Tracy K: Canada's First Lady Of The Blues Harp
AAJ: You are presently leading your own group. But you have also played as a sideman, etc. Which do you prefer doing?
TK: I love doing both. Leading my own group allows me to sing and play guitar as well, and perform my own songs plus favorite cover tunes.
As a sideman, I get to experiment and I embrace the challenge of just sitting in, impromptu. Plus, I just love blowin' harp, so being a sideman is just as fulfilling. I now perform in a duo format as well, and my partner sings some tunes, so I get to just blow away. Man, I love it. The material we do is mostly old rags and blues, so it's fun as heck, and challenging. Some of these old tunes don't have harmonica in them, so I get to interpret the melody lines and improvise harmonies. I also like to try different positions in this format, to get the most out of the "feel" for the tune. I love playing lead on harp, too.
AAJ:At what point in your life did you decide to start playing blues?
TK:I decided to make it my foremost genre when I embarked on my solo career, after the children. As far as I can remember, though, I've always played the blues, alongside other rock forms. The band I had in Toronto before I was in The Blame was a southern-rockin'-blues thing.
AAJ: I read, on your MySpace page, some well-stated ideas regarding the blues Can you share those with us?
TK: My ideas on the blues? Well, they're hardly my ideas, but more a truth. The blues is the truth, as I see it, behind all music that we hear today, musically and theoretically speaking, and that has been the case since the turn of the 20th century. Just ask W. C. Handy. He'll tell ya. It's the meat and potatoes on the plateall the other stuff out there is garnish and side dishes. I also keep trying to spread the news about the blues being happy music, and dispel the myth that mainstream audiences believethat blues is "blue" and downer music.
When someone comes back at me with "Oh, I don't like blues music," I ask if they like the song "Flip, Flop & Fly," or Bonnie Raitt, or Colin James, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, and so on. They usually just need that little lesson to realize that they are ill-informed on what the blues truly is, and that they really do like it. Then I drop the bomb on them and make them listen to Fred McDowell or any of the Blind Willie's, ha! (Just kidding). Truly, though, if you want to win over today's typical mainstream music fan, you have to start with contemporary blues party tunes, and work your way backwards through time.
AAJ: It's because of your work in the blues that you have received recognition. You have both been nominated for and have received awards in the blues. What awards have you received?
TK: It's tough to be noted as such, when I think of the players who really are the blues, both past and present. I am but a speck on that great canvas. It is humbling. The awards I am named for are a great honor.
To answer your question, in 2006 I received the Winnipeg Blues.com Female Vocalist Of The Year and Harmonica Player Of The Year awards, and was nominated as Electric Act Of The Year.
This past year, 2007, I was one of six finalists out of more than a hundred entries in the Toronto Blues Society Talent Search, and came in second place. Then, I was nominated for Best Blues in the inaugural Ontario Independent Music Awards, and came away the winner; it's been a banner year for me.
AAJ: As well as being a performer, are you not also presently a vocal coach? What are the key things a singer must remember?
TK: I don't do vocal coaching, but I do instruct my own children on how to sing properly, and I help them with the songs they sing. All three are musical and theatrical, and perform both vocally and with instruments. The key element to singing is breathing. In fact, isn't that the key element to life? Funny gal, ain't I?
But yes, that diaphragm breathing is key, and there are actual physical exercises put to a routine that I run my kids through. Also, accepting what your range isknowing you may only be able to expand it by a couple notesis key. The textures and timbre are pretty uncontrollable, but can be enhanced.
Bottom line for me, is to sing with passionthat trumps everything, especially once the physical training becomes an involuntary action whenever you sing.
AAJ: How many albums have you released? Your recent one has received positive reviews. Which are your favorite tracks on Old, New, Borrowed & Blues, and why?
TK: I have released two albums. The first, in 2000, Welcome to my Fantasy (Independent), was all originals, and really helped launch my career not only as a vocalist/harmonicist but as a songwriter as well. My favorite track on there is probably "Slow Dance"very passionate and sexy.
On my latest release I have yet to pick a fave. "Broken and Blue" has a great sound to it, built on an acoustic presentation. The amplified harp work is best displayed. "Wait A Minute" and "Spoonful." The anthem tune must be "Rollin' with the Changes" which was written right after the release of my first album, about the music biz. "Fire in the Sky" is just a ton of fun, and my band really shines on so many of the other tunes.