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Penguin Eggs, Issue #65, Spring 2015, Roger Levesque

Ken Whiteley & The Beulah Band

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Amazing acoustic Alchemy from a masterful journeyman and a crack cast of accomplices.

Ken Whiteley's creative curiosity seems to push him to continually explore music's many possibilities, and we're all richer for it. Heading into his 40th year as a performer, the Toronto singer, songwriter, arranger, mult-instrumentalist, and producer has traversed an amazing soundscape, sometimes discovering new tunes as much by chance as design.

Consider his latest project for Borealis Records, Ken Whiteley & The Beulah Band. Ken and his son, Ben, have been playing together off and on for more than a decade and when they began tossing around ideas for their first-ever co-production effort in early 2014 the younger Whiteley suggested a working strategy.

"He was encouraging that this be a folky record and to go for a greater consistency," explains Whiteley senior, "because you know, I'm pretty eclectic and I do a lot of things. I'm not going to change who I am, but after I sat down to write songs for this album Ben might say, 'make it more like a jug band,' or whatever. So we played around a lot with the feel of the songs."

And the album is consistent at least on one point: that everyone sticks pretty much to the same acoustic instruments throughout, Ken on guitars, Ben on bass, with Frank Evans (from The Slocan Ramblers) on banjo and Rosalyn Dennet (From Oh My Darling) on fiddles. But underneath that the quartet sets a wonderful pace, taking their cues from swing, jazz, rural blues, jug band grooves, country waltzes, gospel, Appalachian. or Cajun gates, and hints of the wider world, Asian influences or Hawaiian slack key, with a few good chuckles in the bargain.

As familiars to the Toronto roots scene, Evans and Winnipeg's Dennett are closer in age to Ben Whiteley but along the way they found a moving organic vocal chemistry with Ken.

"The more I got to know them the more it seemed like a really good fit, especially the way the harmony vocals really came together. You can't just buy a vocal blend. There are things you can do to tighten it up but if the voices don't blend it's never going to be great. With Frank and Roz, I felt we had that right away."

Those delicious harmonies take flight on numbers such as the Watson Family's The Lone Pilgrim with the exotic sounds of sruti box organ and bowed strings to affect an eastern drone backdrop, one of five tunes drawn from historical sources. Add Rev. Gary Davis's Feel Just Like Goin' On (with a tasty vocal cameo from Basia Bulat who employs Ben in her band), or the happening Beulah Land borrowed from the Georgia Sea Islands gospel tradition.

An original song, Friends All Over The Place, features a chorus with Ken's compatriot Mose Scarlett and The Good Lovelies' Caroline Brooks, among others, celebrating his musical community. Harmonies continue on the gorgeous, easy-going How Fast Flies Time that Whiteley co-wrote with Arthur Renwick, and again on the spare, lazy ballad Straight To You.

The expert tunesmith takes unexpected lyrical inspirations from all over, especially when he's mining the humour element. Hear the way he adapts an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching to the gently thumping blues of Try Not To Fail complete with a kooky mouth trumpet sections, or the piece he first wrote for Amos Garrett called Hands On That Guitar that pokes fun at guitar players.

Then there's his nutty gastronomic dissertation Indian Buffet, geared to those of us who love Indian food. The confirmed vegetarian raves that. "A good Indian buffet is a beautiful thing". It also chimes in with his long-held interest in Eastern cultures and other global music traditions tied to precious recordings such as One World Dance (2007).

Whiteley spent about six months writing new songs and sorting out covers before recording began in June. His masterful guitar picking takes center focus on much of it when he isn't strumming along in rhythm but Beulah Band's dozen tracks are truly a band effort. Evan's banjo and Dennett's fiddle get their time to shine too, for instance, on the endearing cover of Pete Seeger's Quite Early Morning, which closes the album for a tribute to the recently deceased folk icon.

"He was a huge influence on me at a lot of levels. I took that off a CBC podcast I heard when he died about a year ago. I sat in with him onstage when he was 89 and just that force of spirit, it's about 'us' as opposed to 'me', about how we're all in this together. It was so moving. I sometimes do another song of his too, Take It From Dr. King, about how we're blessed with what we've been given by those who've gone before and how we have a responsibility to those who come after us."

At 63, Whiteley takes that role quite deliberately, crediting examples such as Seeger and genre-crossing maestro David Amram before him, passing on his expertise to new generatins. In addition to seven Juno Award nominations for his own music (two wins), Whiteley has chalked up two Grammy nods and another 22 Juno nominations as a record producer, often for Borealis, the label he helped found nearly 20 years back.

Born in Pennsylvania but a resident of Canada from age five, he grew up amidst a legacy of career musicians including his older brother, Chris, and now his niece Jenny, and son Ben. Following his public debut at 14 in a Yorkville jug band, he took in his first Mariposa Folk Festival in 1969. He returned to play Mariposa in 1972 in the now legendary Original Sloth Band, which found notoriety across North America.

