There is nothing quite like a warm summer evening. Add to it the aroma of bar-b-que ribs and the sweet sound of the blues in the air, and its the perfect combination. Such was the case at Guelph Rib Festival held August 25, 2000. Located just one hour west of Toronto, Ontario, in Guelph’s Riverside Park. Rib vendors were represented from the U.S. and Canada. By far, Bibb’s Rib’s from Florida were the best. After some hearty southern cuisine, there is nothing like the blues to cap it off.
The festival’s main musical attraction was none other than Canada’s most noted blues band, Downchild. They emerged on the Toronto scene way back in1969. At that time, the band was fronted by 2 brothers Donnie Walsh (harp/guitar) and Richard ‘The Hock’ Walsh (vocals). Their name was inspired from a Sonny Boy Williamson song. Canadian comedian/actor Dan Aykroyd was a huge fan of this band. It was the early days of Downchild that inspired Aykroyd to create the Blues Brothers skit on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Now, more than 25 years after inspiring what became the Blues Brothers, Downchild is still as popular and active as in the mid-70s and is proudly known as Canada’s blues band. To mark the band’s quarter-century, Downchild performed a series of 10 dates at Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto. It was here where the band made its first appearance in 1969, and where it once hosted a jam with both Buddy Guy and James Cotton. A who’s-who of fans and friends turned up to perform with the band — guests included a number of veterans of early versions of the group, including Donnie’s brother, Richard "Hock" Walsh. Also present was Aykroyd himself.
Y2K did not begin on a positive note for the band. Former Downchild lead singer Richard "The Hock" Walsh, passed away January 2 at his home in Toronto. He had been in ill-health for some time, but appeared regularly at club gigs in the Toronto area until very recently. Within a couple months another former lead singer Tony Flaim died.
With their misfortunes behind them, the band was absolutely stellar at Ribfest. The band is still fronted by founding member Donnie Walsh. Now known as Mr. Downchild, Donnie writes the majority of the band’s material and remains one of the most enthusiastic musicians to be found anywhere. They launched into the instrumental, harp-laden "Soarin" from their recent Lucky 13 CD. It featured the double harp attack of Walsh and Chuck Jackson. Together, they blew up a hurricane. That tune was all it took to force people to abandon their place in the rib lineups to come and hear the blues. Then it was into "Good Times Guaranteed" from another recent release. With unparalleled confidence, singer Chuck Jackson belted out the words using his booming voice. A sing along version of "Stagger Lee" preceded the pounding "Wednesday Night Blues". This was followed by "Shotgun Blues". Then on "Annie’s Got A Sister", sax man Pat Carey let things rip. He made it sound as if the band had an entire brass section. The arrangements of the band’s original songs and covers were fitted together tightly. It was one hot rockin’, dancin’ blues song after another.
Donnie showed what 30+ years of playing on the road can result in. He set aside his Stratocaster, brought out his Epiphone guitar and played some of the meanest, most intense slide north of the Macon County Line. His slide jammin segued into "Madison Blues". Donnie then proved he is an equally talented harp player by letting wail ferociously on "Off The Cuff". This meshed nicely with "I Am Mr. Downchild" in which not only did Donnie continue to blow, but he took over on lyrics and did a nice job. As I walked away having had way too much fun (and ribs) the band was still jump jiving to "Caledonia". The band tours throughout Canada and the eastern States regularly. Catch them if you can.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Tim Holek, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.