To recognize individuals and organizations who have contributed to
(b. 1930 Dubeczno, Poland; d. 2018 Edmonton, Alberta)
Herb Ortlieb was the man who introduced the Blues to the Commercial Hotel in the early 1980s when the bar was described as a smoky, neighborhood pub. It was affectionately called the Commie, and ironically it was the drinking spot for the University of Alberta’s Left.
His daughter Rose Ross provided the following:
Herbert (Herb) Ortlieb was born April 14, 1930 in Dubeczno, Poland but is of German descent. World War II split Dad’s family up and only he and a couple of siblings immigrated to Canada. Dad met his wife Johanna at the Edelweiss Dance Hall in Edmonton and they married September 2, 1955. In 1971, they took the financial risk of a lifetime, and invested with complete strangers in the Commercial Hotel. The tavern had a jukebox for entertainment and Dad introduced country music bands to the small step-up stage. Not satisfied with the overall business, Dad decided to try introducing Blues music to the tavern. It was instantly well-received by the customers, so much so, that Dad convinced his partners that they must renovate and add on a real venue for showcasing the amazing blues artists that were available. In 1987, the addition was complete with stage, sunken dance floor with a polished parquet floor, skylights, and more seating. Blues music became the cornerstone of the business housed in what is lovingly known as “The Commie”. Blues on Whyte was simply a name that was agreed on by the family and staff to be the right moniker. It seems old and young, rich and poor, famous to infamous, no collar to white collar, have come to embrace Blues on Whyte, a place where all are welcome and none are judged.
Herb was the visionary and had a liking for blues music and honestly felt that it should be affordable. Jim Good, former manager, related this story: “When I worked at the Blues on Whyte, Herb was adamant about keeping the prices low, including the door charge. I brought up raising it to $5, and he replied ‘I don’t care if it’s the ROLLING STONES, it’s 3 bucks!’ He had a good rapport with the musicians, and mutual appreciation.
The Saturday afternoon jam is one of the mainstays of the Commie over the last thirty years. An ongoing debate among blues harmonica players is “who was the very first to play the Commie?” The top contenders for this honour are Bernard Brasen, Harpdog Brown and last year’s inductee into the Edmonton Blues Hall of Fame, Rusty Reed. The other blues musicians never participate in this friendly debate, just the harmonica players
Over the past thirty years, Blues on Whyte has established itself as the premiere blues bar, not only in Western Canada, but in North America because of the high quality of the performers, and, it is one of very few blues bars that offer live music seven days a week. In the early years, most of the talent was from the Chicago blues scene and audiences saw Eddie “the Chief” Clearwater, “Fast Fingers” Jimmy Dawkins, Maurice John Vaughn, Shirley Johnson, and Eddie Shaw and the Wolfgang. Award winning artists have played the stage representing the Handy Awards (Blues Foundation, Memphis), the Maple Blues Awards, Juno Awards and three Grammy Award recipients: Donald Ray Johnson, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson.
Over the years, the line up included artists from across North America, among them some of the amazing female blues artists such as Janiva Magness, Shemekia Copeland, Deborah Coleman, Lady Bianca, and E.C. Scott to name a few. At the same time, the close proximity to the west coast provided access to such great blues acts as Sonny Rhodes, Philip Walker, William Clarke, Rick Holmstrom, and Mark Hummel. Numerous Canadian Blues acts that worked the Commie over the last thirty years are Big Dave McLean, Amos Garrett, Sue Foley, Jack DeKeyzer, Tim Williams, Donald Ray Johnson, Brent Parkin and Nigel Mack. And most, if not all of Edmonton’s superb talent has played the Commie stage over the years and developed their craft including Harpdog Brown, Rusty Reed, Jimmy Guiboche, Chris Brzezicki, Grant Stovel, Graham Guest, Larry Lever, Jeff Lisk, Alex Harriot, Dave Babcock, Clayton Sample, and more recently Rotten Dan Shinnan, Yuji Ihara and Nigel Gale of Boogie Patrol.
