By Jane Hobson
“We never thought we would actually win the competition but we tore that place down!” said Kevin Ficzere, lead guitarist and vocalist of Blues and Company, a three-piece blues band from Carleton Place. The band won the Ottawa Blues Society Road to Memphis Competition in December 2016.
Blues and Company has played more than 200 shows in the Ottawa area and will travel to Memphis, Tennessee at the end of January for the 33rd International Blues Challenge (IBC). Hosted by the Blues Foundation, more than 250 international blues bands will play at venues located on historic Beale Street in Memphis from Jan. 31, 2017 to Feb. 4, 2017. Blues and Company is scheduled to play two gigs.
“We did the [Ottawa Blues Society Road to Memphis] competition to keep our name out there, to stay involved and to support the Ottawa Blues Society,” said ‘Big’ Dave Hamilton, who plays bass guitar for Blues and Company. “It’s amazing that we won.”
We’ve hit the ground running but it’s fun, said Doug Corneil, the drummer, who convinced the band to compete.
“I originally told Doug I wasn’t doing the competition because we wanted to take the winter off,” Ficzere said as Hamilton and Corneil laughed. Corneil even cancelled a trip down south for the winter since they won. “Now we’ll be working I guess,” Ficzere laughed.
Blues and Company mixes electric and contemporary blues to create can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head original tunes like Victim of Circumstance, Texas Bound and Bones in the Closet.
“We all come into it with different influences but together it’s greater than anything. When we’re on stage — it’s magic,” Hamilton says.
“Our chemistry and the passion we have is addictive when it comes together — better than any drug,” Ficzere agreed. “I would go crazy if I wasn’t doing this.”
Influenced by legendary blues artists like B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters, Ficzere says Blues and Company combines Jimi Hendrix-esque psychedelic blues with Chicago style notes. Blues and Company has played at RBC Ottawa’s Bluesfest, Calabogie Blues and Ribfest and their songs have been played on the radio in steady rotation.
“For me, playing comes from the passion of studying your heroes, like Hendrix,” said Ficzere, who has been part of the Ottawa blues and rock scene for more than 25 years. “First you imitate, then you improvise, and then you find who you are through your music and you become that person on stage.”
Since the win, the band is rehearsing twice a week to prepare for the IBC and for other upcoming gigs. The band will go to Blues Summit Eight, hosted by the Toronto Blues Society, which runs Jan. 20 to Jan. 23. They’re also playing at the RCHA Club in Kingston on Feb. 18 at 8 p.m.
Amidst everything on the horizon, Blues and Company is also trying to produce its next album called Straight Up, No Chaser. The band has a page at indiegogo.com to raise funds for the album. Blues and Company is asking for local support to raise $7,000. Broken down, $5,500 is needed to produce and promote the album and $1,500 is needed for the music video.
“The mission of the album going forward is to get that high-energy boogie with a good back beat that moves everyone to the dance floor,” Ficzere says.
Blues and Company is offering awesome perks to people who donate, such as a few signed copies of the new album, partying with the band, and receiving signed merchandise. Hamilton is also offering his very own signed, original paintings.
“We’re going to donate 10 per cent of all new album sales to Big Brothers Big Sisters Smiths Falls,” Hamilton said. “That’s what differentiates us from other groups; we know where we come from and it’s our chance to say thank you.”
Blues and Company says getting Straight Up, No Chaser in the hands of its fans as soon as possible is important because there is a demand for their music.
“There’s no time to spend your life doing something you don’t love,” Hamilton said. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2010, Hamilton left his job as a public servant to spend his time painting, writing, reading, creating, playing music and teaching English at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“Freedom is when you don’t owe anybody anything and you love what you do,” Ficzere added. “All those small shows, all the things that seemed insignificant, those were really stepping stones to where we are now. Looking back, I guess that’s kind of how life works.”
“If you can lose everything today and be happy tomorrow, that’s how you know you’re doing something love,” Hamilton said. “There’s no time for anything else.”
Photo by Jane Hobson: Members of Carleton Place band Blues and Company, ‘Big’ Dave Hamilton, Doug Corneil and Kevin Ficzere (left to right), pose for a mid-rehearsal photo. Blues and Company will travel to Memphis, Tennessee at the end of the January for the International Blues Challenge.