Penticton’s Peach Festival was just 33 years old when the Powder Blues’ Uncut — on vinyl, no less — hit the shelves.
Now, as Peachfest celebrates its 70th summer of bringing great, free, entertainment to the city, Tom Lavin and the Legendary Powder Blues are on their 39th-anniversary tour, including a stop on Aug. 13 at the festival.
“We have played the Peach Festival before but I know it was more than 20 years ago. It’s a really fun time and a great tradition,” wrote Lavin in an email interview. “Nothing is more enjoyable than playing outside to a happy community crowd of all ages.”
If you’re looking for a high energy, fun show, you don’t need to look much further than the Powder Blues. After 39 years of touring and 12 albums, Lavin said the band still loves what they do.
“It’s a privilege and a joy to go somewhere and perform for folks, but in the end, we are still playing for ourselves and still love it,” said Lavin.
Uncut, the band’s 1979/80 breakthrough album, remains as listenable today as when it was first pressed, with hits like Doin’ It Right, Boppin’ with the Blues and What’ve I Been Drinkin’ all charting.
But the album was shrugged off by the major labels until the band sold 30,000 copies in a few weeks of their independent release.
“When we recorded Uncut we were simply trying to sound exactly as we did when we played live. We used no fancy recording tricks and some criticized the record for not sounding ‘trendy’ at the time,” said Lavin. Sound, he explained, is a lot like fashion, with certain classic styles withstanding the work of time, like Miles Davis’ Kinda Blue.
“Uncut continues to sell, I think, because it captured the spirit and energy of the band. That rendered it somewhat more timeless,” said Lavin. “Over the intervening years, we have tried to stay true to the formula of recording how we sound live.”
That doesn’t mean the Powder Blues’ music hasn’t grown.
“On BLAZZ! (2004) I used a lot more horns than is practical to travel with because I was interested in hearing what it would sound like to combine Powder Blues with a big band sound,” said Lavin. “We can still perform these tunes as a six-piece (when we travel), but in an ideal world I’d bring the extra horns along.”
The band has matured over the years from their 1978 roots as a club band in Vancouver’s Gastown.
“All of the folks on the bandstand are career musicians. As a result, their playing becomes more mature, polished and accomplished,” said Lavin, adding that listening to each other’s playing affects the playing and soloing of everyone sharing the stage. “Time has made us more comfortable with trading musical ideas on stage. Our sound has evolved in a direction which makes it more uniquely recognizable.”
The Powder Blues mix of swing, blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and R&B appeals to a wide range of people, but through it all, blues is at the core.
“The blues is the most direct classic form of North American music. It spawned swing, bop, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, funk and many other styles,” said Lavin. “There is great freedom to improvise and its many forms allow a wide vista of emotional states to explore.”
Tom Lavin and the Legendary Powder Blues Band perform on Aug. 13 at Peachfest, starting at 8:35 p.m.