Interview with Canadian guitarist Jack de Keyzer, pays tribute to the great blues masters and heroes
How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
I grew up in the era of hippies and psychedelia and very liberal views and I haven’t really changed through the years. I’m peace and love guy.
How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?
My sound is very blues oriented with strong elements of British blues rock. I grew up with the Beatles the Rolling Stones and a few later years later, when I’d been playing the guitar for a couple of years I was heavily influenced by Clapton, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and a few years after that Led Zeppelin. A few years after that I became very influenced by the original blues people starting with Robert Johnson, and a lot of the Chess records Chicago Blues masters. I am also very influenced by soul jazz, hard bop and a lot of the Blue Note jazz musicians.
Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My first big mentor was a guy from Canada named King Biscuit Boy aka Richard Newell. He had one of the largest blues record collections in Canada and was an internationally acclaimed recording artist singer, songwriter and harmonica player. He turned me onto all the great bluesman, on Chess records, Specialty records, Excello, King, Sun, just to name a few. It was a great education and my first big time pro gig.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
I played a series of shows with Bo Diddley in the 90s. We were rehearsing at the El Mocambo night club in Toronto getting ready for our first of two nights. He looked at the drummer and said do you know the Bo Diddley beat? The drummer nodded yeah man of course! Bo looked at him and said, ‘don’t play it.’ Because- Bo Diddley played that beat on his guitar! Nobody else was supposed to play that. We all had to play counterpoint rhythms to what he was playing. I Also played for a week with the incredible Etta James. She called me “the Canadian Keith Richards”, I also got lots of great advice from classic Blues people like Muddy Waters drummer, the late great Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Whenever I got too fancy, too high up the neck, or too fast, he’d look at me and say “Take your time son- play the blues” These guys they only played with feeling -if you can’t play with feeling -you may as well not play at all! And that’s my little bit of advice.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss authenticity, I miss blues with a feeling. There’s way too much importance put on how many guitars you have on stage, and what vintage they are, and how fast you can play and which fancy venue in which country you toured. It’s just faking it- there’s no real feeling there. Rich people playing and buying their way into the blues – I can’t go for that! No can do.
Make an account of the case of the blues in Canada. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?
The blues scene in Canada is the strongest it’s ever been right now. There are so many great artists. Classic artists like Colin James. Sue Foley is a very good player and singer, my friends in Monkey Junk, Paul DesLauriers Band, Steve Strongman, Dawn Tyler Watson are all world-class. And also, young up-and-coming guys like Spencer MacKenzie are making great records.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?
What I love about music is that the possibilities are limitless. I consider myself a lifelong student of music and love every day that I get to play, practice and compose. Music is a never-ending fountain of inspiration.
What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?
Nietzsche said it best, “Life without music would be a mistake”. And here’s my quote “Music is the glue that binds us together.”
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Jimi Hendrix Experience debut at the Bag o’ Nails club in London England November 25, 1966. Every British blues rocker was at that gig, the Rolling Stones, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page, John Mayall. That’s one date I would’ve liked to have been in attendance!
Interview by Michael Limnios / Photos by David McDonald