Blues on Whyte has always had a policy of generous community service. There is an annual Christmas-time benefit for the Edmonton Food Bank, as well as regular fundraisers for musicians and other local charities. These events are all ways emceed by Edmonton stand-up comic Tim Koslo, Blues on Whyte artist in residence, who donates his skills and talent for these many worthy causes.
Edmonton audiences are grateful to Herb Ortlieb for his vision on bringing the blues to Edmonton at Blues on Whyte, and for his continuous support of the blues in Edmonton. We are delighted to induct Herb Ortlieb into the Edmonton Blues Hall of Fame in the Builder Category.
To recognize individuals or bands from Edmonton and area that have made a significant musical contribution to the Edmonton blues community and beyond, over a period of not less than 20 years.
(b. 1962, Edmonton, Alberta)
“I saw him perform this summer and he stole my heart….old-fashioned blues … 100% bluesman … the real deal. I champion him to be in the Edmonton Blues Hall of Fame.” —Nancy Nash, 2015 Edmonton Blues Hall of Fame Inductee
Harpdog Brown is an “old-school” harmonica player, who was born in Edmonton in 1962 and is now based in Vancouver. When asked about his real first name he proceeds to pull out his wallet and place all his cards on the table, and all the cards read Harpdog (one word) Brown. Next question!
Harpdog’s life-changing moment was seeing James Cotton in concert at the S.U.B. Theater in Edmonton in 1979. “I had to learn how to play the harp, so it was obvious, build a band. I had to, there wasn’t anybody looking to hire a young wanna-be harp player,” said Harpdog “and where does one learn? From listening to records and trying to repeat what you hear”. With some guidance he found himself first picking up licks from people like Slim Harpo and Jimmy Reed, and slowly that moved up the line to Cotton and Sonny Boy, and eventually both “Walters”(Big Walter Horton and Little Walter Jacobs). His respect for Muddy Waters was so profound that he named his son McKinley after him (Muddy was born McKinley Morganfield). But at the end of the day, his main admiration is that of Little Walter Jacobs and John Lee Williamson, “the original Sonny Boy”.
Harpdog moved to the west coast in 1987, not in pursuit of a music career, he moved out west for the weather, so he says. By 1989, he found himself putting together a band again. He recorded his first demo at former Edmontonian piano-master Willie MacCalder’s SNUG Studio. This was the beginning of The Bloodhounds.
Over the years, Harpdog has returned to Edmonton to help raise his son, and to create work as he does everywhere he goes. During that time he employed local blues players such as Jimmy Guiboche, Graham Guest, Grant Stovel and Ben Sures, along with many more. He was the front- man in the Sunday Night House Band at Blues on Whyte for a long run, back when Jim Good was managing the club. Harpdog also got involved with CJSR Radio, producing an early morning show on Fridays for over a year. He came back a few years later with a new show, Dog Trax, that featured one blues artist for the full, noon-hour show.
Harpdog has received several awards including three consecutive Maple Blues Awards for Harmonica Player of the Year, the Fraser Valley Music Award for Best Blues Artist of the Year, and the Muddy Award for the Best North West Blues Release from the Cascade Blues Association in Portland. Among his many nominations, he has been nominated three consecutive times for Best Blues Artist of the Year by the Western Canada Music Awards and he received a Juno Nomination for the best Blues Release in Canada. His latest CD Travelin’ With The Blues received a very warm response from Charlie Musselwhite: “it really is some great smokin’ blues. Every tune is a winner! It was recorded the old school way…right off the floor, with fine old tube-amps and the works.”
The aforementioned quote sums up Harpdog’s approach to the blues and life. It is a pleasure to watch him perform and enjoy his onstage persona. Harpdog is the ultimate road warrior and he has made his reputation working throughout Canada, the United States and Germany. It is an honour and a pleasure to induct Harpdog Brown into The Edmonton Blues Hall Fame for 2017.
