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Australian rides the blues on B.C. tour
It’s no secret that the ski hills around these parts are crazy with Australians come winter.
As soon as the powder starts to fall, the local shops stock up on Vegemite and local hockey games get a little more raucous with the Aussie war cry.
Although bluesman Ash Grunwald, 36, says he doesn’t expect, make that hopes, that no one screams out “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” when he comes to play the Saloon at Silver Star Mountain Resort Wednesday, he should have the joint chockablock.
He’s also an avid snowboarder, and will be putting his surfing skills to good use.
“I love my snowboarding. It’s a great example on how good music has been to me,” said Grunwald over the phone before heading across the Pacific. “I’ve been snowboarding for over 10 years from playing music.”
Originally from Melbourne and now living in Brunswick Heads, a little town just up the coast from Byron Bay in the north end of New South Wales, Grunwald is well known in his country for his swampy, original blues-rock guitar style.
He’s also not a stranger to this part of the world and began touring B.C. early in his career. One of his first gigs here was at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival when he shared the same stage as the late, great Jeff Healey, Sue Foley and Big Jack Johnson.
“That was a big experience for me and an eye opener,” he said. “What I like about Canada, especially with the older people, is they know what the blues is. In some places, no one thinks of my music as bluesy, but I come to places like Canada and there’s a lot more tenacity required on my part to get it right, probably more than the audience realizes.”
The audience obviously does as Grunwald’s performances in ski resort towns are sometimes greeted by upwards of 400 enthusiastic fans.
He’ll have his share of hills to test out this visit. Besides Silver Star, and a Valentine’s date at Lorenzo’s Café near Enderby, he’s hitting familiar stomping grounds at Whistler, as well as Big White, Revelstoke, Fernie, Nelson, Vancouver Island and Banff.
“Three weeks is the longest tour I’ve done in Canada in a long time. When you do a gazillion gigs, sometimes there’s not enough time to play, but I’m going to try and squeeze in some days,” he said.
Grunwald is calling this visit to B.C. his “back to his roots” tour, as it follows a summer tour that saw him showcase the extreme opposite end of his sound, promoting a collaborative album called Gargantua, made with Australian rock royalty The Living End.
The album, including a revved up version of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, garnered the musician plenty of attention and rave reviews.
For this tour, Grunwald is stripping his sound down with a guitar, harmonica, and a repertoire that mixes his original tunes with the songbook of Delta blues numbers he launched his solo career back with in the early 2000s.
Grunwald, who started playing the guitar when he was 10, following in the footsteps of his South African-born bass playing granddad, says the blues has always been in his blood.
“When I write something that does not have that bluesy-soul feel, I think ‘ick,’” he said. “I remember my guitar teacher said ‘do something other than the blues,’ but I thought I don’t want to diversify. Later when I had a music career, that’s what I went after and I am glad it worked out that way. (However,) after seven studio and a few live albums and experimentation, I felt free to improvise.”
With one foot in the Pacific and the other stuck in the Mississippi, Grunwald strays from the 12-bar blues, but rather plays what he calls one-chord blues.
“I like the really old Delta blues from the juke joints, where the player sits on a groove or vibe. The chorus gets turned on its head when you ride the same key or note,” he said.
That style, which nowadays crosses into electronic dance music, is made in Grunwald’s case using organic instruments such as a stomp box, kick-drum and guitar.
“I like modern dance music and I saw that crossover with the blues when you sit on same chord, that kind of hypnotic feel,” he said. “I love it when I’m playing it solo because you feel the energy of the room. They go with you and you get to be the conductor or shaman.”
Grunwald takes the stage at the Saloon, in Silver Star’s village, Wednesday at 9 p.m.
Reservations can be made for his Valentine’s show Friday at Lorenzo’s, 901 Mabel Lake Rd., by calling 250-838-6700.