Terry Gillespie

Terry Gillespie

Genre: Blues

Meet Terry Gillespie:
How a veteran musician’s experience makes blues-based roots music fresh again

You really ought to meet Terry Gillespie. An easy guy to hang with. He’ll probably play in your town sooner or later, so you can get into his music, shake his hand and let him sell you his new CD, Home Boy.

He’s an unlikely guy for a musician, this Terry Gillespie.  For starters, he’s been playing blues-based roots music professionally for 50 years.

And he’ll tell you that now is the time when all the years seem to add up to make a perfect equation: experience = smarts = the ability to play and sing better than ever.

Born in Canada, raised in the United States, he returned home in a hurry in the 60s when the possibility of being blown up in Vietnam seemed almost inevitable.

But by the time he came back to Canada, he’d already been infected, inspired and influenced by the blues. He had dug deep into the still- segregated world of the blues by smuggling himself into blues bars to hear — and later play with — Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and a youngster called Buddy Guy.

“I was 17 when I heard those guys, maybe 16. The drinking age was 21, but I was tall, and I’d wear shades and a sports coat and draw a skinny moustache on my upper lip.

“Once, a cop checked me out, asked whether I was drinking beer and I said I was. The whole joint fell silent to see what he’d do about it. ‘Get the kid a pop,’ he said, and let me stay. And the crowd applauded.”

Fifty years on, his musical palette is now far wider. And how that happened is another story.

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Settling in Ottawa, Terry helped form Heaven’s Radio, a pioneer rock band that had a strong measure of local success well before the Canadian content regulations came into force at the beginning of 1971.

By the mid-70s there was a single on United Artists, and — later — two LPs on Posterity, the well-remembered label owned and operated by local radio mogul Harvey Glatt. The band’s influence was considerable in the heady days when, suddenly, Canadian music was coming of age.

In the years since Heaven’s Radio disbanded (there was a brief revival of the band in 2007) he built a steady career playing solo or with a band that often includes musicians from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and South Africa.

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Each winter Terry and his wife Kathy spend their winters in Jamaica, where that island’s distinctive music has added to his own eclectic sound.

He’s the “artist in residence” and Kathy is the reservation manager for a number of small rental cabins on an idyllic, uncrowded beachfront part of the island, and they have long become accepted in the local community in a way that tourists visiting the popular resort hotels simply can’t experience.

Playing daily with local musicians immersed him in a different musical community — in the same way that it had when he discovered the blues in his teen years and as it did in Ottawa playing rock and roll.

You can hear the results on his new album, Home Boy. It’s his fifth solo CD, and it has a warm  “island” feel that permeates the whole record — even though it was recorded last summer live off the floor at the Granary Restaurant in Vankleek Hill, east of Ottawa, where the Gillespies have made their home.

The record opens with two seven-minute jams — an unusual way to start any conventional CD. (The first piece, “New Mown Lawn” is reprised in a powerful 3:51 radio edit to close the record.) More familiar songs like “Little By Little,” Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” are re-interpreted, and there’s a lesser-known Willie Dixon song — “Businessman” — to interest hardcore blues fans.

Equally unusual are the intriguing Gillespie originals, including the opening tracks, and a powerful song — “Brother of the Blues” — about a sadly familiar topic, terrorism, but one rarely covered in song. “Monkey Hunger,” and sparkling versions of “Junco Partner,” “New Orleans Wobble” and “Another Black Night” also demand attention.

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Terry Gillespie has sometimes been called a musical shaman, Canada’s king of roots music and even Mr. Groove — and all for good reason. There is no showboating, no over-the-top guitar pyrotechnics. His live performances are both laid back and powerful and passionate; entertaining and captivating in a way that allows his audience to become involved as listeners — or dancers responding to the groove.

Oh, and if you catch him in your town, don’t forget to introduce yourself. He’ll be glad to meet you; he has stories and songs to share with you.

 

Play Dates

Grandora, SK

Location:Grandora, SK

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Buena Vista, SK

Location:Buena Vista, SK

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Martinsville, SK

Location:Martinsville, SK

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Prince Albert, SK

Location:Prince Albert, SK

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Mervin, SK

Location:Mervin, SK

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Cherry Grove, AB

Location:Cherry Grove, AB

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Fort McMurray, AB

Location:Fort McMurray, AB

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Elk Point, AB

Location:Elk Point, AB

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Edmonton, AB

Location:Edmonton, AB

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Camrose, AB

Location:Camrose, AB

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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Lloydminster, AB

Location:Lloydminster, AB

With: Terry Gillespie

Playing: Blues

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