Downchild Blues Band to headline Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival

May 19, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

The legendary Downchild Blues Band is returning to the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival for the first time in several years, under the Longest 50th Anniversary Tour Ever.

The band’s tour kicked off in late 2019 just before the pandemic started, and shows have slowly came back since last summer, with the easing of restrictions.

Downchild Blues Band’s iconic sound and timeless hits have been entertaining crowds across Canada, and Orangeville will be no different when the band returns on June 3, according to Gary Kendall, Downchild’s bass player.

“Our show these days consists of a cross section of songs that span the entire career of Downchild,” Kendall said. “It’s good times guaranteed – it’ll be fun.”

Lead singer and harmonica player for the band, Chuck Jackson, told the Citizen they’ll be playing a lot of hits like “Flip, Flop and Fly” and “I Got Everything I Need (almost)”.

“We’ll also just be going over a lot of our 20 albums – a little something from everything,” Jackson noted. “We like to get people up on their feet dancing and moving around, so that’s a big part of it, too.”

So far on Downchild’s tour, Jackson said they’ve been playing mostly theatres and indoor venues, so he’s really looking forward to Orangeville Blues and Jazz being their first festival of the year.

“It’s always nice to be outside and getting people moving around,” he noted.

Kendall said he’s grateful the local festival is still able to operate after the financial challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Orangeville Blues and Jazz, it’s been a great festival for us just to watch it grow, and see it continue as well,” said Kendall. “It’s not the easiest climate to keep events like that alive, so Larry Kurtz [Festival founder] and his team have done very well. We’re really looking forward to it this year.”

It’s been half a century since, bandleader, songwriter, guitarist and harmonica player Donnie “Mr. Downchild” Walsh and his brother, the late Richard “Hock” Walsh, formed The Legendary Downchild Blues Band in Toronto in 1969.

Named after a Sonny Boy Williamson II song, Downchild’s story begins when Donnie Walsh was a mere teenager and got his first taste of Blues at a sweet 16 birthday party for his girlfriend.

“I was absolutely amazed by the music and, like most people who heard blues, started looking for more,” says Donnie, who soon discovered artists like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Read, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King. 

Inspired by those classic sounds, Downchild launched an unstoppable career that has included 18 albums, countless awards and sold-out shows around the globe. The band’s 1971 debut Bootleg, one of the first independent albums in Canada, was recorded in a makeshift studio in parking garage at Rochdale College. Soon after, they scored their first smash hit with a jumping version of Big Joe Turner’s classic “Flip Flop and Fly.” Downchild came to international prominence as the inspiration for Hollywood stars Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi’s hit film The Blues Brothers. In fact, two Downchild songs, “Shotgun Blues” and “(I Got Everything I Need) Almost” were even covered on The Blues Brothers’ 1978 multi-platinum album Briefcase Full of Blues. 

The Longest 50th Anniversary Tour that the Downchild Blues Band is currently on, is dedicated to the band’s long-time keyboard player, Michael Fonfara (Lou Reed), who pass away earlier this year.

“He’d been sick for a while, and although we kept working with Michael as long as we possibly could, we all knew that he wasn’t going to be around forever,” Kendall said.

“He soldiered on and he played with us right up until the final show we did with him, which was a pay-per-view in October of 2020, and then, of course, he passed in 2021.”

Tyler Yarema is filling in for Fonfara on the keyboard and longtime drummer for the band, Mike Fitzpatrick recently left, so he’s being replaced by Jim Casson, who played for the band back in the early 2000s.

Being an older band, around for 50 years, Kendall said it’s good to bring in two younger musicians like Casson and Yarema.

“Our average age used to be around 75, but we’ve added these two younger guys, and we dropped our average age to 65,” Kendall laughed.

Downchild Blues Band’s set time is at 9:30 p.m. on Friday (June 3) at the main stage in the park and Kendall says the people of Orangeville won’t want to miss it.

“We’re really hot right now because we’re on tour. The morale is very high. Everybody’s having a great time so far. By the time we hit Orangeville, we’re going to be at the top of our game,” Kendall enthused.

“We’re just very grateful that we’re still getting to do this, 53 years in the making, and can’t wait to get to Orangeville see all our friends from that area”

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