That was just the start of his life-long collaboration with so many other musicians. Today Whiteley's name is attached to about 150 records in some context.

"I sometimes joke that I never went to university, I went to folk festivals instead, starting from when I was 13 years old. I think that's where I absorbed the idea, that there are connections between musics all over the world, that the lines which divide us area pretty arbitrary, and that music has the capacity to bridge some of those lines. I remember being up in the highlands of Haiti in the late '70s with my guitar where no spoke English and my Canadian French was useless too, but we could play music and sing together."

For a guy who found his 'promised land' in music decades ago, the Beulah Band seems to be one of the most satisfying encounters yet.

 

 

 

Roots Music Canada, David Newland

April 25, 2011

The Gospel according to Ken

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There is no answer… still I carry on. 

- Ken Whiteley

 

When does a gospel song not offer an answer? When it’s the Gospel according to Ken.

 

Blues and gospel veteran, yoga practitioner & meditator Ken Whiteley performs eastern philosophy for Christians and Christian classics for agnostics all with equal ease.

 

Whiteley’s work walks a fine line at an important time. Music that has any sort of religious overtones is a curiosity on the Canadian roots scene. While there is typically a gospel workshop at folk festivals on Sunday mornings, the long-standing relationship between folk music and faith is sometimes an uneasy one these days.

 

A recent discussion in an online folk music forum included the suggestion that gospel workshops should include music of all faiths, and offer something for atheists as well.

 

Meanwhile, some performers who wear their faith on their sleeves – Steve Bell and Jacob Moon leap to mind – seem to be branded that way regardless of their material’s potential for a broader audience.

 

None of this looks like it’s affecting Ken Whiteley, who manages with ease to be a man of faith in a secular world. And there’s more to that than his immense catalogue of spiritual songs, or his prowess as a performer.

 

Take a recent show at St. Andrew’s United Church in Grafton, Ontario for example, where Whiteley’s audience seemed to be composed equally of Shelter Valley Folk Festival fans, clients of a local group home, and long-time members of the little church.

 

Backed by the brilliant George Koller on bass, Alana Bridgewater and Ciceal Levy on vocals, Whiteley demonstrated his uncanny ability to speak to the sacred and the secular in one breath.

 

Drawing on the Sunday morning classics, he easily engages with believers – even as he tosses off bits of transcendent Eastern philosophy. Meanwhile he keeps any agnostic members of the audience nodding and tapping with the pure infectious energy of his music.

 

And that may be the secret to Whiteley’s approach: while some gospel musicians preach, pray or perform with an agenda, his only apparent intent is to express the feelings inside him.

 

“It’s another day’s journey and I’m so glad,” sings Whiteley on the title track of his latest CD. It’s a religious sentiment of a sort, but an easy one to agree with, regardless of your worldview.

 

Breaking into shouts and claps, improvising solos and doing his characteristic herky-jerky dance, Whiteley is carried away by the music. He isn’t telling the audience what to feel. He’s just feeling it.

 

Whiteley is even reluctant to weigh in and teach the audience to clap on the back beat, as is traditional with gospel music. He’s loath to tell anyone how they “should” be expressing themselves. It’s clear that no one’s telling him how to behave, musically.

 

No one that is, except whatever power moves and drives this music. By the second set, having thrown in a few bits of universal wisdom already, Whiteley is using the word God – but by now it’s clear to the audience that what he means may not be what they brought with them.

 

You get the sense, though, that it’s something they’ll take home.

 

“Let my life be prayer,” he sings – and it is.

 

That’s the Gospel according to Ken.

 

Sing Out!, Matt Watroba

Vol 52, No 1

Toronto’s “Everything” Guy: Ken Whiteley

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“I didn’t go to University, I went to folk festivals.” Ken Whiteley proudly admits from his home in Toronto, Ontario. “So through the ’60s I was soaking it all in like a sponge: whether it was hip, traditional British music like the Young Tradition, or the old Appalachian singers like Almeda Riddle and Frank Proffit, or the old blues singers and revivalists like Mike Seeger and later, David Bromberg – it was all exciting, it was all great, and I just wanted to learn it all.”

And learn it all he did. Known throughout the United States and Canada as a multi-instrumentalist roots performer, award winning producer, and performer of songs for kids, Ken Whiteley has been spreading the gospel of roots music for more than 40 years. Born in Pennsylvania to Canadian parents, Ken’s father taught architecture at Penn State and then at Kansas State University. In 1956, the family moved back to Toronto. Ken was five years old. A few years after that, his grandparents came to live in their house.

