The Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival is getting into the holiday spirit with Uncle Wiggly’s Hot Shoes Blues Band in “A Tribute to the Blues Songs of Christmas” on Friday, Dec. 7.
How does an Edmonton jam session morph into the name of a blues band?
The answer is unexpected.
It comes from a 1977 jam session popular bluesman Hank Leonhardt (Lionhardt to his fans) had with some folks in Edmonton.
“One of the guys had his five-year-old son there and the kid had a book called Uncle Wiggly Long Ears and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy,” laughs Leonhardt who, when he moved to Vancouver Island in 1978, formed a blues band and, following a eureka moment, settled on the Uncle Wiggly part for the band’s name. “About two years ago I got an email from author (Howard Roger Garis’) grandson in New York – ‘just wanted to say my grandfather would be so excited.’”
Leonhardt, who started playing in high school in 1964, is bringing his seven-piece band and a special Christmas show to the Nexus at First.
The show, all Christmas blues songs representing each decade from the ’20s through to the ’60s, is featured on the band’s 2017 CD Christmas in Jail, something Leonhardt calls a labour of love.
“The single biggest thing they say when they see the show is how refreshing it is to see a show without all the same music,” says Leonhardt of the show’s popularity. “We’ve been doing the show for eight years and now we’re finally bringing it to the Interior.”
This show is a collection of traditional blues Christmas tunes written or recorded by the likes of Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, BB King, Eric Clapton, Charles Brown, Etta James and many more.
“We keep it fresh with some new songs and a big addition to the band – Jack Lavin; he was founder and original bass player of the Powder Blues,” Leonhardt says, noting Lavin is known for such tunes as What have I been drinking, Through that Guitar Ring and Thirsty years.
With a career that began humbly at the University of Victoria’s Sub Pub, this band led the live music, independent recording and producing scene in Victoria in the ’80s.
They became RCA recording artists, received rave reviews for live performances along the way and shared stages with Muddy Waters, Joe Cocker, James Cotton, Koko Taylor and Paul Butterfield to name a few, creating a legacy of 21 recorded tracks that still stand the test of time.
A member of the Victoria Music Hall of Fame, the band dropped Still Burnin it Up in 2015 and has just come off a successful tour through Alberta and B.C., They also played two sets on the mainstage at the Island Folkfest and Vancouver Island Blues Bash.
As well, the band won the right to represent B.C. at the International Blues Challenge in White Rock in July 2014 and travelled to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis to compete in January 2015.
This year’s all-star lineup includes Hank (Uncle Wiggly) on vocals, Lonnie Glass – bass, Mark Comerford – guitar, Andy Graffiti – drums, and Wayne Kozak – sax, with Bryn Badel – trumpet, Don Berner – sax, Doug Berner – trumpet, Dennis Meneely, former member of Streetheart/Fist Full of Blues, and Steve Ranta from The R&B Toasters – keyboards.
In addition, Leonhardt is pleased to feature a special guest this year—“the amazing Randy Oxford from Seattle.”
Oxford is an international touring band leader and horn player as well as the recipient of more than 25 blues awards from the Washington Blues Society.
“It’s not your typical Christmas Show of some of the more easily recognizable Christmas carols,” says Leonhardt. “This Christmas show gives you a look into the soul of some fabulous holiday blues songs written by the very legends of the blues themselves.”
Tickets for the “Blues Songs of Christmas” are available at www.rootsandblues.ca or call 250-833-4096 or visit the Roots and Blues office at 541 Third St. SW.