Pickett A Compelling Solo Show
The Daily News / Halifax, NS, Canada
Hanging around Michael Pickett's neck, on a long beaded lace is a tiny harmonica. The silver-haired bluesman wears it like a talisman: a good luck charm to keep his mojo working. It announces the Toronto native is linked inextricably with the 10-hole harp - it's been the focus of his life for more than 35 years.
"I asked my mother for a harmonica for my 13th birthday," recalls Pickett, who is in town for a couple of weekend shows. "I think it cost two bucks." A few months later he saw blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee on a TV show and the light just went on.
"I went out the next day to a record store with some friends and bought the record. I couldn't even understand what they were saying because of the dialect and references."
Not long after that he snuck into The Riverboat in the Yorkville area of Toronto to hear Sonny and Brownie perform live. Ever since, Pickett has been a white boy lost in the blues.
Through the '70s and '80s Pickett fronted Toronto roots bands, including Whiskey Howl, offering up covers of songs by Ray Charles and Muddy Waters.
In '87, Pickett started singing commercial jingles in Toronto, parlaying 'This Bud's For You' ads into enough of a financial cushion to give up the day job and commit to music full-time.
It took another 10 years to record BLUES MONEY, his first album of original songs - it garnered a Juno nomination as Best Blues Album of the Year.
In 2000, Pickett released the terrific CONVERSATION WITH THE BLUES CD (another Juno nomination), exploring different blues voicings for his tunes. (Halifax raised Hammond organ player Bill McCauley played all over the record, one of his last projects.)
Recently, Pickett has mothballed the band in favour of more streamlined touring. "Right now, my whole focus is on the solo thing."
With just his ancient National Steel Duolian, harmonica rack, and a microphone, Pickett brings a lifetime of playing the blues to life. His world-weary voice and deep appreciation for the nuance of the blues make for a compelling show.
"There's definitely a different energy playing solo. Man, when the solo thing works, it's VERY satisfying."
© 2006 Michael Pickett