“Both my grandparent’s were involved in music,” Ken remembers. “My grandfather was from an era where you would always expect everybody to have a song or a story to tell at a family gathering. My father’s father had been a band leader in Northern Ontario in the 1920s. He had a group called the Whiteley Orchestra, and my Uncle Eric played drums in that. So on both sides there was music. My father had wide ranging musical tastes. One of his favorite things to do while he was watching sports on Saturday was to have the sound off and the Metropolitan Opera on. So it would be a football game or a baseball game and opera.”

Ken, along with his older brother and musical partner Chris, had lots of instruments around the house to pluck on and experiment with. This made them ripe for that brief time in the early sixties where folk music ruled the popular music world. Ken recalls, “In 1962 I was 11 and Chris was 14. Hootenanny was on TV and so our taste and ears were sort of drawn to that. In a period of about a year-and-a-half we went from the folk music that was on A.M. radio to discovering Pete Seeger and then Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. By 1964, we were making weekly treks to Sam the Record Man and buying all the blues re-issues by players like Son House and all those singers.” Along with the blues influence, Ken recalls being struck by both the music and the philosophy of Pete Seeger.

“There was a big difference between Pete Seeger and the A.M. folk music. Pete Seeger spoke to your conscience. He talked about real people. It was not about slick guys in matching outfits, it was about the real concerns of people and making a better world and talking about real feelings.”

Ken and Chris Whiteley continued to soak up the recorded music, but it was the opportunity to see some of their heroes in person that inspired them as future performers. In 1964, the Mariposa Folk Festival was forced to move from Orillia, Ontario, to the Toronto Maple Leaf Ball Club at the last minute. This made it possible for the Whiteley brothers to convince their parents to let them take a subway ride to an event that would change their lives. Ken remembers it like this: “The stuff coming up from the States was a big influence, but it played out in a particularly Canadian context. The 1964 Mariposa Folk Festival was, in many ways, a life-changing event. I saw Mississippi John Hurt meet the Reverend Gary Davis for the first time ... sitting in this ballpark and just trading songs. And then, that same afternoon, I saw Skip James do his very first performance for a white audience as he talked about being rescued from the hospital by Dick Waterman because people wanted to hear him play. I was just blown away. It was so great.”

The following winter the brothers began seriously collecting and playing this old music – especially American jug band music – and by the summer of ’65 The Whiteley brothers started Tubby Fats Original All-Star Downtown Syncopated Big Rock Jug Band and began performing. By the mid-’60s, Ken and the jug band entered the music business. They booked gigs, had people booking gigs for them, and joined the musician’s union. They also started volunteering for the Mariposa Folk Festival, often assuming the role of taking care of the same old blues musicians who originally captured their imagination.

It was at this time that the jug band morphed into The Original Sloth Band. They recorded three albums and became sought after live performers. The music combined the blues and jazz from the jug band tradition. Ken described them like this: “The way the New Lost City Ramblers took this broad range of country music, which went all the way from the old ballads and the old-timey music, to strains of bluegrass. They covered the whole range of country music. In a sense, we were doing that with a whole range of black music. By the early 1970s we were into Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, as well as other classic men and women blues singers.”

The Sloth band performed and recorded steadily from 1972 until around 1980. Along the way they sat in and jammed with all kinds of legendary musicians covering a wide span of musical ground. Ken met and played with many of these folks at the festivals and at the coffeehouse he ran for about three years starting in 1974.

“The biggest single difference with me was developing a friendship with Blind John Davis – the great Chicago piano player who played blues and jazz – he was the house piano player for Bluebird Records in the 1930s and ’40s and knew everybody. We first met him in Mariposa around 1974. He began staying with me when he came to Toronto. I began playing with him in different places. In 1978 we recorded with him.” The influence of a man like Blind John Davis can be a hard thing to describe with words. At this point in the conversation, Ken launched into a musical demonstration that involved about a dozen different ways to approach the playing and phrasing of five, simple notes – but mostly it came down to this; “He wouldn’t accept any bullshit from us.” Ken recalled with reverent laughter. “He would make sure we were getting the right feeling – he heard us get that feeling, which was why he used to play with us – if we got nervous, or whatever, he’d say, ‘no, no, no ... give me the real thing ... give it to me like you mean it.’ Playing with John, you learn what’s really involved ... how to make that music speak to whomever it is you’re playing to. It’s an artistry, but it’s the artistry of conveying those real feelings.”

This is an artistry that Ken Whiteley continued to perfect over the next three decades. Live performing, however, is just one aspect of Ken Whiteley’s life in music. He is also an award winning and sought-after producer.

“I’ve always been interested in the whole recording process – making records and what records were. We made our first recording in 1973, and then through the 1970s we helped friends make their records. In 1975 there were two brothers near Hamilton, Ontario, Bob and Dan Lanois, who started a studio in their parent’s basement, so we started going out there to make records. That’s where we made the first Sloth Band record and the first Raffi record.”

