Big Dave McLean got pointers from John Hammond as a teen

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 7, 2003

By Steve Newton

When he was just a teen, Dave McLean attended the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, and got pointers from John Hammond on how to play some basic blues progressions. A couple of weeks ago the now 51-year-old Big Dave performed with Hammond at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, sharing a blues workshop with him and the dapper Leon Redbone. As McLean explains on the line from a Saskatoon nightclub, he’s still heavily inspired by Hammond. “Oh God, yeah. He blew the place apart! He always does, though. I mean, he’s the most amazing, most intense, focused soul artist I’ve ever seen in my life—and I’ve seen quite a few.”

And some mighty good ones, too. Like the legendary Muddy Waters, whom McLean pays tribute to on his new CD, Blues From the Middle. The disc includes a version of the McLean-penned “Muddy Waters for President”, a slide-heavy epic that stretches well past the 11-minute mark.

“John Hammond and Muddy are my two biggest influences,” he points out. “I knew Muddy for a bit, and I wrote that song about him. He wanted to record it, but he passed away before we could do it, so I did it myself a few years later in ’89, on my first album, which was Muddy Waters for President—Live at Bud’s on Broadway. It was recorded right here in this building!”

Blues From the Middle includes nine McLean originals and five covers, including Waters’s “Trouble No More”, Little Walter’s “You Know It Ain’t Right”, and Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die”. The CD features an appearance by Rhode Island guitar great Duke Robillard, among others. “We both belong to Stony Plain Records,” says McLean, “so that was how I ended up gettin’ Duke on the record. He’s only on one song, mind you, but he’s brilliant! And then [Toronto blues-rocker] Sue Foley—who cleaned up at the Maple Blues Awards this year—she’s on four tunes. And a piano player out of Edmonton who plays with her and Harpdog Brown and myself every once in a while, Graham Guest, he’s amazing, and he’s on there. And then my long-time friend Gord Kidder, who’s one of Canada’s greatest harp players, I dragged him out for a coupla tunes.

“So I’m very proud of the album,” stresses McLean, who headlines the Hope Mountain Bluesfest on Saturday (August 9), then joins the likes of slide-guitar specialist Ellen McIlwaine and local zydeco ace Gary Comeau at the Maple Ridge Roots & Blues Festival on Sunday (August 10). “Everybody went to bat for it and wanted to do a good job, and as far as I’m concerned they raised the bar—and then jumped right over the damn bar!”

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