Q&A with Lazy Mike & Carson Mallon of South Island Rhythm Kings, a mainstay of the Vancouver Island blues scene

"The thing I like about the music of the past, and especially the blues, is the honesty of the music. There was not days upon months of mixing, and overdubbing, and digital trickery. Four or five guys, or however many, would all go into a room big enough to facilitate the numbers, and set up and play, and the music was mixed and recorded on the spot “live off the floor”."

South Island Rhythm Kings:

Bloodline Blues of Vancouver Island

South Island Rhythm Kings are a 5-piece blues band from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, steeped in traditional early blues. At the nucleus of the South Island Rhythm Kings is the father and son team of Lazy Mike Mallon and Carson Mallon, creating a musical bond on early electric blue, along with their good friends, and long-time collaborators Dan Dube’, and Nick Dokter. Joining the group on bass and producing the recording of Still That Way Today is legendary bluesman Jack Lavin. The band formed in 2018 from their mutual love of “no school like old school” blues. Their unique brand of entertainment delivers classic electric blues with engaging, high energy & beautiful harmonies that make you feel the music and get up and groove. South Island Rhythm Kings have had the pleasure of opening for such iconic bands as Harpdog Brown, Mark Hummel and the Lone Star Golden State Review, David Gogo, Big Dave Mclean, Jim Byrnes and many more.                         (Photo: South Island Rhythm Kings)

“It has been said the blues is a language we all speak. From an empty wallet to a cold side of the bed, we all experience the blues in some way. The expressions, or the dialects, that vary from region to region; the searing slide guitar of the Mississippi Delta, the swamp-ridden Louisiana blues, the uptown horn arrangements of Texas and the West Coast, and the soul-stirring electrified harmonica from Chicago. These sounds have gone on to influence the world of music for decades. It is from these traditions that the South Island Rhythm Kings draw their inspiration. You will not find any meaningless virtuosity on this recording, only the pure expression of blues being reared on the stretch of Highway 1 from Nanaimo down to Victoria. “This is the blues of Vancouver Island”! Their new recording "Still That Way Today" was released on July 8, 2022.

Interview by Michael Limnios              Special Thanks: Sarah French Publicity

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

Lazy Mike: What I have learned from the Blues is that everybody suffers the Blues in their own way, and for different reasons. I was born into a musical, blue collar family on Vancouver Island, so after all the work was done, the music began. To me, Blues is music for all people…blues is honest and simple with a whole lot of heart and soul, it provokes good feelings to take you away, make you dance and groove your blues away. All music is to soothe your soul.

Carson: The blues is something I inherited from my dad and my uncle. Growing up, there was always Duke Robillard or Little Walter on the stereo. When I gravitated towards playing it, I had never considered myself a lead guitar player. I had to learn from the ground up, and I learned that I could express myself through a guitar solo.

How do you describe South Island Rhythm Kings sound, music philosophy and songbook?

Lazy Mike: We play our version of 50’s and 60’s classic electric blues. We stay as true to that music as geographically possible. When I write songs, it is my intention to write about timeless blues themes, rather than anything too specific to any modern time period. I like to keep it entertaining and light hearted to evoke good times. The cover songs we choose to play and record are chosen for these same qualities.

How did that Father/Son music relationship come about?

Carson: I've always been close with my dad. We grew up in a very blue collar way, and my dad always worked his tail off to provide comfort for myself and my sister. When I started playing music, my dad encouraged me every step of the way. I can't even remember how I first started playing music with him. I was 15 or 16 years old when I joined my dad's first shot at forming a blues band. Before that he had been fronting a large show band that played a mix of old school rock 'n roll and 60s soul music. We learned all sorts of tunes, covers and originals, and I just sat in the back playing rhythm parts. That band dissolved eventually, and I wanted to start a fresh project that focused on raw, old-school blues. I wanted to model it after the Hollywood Fats Band: harp, guitar, piano, upright bass, and drums. We pulled it off and formed the South Island Rhythm Kings.

"A simpler way of life and a certain degree of isolation from the rest of the more populated parts of Canada. That's pretty much it. We face the same struggles and political tensions that all music scenes have, they are simply more localized." (Photo: Lazy Mike Mallon and Carson Mallon)

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

Lazy Mike: I have many good memories from past shows, I would like to share these two: We opened for Mark Hummel and the Lone Star Golden State Review with Anson Funderburgh, Little Charlie Baty, Wes Starr, and RW Grigsby, who were all really friendly, and genuinely nice guys. Mark was kind enough to let me play through his amp, and we both used my harp mic as, after comparing both mics, he liked mine better than his own. On their first break, Anson and Little Charlie stood at the bar with Carson and bought him a beer, and spent the whole break there talking. After the show, Anson and Charlie both came to me and shook my hand and said, “Good job Dad, your son’s really got it!” A proud moment indeed. Another time we were playing at our local “Summertime Blues Festival” in Nanaimo, and the day we played, Elvin Bishop was the headliner. When he arrived I was talking to Elvin back stage, and as he hadn’t been there for our set, he asked me how our set went. I told him that we had the distinction of being the only band that it rained during our entire set. He chuckled a bit, and looked at me and said, “Oh well, still better than a day job…” we both had a good laugh.

