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.
Will MacCalder has been known as one of the pioneers and galvanizing forces of the Edmonton music scene for decades and his influence on our scene has been felt long after he departed for the west coast over 40 years ago. That says a lot about this piano-playing singer, band leader, and producer who helped put this city on the map while he was fronting the hit making Willie and The Walkers back in the mid-sixties.
An ever-evolving multi-disciplined talent, MacCalder was a remarkable musical talent right out of the gate. His ingenuity, where-with-all, inquisitiveness, and general thirst for knowledge, saw him take on many roles both on stage and off. He was a rock and roll fiend, loved the perfection of a great pop tune, and has been a student of the history of popular music since he was a teenager. Will’s ability to seamlessly move from one form of contemporary music to another was evident early on. In the space of a decade, he went from fronting Willie and The Walkers and singing their hit tunes Diamonds and Gold and Alone in My Room, to mining the sounds of the late sixties with Everyman’s Tonto, to playing with Vancouver’s Seeds of Time and playing vintage rock and roll with Teen Angel and The Rockin’ Rebels. All the while his love for the blues was being fed in a number of ways, and his interest in learning his way around a recording studio was paying off.
In the early years of his journey, Will had recorded in Clovis, New Mexico at Norman Petty’s studio and of course Petty was instrumental in capturing the sounds of Buddy Holly and a young Waylon Jennings, and a few western Canadian acts including Wes Dakus and The Rebels. By the early seventies, Will MacCalder was behind the board at Park Lane Studios in Edmonton and his contributions in the blues realm included engineering the Hot Cottage album of 1972. Will eventually left Edmonton for Vancouver, gigged with The Seeds of Time and Teen Angel, as he made his presence felt in the lower mainland scene. As usual, his broad skill-set gained him favour not only as a player but doing live and studio sound.
Flip the calendar pages ahead a couple of years and the teaming of MacCalder with the Lavin Brothers, Tom and Jack, gave not only Vancouver, but the world, the Powder Blues Band. Initially an independent recording act, Powder Blues hit radio hard, and enjoyed massive sales that led to a deal with RCA. In ’80 and ’81 numerous radio formats dug into the singles Doin’ It Right, Boppin’ With The Blues, What’ve I Been Drinkin’, Hear That Guitar Ring, and Thirsty Ears. The group also toured the world. Recorded documents of the Powder Blues travels include Live At Montreaux, arguably the group’s tour de force album. Powder Blues sold hundreds of thousands of albums and became a headline touring act, a feat only a handful of Canadian blues acts have achieved. Powder Blues won the 1981 Juno Award for Most Promising Group of the Year and in 1986 were awarded the W. C. Handy Award for Best Foreign Blues Band. Will’s contributions to the success of the band were obvious as a vocalist, frontline soloist, co-producer and sometime songwriter.
Will also found himself playing a pivotal role on studio outings with Jim Byrnes and the legendary Lowell Fulson on the Blue Shadows recording. The definition of a working musician, Will MacCalder could be found fronting blues jams, all-star aggregations of Vancouver blues players, or playing a supporting role with greats like Long John Baldry. His production skills are evident on the critically acclaimed Ferron release Testimony, and much sought after demos for artists like Billy Cowsill.
We’ve been fortunate to have Will MacCalder make return visits to Edmonton as the decades have passed. Highlights include the Willie and The Walkers reunion, his many Powder Blues dates, shows at places like the Sidetrack Café, Rusty Reed’s House of Blues, and Festival Place. While we are honoring Will MacCalder as a blues musician tonight he really is a renaissance man and as much a builder and major figure in the development of the Edmonton music scene.
Awardee notes compiled by Peter North