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Legendary blues band Downchild capping tour in Sudbury

The Downchild Blues Band, credited with inspiring The Blues Brothers, is celebrating the end of the “longest 50th anniversary tour ever,” after which the working musicians are taking a short break before hitting the road again
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The Downchild Blues Band is seen in a promotional photo. The legendary band will be performing at the Fraser Auditorium in Sudbury on Nov. 12. 

A working blues band to its core, the Downchild Blues Band is celebrating the end of their “longest 50th anniversary tour ever” in Sudbury on Nov. 12.

“It’s our job, we’re all full-time musicians – that’s what we do,” lead singer and harmonica player Chuck Jackson told Sudbury.com over the phone recently.

At the time, he was between shows on the West Coast before swinging east toward Northern Ontario for back-to-back tour-closing shows in Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.

The band performs at the Fraser Auditorium at 935 Ramsey Lake Road in Sudbury on Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. More information about tickets, which cost $55.69, is available by clicking here.

Their 50th anniversary tour kicked off in 2019, but ground to a halt as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, with dates picking up as the country began reopening to live performances.

This year, the band managed to book approximately 70 gigs, with the Nov. 12 show in Sudbury capping off their years-long 50th anniversary tour.

“We’ll take our break for Christmas, and we’re already booking things in the new year,” Jackson said, adding they’ve already lined up a gig at the prestigious Massey Hall in Toronto. 

“We’re looking forward to getting back out there. We’re only two years away from our 55th.”

The band formed in 1969 and charted a number of hit songs over the years, including the radio staple “I Got Everything I Need (Almost),” which joined “Shot Gun Blues” in appearing on The Blues Brothers album “Briefcase Full of Blues.”

Starring Dan Aykroyd (who was in Greater Sudbury for a movie shoot in September) and John Belushi, The Blues Brothers was a musical act made popular on the television series Saturday Night Live and their self-titled 1980 movie.

The musical act drew inspiration from the Downchild Blues Band, and Aykroyd is quoted as saying, “There would be no Blues Brothers if it weren’t for Downchild.”

Although The Blues Brothers gave the band a sustained boost in popularity, Jackson said he has been hearing from some younger fans who haven’t heard of the comedic musical act.

“There’s many different styles of blues now, and with the internet and things like Spotify we’ve become known worldwide,” he said, adding they’re getting letters from people all over the place.

While some of their fans have been aging into seniors alongside them, he said their audiences have been a mix of ages in recent years.

“We’ve got devoted fans who have been supporting us for 53 years, and they’re bringing on their children and their children’s children,” he said, adding that to please their eclectic range of audience members, they strive to draw songs from throughout their catalog of 20 studio albums.

“We’ve stayed true to what we do,” he said. “We write all our own material and with (founding member and guitar player) Donnie (Walsh) as our leader.”

Band members have come and gone over the years. More recently, keyboard player Michael Fonfara died in early 2021, and drummer Mike Fitzpatrick retired. 

Tyler Yarema has since taken over on keyboards and Jim Casson has joined them on drums, filling out their latest lineup. 

“They’re younger guys who bring a lot of new energy to the band, and we’re really, really enjoying it. It’s been great getting out, and the fans have been fantastic,” said Jackson, who has been a band regular since 1990. 

Although the band works primarily in Southern Ontario, both with Downchild and on various other musical projects, Jackson said they have a long history in the Greater Sudbury area, and have played the Nickel City “many, many times,” including with Northern Ontario musicians Peter "Sab" Sabourin and Tommy Fyfe and the Whisky River Blues Band

In a media release issued by the band, Walsh said Sudbury has “always been a great blues town.”

“We’ve played a lot of shows in Sudbury over the years, as we drove the Trans-Canada Highway on tour out west, and then back through the city on our way home again,” he said. 

“I’ve always found Sudbury has some serious blues fans, who know how to party, so what better way to end our 50th tour than in Sudbury, just a stone’s throw away from North Bay, where I grew up and discovered music.”

The upcoming show is all about fun, Jackson said. 

“The music we play is for people to shake their blues — get rid of their blues and get them dancing and moving around and clapping and participating,” he said. “We have our own certain sound, and people seem to have been great supporters of it over the 53 years. … We just want people to have a good time.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.