The blues, perhaps more than any other genre, has come to rely on a dedicated community of fans, musicians and benefactors for its continued survival. Why? Well, it is after all the style of music almost anyone can play, but few can play well.
Ensuring the long-term health of blues in Canada has become a passion for Paul Reddick, and the motivation behind his creation of the Cobalt Prize, aimed at celebrating songwriting innovation within the form. The inaugural winners in 2015 were Digging Roots for their song “Hwy 17,” and it’s expected there will be many more worthy nominees in contention when this year’s Cobalt Prize is handed out at the Maple Blues Awards later this month.
As an artist who has always lived by the Cobalt Prize mandate of pushing the boundaries of the blues, Paul Reddick has now seemingly reached the stage at which all blues players eventually arrive where they feel compelled to support and mentor the next generation.
The singer/harmonica player has never forgotten he was once in that position when he formed The Sidemen in 1990, a band whose skillful balance of tradition and originality laid the foundation for a new crop of homegrown blues talent, from MonkeyJunk to The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer, and many others. Since his last album with The Sidemen, 2002’s Rattlebag, singer/harmonica player Reddick has made three acclaimed solo albums, the latest being Wishbone, produced by Colin Cripps (Blue Rodeo, Crash Vegas, Kathleen Edwards), helping to solidify his unofficial status as the “poet laureate of Canadian blues.”
Submissions for the 2016 Cobalt Prize close on January 8 at 5 p.m. EST. Full details can be found at www.torontobluessociety.com/cobalt-prize/submit.
What specifically inspired you to create the Cobalt Prize?
I was hoping and I continue to hope to encourage people to write blues songs—songs that extend, explore, and refresh the blues tradition, to broaden the possibilities, assumptions, expectations and audience for blues music. In a lot of ways, Bob Dylan has always been a master at that, and if there were one song I wish I could have written, it would probably be “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”
You originally funded the prize yourself. How did you manage that, and is it still the case?
I had a bit of money from a song placement at the time of the first prize [the track “I’m A Criminal” from Rattlebag was used in a Coca-Cola commercial that aired during the Super Bowl]. Now the prize is sponsored by an organization called the Unicorn Project, and by a $10 entry fee. I still administrate it in partnership with the Toronto Blues Society.
What is your view on the state of the blues in the 21st century?
I think blues is going to be continue to be discovered, learned and re-written by younger musicians and then rediscovered by new audiences, and on and on in that positive cycle.
What projects are you currently working on yourself?
I just finished making a new record called Ride The One, produced by Colin Cripps. It’s made up of 10 songs that are all mostly one-chord grooves. I am very happy with it.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about surviving as an independent musician, and what advice would you give?
I have learned that being an independent artist is beautiful and difficult, the money is elusive, and the rewards are constant. My best advice is to never stop writing songs. Everything revolves around making a good record, beginning with putting a band together, playing shows, finding a good producer, and then finding the right people to get the music out there. And it is always important to keep everyone engaged and excited.
- Photo credit: Jen Squires