To recognize musicians from outside of Edmonton who have made
(b. 1968, Ottawa, Ontario)
In the late 1980s, a number of exciting women guitar players working in the blues genre emerged including Debbie Davis, Deborah Coleman and Joanna Connor, lead by the great Bonnie Raitt. Among this group of strong and proficient blues guitarists, one in particular surfaced out of Canada, that being Sue Foley. Sue was born in Ottawa, Ontario on March 29, 1968 and began playing guitar at age 13. Sue Foley’s early influences were the Rolling Stones, T-Bone Walker, and Memphis Minnie. Sue comes out of a strong tradition of women who played acoustic or electric guitar. In addition to Memphis Minnie (which Sue has covered so well on Me and My Chauffeur), this list would have to include Elizabeth Cotton, Sister Rosetta Thorpe, Peggy Jones (aka Lady Bo), Jessie Mae Hemphill, Barbara Lynn, Precious Bryant, and Beverly “Guitar” Watson.
In the eighties, Sue began touring across Canada when she met up with a young harmonica player from California named Mark Hummel. One of those illustrious stops was the Blues on Whyte, where Edmonton audiences had their first exposure to this young woman’s amazing talent as a singer and an electrifying guitar-player, on her trademark pink paisley Telecaster. Sue toured with Mark Hummel across the US and Canada and eventually toured Europe, where to this day, Sue has a very strong fan base and a full tour schedule. In 1989, through her association with Duke Robillard, Sue connected with Clifford Antone, the major force in the Austin, Texas blues scene that was centered around Antone’s blues club and Antone’s Records. Sue sent him a tape of her work, and Clifford signed her up with Antone’s Records, on which Sue released four successful albums.
Sue’s connection with Edmonton can be traced back to those early days at Blues on Whyte in the late eighties and early nineties, and subsequent invitations to perform at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in 2000 and the Edmonton Blues Festival in 2003. She has also generously contributed her time to the S.I.R.E.N.S. fundraisers in Edmonton, as recently as 2016. Sue has a strong and lasting relationship with numerous Edmonton first-call blues musicians such as Graham Guest , Grant Stovel, and Chris Brzezicki, as they not only back her up in Edmonton and western Canada tours, but Graham Guest has had the opportunity to do major tours with Sue across the US and Europe. An excellent example is the DVD Sue Foley: Live in Europe 2006 on Ruf Records where we see Graham Guest in full support on keys. Sue has released three albums with Ruf Records to much acclaim.
Sue Foley has a very distinguished career that is best exemplified by her winning a record 17 Maple Blues Awards, three prestigious Trophées De Blues De France and a Canadian Juno Award in 2001 for Best Blues Album of the Year, as well as numerous nominations. She teamed up with Peter Karp (who has played the Blues on Whyte as a solo act) to record the highly acclaimed album He Said She Said which launched them on major tour around the world.
Sue is also an assistant professor of music at a college in North Carolina, and is known for Guitar Woman, an ongoing project to interview “her heroines of guitar”.
Sue Foley continues to tour the world, and promote her recent release Ice Queen. She most recently performed here at the Danlyn Studios where The Edmonton Blues Hall of Fame Foundation was extremely pleased and proud to induct Sue Foley into the Legends Category of the Edmonton Blues Hall of Fame for 2017.
Literature & Recording
To acknowledge achievements in both publishing and recording.
Jane Austen Sings the Blues
(University of Alberta Press, 2009)
Jane Austen Sings the Blues was conceived to honour the memory of blues aficionado and Jane Austen scholar, Bruce Stovel (1941 – 2007). Bruce performed a key role in many people’s lives whether he was booking blues acts for the Yardbird Suite, co-hosting CJSR radio show “Calling all Blues” with his son, Grant, or lecturing on Jane Austen and literature of the eighteenth century at the University of Alberta. In remembering Bruce, UAlberta Professor Emeritus Isobel Grundy said he was, “someone that everybody liked, that everybody trusted, that everybody was always glad to see−and that everybody had banked on seeing around for a whole lot longer.” His unexpected death from a heart attack in January 2007 left family, friends, colleagues and students bereft.