Ken knew Raffi as a friend and fellow singer-songwriter in the area, so when the idea for a children’s recording surfaced, the partnership began.

“He had just started doing music for kids.” Ken remembered. “His wife was a Kindergarten teacher, and his mother-in-law ran a nursery school, so he had this idea to make a record for children and he approached me to help him make it. I came up with all these different ideas on how we should treat these songs. That first record, which sold somewhere over 2,000,000 copies was made in the Lanois basement for $10/hour studio time.”

Being the co-producer and arranger for that first Raffi record led to others asking Ken for the same services and to a decade of touring with one of the most popular children’s entertainers of all time.

“I was his bandleader and we were flying all over playing major concert halls. It was a really fun gig. When we started out it was very fresh and I had a lot of musical input. I was bringing all these elements of roots music to Raffi’s music – like playing a dozen instruments. I was doing gospel piano and old-time banjo, some ragtime guitar and bluegrass mandolin – that was all really fun.”

They worked together for eleven years. Ken went on to produce dozens of records for a wide variety of artists including Tom Paxton. All together, Ken’s productions have sold over 6,000,000 copies.

“In the last 30 years or so of producing records, I’ve learned more and more about what really is involved. It’s so different from performing because performing is about the immediacy of the moment – being there with the people you’re performing with. A bad note is gone the second after it’s played and the next note’s played. Recording is something that has to be listened to repeatedly and it uses different parts of my brain.”

Ken Whiteley took a shot at the mainstream music business with the recording Here I Am in 1983. After spending, what he called, “a ton of money” on this mostly electric R&B/blues/gospel/folk mix he figured out that his audience was really the acoustic folk/ roots community. Brightside came out in 1986, and centered Ken in his acoustic roots. He stopped working with Raffi in 1987 and began concentrating on writing and recording his own songs. It was a recording project for his own label, Pyramid Records, that led to his partnering with two staples in the Canadian folk scene, Mose Scarlett and Jackie Washington.

“It began as a recording project that we sort of worked on for about five years, and then came out in 1992. When it came out, it was immediately picked up by the CBC and started getting all kinds of people wanting us to play, and it started creating a momentum of it’s own. So we started performing together. We had been friends for years. It began more like a festival sing-a-round sort of thing – we wouldn’t have a planned set list – but the more we did it, the bigger the repertoire got with all three of us. It took on a life of its own.”

Anyone who has experienced the trio perform live will tell you of the charm, reverence for each other’s songs and stories, and the pure love of the music that exudes from the stage.

“We all loved this old music, but we all approached it from a slightly different place musically – but always a place of mutual respect and enjoyment. We all get a kick out of Jackie’s old stories or Mose’s rambling tales. We were enjoying it as much as the audience.”

Ken continues to do shows with the trio, play solo, back others, produce recordings and sing for children. It is also common now for his son Ben to join him on bass. He also continues to hone the craft of writing.

“The best songs happen as moments of inspiration – where the idea comes to you ... and, whomp!, it’s there. Then you apply the craft to bring the whole thing to fruition, but there is some kind of impetus – it’s almost like you’re just channeling it. But they don’t all come like that,” Ken laughs.

“I naturally draw from the folk traditions because that’s the music I am most familar with. Whether it’s gospel music or swing or blues, I’m drawing from a repertoire of hunders of these songs as a kind of template or musical vocabulary.”

After forty years of making music for folks, Ken Whiteley shows no sign of stopping. In fact, a lifetime of experience has lead to the wisdom and philosophy that drives him to share this music rooted so deeply in his soul.

“Playing for any audience is about communicating - whether it’s 40 people at a house concert or 5,000 people at a folk festival - you are still looking them in the eye and putting it out there for them. It’s in the tension and release of notes, and it’s in what you say and how you say it. I think the more you do it, the more you develop your own voice.”

But is this old music still relevant? Is it essential to the continuing education of both children and adults? As you might imagine, Ken had some final thoughts on this. “It’s so important to give people a sense of the history of this music. All contemporary music has come out of what’s come before. There is a tendency within our contemporary society that wants everything instant – that wants everything in sound bytes – that sees only what’s happening now as being relevant, and has a very short memory. To counter that we need to show people connections. It’s about real stuff that happens in real time. It’s about music as a vehicle to convey our real feelings and our real thoughts, to create our connection to each other. When you get a room full of people singing together, that has a powerful effect at a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level that is not shared by people who are only listening to pre-recorded tracks. Music can inspire change in the world. It can help us through our own challenges as people. Just the act of a song that can make you cry is powerful because it touches something that is so deep.”

