ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 6, 2000
BY STEVE NEWTON
Only two songs into Ray Bonneville’s new CD, Gust of Wind, and I’m starting to think: “This guy reminds me of someone.” There’s a familiar timbre to his laid-back vocals, and the gently percolating blues rings a bell. I’ve got it! Eric Clapton, circa 1977.
When I reach Bonneville at a hotel in Edmonton, I ask him if anyone else has picked up on the resemblance. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” he replies. “You know, it’s hard to feel anything but great about a comparison like that, because Eric Clapton’s one of this century’s greats. I think what it is is we’re both in love with simplicity and sparsity, and relaxed when we sing, you know.”
Gust of Wind was produced by Canadian roots-rock master Colin Linden, who also plays guitar on five tracks, and his choice picking enhances the unintentional Slowhand vibe. Linden’s multiple talents were no doubt instrumental in helping the CD take Best Blues Album honours at the Juno Awards last month. “Oh no doubt,” agrees Bonneville. “I mean, Colin is amazing. You know, I’d been trying to meet him over the years, but it never came about in Toronto. Then one day I was in the Bluebird Café in Nashville, and I saw Colin there, so I said hello. We had coffee the next day and decided to do this record.”
At 51, Bonneville has been playing professionally for nearly three decades, spending most of that time on the road and wearing out four Valiants along the way. The Ottawa-born, Montreal-based artist caught the music bug at an early age. “When I was really young we used to gather around a big old radio and listen to country music, and I was just in love with guitar sounds. When I was about 14 I started playin’ guitar, and then I had a band in high school. I started playing roots music when I was in my early 20s and just kept playin’ it throughout my life.”
Although he’s finally getting some recognition in the form of the aforementioned Juno, which Bonneville is eminently proud of, his name is still not that recognizable outside of Quebec. He’s hoping to gain a few more followers on a West Coast tour that sees him sharing the bill with Maritimer Matt Minglewood at the Yale on Monday and Tuesday (April 10 and 11), before both of them join Jeff Healey at the Granville Street hangout on Wednesday (April 12).
“It is hard to get known,” points out Bonneville. “I mean, this is a tough racket that I’m in. There’s a lot of competition, and you’ve gotta work a helluva lot of roadhouses and little bars to get your craft to where you can make a good record. I’m just really thrilled to still be writing and playing after all these years.”