No more Sufferin' Bastards
Yeah, we’re back on the road another time,
Said back on the long road one more time.
But goin down that road without a buddy of mine,
Down the long road without a buddy of mine…
Whoops, those are leftovers from a Writing the Blues 101 course…
Still, they could also be the opening lines for a Ross Neilsen tune this year.
Neilsen, you see, is one of the hardest working rocking bluesmen/performers out there and when he rolls into the valley to play the Canmore Hotel, June 14, he’ll be without long-standing bassman Shawn Worden.
After many years as Ross Neilsen and the Sufferin’ Bastards, Worden’s absence has also meant a change of lineup and a change of name for the Fredericton bluesman -– on this tour, it’s simply the Ross Neilsen Band.
Neilsen (guitar, vocals), long-time drummer Karl Gans and new bassman Will Pacey play the Hotel and will offer up a selection of guitar-driven blues, solid riffs and thumping basslines.
Neilsen and Worden had worked together for 13 years, “and we had a lot of chemistry, so I was worried about replacing him. But he had other focuses drawing his energy away and we had to part ways.”
Fortunately, Neilsen knew Pacey from former days moonlighting with a reggae band. “He’s a Frederiction boy as well,” he said, “so when we advertised on Kijiji to see what the interest would be for a new bass player, he was one of the first to answer.
“We gave him some material, and Karl and I thought we could audition some others, but we saw right away there was no need. It’s been working out great and this is the first time Will has been out west.”
Neilsen said he had some lingering doubts that tried and true fans might not be receptive to a lineup change, but input has been good on the new trio’s sound.
So it’s onward and upward for Neilsen. In the past year, he recorded a solo album in Mississippi and was a semifinalist in the renowned International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
Now the trio has embarked on a nine-week tour. “And that’s one of the good things about playing as a three-piece; we can fit in a minivan to keep costs down and there’s any number of directions you can take, musically,” he said.
The last time Neilsen was in the valley, it was to support his album Remdemption. This time around, he’ll have new songs ready for a September solo album release and some new material for the band’s next album.
“I had some older songs that I’ve brought out and there will be new stuff in the set. It’s hard to find time on the road to rehearse, but we’ve worked up some new material, Will’s got the hang of it, and we’re ready to go.”
Being pretty much a one-man show, which includes songwriting, performing, doing publicity, booking gigs, “I sometimes get caught up on the administrative side of things, so I have to force myself to write songs.”
What’s helped with expanding his song library is a challenge that Neilsen and Tom Savage (rock/roots), who regularly plays the valley, embarked on. Originally, as a New Years’ resolution, the two targeted writing a song a day.
“We started off by joking about it, but Tom’s been real faithful to it. I went to more of a song a week, but that kind of fell off a bit with being on the road. And I’ve had some events going on in my life and there’s been a changing of the guard with the band.
“Some of the songs I’ve written are just stories, some are personal and some have no real relevance to anything in my life. But you have to get the pen on paper when the muse is happening. I write down anything that comes to mind, or record it on a phone. You don’t want to think you lost something later on down the road.”
After becoming a semifinalist at the blues challenge, Neilsen stayed in the southern U.S. to work on the solo album in Clarksdale, Miss., the home of the delta blues.
His solo project will be called The Shack Up Sessions, and he worked in a beat up shack with engineer Kevin Houston, who worked on Redemption. The album features Nielsen on resonator guitar, stomp box and vocals.
“I did a live album quite a few years ago and I’d always wanted to do a resonator album. I think it’s a pretty good representation of my live show.”
“And while I was in Memphis, I ate a lot of great barbecue, heard some great musicians and got to see Ray Bonneville perform for three days.
“After, recording with Kevin in Clarksdale was easy and fun... hard to believe we were working just down the highway from the fabled crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 where Robert Johnson is rumoured to have sold his soul to the devil.”
Early this year, Neilsen also found himself in Mexico where he played the blues on a beach as the Pacific rolled in.
With summer approaching, said Neilsen, “you just keep swinging away at it. I do about 200 gigs a year, give or take, and we’re on the road for about seven or eight months. You work on building a fan base, and doing well at the blues challenge looks good on the resume, but it’s about hard work.
“I’ve been doing this full-time since 2007, just trying to make it work, touring and playing.”
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