Penticton’s Dream Cafe hosting blues great Michael Charles

Michael Charles is bringing his unique blend of blues to the Dream Cafe Oct. 12

As a kid, growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Michael Charles could always be found somewhere making music. Whether it was sneaking some time strumming his dad’s six string, playing rockstar with his improvised cardboard box drum set in the garage or just “bashing” on his sister’s piano.

Now, more than a half century later, Charles, the eight-time Grammy-elected artist and Chicago Blues Hall of Fame member, still laughs about those days.

“I would lock myself up in my bedroom and put blankets on the windows and just play and play in the dark. My dad would come in and say ‘Would you go outside and get some fresh air, be a normal kid, go and kick a football, get into a fight or something,'” recalled Charles in a phone interview from Chicago where he now lives. “I still remember one day when my dad walked in the door and I was waiting for that ‘normal’ speech of his and he looked at me and shook his head and walked out and closed the door. He never bothered me again, he just gave up.”

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Chicago Blues Hall of Fame member Michael Charles is bringing his unique talents to the Dream Cafe stage Oct. 12. (Contributed photo)

Charles is bringing his 12th consecutive tour of the year, Michael Charles Soundtracked 2019, to the Dream Café Oct. 12.

It was his father who actually started teaching him the guitar at the age of five.

“He (father) just loved music. He taught me my first chord, I still remember it like it was yesterday, him putting my fingers on certain strings and saying this is a C chord, this is a D chord,” said Charles, who describes the instrument as his third leg. “It just grabbed me in the right place and I just never looked back. It’s been my life and my passion, my whole being is music.

“I use music as my occupation, as my hobby, relaxation, I mean you name it, I guess I’m obsessed with it but it’s a good obsession.”

His father died on his 21st birthday, something that forever changed the way Charles looked at life.

“So death hit home at an early stage and I promised myself to live everyday like it’s the last,” he said. “I look up at God every morning and say thank you.”

Though his father has passed away, Charles believes his dad’s spirit lives on in the music he now plays, always remembering how his dad placed his tiny fingers on the strings of his first guitar.

Michael Charles learned to play the guitar at age five from his father. (Photo courtesy Wendy Rae)

When he was young, Charles said his best friend was his little transistor radio, listening to the likes of Elvis, The Beatles and the Guess Who, all of who he later found out were blues influenced. He eventually graduated to the likes of Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King.

Charles began playing in bands before he was able to drive, with guys 10 and 20 years older than him.

It was in the early 80’s his music entered a new phase.

“I put those bands aside and began to pursue my own career and become Michael Charles, I formed bands to back me up, I wasn’t just a side man playing guitar,” he said. “When that happened, I hit the road in a hard way and I’ve been on the road ever since, the road is my second home.”

His big break came one day in 1990, when, then in his mid 30’s, Charles got an invitation to play at the fabled Buddy Guy’s Legends Club in Chicago.

When asked by his manager at the time if he was interested, Charles replied: “I’ve got one foot on the plane already let’s get the hell out of here.”

He spent the 36-hour flight from Melbourne practicing in his head and the closer he got, “the more I started rattling at the knees.”

Having gone without sleep for nearly three days, Charles was picked up at O’Hare International Airport and taken directly to the Legend where his protests of needing sleep went unnoticed.

“It’s like they hadn’t heard me at all and just threw me up on stage. Mr. Guy was on my left and I just looked at him and said ‘Hi!’ I mean what the hell do you say to one of the gods of music,” said Charles. “So he (Guy) just starts playing, I had no idea what song he was playing, I had no idea what key he was in, I was totally jet lagged but for some reason I just went in automatic and started playing. To this very day I can honestly say it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I never experienced anything like that again.”

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While he’s performed for many years in Canada, including stops in B.C., this will be his first trip to Penticton and the Dream Café, something he’s really looking forward to.

“Every time I play a new area, it’s always kind of exciting because you get a whole new audience,” said Charles. “I love at the end of my shows – I don’t run away, I go backstage and let the sweat dry off a little – and go right back into the audience and mingle. I love talking to people, I love their comments because you learn what they like and it makes the show a lot better.

“My biggest goal is to be the best I can be, improving and everyday establishing something new in my career which I hope to do at the Dream Café.”

Tickets for the show are still available and can be purchased or at the café in person.


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Mark Brett | Reporter


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