Pat Blythe: Synchronicity….
Life happens (or maybe it occurs), either way my plans for today’s column were short circuited by a few happenstance events that tumbled into each other this past weekend. A visit, a text, a ticket, a song and two remarkable performances by two gifted artists. One who is just beginning on his journey and another who’s journey began over 50 years ago. This is the blues.
A lovely visit over the weekend from good friend Pat Kelly — singer/songwriter/producer/man of many hats — has turned me into a Sam Taylor fan. After copious amounts of caffeine and catching up, I hear, “listen to this. It’s straight off the floor. I’ve edited out a few bits, tweaked a few other but this is basically it in one take.” The music that poured out of my Sony speaker immediately had my toes tapping. Catchy, clean, snappy with a few surprises…. oh, I don’t know, I just love it. It gets my music mojo going….and Kelly knew it would.
L – R – Pat Kelly and Bob Segarini
So ladies and gents, let me introduce you to Sam Taylor, yet another young Canadian talent who started out at very early age. Not quite a quarter century and already he’s got stories to tell. Born and raised in St. Thomas, Ontario (home of current Oscar nominee Rachael McAdams), Taylor started performing at the tender age of seven. Think Frank Sinatra, complete with fedora….yep, at seven! His career escalated quickly and by the age of nine he was performing with Orchestra London. Now here’s an interesting little tidbit….listen up all you Beliebers. Taylor entered London’s Western Fair Rise 2 Fame talent show two years in a row — first in 2003 and again the following year. He placed second in year one and first in year two. Both times he beat out Justin Bieber!
Taylor continued appearing with various bands around London, Ontario until a sudden change of heart, and puberty, transpired. So at 14 and entering high school, Taylor decided to switch it up a bit. Under the Christmas tree that year was his first guitar. Now we all know, to every young, adolescent male, a guitar is much cooler than vocals. Singing took a definite back seat….for now. Influenced by Colin James, Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King (among others), Taylor is primarily self-taught, lessons having lasted for a very short period of time. Tired of performing covers, he started writing his own material and formed a high school band with two of his buddies. At age 16 his dad took him on a trip to Nashville. Guitar and amp came with them….just in case. They knocked on a few doors with little success and then chanced upon BB King’s Blues Club. After returning to the club on three separate occasions, slowly wearing down the owner who finally succumbed, Taylor was given 15 minutes on stage. He ended up playing for two hours and was immediately offered a gig to play weekly. Even after telling the owner he was under age, the owner was insistent he at least return to open for BB King, as long as he was accompanied by a guardian. Unfortunately, Tennessee decided to make a drastic change to their smoking laws within a month of the show. It became illegal for persons under the age of 21 to enter any establishment that sold cigarettes, even escorted by a guardian. The dream went up in smoke….literally and metaphorically.
The Music Industry Arts Program at Fanshawe College was next on the agenda for Taylor while he continued to play at various clubs around the London/St. Thomas area, primarily as a solo act. In 2010, after graduating from Fanshawe, Taylor headed east to The Big Smoke to kick his music career up a notch. Meanwhile, back in London, radio station Free FM 98.1 was launching their contest, Under the Covers, in November 2011. Top prize….the chance to make a professional recording of an original song at EMAC Studios plus $4,000. To qualify, the contestant(s) had to submit a recording of a cover song by a featured artist of the radio station’s choosing. Taylor’s entry was Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend”. He won top prize and his original piece, “Loaded Gun”, was produced by Mo Berg from the Toronto rock group The Pursuit of Happiness. “Loaded Gun” went on to be used in the CBC show Cracked and the TV series Degrassi.
Loaded Gun + Interview (Degrassi Soundtrack Sessions) – Sam Taylor
With his East End Love band — drummer Jace Traz and bass player David MacMichael round out the trio — a year-long residency at Relish Bar & Grill was followed by a summer residency at the Linsmore Tavern in 2013. After working at the Hard Rock Cafe for a couple of years while still performing on weekends, Taylor gave notice, deciding to devote himself full time to his music career. From the Bovine Sex Club to The Horseshoe, guest appearances with Robbie Lane and The Disciples at Seven44 to Hugh’s Room, Taylor has been from one end of the city to the other….and back. It was during his tenure at the Hard Rock he was introduced to Pat Kelly. ….and this brings us full circle to the visit and this wonderful song “Don’t Go Givin’ Me Love”. So, now Taylor sings AND plays guitar.