Jane Austen Sings the Blues gathers essays by established Austen scholars including Margaret Drabble, Isobel Grundy, Juliet McMaster, and Peter Sabor and some of his exemplary students, together with blues lyrics, poetry, and memoir. The companion CD features some of Bruce’s favourite blues performers from across the blues world. It contains contributions from internationally-renowned artists like Ann Rabson, Maurice John Vaughn, Big Dave McLean, Tim Williams, Donald Ray Johnson and Vaan Shaw — alongside many of the Edmonton blues people who were closest to Bruce’s heart, such as Kat Danser, Graham Guest, Larry Lever, Bobby Cameron, Jim Guiboche and David “Crawdad” Cantera.
Bruce’s wife of over 40 years, Nora Foster Stovel, oversaw the editorial work of the collection. She invited contributions from a wide variety of individuals and along with retired professor Juliet McMaster and director of UAlberta Press Linda Cameron, shaped the final selection. On the musical side, Bruce’s son Grant and friend Graham Guest, often worked tirelessly late into the night, with the performers who were eager to make a contribution to the CD. Without exception everyone who Grant and Graham asked to participate agreed immediately. Grant and Graham were ably assisted and supported in their work by Ian Martin at The Twilight Living Room recording studio. In addition to engineering the tracks, on occasion Ian was called upon to play back-up on recordings, as in the wee hours of the morning, there were only a couple of people in the studio.
Kat Dancer’s contribution to the CD, ‘The Other Side’ was composed especially in honour of Bruce. Here is an excerpt:
Jane’s singing the blues, child, all day and night
The following is a track-by-track description of the CD:
1) Maurice John Vaughn is a world-renowned Chicago blues musician. He’s been to Edmonton countless times to play, and developed a close relationship with Bruce. Maurice recorded a live DVD at the Commercial Hotel’s Blues on Whyte pub years ago — and he asked Bruce to interview him on camera as part of the DVD’s bonus features. “Small Town Baby” is an old number by an artist that was a mentor for Maurice many years ago — the late Chicago bluesman, Jimmy Walker. Maurice is joined on this recording by his long time musical partner, trombonist B.J. Emery.
2) Michael Jerome Browne is a brilliant blues and roots musician from Montreal. He’s made many acclaimed albums of his own, and has also toured and recorded as an accompanist for Eric Bibb. Bruce originally connected with Michael by calling him to express his admiration for Michael’s debut album, and to encourage him in his musical pursuits. Michael originally came into the studio to back up Kat Danser on her track, but asked if he could also record a contribution of his own for the project. “It Takes Time” is a 1950s song by Otis Rush — as it happens, a big favourite of Bruce’s. It showcases Michael’s skills as a singer and guitar player in a straight-up traditional electric blues style — which, oddly enough, is a very unusual setting for Michael. That’s Graham on keyboards, Ian on bass and Grant on drums.
3) Graham wrote his piece especially for the project. It’s an amazing song. “You’ve Got to Cry Out Loud (When the Sun Goes Down)” features a half-Edmonton, half-Chicago band. Graham is on keys and vocals with Grant playing drums. The other guys are members of legendary Chicago blues band, Eddie Shaw & the Wolf Gang — Vaan Shaw (Eddie’s son) plays guitar on this track, and Lafayette “Shorty” Gilbert plays bass.
4) Ann Rabson was a distinguished pianist, guitarist, singer and songwriter. She was known for her work as a solo artist, as well as for being part of the hugely successful band, Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. “Struttin’ My Stuff” was a Lucille Bogan song from 1930 that Bruce had once suggested Ann might want to perform; Ann ended up making it the title track of a solo album of hers back in the year 2000. Here, she revisits it after a long day spent playing at the Edmonton Blues Festival. She recorded a piano instrumental to begin with — then, when it was suggested that it’d be nice to have a vocal piece as well. She kindly agreed to try recording “Struttin’ My Stuff”. Ian reshuffled the entire studio around to accommodate this, Graham and Grant backed her up on piano and drums, respectively. Ann played guitar and sang. So brilliant. Ann had already been ill off and on before this. She died in 2013 as the result of cancer, at the age of 67.
5) Winnipeg’s Big Dave McLean is a legendary figure who’s considered by many to be Canada’s greatest living blues performer. He was on a duo tour with Tim Williams when this session took place; as a result, they back each other up on their respective contributions to the project. Here, Big Dave plays “Kind Hearted Woman” — an old Robert Johnson song, somewhat in the style of Muddy Waters, two of Bruce’s all-time favourites! Big Dave plays his vintage Johnson resonator guitar and sings, while Tim Williams plays some amazing mandolin.
