When one thinks of Blues music in Canada, the first band that springs to mind is Downchild. It’s been nearly 40 years since Donnie “Mr. Downchild” Walsh and his since passed brother, Hock Walsh formed the group that would be the inspiration behind the world famous Blues Brothers. Still on top of their game today, Downchild was nominated for “Blues Album of The Year” at the 2005 Juno Awards (Canadian equivalent of a Grammy Award) and lauded as “Entertainers of the Year” in 2007 at the Maple Blues Awards (Canadian equivalent of a W.C. Handy Award).
A constant throughout, Donnie Walsh has kept the music alive and Downchild embodies some of the most well respected musicians in the country, who have performed together for over 15 years. This includes silky smooth singer and harmonica player Chuck Jackson, tenor sax player Pat Carey, beat man Mike Fitzpatrick on drums, rhythm captain Gary Kendall on bass, and former American supergroup rocker Michael Fonfara (of Rhinoceros fame) on keyboards.
Named after a Sonny Boy Williamson II song, the history of Downchild can be traced back to a time when Donnie “Mr. Downchild” Walsh was a mere teenager and got his first taste of Blues at a sweet 16 birthday party for his girlfriend:
“I was absolutely amazed by the music and, like most people who heard blues, started looking for more.” - Donnie Walsh
It was then, that the young Donnie discovered artists like Muddy Waters, BB King and Jimmy Reed. The legends who laid the ground work of inspiration behind his playing and songwriting. At that time, a vibrant blues scene in Toronto started to develop and renowned blues artists from Chicago venture north to perform. This scenario proved to be opportune for a fledgling blues connoisseur like Donnie Walsh, whose love of the music was amplified by catching live performances from artists like Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Albert King, Luther Allison, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Little did he know that eventually he would form his very own blues band (Downchild) but they would go on to share the stage with some of the greats, including Bo Bo Jenkins, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King to name a few.
By the early ‘70’s, Downchild was gigging constantly when comic/actor and fellow Torontonian Dan Aykroyd caught a show at one of their local haunts. He, along with his cast mates from the legendary Second City, soon became regular staples at Downchild shows to party after their own performances. Aykroyd in particular became a huge fan who cherished his copy of Downchild’s second album Straight Up ,on which he together with John Belushi based the first ever and multi-million selling Blues Brothers album Suitcase Full of Blues.
Since then, Donnie and Co. have won 26 awards from media and blues authorities including Q107 FM, the Toronto Blues Society, Jazz Report, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) who gave them the Great Canadian Blues Award in 1992 and the Canadian Association of Recording Arts and Sciences who bestowed on them a Juno for Best Roots and Traditional album in 1991. In addition to touring and performing constantly, Downchild has released 14 albums to date and most recently 'Live at the Palais Royale' through their new home, Linus Entertainment. Having performed around 7,500 gigs internationally since their inception, Downchild’s live sound has developed to a level not experienced until now. The release has been met with critical praise from some of the most prestigious publications in North America, including the Montreal Gazette, Globe & Mail, Edmonton Sun and Toronto Star who summed up Live at the Palais Royale as follows:
“They have made this collection of trademark Walsh compositions a bigger, better and more electrifying experience than anything their well-served admirers could have imagined.” Gregg Quill, Toronto Star, March 2007.
Blues fans are in for a treat as 'Live at the Palais Royale' showcases 11 classic Downchild tunes, including those featured on the triple platinum Blues Brothers album; 'I Got Every Thing I Need (Almost)' and 'Shotgun Blues'. 'Live at the Palais Royale' was recorded at a packed house in Toronto on November 11, 2006 at the historic and newly renovated dance hall that was home to greats like, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller – the last of its’ kind. Performing in one of Canada’s oldest remaining wooden dance hall could not have been more perfect for Donnie, who called it the “ideal gig.”
“It is an excellent venue. This 'Live' album sounds exactly like this band 'Live'. So basically, if you’re at home listening to the album you can close your eyes and pretend you’re at the gig.” - Donnie Walsh
The Downchild attitude and sound that have won them fans from coast to coast is all over this live album and shine through on audience favourites like 'It’s Been So Long', 'Wednesday Night Blues' and the toe tapping standard 'When I Say Jump'…to name a few. What can be said of each track apart from the fact that the entire album is an embodiment of the music, sound and energy that have lifted this formidable group of music makers and shakers to where they are today? The infectious energy of Downchild and their latest release is making it's way across the pond as well and described by Blues in Britain Magazine as follows:
“I’ve only ever given one album 10/10 before, and really I wanted to give it a 9.5, whereas yours was a definite 10! Most of the albums I get sent to review get played…and then sit in the cupboard using up space, but I’m in danger of wearing yours out!”
- Gordon Baxter, Blues in Britain Magazine, April 2007
'Live at the Palais Royale' was recorded without overdubs or pitch correction and is a testament to the skillful execution of music that these seasoned and legendary artists have grown to deliver through their vast experience and unbridled love of everything Blues.