SELECT DISCOGRAPHY

All the Seasons, 1993, Alcazar #1010
Acoustic Eclectic, 1995. Pyramid #015
Musical Mystery Machines, 1998, Pyramid #010
Listening, 2000, Borealis #127 Gospel Music Makes Me Feel Alright, 2004, Borealis #159
Join the Band, 2006, Merriweather #06
One World Dance, 2007, Borealis #187

• with Mose Scarlett and Jackie Washington:
Where Old Friends Meet, 1991, Pyramid #06
We’ll Meet Again, 1999, Borealis #120
Sitting On A Rainbow, 2003, Borealis #153

• with Raffi:
Singable Songs for the Very Young, 1976, MCA #10037
Corner Grocery Store and Other Singable Songs, 1979, MCA #10041
Raffi’s Christmas Album, 1983, MCA #10043

• with Chris Whiteley:
Sixteen Shades of Blue, 1996, Borealis #002
Taking Our Time, 2001, Borealis #135


Penguin Eggs, Issue #35, Autumn 2007
Mister Versatility

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Ken Whiteley’s various musical achievemnets are already the stuff of legend. And now the Toronto-based, multi-instrumentalist has just releasd the rather good, One World Dance. Pat Langston waltzes into this interview.

Maybe if we start a petition, he’ll do it. Ken Whiteley – whose sprawling musical knowledge of folk, blues, gospel, you name it, once earned him the label of “a playing encyclopedia” – really needs to shoehorn his memories into a book. Sort of a “the story so far” because, despite his trademark bush of whitening hair and beard, Whiteley’s still only 56.

The idea of a Whiteley book isn’t mine. It was Chris White, artistic director of the Ottawa Folk Festival where Ken Whiteley has played several times, who threw out the idea recently. As White noted, “If you think about Canadian folk and roots music, he’s got an incredible perspective.”

White is bang on about this restless and accomplished performer (his latest, excellent solo release is One World Dance), songwriter (300-plus tunes), collaborator (the Whiteley Brothers, with bro Chris; one-third of the beloved Scarlett, Washington and Whiteley), recording artist (six Juno nominations; credits on albums by Leon Redbone, Willie P. Bennett and many others), award-winning producer (Raffi, Fred Penner), multi-instrumentalist (20 including mandolin and guitar), and all-round folk-roots guy (former artistic director of the Mariposa Folk Festival; co-founder of Borealis Records). Oh yeah, he’s also the dad of bassist Ben Whiteley, who plays on the new album, and uncle of singer-songwriter Jenny Whiteley.

Does the word engaged spring to mind?

Sounding far younger than his age, Whiteley, speaking by phone from his home in Toronto, brims with posterity-worthy memories, stories and humour. Pennsylvania-born of Canadian parents but raised in Toronto, he still recalls the minutiae of his own early musical encounters.

“When I was five, we stayed for a summer with our great-uncle Dave. He would sing Stephen Foster songs holding his cello like a guitar. Chris and I would sit up in the attic and play these records on this wind-up 78.”

His paternal grandfather, he adds, headed up Northern Ontario’s Whiteley Orchestra during the 1920s and ’30s. His maternal grandfather, meanwhile, “came from the tradition where everyone should always be ready to give a song or story, and he was always asking us to perform, even when we were little kids, at special gatherings.”

As an elementary school student, Whiteley says with a chuckle, he was the only boy in the class who would sing out loud. By the time he was 12, he was so into folk and blues that he stopped listening to AM radio. Then, in 1965, he heard Keith Richards’s slide guitar on a Rolling Stones tune and “I realized it was all a continuum and that the Stones were listening to the same things I was.”

A couple of years later, Ken, older brother Chris and Tom Evans formed The Original Sloth Band, still fondly remembered by many for its folk, blues, jazz and jug-band eclecticism. The group recorded three albums in the 1970s. During that same decade, Whiteley launched and ran Shire’s Coffee House in Toronto’s North York area.

“We bought all these chairs from a divey hotel on Jarvis Street and mounted lights in juice cans,” he remembers, earning $35 a week for his efforts. He hired, and sometimes sat in with, Brent Titcomb, Stan Rogers and other budding folk heavyweights.

Another multi-Whiteley project, the Junior Jug Band, played kids’ concerts during the 1980s. Ken’s own R&B outfit, the Paradise Revue, also carved out a niche.

Since then, well, you’ve already read the Reader’s Digest version of Whiteley’s current musical CV.

In fact, on One World Dance he pays tribute to his consuming passion. That’s When I Need a Song is about exactly that.

“Songs in so many ways enrich our lives, when you feel good, when you feel bad, when you are protesting, when you’re celebrating, when you’re whatever,” he says. Whiteley wrote the tune, one of several featuring Amos Garrett on guitar, with fellow Toronto musician Eve Goldberg. He and Goldberg also teamed up for the swing blues Lunch Counter Encounter. “I can get melodic, harmonic ideas perpetually but don’t always have something to write,” Whiteley says.

