John & I: These Rutherfords got the blues

On October 19th, 2021, after potentially crossing each other’s music trails since about 1985, John Rutherford and I sat down to have only the 2nd conversation we’ve ever had. the first was on the night of the 44th Canadian federal election a month ago, as I left the scrolling numbers to listen to his set in the hallowed Blues Can, and was finally able to break our dialogic silence.

This lunchtime conversation in the Palomino Smokehouse & Grill is the result.

Snippets from John about his first radio show, encountering the blues, and getting here musically!

“(I ran that show) about 8 years, called the Blues Experiment.”

“That’s a long time ago, man!”

“I never actually opened for Jeff Healey. I don’t think so, but I played with him alot.And he always brought me up onstage as a guest: I’m betting I did 50 or more of those appearances with him: we were very close friends.”

“You’ve gotta remember, he used to come out west for weeks at a time, because he played at the King Eddy Hotel for a week or 2 going way back, before he was famous.”

“He was very supportive of me, and helped me with all kinds of projects . . . Always he would get in touch when he was out west”

We intersperse these bits with biographical histories of our mutual Calgary musical lifespans, and ending with now: ‘You were playing solo at The Blues Can, which was new to MUSICAlive!. Do you do a lot of that?’

“Solo work comes into the picture about 10 or 12 years ago: I didn’t have a solo performing element until (then), and I released my first solo record and started getting asked to do work at festivals, and they often asked if I could do it solo. It worked out pretty well, and I realized I had a voice and a an ability to set up a certain soundscape and a certain depth of sound in a solo setting.”

Looking up at radio mast with satellite dish at top
John’s first album. Image courtesy of the artist.

His 2010 record, a band project, is called Echo Broadcast.

“It did really well for me, and I played the festival circuit for several years on the strength of that record.”

We Ask John about where blues came from for him: John remembers moving in on one of his mom’s Beatles records from the age of 5, until it was given to him! And his favourite song was “Roll Over Beethoven”, a Chuck Berry original.

“As I started to get into music when I was a young teenager, I listened to lots of 70’s-era rock bands, a lot of it based on blues . . . I started playing guitar when I was around 10 – 12, but I played ukulele before that, when I was 7 or 8 years old, with my dad. We played little country fairs at that time, but the first real defining moment in this so-called ‘decision to go blues’ was when I was about 16: I was looking for a guitar teacher of certain significance, as I’d already started to play. I wanted a guitar teacher that could really give me a thorough understanding.

“I ended up with a guy named Jeff Peacock in Toronto, and (he said) ‘the first thing you gotta do is, you want rock & roll, and you wanna play jazz or whatever? You have to learn the blues.’ So I already knew a little bit about the blues, so we got along well.

“Every week I’d go and he’d write down on a piece of paper a record for me to go and buy.and I’d go to Sam the Record Man (in Toronto) and get that record, and maybe an extra one, and I’d go home and play those and learn the riffs. So that was a really defining moment when I was 16.”

MUSICAlive! comments on the fact that he’s already played with his dad, been in a band in school, and is now advancing his technique at 16: his family was clearly supporting his musical development.

“And then I came out here, and I was playing with a cousin of mine, and blues was coming into it, and he was a folksinger kind of guy. I was on an electric guitar behind him in a kind of acoustic setting, and that was late 70’s early 80’s. And i met the guy who was managing CJSW (the University of Calgary radio station), Grant Burns: he stumbled across me at a club called slack Alice, and he got up and played harmonica frantically. He approached me not long after and said, ‘You’re a blues guy: how about doing a blues show on CJSW?’ (we laugh)

“I thought I knew what I was doing, I had about 25 records, and I thought I had a depth of understanding that didn’t even scratch the surface . . . But what a way to learn!”

And that’s where I met John! Or at least, where I first encountered him filling the evenings with the gorgeous emotionalism of the blues . . .

Much much later, after discussing the sweep of musical influences and their interrelated genres (which you can hear on the linked audio), the other Mr. Rutherford opines that “I’ve heard great quotes about ‘There’s only 2 kinds of music, and that’s good and bad’: there’s good Blues and there’s bad Blues; there’s good Country and bad Country; there’s good Reggae and bad Reggae. It’s just a matter of deciding what you like and it’s good, I guess!”

The History of Music in a nutshell: truer words have rarely been spoken.

Posted by Carey Rutherford

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.

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