The Canadian award-winning singer/songwriter/pianist Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne is known primarily for his energetic boogie-woogie piano style, his flashy outfits, and engaging showmanship. Here on Go, Just Do It! he reveals that he’s well-versed in many styles of the blues, R&B, and, for good measure, a little hip-hop too. Wayne realizes he’s branching out some but none of this is new for the 75-year-old veteran. “I’m not looking for a different path. I love that jump blues and boogie-woogie. That’s where my heart is. I’m just trying to keep that style alive. That’s classic stuff, and I’m at that classic age so it works out.
Wayne resides in Vancouver but is an expat by way of Spokane, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Orleans. He’s in the Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame in Cincinnati and has won seven Maples Blues Awards, a JUNO Award, three Living Blues Magazine Keyboard Awards and more. Over his career, he’s covered Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and splashed gospel, jazz, Latin, R&B, soul, and other styles into his albums and shows but this is the best-recorded example of that diverse mix.
This may also mark the album with the most star-studded lineup of guests. Wayne’s son SeQuel Cory Spruell is the rapper and spoken word artist on a cover of Percy Mayfield’s “Don’t Want To Be President” and Grammy winner Diane Schuur teams with Wayne for one of the album’s best moments in their stirring duet of “You’re in for a Big Surprise.” Former B.B King bassist Russell Jackson is a main anchor of the band with potent horn players -saxophonist Jerry Cook and trumpeter Vince Maie (Powder Blues, Colin James). Guitarist Yuji Bara (Boogie Patrol), JUNO Award winner Juli Masi (background vocals), rising Montreal vocalist Dawn Tyler Watson, and harp ace Sherman ‘Tank” Doucette (Incognito Band) join the festivities. Let’s not leave out drummer Joey ‘The Pocket” DiMarco (Studebaker John & Jack DeKeyser).
Wayne is a terrific songwriter as well, with many of tunes laced with humor and wit. Ten of these generous 13 are his. The Blues Boss kicks off to a fiery, enthusiastic start trading verses with Dawn Tyler Watson on the title track while “You Did a Number on Me” features Juli Masi on the background vocals. “Sittin’ in my Rockin’ Chair” shine the light on Wayne’s rollicking piano playing as it’s rendered by the core quartet.
Fellow pianist and singer Diane Schuur, who just delivered her own fine blues album Running on Faith last month (covered on these pages) takes the lead vocal on Percy Mayfield’s “You’re In for a Big Surprise” as Wayne serves as the prodding duet partner for the outstanding track, spiced with Cook’s soulful tenor solo. “Sorry Ain’t Good Enough” is a short horn-driven R&B tune that again features Watson as the duet partner. The horns come out blaring for Wayne’s signature type witty song “Motor Mouth Woman,” (yakety yak, ain’t saying nothin’ new”).
This writer’s rather surprised that we have not heard recent covers from other artists of Percy Mayfield’s “Don’t Want to be President” but Wayne gives it a special treatment as his son raps about the importance of the 2020 election and dethroning the present faux leader. Wayne’s own “Lost & Found,” a piano-driven shuffle, is another highlight, another quartet tune with a memorable chorus. (“I’ve been lost in the lost and found’) Doucette’s harp introduces the third cover, as Wayne and band give J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” a funky boogie treatment. The horns return for “Bumpin’ Down the Highway,” a cool jump blues instrumental number styled on Louis Jordan where both Cook and Mai both stretch out.
<P>Wayne then settles in for the disc’s longest track at six minutes, “That’s the Way She Is,” another quartet tune this time with guitarist Bara delivering one of his few scorching solos. The fastest tempo song is appropriate “T&P Train 400” of which Wayne says, “I was playing the T-Bone walker Blues Festival in Longview , Texas a few years ago and we drove down to Marshall, Texas to see the train museum.” Wayne was struck by how the new steam trains in that region influenced rhythms that piano player would employ in the 1920s. “Those trains carried so much history, musical or otherwise.” Of course, the boogie-woogie master needs to end the album that way, hence the instrumental “Let the Rock Roll.”
Go, listen. Kenny Wayne is indeed keeping that classic sound alive and this time around, embellishing it with great vocalists, guest session folks, and an array of styles. He’s just doing it right!