Bluesman gets down to business

Justin Brake
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Chris Kirby working on new CD with Gordie Johnson

There may be a young blues prodigy among us. At least that's what music producer Gordie Johnson believes.

Chris Kirby, a 25-year-old singer-songwriter and veteran of the St. John's club scene, first caught the attention of the former Big Sugar frontman last year with his "vintage soul voice" and is now set to begin recording an album under Johnson's supervision in September.

"He liked the music and wanted to get involved," Kirby explains. "This is him helping us get to the next level."

Chris Kirby caught the ear of music producer Gordie Johnson, who will work with the local bluesman on his upcoming album. - Photo by Shane Mills/Special to The Telegram

There may be a young blues prodigy among us. At least that's what music producer Gordie Johnson believes.

Chris Kirby, a 25-year-old singer-songwriter and veteran of the St. John's club scene, first caught the attention of the former Big Sugar frontman last year with his "vintage soul voice" and is now set to begin recording an album under Johnson's supervision in September.

"He liked the music and wanted to get involved," Kirby explains. "This is him helping us get to the next level."

Kirby and his band, The Marquee (bassist Craig Follett and drummer Mark Marshall), will enter into the studio in St. John's to lay down some tracks and then hope to make the trek to Johnson's current stomping grounds in Texas to mix the album before the end of the year.

The relationship between the two is a testament to Kirby's music and songwriting, which he was recognized for with nominations at both the Music NL and East Coast Music Awards after releasing his debut effort "Chris Kirby on Rum and Religion" in 2006.

It was also a product of happenstance, says Kirby, when he e-mailed Johnson's wife and manager Alex last year.

"While she was reading (the e-mail) and listening to the music, Gordie had walked into the office and asked her what she was listening to because he really liked it," he explains. "She said, 'Funny enough, this guy wants to work with you.' So it was the quickest response I've ever gotten on anything musically in my career," Kirby adds, grinning. "It hasn't been a very long career, I know. But still, I'm used to waiting two or three days to get a 'no'."

He and Johnson met at the 2008 ECMAs in Fredericton and began discussing the project, a rendezvous that was followed up by a guest appearance on stage with Johnson's band Grady when they played at Club One last April.

The meetings were much more relaxed than their first, at the ECMAs in Halifax in early 2007, says Kirby.

"When I met him in Halifax in 2007 I was a bumbling fool," he jokes. "He must have thought I had too much to drink or something. The only words I managed to pronounce were 'Gordie Johnson, you are my hero.' Everything else was just mumbled. It was the only time in my life I was star struck."

It seems as though Johnson's regard for the young musician is mutual - he invited Kirby to Texas to record with Thomas Shannon and Chris Layton, Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Double Trouble".

"I told Gordie I really wanted my guys. He was skeptical, but he came and met them and thought they were fantastic, so he thanked me for insisting," says Kirby.

It would be Chris Kirby and The Marquee who would work on the project, tentatively titled "Vampire Hotel."

However, after some funding rejections early on, Kirby says he had to call Alex with the potentially project-halting news.

"I told her we were basically doing everything but pulling out completely," he explains. "She said 'Don't worry, we'll make it happen. We'll come to Newfoundland if we have to.'"

Having already rendered some material with Johnson over the Internet, Kirby and his bandmates are down to business and working diligently to gather enough funds to carry out the rest of the production process.

Last month they played their first "Album Support Concert" and this weekend they're slated to play two more at The Dock on George Street to help them pull the rest of the project together.

"I'm confident once we have the product we'll have something we can shop around," he says.

"I've always tried to blend blues and roots with pop so that it could be accessible. Two reasons really. One, a selfish reason ... is to get myself out there and just to be heard. Another reason is to instill into pop fans or non-blues fans an appreciation for this kind of music, which is something all my favourite artists do."

With some of the common headaches musicians often face out of the way, Kirby and The Marquee are finally on their way.

"I've been over a year trying to get this project started. The first time ... it was going to be a local thing. I had applied for Music NL funding and I got turned down," he explains. "I put everything on hold, but the silver lining of that of course was me connecting with Gordie and now making a brand new plan."

Chris Kirby and The Marquee's "Album Support Concerts Two and Three" take place Friday and Saturday night at The Dock.

On Friday they will be joined by the Terri Lynn Eddy Band and Kirby's other band Stereotype. On Saturday, they play with the Chad Murphy Band and Ahh Kelly.

Both shows start at 11 p.m.

Organizations: Johnson's, The Dock

Geographic location: St. John's, Texas, Halifax Fredericton Newfoundland George Street

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Recent comments

  • Heather
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Great job, Chris! Can't wait to hear your next album :)

  • Bob
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Great story - music is a tough business and meeting the right people sure can help. I remember running into Big Sugar
    in The Hague, Netherlands ('91, I think);
    The celebrations for the Queen's birthday [May 1st ?] are nation wide, and
    The Hague was filled with Blues & Jazz groups from all over...I think Amos Garrett was there too.

    Break a leg, Chris...!

  • Heather
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Great job, Chris! Can't wait to hear your next album :)

  • Bob
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Great story - music is a tough business and meeting the right people sure can help. I remember running into Big Sugar
    in The Hague, Netherlands ('91, I think);
    The celebrations for the Queen's birthday [May 1st ?] are nation wide, and
    The Hague was filled with Blues & Jazz groups from all over...I think Amos Garrett was there too.

    Break a leg, Chris...!