Don’t Go Givin’ Me Love* – East End Love
Sam Taylor with a few of Robbie Lane’s Disciples at Seven44
Robbie Lane and harmonica player Glenn Hill at Seven44
Sam Taylor and Glenn Hill at Seven44
So, the same night Pat Kelly visits, I get a text from long-time friend Peter Genrick asking if I’m going to the Paul James 65th birthday bash. I texted back with the obvious questions….when and where? I commented to Kelly what the text was about and he immediately produced a ticket for me. Talk about synchronicity. I guess I’m going.
Not knowing what to expect, I walked into the Phoenix Saturday night to a jam-packed room. James was having a raucous time on stage, his agility and energy amazes me and would tire out most audiences just watching him. There was a lot of love for James in that room on Saturday night. What a hell of a way to celebrate 65 years on this planet.
Acknowledged as one of Canada’s finest blues guitarist, James has played with the creme de la creme of the blues community including Mink DeVille, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Spencer Davis, Bo Diddley, Jeff Healey, Lightin’ Hopkins….and the list goes on. He was Indie well before Indie was chic, owning his own label Lick’n Stick Records before it was fashionable. According to James, the best career advice he ever received was from Bo Diddley. “…don’t sign anything…. Don’t you be getting down on your knees to beg for a recording contract. Do it yourself!” He dropped the Vigna and took on the moniker of Paul James in the late 1970’s after forming his own band, The Paul James Band when Lick’nStick folded.
Paul James Vigna was born 65 years ago on January 18, 1951. Raised in the Bloor/Bathurst area of Toronto, he lost his father at the too young age of 12. Isolating himself in his bedroom to try and deal with his loss, his guitar became his confidante and his best friend. However, the first instrument young Vigna had learned how to play was the accordion. The family couldn’t afford a piano so a ‘squeezebox” was the next best thing. Lessons helped him learn how to read music and this ability segued from accordion to guitar. His first guitar was a rental from the Netherlands Music School for 50 cents a week.
Much has been written about James over the years although he has also managed to stay somewhat under the “commercial” radar. Recordings are few, considering himself more of a live performer than a recording artist. His devotion to the blues was influenced largely by the Rolling Stones. “…..there was something about their first album; being all blues. Like The Animals and the Yardbirds, I was getting the blues music second hand from the Stones. And the stuff they were covering made me want to find out where they got it from. I went to Sam the Record Man on Yonge St and headed upstairs, straight for the blues and jazz section.”
A year-long house gig at the Bermuda Tavern in the 70’s allowed James to see Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells , Charlie Mingus, and Thelonius Monk at The Colonial just down the street. How? Inbetween his six 40-minute sets six nights a week (with two additional sets on Saturday afternoons) James would make a beeline for the Colonial, sometimes playing, sometimes watching, but always getting ideas, new songs and the best education possible.
Fast forward to 2016 and a milestone birthday blast at the Phoenix. James has won numerous awards and accolades including a Juno and a Maple Blues Award for Lifetime Achievement, and he continues to perform, sharing his deep love of the blues with audiences everywhere. He’s playing at The Duke, just down the street from where I live. Guess where I’ll be February 13?
The many faces of Paul James….
Paul James and the love of his life
All photographs by Pat Blythe, Girl With A Camera “The Picture Taker”, copyright 2016
* Don’t Go Giving Me Love” (Sam Taylor) SOCAN ASCAP 2016 Artist: Sam Taylor and the East End Love Recorded at Soundhouse Studio, Toronto Produced by Pat Kelly, Mixed by Pat Kelly and John Jamieson, Engineered and Mastered by John Jamieson, Song arrangement by Pat Kelly, Sam Taylor: vocals, guitars Jace Traz: drums Chris Briscoe: bass John Jamiesom: electric piano Pat Kelly: tambourine, Sam Taylor, Jace Traz, Pat Kelly, Chris Briscoe : background vocals and hand claps of course.
Wikipedia, YouTube, Paul James website, Small Town Toronto, Lisa McDonald interview, Pat Kelly, Sam Taylor
Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.
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In “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husbandChristopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts, Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!