PAUL REDDICK & THE SIDEMEN opening for B.B. King at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), tonight (Thursday, January 17). $39.50-$89.50. 416-872-4255.
while chasing canines during our interview, Paul Reddick hears his cell ring. It's a friend telling him Reddick's band, the Sidemen, have been nominated for a prestigious W.C. Handy Award, the top honour for blues musicians in the States. The band's already snagged nine nominations in the Handy's Canadian counterpart, the Maple Blues Awards. Reddick says the awards are significant on a pragmatic level. With enough exposure, he can kiss his dog-walking day job goodbye.
"I manage the band, which feels like being a landlord for a house of cards. Because there's not much money in blues, it's really hard to keep it going. There aren't very many places to play, maybe 20 in all of Canada. It's a battle to get enough attention so that we can score more gigs. That's kind of a mercenary attitude toward the blues awards, but it's my reality. I can't just say I'm really flattered, because it's too important from a financial perspective."
In other words, trying to make it as a blues musician can have you, well, singing the blues.
Unless you're B.B. King (the Sidemen open for King January 17 at Massey Hall), still going strong at 75 and headlining over 250 shows a year, an aspiring bluesman's gotta have another way to pay the rent.
So Reddick spends days in muddy ravines as the leader of the pack of dogs. But he's better known for his gravel-and-honey voice and his way with a blues harp. He's been playing with the Juno-nominated Sidemen for over a decade, sharing the stage with such notables as Buddy Guy and King. Though their work in the mid-90s garnered the group critical acclaim, they haven't registered on most folks' radar over the last five or six years.
But with their new album, Rattlebag (Northern Blues), the Sidemen have broken through. The Colin Linden-produced album is an exhilarating trip, mixing modern Muddy Waters-style joints, wailing harmonica and raw, rootsy pre-war Delta blues. People are starting to notice -- and nominate them for all those awards.
Interestingly, Reddick's publicist, Richard Flohil, is on the board of the Toronto Blues Society, which sponsors the Maple Blues Awards. Mere coincidence?
"Well, I paid him and everyone else on the board a hundred bucks apiece," Reddick jokes. "Unfortunately, it's a small scene, even nationally, and the people who are the DJs are the bookers are the Juno judges are the fans are the musicians. There's only so much you can do. But I know that Flohil is a very professional guy.
"I spoke to him about it, and he said he makes it clear that he knows the musicians involved, and he's conscientious enough to abstain from the voting. So in the end, he's gotta forfeit his hundred," he laughs.
Start a conversation about one of his many loves and Reddick can chat for hours. But we're not just talkin' blues here -- the harmonica-playing band leader is astoundingly well read. He riffs on the similarities between 12-bar structures and patterns in the poetry of William Blake, and cites Brit bard Ted Hughes as a major inspiration. In fact, Rattlebag's title comes from a Hughes-edited anthology.
He's equally effusive about Alan Lomax's archival Library of Congress recordings of non-professional musicians, another obvious influence for Rattlebag.
"There are two discs of prison work songs, and structurally they're all over the place. They're based on chopping wood, the rhythm of heavy labour. One of the reasons they wrote these songs was to keep up a steady pace and not slow down, because otherwise they'd be beaten to death.
"They chopped their own feet and hands off to get out of work. It's just brutal. So there's a very serious beauty going on there in those songs -- it's music to save their lives."