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Purifying the blues

Wes Mackey plays Mallard Lounge for three nights this weekend



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But then he deviated. You see, he had a taste of Canadiana when he played Expo '67 in Montreal. He was impressed with the freedom of the people there, and the way he, as a Black man, was treated. There was no segregation. There was very little hate even. He fell in love immediately and by 1971 he was a landed immigrant.

"When I came to Canada, I took a different road, which I'm very happy for because I was able to put the blues in different places that most blues players don't play in," he says. "That makes me feel like I've accomplished something. Going and playing in Chicago and all the places like that, I did those things for many years. They're different cities but it's all the same thing."

He became a road warrior, a veteran of the blues landscape in eastern Canada. He toured frequently, playing blues clubs across the continent — dusty, dark, underground. You name it, he played it. By the 1980s, he was burnt out. He was drinking, you see, perhaps a bit too much. Something had to give.

"I had no problem fixing my life. It was just some things from my past came to a head and I had to get away. I had to back away from the trees to look at the forest," he says.

He left music for six years before finally playing again in a small club in Nanaimo. He moved over to Vancouver, where he's been a regular on the blues circuit, frequenting the Yale Hotel. But he had a dream, you see, to rise on up out of the dingy clubs and move into the five star hotels and plush bars. To capture an audience far different from those in the Deep South — an audience that might never think about the blues but that was moved all the same.

"The blues to me is life," he says. "I tell stories about the way I live my life and I use the blues to lift up my spirit and lift up people's spirits. I tell stories that (people) can relate to. It's about telling a story and I like to keep my stories very simple," he says.

He plays the way the old guys used to play. His entire career has been centered on spreading the truest, purist origins of the era. And he'll play all alone — just a man, a humble man, with his guitar, his voice and all that pain, bleeding through the mic onto you.

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