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.