6) Donald Ray Johnson is a Grammy-Award winner musician who’s originally from Texas, but who’s been based in Calgary for decades now. He was very close with Bruce, who loved Don’s stuff. The old traditional tune “Alberta” seemed like a good fit, for obvious reasons. Yuji Ihara of the Alberta band Boogie Patrol is featured on guitar, and the harmonica is by Edmonton’s own Scott McCrady. Bruce booked Scott to play one of his first gigs when Scott was just a teenager. Graham and Grant play keys and drums, and the bass is by the internationally-acclaimed Edmontonian, Chris Brzezicki. Chris was a favourite of Bruce’s and contributed to multiple tracks on this project.
7) Tim Williams is a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer who is based in Calgary. He’s known for a string of outstanding solo releases, as well as albums with Triple Threat, the Highwater Jug Band, Big Dave McLean and more. A “best-kept secret” for many years, Tim received global recognition when he won the prestigious International Blues Challenge a couple of years ago. “Let My Shoe Leather Do the Talking” is one of Tim’s own great compositions. Tim sings and plays guitar, while Big Dave McLean plays harmonica.
8) Tim Lee is a singer, songwriter and guitar player from Ontario who made his home in Edmonton for some years. He’s since moved (east, not west!) to England. We thought this recording of Tim’s own autobiographical tune “(Is That Train) Heading West” would be one that Bruce would really love. It features Tim backed up by our de facto studio house band, augmented by a horn section that consists of local luminaries Dave Babcock (saxophones) and Bob Tildesley (trumpet).
9) Kat Danser is a brilliant soul who is just finishing up a PhD in Musicology at UAlberta, with a particular interest in the blues. Kat often sought Bruce’s advice about music and blues, and certainly viewed him as something of a mentor. She performed live at Bruce’s memorial service, and wrote this phenomenal song in his memory. It was later re-recorded (with slightly more universal lyrics, substituting “Ma Rainey” for “Jane Austen”) for Kat’s 2013 album, “Baptized By the Mud”. She plays acoustic guitar and sings, Michael Jerome Browne backs her on 12-string and slide guitars, while Edmonton’s own Cliff Minchau overdubbed the upright bass.
10) Bobby Cameron is a widely acclaimed singer, songwriter and guitar player, based in Edmonton. Bruce always loved Bobby’s presence and energy as a performer. We thought it’d be great to capture Bobby performing in a truly bluesy setting, and Bobby obliged with his incendiary version of the old Robert Johnson classic, “Cross Road Blues”. It’s Graham, Chris Brzezicki and Grant backing him up.
11) Larry Lever is an Edmonton singer/ guitar player/ songwriter/ bandleader who originally gained renown as the frontman for local band Three Times the Blues, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Larry and his band were among the first live blues acts that Bruce really connected with personally, and he continued to be a fan of Larry’s through the years. Graham and Grant conceived this recording as a kind of culmination of the album, featuring some of Bruce’s favourite Edmonton players performing a Muddy Waters classic — one that’s ABOUT the blues, to boot! “No Escape from the Blues” is a song that Larry Lever has performed live for decades. Graham, Brzezicki and Grant are on the track — alongside two local musicians that we considered absolutely essential for the project, Jim Guiboche on guitar and David “Crawdad” Cantera on harmonica. Bruce loved their playing; the project would have been incomplete without contributions from them. They really shine here.
12) Vaan Shaw (sometimes known as Eddie Vaan Shaw, Jr.) is a Chicago guitar player and singer who also wrote the track featured here, “The Catfish Song”. It’s a beautiful, soulful piece that features a loping pace and an almost dream-like narration from Vaan, dedicated to Bruce. We felt like this would make a wonderful denouement for the album — almost like an epilogue. That’s Vaan on acoustic guitar and vocals, Yuji Ihara on electric guitar, Cliff Minchau playing upright, plus Grant and Graham.
Compiled by Linda Cameron and Grant Stovel