For Michael Charles, it’s not about the size of the stage _it’s how you use it.
The 62 year-old blues-man says he knows how to use a stage, and he intends to prove it to local audiences when he performs at Lorenzo’s Cafe in Ashton Creek on September 30 and The Grateful Fed in Kelowna on September 29.
Whether he’s playing on the gilded stage of the opulent Oriental Theatre in Chicago or a cramped corner bar in Moose Jaw, Sask., the eight-time Grammy-nominated performer said his “go big or go home” approach has served him well.
“I can remember going to these little venues and seeing the people’s faces as I hauled in all my seven or eight guitars and my smoke machine. And then there’s the band. They see this and they’re looking at me like, ‘Who is this guy?’” Charles said.
“Whether we’re playing a big hall or a tiny bar, we try to give people the same show. I will bring in whatever I can fit.”
A show, he added, typically lasts two hours or so with no intermission.
“I don’t take breaks, I never have; even when I started out. My theory then was if I don’t make it in this business, they’re going to see what I can do now.”
Though longer shows are considered unique, Charles said he’s not alone. Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen consistently play longer shows. Charles says this is presumably because, much like himself, they just love to play.
“I guess we’re just old school. Mostly, I think, we just love what we do.”
That love, he said, stems from childhood.
Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Charles was introduced to the guitar by his father when he was seven-years-old. Under his father’s tutelage, the exuberant young Aussie honed his skills and developed a life-long love of music. When he turned 13, Charles’s father bought him his own guitar _ a Fender Stratocaster that he still plays on stage today. He began playing shows around the city, eventually earning himself an invitation to play at the infamous Legends blues club in Chicago with the world-famous rhythm and blues guitarist Buddy Guy.
Charles returned to Australia briefly, but was quickly lured back to the North American scene where he spent the next several years working the Chicago blues circuit, performing with Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Eddy Clearwater, Junior Wells, George Blaze and Jimmy Dawkins.
“I went to Chicago for two weeks 29 years ago and I’m still here. I’ve got my citizenship. I’m officially an American now,” he laughed, adding that he doesn’t expect to ever lose his Aussie accent.
“You just don’t know where life is going to take you.”
The soft-spoken musician said he could never have imagined the places his musical pilgrimage would take him. In 2015, it took him to the Blues Hall of Fame where he was inducted and honoured for his substantial contributions to the blues genre and the music industry. In 2016 production began on a documentary chronicling Charles’ career. The documentary will be released later this year.
“I’ve been on the road for 50 years and I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said.
“It’s been a hell of a ride. I feel very blessed to be doing something I love, and lucky that it also pays the bills.”
Now, Charles is travelling his tenth consecutive tour, the 2017 All I Really Know Tour, which will take him to the far corners of the United States, Canada, and Australia, and includes a new host of night spots and festivals in cities he’s never been to, including Kelowna and Ashton Creek.
While the prospect of a massive and varied tour might intimated some, Charles says he jumps at any opportunity to be on the road, and isn’t precious about where he plays.
“Big or small, it doesn’t really matter to me. The bigger halls are great, but the intimate corner bars and pubs remind me of where I got my start. As long as I can keep doing what I’m doing, you really won’t hear me complaining.”
Michael Charles will perform at Lorenzo’s Cafe in Ashton Creek on Saturday, September.30 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at the door. Charles will also appear at The Grateful Fed in Kelowna on Friday, September.29 at 9 p.m. For more information or tour dates go to www.michaelcharles.us.