Carson: A major high for me was opening for some of my contemporary blues heroes, Mark Hummel and the Golden State/ Lone Star Revue. Anson Funderburgh and Charlie Baty were household names, I grew up on those players. Hummel is such a versatile harmonica player too, not to mention the killer rhythm section of RW Grigsby and Wes Starr. After we played our set, I got to sit at the bar with Anson and shoot the bull. All those guys were so kind and humble, even though they were giants in my eyes, and they treated me like one of them even though I was a twenty-something kid from Vancouver Island, still figuring out my style.

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

Lazy Mike: The thing I like about the music of the past, and especially the blues, is the honesty of the music. There was not days upon months of mixing, and overdubbing, and digital trickery. Four or five guys, or however many, would all go into a room big enough to facilitate the numbers, and set up and play, and the music was mixed and recorded on the spot “live off the floor”. Do a few takes, when everybody agreed that was the one, they moved on. They moved on to another song and played until somebody came and said that’s enough and turned off the lights. I fear that much of today’s music is all a lot of sampling and digital wizardry created by one person sitting at a computer…and while that is a talent I suppose, I feel that is not how blues was meant to be created. It lacks the heart and soul of actual musicians playing together.

Carson: Well, quite honestly, I can't cope with how unashamedly commercial the industry is now. That is a tangent of its own, so I will digress. I think the opportunity to hone your chops on the road isn't as simple as it used to be. There seem to be fewer and fewer venues, and the chances of getting a decent audience are slimmer than they used to be, back when there weren't as many distractions. Music is still appreciated and loved, which is great, but folks back then seemed more eager to go out and catch a show. I'm always fearful that music will become too processed and easily replicated digitally. I'm biased as a guitar player; I play a traditional rock instrument. The amount of practice time I've put in may be off-putting to younger kids who may find it easier to manipulate synthesized sounds or samples to create their music. Also, that blues may be lost on the young folks. I know there are many young blues musicians carrying the torch, but we are all aware of how precarious the scene is.

"We play our version of 50’s and 60’s classic electric blues. We stay as true to that music as geographically possible. When I write songs, it is my intention to write about timeless blues themes, rather than anything too specific to any modern time period. I like to keep it entertaining and light hearted to evoke good times."  (Photo: Lazy Mike Mallon and Carson Mallon)

What would you say characterizes Vancouver Island blues scene in comparison to other local Canadian scenes?

Lazy Mike: To be honest, I’m sure that the Vancouver Island blues scene is not much different from the rest of Canada. It is my opinion that we live in the greatest country on Earth. We have lots of great blues, and blues/rock players all up and down the Island, and like most blues ”communities”, there is lots of comradery and friendships with musicians and fans alike. We all have the same struggles of a diminishing live music scene, and blues is, and always has been a small piece of the pie.

Carson: A simpler way of life and a certain degree of isolation from the rest of the more populated parts of Canada. That's pretty much it. We face the same struggles and political tensions that all music scenes have, they are simply more localized.

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

Lazy Mike: I have learned that there are so many great players that everybody knows about, and an infinite number of great players that very few know about, whether they want to be known or not. I have learned to greet all musicians, and all people for that matter, with respect, kindness, and humility. . One of my favorite quotes is from Jimmie Vaughan, he says, “There are only two kinds of music, there’s the kind you like, and the kind you don’t like…right?”

Carson: To be humble. There is so much potential for EGO in music, or any art form. We feel like we have to compete when we should support. I can't tell you how many times I have felt looked down upon or patronized for being a young player. It's hard enough to muster the gumption to get on stage and play a "purist" genre, to put your chops (or lack thereof) on display. We don't need arrogance to deter up and coming musicians.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?                          (Photo: Lazy Mike Mallon and Carson Mallon)

Lazy Mike: Well, I don’t know about all that…what I do know is that all music is a great time machine, and healer. It’s to be felt, and make you feel better.

I love blues music, it makes me feel better right down to my very soul. I want my music to touch people’s souls, and make them dance and feel as good as I do when I’m playing it.

Carson: It's hard to pinpoint how to answer this question. I'm just a white boy from Vancouver Island. I have always endeavored to honor the men and women who made this music, who pioneered it, who LIVED it.

I understand that my privilege prevents me from having a true understanding of the Black experience, and that the genre has been dominated by white folks for a number of years. My only hope is that I can do it justice. 

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