Q&A with teen blues musician Liam Docherty - he's already garnering attention from the Canadian blues establishment

"As for fears for the future of the blues, so long as people keep playing it, and I mean acoustic blues here because Chicago blues style music seems to be doing just fine, then there is no need to fear anything. The only fear would be that people stop playing it and it disappears."

Liam Docherty: The Red-Headed Blues Boy

Vancouver Island blues musician Liam Docherty released titled album “Modern. Magic. Melody” in September 2020. The debut captures the picking prowess of the “red-headed blues boy” from Qualicum Beach on his Taylor GS-Mini acoustic in a session of 12 tunes ranging from blues originals to classics. Among the dozen songs on his debut album, Modern. Magic. Melody., are five cover tunes and seven originals. Among the latter is These Blues Are Red, a gently boastful shuffle about a six-string slinger with a trademark colour. Liam says his songwriting process flows organically from his play passion and gathers phrases and vocabulary from books and poetry in a journal for his lyrics. He also gets inspiration by reading his favorite blues artists. Reading about the Mississippi Delta flood, Robert Leroy Johnson, an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, inspired Liam to compose his own song about the historic incident, Wipe My Crying Eyes.

(Liam Docherty / Photo by Craig Letourneau)

Liam Docherty may be only 13 years old, but he's already garnering attention from the Canadian blues establishment. The young Qualicum Beach, B.C.-based singer-songwriter has been nominated for the New Artist of the Year category in the Maple Blues Awards, which recognize the best blues musicians across the country. Liam first picked up the guitar when he was aged four, having been introduced to the instrument by his father. A concert by Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel in 2015 exposed Liam to the blues and the finger-picking style. Liam says: “I love blues music, I play blues music, and I will never stop learning blues music. I play Mississippi Delta Blues, Mississippi Hill Country Blues, Chicago Blues, Fingerpicking, and blues influenced music through Ry Cooder, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, to modern bands. I play Robert Johnson, Son House, Charlie Patton, Doc Watson, Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters, Ry Cooder, Jimi Hendrix, and others. I want to play a part in keeping blues alive through another generation. By playing the music of these great bluesmen, I tell their stories to new audiences, and hopefully inspire other people to go buy their records, sing their songs, pick up or learn the guitar and keep this wonderful heritage alive.”

Interview by Michael Limnios       

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

Blues music opened up another world to me, not just in terms of learning the technical elements of particular songs and their structures, but of the life and times of the blues musicians. I've read books about many of these musicians and gained an insight into their lives, hardships, loves, losses, joys, sadness. It's an education, and I'm always learning.

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

My music has been described by Doug Cox (my album producer & Artistic Director of Vancouver Island Music Fest) as a mix between Nick Drake and an old blues musician. I understand where he's coming from. For my original songs, I always think about melody. I think about structure. And when I listen to songs, I don't just listen for enjoyment. I also listen to the chord structures, melody, and lyrics, which give me insight into how the song was created, which I apply to my songs. And you may notice my song 'Halfway To Sunset' has an unconventional structure and the last line of the song is 'Halfway To Sunset' and that's the only time you hear those words. I did that for effect.

I get ideas for songs everywhere I look. For example, my song 'Wipe My Weeping Eyes' was inspired by my reading of the life and times of Robert Johnson. In those books I came across references to the 1927 Mississippi Flood, and then my imagination took over, and the song 'Wipe My Weeping Eyes' was born. My imagination is a powerful tool for me in writing my music.  Sometimes I hear the finished song in my head before I can start figuring out which chords, I need to make the sound I hear in my head.

I am always writing music. Every day, I come up with something that I think is interesting enough to record.  And out of all of those recordings, a few of them will stand out, and then I start building the musical structure. At the same time, I will have an idea as to the mood and tone of the song. How does the music make me feel? And then I start looking at my lyrics journal for inspiration. I keep a journal of words and phrases I see or hear that I find interesting. I once read that David Bowie did this, and I've been doing that since I was 8.

(Photo: Liam Docherty with Tommy Emmanuel, 2015)

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

That's an easy one.  I met Tommy Emmanuel when I was 8.  My Dad took me to a show Tommy was doing at the McPherson Theatre in Victoria, BC. We were lucky enough to be one of the few people chosen to meet Tommy before the show and he played my Taylor GS-Mini, and he signed it too, but I played the guitar so much, the signature unfortunately rubbed off. I use that guitar to this day, and recorded 10 of the 12 songs on my album with that guitar.

Tommy introduced me to the music of Doc Watson, and right after the concert I set about learning the fingerpicking pattern for 'Deep River Blues'. From there, I found Robert Johnson which led to Charlie Patton, Woody Guthrie, Son House, Skip James, Big Bill Broonzy, Jack Owens and others.

So, that meeting and that concert was particularly important for my development and where I am today. The best advice anyone ever game me so far is "be yourself" and "start where you are, use what you have, do what you can".

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

I've been lucky to open shows for fantastic musicians such as Terry Robb, Ken Hamm, Doug Cox, and Mississippi Bluesman Terry 'Harmonica' Bean. Getting asked on stage by Ken Hamm to do a song with him at the end of his set was a particular high point.

Also, I have very fond memories of my first festival appearance at the Texada Roots & Blues Festival on Texada Island, BC.  It was such a great environment, the people were so friendly and into the music, they were so encouraging. It was the perfect setting for me to make my first festival appearance. I played a solo set, and then accompanied Gerry Barnum, a great musician from Nanaimo, BC for a few songs together as well. But I have to say, one of my favorite moments being on that stage with Gerry Barnum, is when we played an extra song, as we were told we still had some time left, and everyone in the crowd got up and started dancing. It was really fun.

"Blues music opened up another world to me, not just in terms of learning the technical elements of particular songs and their structures, but of the life and times of the blues musicians. I've read books about many of these musicians and gained an insight into their lives, hardships, loves, losses, joys, sadness. It's an education, and I'm always learning." (Liam Docherty / Photo by Craig Letourneau)

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

I love both acoustic and electric guitar, however, I really do enjoy hearing acoustic blues in the tradition of Robert Johnson and the people of that era. As a result, I enjoy the music of Alvin Youngblood Hart and Corey Harris and really enjoy some of Jack Owens' music as well. I'm sure there are many others out there I will find out about in time.

As for fears for the future of the blues, so long as people keep playing it, and I mean acoustic blues here because Chicago blues style music seems to be doing just fine, then there is no need to fear anything. The only fear would be that people stop playing it and it disappears.

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

Streaming companies pay musicians fairly for their art or artists stop using streaming companies.

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

You'll always be learning. If Tommy Emmanuel says he's still learning, then learning is a lifelong endeavor. I work hard, and I will always be learning. And I also think that, because I work hard, that is why I have learned how to play finger picking blues music. If I didn't work hard, I don't think I would have learned to play the guitar, and I wouldn't have learned of lots of great musicians. Music has changed my life, for the good.

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

Just to enjoy it.

"I love both acoustic and electric guitar, however, I really do enjoy hearing acoustic blues in the tradition of Robert Johnson and the people of that era. As a result, I enjoy the music of Alvin Youngblood Hart and Corey Harris and really enjoy some of Jack Owens' music as well. I'm sure there are many others out there I will find out about in time."

(Liam Docherty / Photo by Craig Letourneau)

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

Let's go back to the pre-COVID days, so we can prevent the spread of the pandemic, avoid the lockdowns, and I'd choose to spend the day with my extended family who live overseas who I have not seen since this pandemic began, play live shows and go to festivals.

Liam Docherty - Home

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