Co-writing is one way that music helps people connect. And connecting is, for Whiteley, of bedrock importance.

“All of us on this planet have a responsibility and the opportunity to connect,” he says. “I’ve made connections with people that I couldn’t speak the same language with and we’ve been able to play music together.

“At the most profound level, I feel in performing it’s possible to create a situation where I’m a conduit for energy that’s coming from beyond me and we create a big circle with the audience. Essentially, it’s a spiritual pursuit for me.”

All this talk of spirituality prompts the question of whether Whiteley is a religious man. Careful to underline that he’s “not hung up on the forms and names of religious belief,” he does say he’s a Christian, pointing to his gospel albums. “But Christianity in and of itself is a vehicle, as all religions are, for us to experience the divine in our lives and to experience it between each other.”

Quoting the New Testament, Whiteley adds, “Jesus said, ‘Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.’ And he didn’t say, ‘Accept me as your personal saviour,’ He said, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ And who’s your neighbour? He gave an example and it’s not the guy in your tribe. It’s whoever you encounter.”

Speaking of tribes, the Whiteley clan does make music together (“Ken and Chris are the kind of people you could organize a whole folk festival around,” says White). This past winter saw Ken and seven other family members converge on Ottawa for a show, a rousing event which apparently took close to a year to organize because of the performers’ conflicting schedules.

And with his own busy days and nights – he’s in the midst of promoting his new album, don’t forget – it looks as though it’ll take more than just a petition to get Whiteley working on that book. On the other hand, he says, “I have a good idea for a cookbook."

 

Brampton Guardian, Radhika Panjwani

January 8, 2011

Music Great preaches Gospel

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Jazz, gospel and root music aficionados can drive away winter blues with a bit of music.
Noted singer/songwriter Ken Whiteley will be stopping by the city for a concert, Jan. 21 at the Sanderson Hall at St. Paul’s United Church, 30 Main St. S. at 7:30 p.m. The performance is part of the Friday Folk Night by the Brampton Folk Club. Whiteley will be joined by his son, Ben and Brampton’s very own gospel singers; the Levy sisters– Amoy and Ciceal. Jamie Riley will perform the opening act.


Whiteley, a two-time Grammy nominee has won 13 Maple Blues Awards, produced over 125 recording projects and four American Gold records and has sold over eight million copies of music. The Canadian legend has also collaborated with musical giants such as Pete Seeger, Blind John Davis, Stan Rogers and John Hammond Jr.
His latest album Another Day’s Journey, is a musical odyssey about the paths travelled and the places that have left an indelible mark.


“As you do this longer and longer, you go deeper into the music and are able to perform it from a deeper place,” said Whiteley. “I am always trying to get to a clear and more present place. With Another Day’s journey, the intention is not to evoke a feeling of nostalgia but acknowledging the treasures of the past that have influenced me and it’s very much an expression of the fact that these things in the past have brought me to this place.”


He explained most songs on the album are new songs even though they reflect his past experiences and almost all songs underline the philosophy of “being happy and accepting the joy of the moment.”   

    
Whiteley’s unconventional voice, introspective lyrics and infectious music have a lot to do with learning by osmosis. From Skip James’s falsetto and vocal intensity to Campbell Brothers’ dexterity with the sacred steel, an gospel style that went underground and resurfaced in the 90s – Whiteley’s influences have been many, yet his style and soul remains distinct. Also, the Toronto native happens to be versatile musician who can play at least 20 instruments.
When in Brampton, he will play alongside his son, Ben.


“There’s a very active intuitive faculty that allows us to kind of know where the other person is going to go,” Whiteley said about the experience of playing with both Chris and Ben. “You can veer from the game plan and the other person will almost see it coming. It is interesting because in Brampton, I will be performing with two sisters Amoy and Ciceal and they have the same faculty with their harmony singing where I see them look at each other and without saying a word they know where to go...”

 

SNAP Bloor West, July 2011

One Day Wonder with Ken Whiteley

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Members of the community were recently offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a special gospel workshop at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church and then sing in a live concert with none other than Canadian roots music legend Ken Whiteley. Ken's musical journey has taken him from jug band, folk and swing to blues, gospel and children's music - a career which has seen him win several awards and Juno nominations. The turnout for the workshop was larger than expected so organizers were thrilled with the day which worked on participant's vocal skills and harmonization. The day ended with the group performing with Ken on-stage for a very successful concert at EHP United Church. What a day for all involved! All proceeds from the event went to support EHP's ongoing outreach programs which help the poor and marginalized in Parkdale.

