Home Feature Big Dave McLean launches new album co-produced by Steve Marriner

Big Dave McLean launches new album co-produced by Steve Marriner

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Is it possible to still be underrated at age 71, and after a five-decade career in which you’ve inspired just about everybody in Canadian blues?

Big Dave McLean is about to answer an emphatic “yes” with This Old Life, an album that’s poised to finally shine the light of mass acclaim on his mighty talents as a singer, harpist and slinger of the National guitar—skills that, among his many other accomplishments, once led Billboard to proclaim, “He’s done more to shape the Western Canadian blues scene than perhaps any other artist.”

And now everybody gets to hear why. The new record is a 14-song collection of immediately unforgettable classic blues numbers, combining authentic covers of tunes by legendary artists like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Little Walter with three new Big Dave originals that can stand proudly with the best the art form has to offer.

The bar is set by the leadoff track, “Well, I Done Got Over It,” a rendition of the 1953 Guitar Slim nugget that shows off Dave’s soulful, gravelly rumble of a voice.

Versions of Muddy Waters’ “Honey Bee” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave’s Kept Clean” are among the smartly chosen, impeccably performed tributes that round out the record. Meanwhile, Dave shows his more romantic side on his own “You Mean So Much to Me,” gets wistful on “Sometimes” and spins a yarn of escalating neighborhood violence on the regretful, world-weary “Billy Canton’s Bulldog.”

In true traditionalist style, the album was recorded in just four days at The Ganaraska Recording Company in Cobourg, ON, on a purist’s arsenal of vintage instruments and equipment. And most of the performances are first takes, with all of the core guitar, bass and drum tracks cut live “off the floor.”

The approach was hugely satisfying to co-producer Steve Marriner, a Juno and Maple Blues Award-winning musician in his own right who counts himself among Dave’s biggest fans.

“He is as genuine a bluesman as it gets, and I’ve been dying to capture Dave and present him to the rest of the world in the way I’ve always heard him: raw and real,” said Steve, who also brought along his producing partner, Jimmy Bowskill, to help shepherd the project and join him in its core performing ensemble. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done here. I think we’ve shown Dave and the music itself the deep respect [they’re] so deserving of.”

The Saskatchewan-born Dave has been earning that respect since 1969, when he received his first guitar lesson from the legendary John Hammond after a gig. After that, you couldn’t stop him. He became a regular presence on the Canadian club and festival scene, where his profuse talents and obvious love of the blues won him the support of further mentors like the aforementioned Muddy Waters, whose friendship ended up inspiring the title of Dave’s debut album, Muddy Waters for President.

But the blues has never been a rich man’s game, and for decades thereafter, Dave had to work in construction and other odd jobs to supplement his gigging and recording habit. His struggles were even documented in a 2015 short, “Ain’t About the Money.”

Accolades, fortunately, have been a good deal more forthcoming than heaps of cash. Dave has been nominated for three Junos, and he’s won one (for 1992’s Saturday Night Blues). He’s also received a Western Canadian Music Award, a Prairie Music Award, a Great Canadian Blues Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Blues Society. And in 2019, he was made a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his influence in the field of Delta and Chicago blues and his own mentorship of younger artists like Colin James, Shaun Verrault and Luke Doucette.

With This Old Life out and a whirlwind tour looming, Dave is feeling reflective. “I would like to send out my deepest gratitude, respect and admiration to all of the many people who have shared their incredible talents and have helped me present my interpretation of blues over the past 50 years or so,” he said.

And thank you, Big Dave. We promise we’ll never get over it.

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