney III album from last year was just great, and resonated with me in particular I think because he did it very much in a "one-man-band" style during isolation, which is similar to what I've done with this album and the last one -- and it's just a terrific collection of songs, he's really still got it!
I try to write songs that I would enjoy personally, and could hopefully be enjoyed on a few levels. The songs are meant to be fun to listen to casually, but I do think a lot about the imagery and references, both lyrical and musical. There are lots of "easter eggs" in my songs, little musical quotes or mentions of places in my neighbourhood in Toronto, things like that -- you shouldn't need to understand these to enjoy the music, but they are something extra for people who want to dig a little deeper. I enjoy that sort of 'depth' within music and I hope others will too.
"Broke Fuse was something I started as a way for me to focus on “pure” blues (or at least my version of it.) That included songs that I have written as well as songs from great classic blues artists that I love such as Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed. I’m not sure where my “drive” to play music comes from exactly, but I know it’s something that’s essential for me." (Photo: Jay Moonah aka Broke Fuse)
How has the Blues and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Blues for me is kind of essential, it’s like the ground. I do play other kinds of music, but It’s all really rooted in blues ideas, blues scales, blues chords, at least for me.
How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?
Oh wow, so many ways. I'm definitely a lot more confident in my own vision. I like to think I'm a collaborative person and I always try to give everyone a voice when I am working with others, but I know in the last few years I've become a lot more self-assured in terms of my own writing and playing, and the way I envision songs taking shape. I feel a lot more able to execute music that really sounds complete. I find I use the word "fun" a lot when I talk about making music, and that has always been the case. The process has to be fun for me, not to say it's not work but the sense of joy within the work always has to be there. The day music starts to feel like a chore will be the day that I give it up, although to be honest I can't really imagine such a thing!
How do you describe "Rocket Ride" songbook? Do you have any stories about the making of the new album?
A funny thing that happened when I was putting the songs together for this album is that I found several of them had space and/or traveling themes or references. It's in no way a concept album, but at least to me it does seem to tell a bit of a loose story, especially the first 3 songs that go from the swamp ("Stephenson Swamp Stomp") to a space journey ("Rocket Ride") all the way to the moon ("Strawberry Moon"). A lot of my favourite albums have this kind of thematic throughline, and I was very happy to stumble across it with Rocket Ride, hahah!
"I try to write songs that I would enjoy personally, and could hopefully be enjoyed on a few levels. The songs are meant to be fun to listen to casually, but I do think a lot about the imagery and references, both lyrical and musical. " (Photo: Jay Moonah aka Broke Fuse)
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
There are many but I’ll single out the first night I played with Mike McKenna. I was slotted to open for Al Lerman as part of the “Dinner and a Song” series at the Olde Stone Cottage, which is my local pub in Scarborough. The main concert was a ticketed sit-down show in the upstairs Loft and then there was an afterparty taking place in the main floor bar area. I was asked to play the afterparty as well, but it was recommended that I get someone else to fill out the sound beyond my usual one-man band thing. My friend John Johnson, who is one of the Dinner and a Song organizers, suggested Mike McKenna, who is also a friend of his. I was actually surprised at the idea that a Canadian blues legend like Mike would be interested in playing with little ole me, but he turned out to be a lovely and unpretentious guy, as well as a killer guitar player of course! We struck up a great friendship and musical partnership, and I’m thrilled to have him on a couple of songs on this new record. Oh, and Al Lerman came down and sat in with us for most of the second set, so that was also a huge thrill as Al has been one of my role models for many years.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I guess the biggest thing I miss is that many of the greatest blues musicians are no longer with us. Obviously some of the older generation such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters are no longer around, but also relatively young guys who I grew up listening to like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Healey were taken from us way too soon. But I’m optimistic about the future of the blues in general. For a long time now blues has been a “niche” genre like jazz or classical, which honestly I think is a positive thing because it’s become more timeless in a way. I sincerely believe people will be listening to Willie Dixon songs 300 years from now the same way we listen to Beethoven today. I also think there's tremendous opportunity for newer performers like me and my friends to put our own spin on things and keep them moving forward.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
While I know there are many people who really appreciate and love live music, I feel like it would be so amazing to have even more of it. I love going into a restaurant and hearing a live piano player or seeing a live band playing in a club as opposed to just pre-recorded music. I hope that coming out of covid people will really cherish the idea of live entertainment and it will lead to more opportunities for live music, which I would love both as a musician and as a fan.
