Wicked Grin Believes the Blues Can Help Good People in Bad Times

When MUSICAlive! first learns about Murray Kinsley’s guitars for the blues-rock mix of Wicked Grin’s latest album, it’s pretty encouraging!

“I use a Fender Telecaster modified Thinline (and) I call it the ‘Frenken-Tele’ that’s the modified part); I have a 61 Strat that I used on it, and a Les Paul . . . I love the sound of them. I used to switch guitars when I was playing live, and a lot of times you set it up so it sounds like the guitar you were just playing . . . There’s a bit of a different sound when you switch from a Fender to a Gibson. Still, a lot of it is quite similar, and I prefer the sound of the (Gibson) Humbucker pickups, which I have on my Thinline, but I prefer the necks from Fender more than Gibson.”

Male guitarist, male drummer and female bassist onstage in club.
Their CD’s pretty good, but it’s onstage when Murray, Leigh-Anne and Bruce really cook! Photo by Paul Verhaegh.

There you go! we’ve started a guitar fight before we’ve even discussed a note of music. The point of all this was asking Murray, lead Guitarist and vocalist for the band, about the instruments he used on their latest release, Murder Creek.

“You’ll probably find that a lot of guys, when they record, they’ll use all kinds of different things: when you’re recording, a little variance in tone will make a big difference, while a lot of the time (when you’re playing) live it doesn’t.”

Murray describes the Western Canada loop he and Wicked Grin are doing this fall, scooting from Calgary to the west coast, and then back to Edmonton a couple of weeks later. And then we get into a discussion about how the locations of a tour can have specific impacts on musical creation.

“We were touring the States, and driving through Alabama we passed a roadsign that indicated Murder Creek. I looked it up, and there’s a whole story that goes down why this place is called ‘Murder Creek’: some people got attacked and killed, and some stuff got stolen; the bad guys were found and hung at the same place; so it’s a pretty nasty little place.

“But just down the road we passed another roadsign that was ‘Sarah Branch Road’ or something like that, so what I did was take Sarah Branch and make her a fictitious character in this true story: ‘Sarah Branch rides through the night/3 men are hanging there . . .’”

We try to, as usual, categorize this musical thread which is part of the tapestry of live musical expression. A moment in one of the songs on this disc reminds MUSICAlive! of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and we ask Murray for his take on it.

“I think we’re a bit heavier than the Thunderbirds: they’re more along classical blues lines. All of our music is blues-based, but we move it around. A lot of the time we call it roots-rock, because we’re taking the blues feeling, changing it around a little bit, while staying true to a lot of it.

“We’ve been called all kinds of different things (musically): I think we’re pretty heavy, we’re pretty driving; our live show is pretty high-energy.”

Murray mentions that, while their first album was a more traditional shuffle blues album of material the band had been playing for awhile, both covers and originals, the last 3 albums have been “dirtier” or “grittier”, and in perhaps a related theme, “darker”. He mentions that, in addition to the aforementioned crime scene of “Murder Creek”, another song on the album, “Trouble Coming” makes reference to a Miami school shooting.

This is DEFINITELY the blues.

“You listen to older, standard blues, and it related to the time when it was written. And the people who wrote those songs, that was their life at the time: that was what they knew. They sang about their experiences; what was a reflection of what they thought about; what was important to them at that particular time.

Wicked Grin have played all over the world, and so are definitely NOT cardboard cutouts! Image courtesy of the artist.

“We’re not purists, and we do some of that material, but what we think is the blues is a form and a feeling, and it should reflect what YOUR life is about. I don’t know anything about having to sit on the back of the bus, I don’t know (what that feels like). But I was in Florida when those kids were shot, and I was very moved by that. The song came out, and I think you’ll hear more of the modern blues guys doing that.”

“We try to take it in our direction: it should be an expression of what I’m feeling, the experiences of my life.”

“The cool thing about blues, one of the traditions, and why the blues is so much fun: back in the day in Chicago, when they were writing about all these horrible things in their lives, it was upbeat music! It made you feel good; made you feel like dancing. And that was part of what it was for. It was (socially conscious) but you wanted to dance to it!That was the purpose of it.

“Someone once described the blues as ‘a good man feelin bad’. And part of it is to lift you up out of that . . . I think if you wanted to get at the root of what me and the band are doing . . . in our approach to music, it’s to try and make the blues more accessible to a modern audience. It’s fun music: there’s good and bad in all music I’ve heard . . . and I just think the blues gets labelled as boring.”

NEVER try to tell MUSICAlive! that the blues is boring: we’ll just ask you what you’ve been listening to, because it clearly wasn’t the blues!

Wicked Grin’s 2019 Scoot West

Aug 21: Blues Can, Calgary AB;
Aug 23: The Stage at Legion 289, Delta BC;
Aug 25: Nanaimo Blues Festival,Nanaimo BC;
Aug 29: Heriot Bay Inn, Quadra Island BC;
Aug 30: Lighthouse Marine Pub, Sechelt BC;
Aug 31: Gibsons Legion Branch #109, Gibsons BC;
Sep 04-08: Blues On Whyte, Edmonton AB;
Sep 11: Water Tower Inn, Sault Ste Marie ON;
Sep 29: The Atomic Rooster, Ottawa ON.Chicago, school shooting, roots, Alabama, The Fabulous Thunderbirds

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.