To recognize musicians from outside of Edmonton who have made
Big Dave McLean
(b. 1952, Yorkton, Saskatchewan)
This Winnipeg-based musician, who was born in Yorkton in 1952, has been a beacon of the blues whose star shines brighter with each passing year. It seems as though Big Dave has always been part of, and making contributions to, our collective scene either as a heavyweight player, singer and recording artist, or as a mentor, influencing so many prairie musicians who have come under his wing, spell or both, for the past 35 years.
For starters, living in Winnipeg and wanting to be a musician means Big Dave was set in a scene where the bar was set at a very high mark. Big Dave grew up at a time when artists with Winnipeg roots like The Guess Who, Neil Young and Lenny Breau were ruling their respective scenes, and the Winnipeg Folk Festival was the major roots-music event of its kind in western Canada. Geographically, it’s a relatively short hop from Chicago to Winnipeg and the two cities were tied economically and culturally.
Big Dave McLean knew what he wanted, and with the help of a few key blues masters, most notably John Hammond and Muddy Waters, he not only became immersed in the music, he was given the keys to the highway. That Edmonton had a burgeoning blues scene in the seventies and eighties was a welcome stop for Big Dave as he initially toured the prairie folk circuit that embraced acoustic blues.
He paid his dues and passed on what he had learned from both Hammond and Waters, when he hit the road with his guitars and harmonicas, to other young prairie musicians who wanted to follow the same path. As Edmonton’s scene grew, so did the gigging opportunities for McLean who would also, from time to time, perform electric blues with a full band. His debut release in 1989, Muddy Waters for President, gave him a wider audience and in 1992 he contributed to the CBC Saturday Night Blues compilation release which won a Juno.
At that time, Big Dave tunes were in constant rotation on CKUA’s Natch’l Blues, CBC’s Saturday Night Blues and CJSR’s Calling All Blues. In 1998, Big Dave recorded his first of three albums for the Edmonton-based Stony Plain Records, For the Blues….Always. The album put Colin James in the producer’s chair and won Big Dave and Stony Plain a Prairie Music Award.
Around the same time, his visits to Edmonton became more frequent, playing the Edmonton Blues Festival, helping launch the Come On In My Kitchen series with artists like David Rea and Graham Guest, gigging at Blues On Whyte, and a return to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Young Edmonton blues players found a new friend in McLean when they would land in Winnipeg and soon the friendships turned into working relationships. In this new millennium, McLean often plays with Jim Guiboche, Grant Stovel, and Chris Brzezicki when in town for an extended stay and they fire on all cylinders. Big Dave recorded two more albums for Stony Plain Records of which Blues from the Middle won a Western Canadian Music Award. He’s been a recipient of the Blues With A Feeling Award and this year won Acoustic Album of the Year at the Maple Blues Awards.
Tours through Edmonton have allowed us to catch him in concert with Tim Williams, Doc McLean, and Watermelon Slim, and more recently on dates with the Black Hen Road Show as he has cut two tremendous albums for Steve Dawson’s Black Hen label, Faded But Not Gone and Better the Devil You Know. The Big Dave McLean documentary film, Ain’t About The Money was screened in Edmonton at Winter Roots a few years ago.
Simply put, Big Dave McLean has been part of the fabric of the Edmonton blues and folk-blues scene for 40 years and his contributions to our scene are significant. The good news is there’s a lot more to come.
Awardee notes compiled by Peter North