"Blues for me is kind of essential, it’s like the ground. I do play other kinds of music, but It’s all really rooted in blues ideas, blues scales, blues chords, at least for me." (Photo: Jay Moonah aka Broke Fuse)
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
One key lesson I take away from music is simply around hard work and practice to help achieve your goals. I’m by no means the most disciplined musician out there, but I have spent my share of time woodshedding parts and techniques. I know that’s made me a better musician, and I try to do that in other aspects of my life. Another lesson is around tolerance and acceptance – I think I’m a pretty tolerant guy in general but playing lots of different kinds of music with and for lots of different kinds of people has really helped broaden my perspective.
What were the reasons that you started the One-Man Band experiments? What is the hardest part of One-Man Band?
In 2014, I had a little song-writing spurt where I came up with a few blues songs. I've done a lot of 'blues-y' stuff over the years, but I wanted to do something a little more focused on the blues where I could feature these songs and where I could play more harmonica, which I really love doing. At first I was thinking about putting together a full band, and "Broke Fuse" was just a name I came up with. I got interested in the idea of a one-man band thing after hearing some different people online doing similar stuff and thinking "that might be fun." With this new record I was actually trying to steer Broke Fuse in a more band-oriented direction, but I still love doing the one-man band thing and I’ll definitely continue to do that as well.
What is the impact of Blues and Roots music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?
In the earliest days blues was a form of communication and outlet for a group of people who were put at a serious disadvantage by society, and one thing that makes me very sad that not much has changed for the ancestors of those early African-American blues performers. Today those folks probably would have performed hip-hop or something more in the zeitgeist, so blues has evolved to be something perhaps a little more anodyne in that respect, but I think from an emotional point of view the blues is still very powerful.
What would you say characterizes Toronto blues scene? What touched (emotionally) you from the local blues circuits?
It’s a great question because the first song on the new record called “Blow All The Blues Away” is specifically about how much it means to play at a blues jam! I’ve had so many good times and met so many amazing people on the Toronto blues scene. I’ll single out a few including Mike Sedgewick and Robin Hutchison who run the Friday Night Blues jam, most recently taking place at the Salty Dog. Mike and Robin are such sweet and talented folks, and have built such a great community around their jam. We had a Zoom call with a few of the regulars from that jam not long ago, and although we couldn’t play music in that format it was great just to see everyone and just talk. And also the jams at the Black Swan centred around McKenna and his band have been tremendous for me, both in terms of a fun and learning perspective. I have to give a shout out to the late Pete Otis who was so instrumental in putting that whole scene together, he booked Mike’s Sunday afternoon shows at the Swan along with so many others. Pete sadly died of a heart attack that he suffered on New Years 2018-19 at the Swan. Pete was super-supportive of me, he made sure I received billing and had my picture on the poster for those gigs even though I was really just one guest among many. He is dearly missed by so many of us on the scene.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Wow that’s tough! I’m sure if you asked me tomorrow I’d have a totally different answer, but the one that jumps to mind right now is the 1969 Rolling Stones show at Hyde Park, I think because I was reading something about the Stones recently. This was the first time they played live with Mick Taylor which would have been so cool to see. Also almost more than the Stones, I would have loved to see the original line-up of the opening act King Crimson, who are definitely not a blues band but still one of my all-time favourites. They were just outrageously good musicians. Also Alexis Korner was on that bill, along with John Mayall he was so essential to kickstarting the British blues scene, and without him I don’t think we’d be thinking about blues the same way, so it would have been really interesting to see him perform as well. And come to think of it I'm pretty sure Mike McKenna was living in London at that time, so maybe I could have tracked him down and checked out an early McKenna Mendelson Mainline gig later that night. And then I'd explain to him how we are gonna play together 50 years in the future... that would have really blown his mind, haha!
(Jay Moonah aka Broke Fuse / Photo by Macy Moonah)
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