 

Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif

October 12, 2010

KEN WHITELEY, Another Day’s Journey, Borealis
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Ken Whiteley’s website notes that “his musical journey has taken him from jug band, folk and swing to blues, gospel and children's music.” With the exception of children’s music, Ken covers all of those grounds on Another Day’s Journey, which I think I can say without much reservation, is the finest solo album of his long career.

Of course, the term ‘solo’ is a bit of a misnomer as Ken, who sings and variously plays more than a dozen different instruments, works with cast of great collaborators – singers and instrumentalists – that changes, track to track, as the album unfolds on this journey through Ken's musical world.

The album begins with the title track, a joyous, uplifting song from the repertoire of the amazing Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Acoustic blues great Guy Davis, is Ken’s principal accomplice on this tune. Guy returns later in the CD to add his harmonies, harmonica and guitar playing to “Too Much Trouble,” a lovely, nostalgic original by Ken, and on a bluesy version of the traditional “Motherless Children.”

Kim and Reggie Harris – whose music and infectious personalities never fail to inspire – and sacred steel master Chuck Campbell join Ken for three songs including the inspirational “Butterfly,” and the poignant “No Answer,” both co-written by Ken and Reggie, and “I Want to Live So God Can Use Me,” an on-your-feet gospel number.

I’ve been on a listening to a lot of jug band music lately and two juggy tracks here are duets with Maria Muldaur, a central figure in the jug band revival of the 1960s and in its latest revival over the past few years. “Language of Love” and “Mike and Mary” are both recent Ken Whiteley originals that sound like they could have been recorded by the Memphis Jug Band in 1927, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in 1965, or the Original Sloth Band in 1975.

Newfoundland swing guitarist Duane Andrews joins Ken for two other highlights on the album: Ken’s own “Old Wind Blow,” which also features some excellent harmonica work by Ken’s brother, Chris Whiteley, and “I Want To Be Happy,” an old swing tune that was a staple in the repertoire of the late, great Jackie Washington.
 

Maple Blues Newsletter, John Valenteyn

Vol. 26. No 9, September 2010

John's Blues Picks

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The artwork with Ken Whiteley‘s new CD includes a convincing map that compresses the famous music centres in the USA along with some of the centres here that figure on the CD. It looks like you can travel it in a day but it’s also intended to reflect Ken’s life in music. He certainly draws on a lifetime’s worth of memories. “Another Day’s Journey” is also the opening song, learned from Bessie Jones & the Georgia Sea Island Singers who he saw at Mariposa over 40 years ago. The arrangement is one that evokes Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee at their most joyous, even to the whoops. Guy Davis guests on guitar & vocals. Almost every song here is a new composition, using a career memory as its starting point and a friend/guest performer to assist. The result is a set of songs that looks forward and backward in equal measure. “Language Of Love” builds on classic blues of the ‘20′s and Maria Muldaur is the perfect collaborator, as she is for “Mike And Mary”, a new song that draws on their early jug band days and The Original Sloth Band. Guy Davis’ suggestion to re-work “Motherless Children” is another highlight, using Blind Willie McTell‘s twelve string slide version as its foundation. “Too Much Trouble” is another new one that features a gorgeous melody for a third Davis joint effort. “I Want To Be Happy” is from the late Jackie Washington‘s huge repertoire and a delightful tribute. Special mention should be made for Chuck Campbell‘s contributions on his “Sacred Steel” lap guitar playing and to Chris Whiteley‘s harmonica work, especially on “Old Wind Blow”. Bucky Berger on drums and Ben Whiteley on bass provide sterling support throughout. With such a rich career to draw on this can serve as a template for innumerable albums. The Toronto CD launch is at Hugh’s Room on October 1st. 


Tampa Blue, FAME (Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange), 2008 

Review of One World Dance CD
Edited by: David N. Pyles, Peterborough Folk Music Society
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The American South has given birth to some great literature, wonderful food and world-shaking music, including the blues. All parents are happy when they see their offspring out on their own, independently conquering the world and sending home messages of their well-being. Ken Whiteley's One World Dance is one of those messages sent by the blues and it says, "I'm alive and well and living in Canada!"

For those unfamiliar with Whiteley (folks like me) you can tell he's got it right from the first bar of the first track, Everybody Has The Blues. Actually, I could tell from the opening chord. The music is sultry and the temperature is just where steam first begins to appear. Then he comes in with the vocals. The phrasing and attitude are reminiscent of BB King. Whiteley understands the importance of feel so well that he holds the reins through the entire piece, never letting it get out of hand, setting the mood and building the tension for more to come.

It starts coming with the second track, Get At. This is one of those boogies that will make a lame man walk! The dual guitar work between Whiteley and Amos Garrett is masterful.

