Strings that sing

Rootsy musical supergroup launches mini-tour

Robert Moyes

Special to the Record

Best known locally as the artistic director and executive producer of Vancouver Island MusicFest, Courtenay-based musician Doug Cox is also rated one of the world’s finest dobro players (he’s also damned good on slide guitar).

Cox never books himself at his own festival because he’d be too distracted to play his best, but the idea of performing in a festival-style show with several handpicked musicians was impossible to resist. So last year he inaugurated Mighty String Thing, a guitar-heavy sextet of seriously gifted roots musicians, and went on a brief tour.

MST was so popular that Cox is doing it again this year, with mostly new players and expanded to a roll call of seven.

“I just asked a bunch of my favourite musicians and most of them said yes … even though some are taking a cut in pay,” chuckled Cox.

Back from last year are two notable blues artists: Cécile Doo-Kingué and Sam Hurrie. Doo-Kingué, of Cameroonian descent but currently based in Montreal, is a blazing guitar-star and vocalist who has forged a unique blend of blues, Afro-roots, jazz, and soul.

“Cécile is a superb musician – it’s like having T-Bone Walker and Joan Armatrading in the same body,” Cox noted. And Hurrie rates as one of the old souls of the band, a fluent blues veteran and intuitive collaborator who plays acoustic and electric guitar and has been performing and recording for over 40 years.

Three of the new members are from Los TexManiacs, the hottest Tex-Mex band on the planet – a point they proved handily on the mainstage at the last two MusicFests.

TexManiacs founder Max Baca is a master of the bajo sexto, the bass-forward 12-string Mexican “guitar” that anchors conjunto music. And his nephew, Josh Baca, is a high-energy performer and an emerging superstar on accordion.

“When Max was young he played in a band with the legendary Flaco Jiminez, who became his mentor,” said Cox.

“Both Max and Josh are incredible.” And the last musical guest flying in from San Antonio is Noel Hernandez, who plays a sizzling electric bass.

Adding some world-music flavour to the proceedings will be Brazilian guitarist-extraordinaire Celso Machado, who is also a remarkable percussionist … and whistler. “Celso is B.C.’s best-kept musical secret,” declared Cox. “He’s an amazing musician who combines Brazilian harmony and African rhythms … his whole body just exudes music.”

Everyone in the group brings material to the table and they then hash out a set list, with an emphasis on group performance.

“There’ll be no individual stuff, but neither is it a gigantic ‘gang twang’,” said Cox, who explains that the performances will range from ensemble work down to duos and trios, in a multiplicity of musical genres and blends. “Most of the material will be song-based. These musicians aren’t there to show off – the idea is to serve each song, to explore the musical content and lock into the mood and not ego-trip with needlessly flashy solos that take you out of the music.”

There are four shows planned, in Courtenay, Tofino, Vancouver and Victoria.

Any nearby music lovers with big ears and a love of easy-going virtuosity should check out this once-in-a-lifetime tour.

“This is a fine group of musicians being serious but also having a great time,” he added. “It’s fun for us and fun for the audience.”

Comox Valley Record