Indigenous

Winnipeg musician Billy Joe Green latest to celebrate 25 years of 'Rez Blues'

An Indigenous blues legend has been keeping his guitar skills sharp and will have them on display as the Toronto Blues Society celebrates 25 years of its "Rez Blues" concert series.

Green to be showcased Friday in Toronto Blues Society's online concert series

Billy Joe Green has been working on his craft as a musician for more than five decades. (Jesse Green)

An Indigenous blues legend has been keeping his guitar skills sharp and will have them on display as the Toronto Blues Society celebrates 25 years of its "Rez Blues" concert series.

"I'm at that point now in my career where I've decided I want to stay in tiptop playing form... And I feel happy to be still serious about my skills and my performances," said Billy Joe Green.

Green is Anishinaabe and said he is from the place "where Winnipeg gets its water from" — Shoal Lake 40.

On Friday night, he will be the latest of eight Indigenous acts, including award-winning artists like Murray Porter, Crystal Shawanda and George Leach, to be featured in the online concert series "25 years of Rez Blues."

Green started his music career in the late '60s as part of an all-Indigenous band called the Feathermen.

"I've been playing blues since I was 17 years old. Of course, they called it rock and roll back then," he said.

Green has played with several bands over the years, including a short tour with Errol Ranville's C-Weed band, but said  the Feathermen remains one of his favourite bands that he has played with. 

One of Billy Joe Green's favourite bands to have been in was an all-Indigenous band called the Feathermen. (Submitted by Jesse Green)

He has performed at many blues festivals across the country and has been working on his craft and live performance abilities for five decades, often performing in bars along Winnipeg's tough Main Street strip.

Over the course of his career, Green has been nominated for three Juno Awards, and has won two Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards in 2006 and 2009.

"I'm most proud of the Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards," said Green.

"I was nominated by the people, which is why it was important to me."

Family life

Green said his biggest accomplishment in life was raising his two children.

His son Jesse Green is a filmmaker and a musician himself.

Jesse Green owns a media production company called Strongfront TV and helped produce Green's Rez Blues performance.

He said his father went through a tough life, starting with 10 years at Cecilia Jeffery Residential School in Kenora, Ont. 

"I'm most proud of how he held on and was able to give me a good childhood and keep our family intact, despite all the challenges of being a musician and all the occupational hazards of being a musician on Main Street," said Jesse Green.

"You know, he battled alcoholism for many years."

Jesse Green said he was surrounded by music "from the womb" and that his childhood memories include his father practising on the guitar every day, often for hours at a time.

He said his father has been able to help create a music scene that didn't always exist for Indigenous musicians in Winnipeg.

"I would say he and a handful of other artists, kind of helped to pave the music scene here in Winnipeg," he said. 

Rez Blues

The Toronto Blues Society celebrating Rez Blues' 25th anniversary by partnering with Anishinaabe/Cayuga music industry trailblazer Elaine Bomberry.

Bomberry said in the '90s there were few opportunities to showcase Indigenous blues musicians in Toronto. She approached the Toronto Blues Society to help with its first live show back in 1993.

Rez Blues started off as a live concert series, which was recorded as a radio documentary and then eventually picked up as a variety show on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in 2006.

Her partner Murray Porter is also a blues musician and won a Juno Award in 2012 for Aboriginal Album of the Year. He recorded a show for the series and said it is an opportunity to inspire the next generation of Indigenous musicians.

Murray Porter is a Mohawk blues pianist who won Aboriginal Album of the Year at the 2012 Juno Awards. (Facebook)

"It's actually for the young ones so they can see that there's a light at the end of the tunnel," said Porter, who is Mohawk, turtle clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont.

Porter said Billy Joe Green has been "doing the blues before blues was cool" and called him an innovator.

"It sounds like somebody is playing slide guitar on a chainsaw," said Porter when describing Green's guitar abilities.

You can catch Billy Joe Green's performance on the Toronto Blues Society's Facebook page at 7 p.m. CT, and past performances are on YouTube.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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