Masterful is a perfect word to describe this collection of mostly original tunes. Masterful and amazing. It is amazing how masterfully Whiteley covers a wide range of the blues palate. He is able to be faithful to his own sensibilities while working in each of the sub-genres. Not only is the instrumentation masterful but the song writing is as well. Whiteley's weakest work still sets goals so high that most song writers can only hope to occasionally reach them.

The title track is definitely not your father's blues. And, to be honest, I did not care much for it on first hearing. But I have decided that I needed to open my ears and allow Whiteley to broaden my tastes a little. The music of this blues/world-beat fusion song is infectious and I have found myself listening to it repeatedly.

There are a couple of treatments of "traditional" tunes. This version of the Son House song, Death Letter Blues is right on the mark. I don't think that even Son himself could find any fault here. And the blues spiritual, Two Wings, is so powerful, so beautifully done that it will move the heart of the most hardened sinner!

So, the blues another of its children. Ken Whiteley's One World Dance can sit at the table with all the other far-flung offspring of the South. Nice to meet you!
 


Montreal Gazette, Mike Regenstreif

November 15, 2007
Podworthy: That’s When I Need a Song

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KEN WHITELEY One World Dance, Borealis/Koch
Whether as solo artist, collaborator; sideman or producer; Toronto’s Ken Whiteley has long been one of the most valuable players on the Canadian blues, gospel and folk music scenes. This time around, Whiteley is mostly in a stylistically-broad blues mode offering tracks that range from a powerful acoustic arrangement of Death letter Blues, Son House’s Delta blues standard to tightly arranged electric band tracks like Whiteley’s own Everybody has the Blues featuring one of Amos Garrett’s patented electric guitar solos. On the title track, Whiteley enlists Mark Mosca steel drums and Cuban percussionist Mario del Monte to deftly fuse strains of blues and world music. The most infectious number is That’s When I Need a Song, a kind of secular gospel tune.


The Star Phoenix, Bill Robertson
Whiteley serves up lunch counter of styles

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Guitarist extraordinary Ken Whiteley is back with another treasure trove of songs, sounds and styles.

On One World Dance he takes us through the gentle R & B sway of one statement of his faith, Everybody Has the Blues -- with lead guitar help from Amos Garrett -- the high-octane, rockin' boogie of Get At, and the sweet ballad of life's possibilities Going To Be. Then he throws in some humorous ragtimey feel with Lunch Counter Encounter and its lively acoustic guitar solo, some Dobro guitar on the old country blues number Death Letter Blues, and some spirited gospel with Dobro accompaniment and some great bass vocals from Pat Patrick on Two Wings.

Yes, it's a lunch counter of musical styles and possibilities here, including some cha cha, complete with Latin percussion and steel drums on the title track. There is some slow blues feeling for a song about the end of a relationship and the coming on of Whiteley's least favourite month, November. Whiteley's justly renowned for his fine guitar playing but his voice, which can sound a little strained, as on Trying To Find My Way, really glows through that ballad Going To Be and resonates a sad earnestness in Still Can't Believe You're Gone. This is a lovely album.


Hamilton Spectator, Jeff Mahoney

12-01-2007
Looking at some Must-Listen CDS reviewed
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Ken Whiteley, One World Dance, Borealis Records
Whiteley charges into this with guitars and dobros blazing and voice a-growl. The result is a passionate, robust set of blues, with jazz and Latin garnishes, even some gospel. The strengths of this appealing album are its guitars and the driving, cleverly sprung tempos and chordings. Whiteley's voice and lyrics really score on Everybody Has The Blues, Get At and November, but they slip out of blues idiom in the CD's rare weak moments.


Penguin Eggs, Eric Thom

Issue #36 Winter 2007

Penguin Eggs CD Review

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One can tend to forget how talented Ken Whiteley is when he seems so overexposed these days. He's into his gospel thing, his blues thing, used to be into the jug band thing and does kids' reocrds, produces and you-name-it. All of which creates an impression of a rather eclectic individual who's all over the map. But with One World Dance, that's exactly his point. This 12-track record has pulled it all together, reminding you just how supremely talented Whiteley is. His unconventional voice works perfectly with many musicial styles and this disc delivers big band and gutbucket blues, gospel, swing jazz and even a samba with steel drums.

Secret weapons across this entire disc is found in piano player Joe Sealey, who positively steams on the brillant "Going To Be", the disc's most powerful track. Yet there are many: "Still Can't Beleive You're Gone" is a beautiful intimate paean to loss while "Death Letter Blues" conjures the devil and drowns him in the Delta. In an odd turn, Whiteley takes over a Cuban supper club with this slick arrangement - punctuated by Sealey's piano, Mario del Monte's congas and mark Mosca's steel drums - that might make Boz Scaggs jealous. "That's All Right" closes the disc on a blues/gospel note with tasteful ragtime guitar and three-part harmonies, leaving you wanting more. A very solid record from a man who wears the world on his sleeve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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