Hamilton blues great Harrison Kennedy says on his new record This is From Here, he stepped into another part of himself.
Luckily for us, that part of himself still plays unabashedly soulful and authentic blues of the highest degree.
“The older I become, the more I’ve wanted to relate to the music that is part of my heritage,” Kennedy said.
And on this new record, he has done just that. Now 72, he’s far removed from the Chairmen of the Board (who had the international hit Give Me Just a Little More Time), or local bands like The Bishops or The Rocking Hurricanes.
'Talent is one thing, but attitude is a hell of a lot more. If you’re feeling good and have attitude, people know it.' - Harrison Kennedy
“Back then, I was lookin’ for the girls,” he laughed, remembering the kind of music on which he got his start. Now, Kennedy is channelling memories of his youth – not his formative years as a musician, but his true formative years as a child, visiting relatives on long car trips in Arkansas, Tennessee and Detroit.
“I didn’t know it was another country, I just knew we sat for a long time in the car and people talked funny,” he said. “When you’re young, your mind is just like a sponge.”
“I guess I’m just squeezing the sponge.”
Mixing and matching musical styles
The songs on This Is From Here do feel like they were constructed and performed with a sense of something innate or even inborn driving them. Right from the first time you hear Kennedy’s voice on album-opener Walkin’ or Ridin’, it’s evident that this is a man who lives and breathes the blues. He just gets it.
The album is full of soulful acoustic and electric guitar riffs, and laden with slinky slide guitar. Songs like Jimmy Lee and Crocodile Lies are carried by classic blues piano playing, and you don’t have to skip through many tracks before finding deft harmonica and organ.
It’s an amalgamation of the “hill-country stop” of the American south and Detroit’s famous R&B and funk scene, Kennedy says. He attributes that seamless mixture to Hamilton itself – a city that has taught Kennedy how to speak to and relate to countless types of people.
“I’ve always had this opinion that Hamilton is tribal,” Kennedy said, pointing to how feverishly people cling to a kind of neighbourhood identity in the city – be it living on the east or west Mountain, downtown, or in the west or the east end.
You can connect to an almost endless array of people here, he says, and then go out and do the same anywhere. “From here, you can go to the world,” he said.
'What have you done for me lately?'
It might be a little surprising that Kennedy is putting out a new album so soon after 2013’s Soulscape, but that’s just the nature of today’s music business, he says.
“It’s a fickle business, brother,” he said. “It’s like ‘Geez, you were great yesterday, but what have you done for me lately?’”
That’s a starkly honest statement from a man who has worked with The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and played onstage with Stevie Wonder. Oh, and he played on the recording of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, too.
On This Is From Here, Kennedy has surrounded himself with a talented crew of players and songwriters as well, like Colin Linden, Jesse O’Brien, Tom Wilson and Colin James.
“Those guys are bloody amazing,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of chops, and I brought in my feel.”
And in Kennedy’s music, feel trumps all.
“Talent is one thing, but attitude is a hell of a lot more. If you’re feeling good and have attitude, people know it.”