ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 9, 1995
By Steve Newton
During my years as a rock scribbler I’ve been fortunate enough to have interviewed lots of amazing guitarists. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t around anymore. Roy Buchanan hanged himself in a jail cell (or so the story goes). Danny Gatton shot himself in the head. Mick Ronson and Albert Collins succumbed to cancer. Big old Albert King’s heart gave out.
All those passings were hard to take, but the hardest by far was the untimely death of Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom I’d interviewed twice and even got to sign my copy of Texas Flood (no, it’s not for sale). I can vividly recall where I was the moment I heard the news of the 35-year-old legend’s helicopter crash on August 27, 1990. So can local blues-rocker and Vaughan devotee Mike Schau.
“Actually, I was living in Coquitlam and I just woke up,” says Schau. “My roommate at the time had the noon-hour news on, and I just came around the corner from my bedroom and—I’ll never forget it—there was the helicopter crash on the television. I freaked right out. That was a great talent to go down, you know.”
Vaughan may be gone, but thankfully players such as Schau are doing what they can to keep his spirit—and those of his fellow heaven-bound bluesmen—alive. The new Mike Schau and Highway 61 CD, Livin’ the Blues, is dedicated to the memory of Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, and Alberts King and Collins.
“Those guys were just the greatest,” says Schau (pronounced “Shaw”). “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be playing what I play. Albert King—wow, what a phenomenal guy. Albert Collins, unfortunately, I never got to see; and Stevie Ray Vaughan I never got to see. He was the ultimate ominous player to me, though. Between him and Hendrix, I couldn’t believe it.”
Fairly scary himself when it comes to wailing the blues, Schau first picked up the guitar at the age of 10. As a whippersnapper riffing out in New West, he picked up tips on how to rock while hanging out with members of Trooper and Prism.
“They were just right around the corner,” he says, “and we’d get together and jam. I was like the kid on the block, and I’d come over with my guitar and try and pry myself in there.”
Schau spent most of his 20s playing the A-room club scene. He got out of the top-40 biz in ’86 and began pursuing what he “really felt inside”, which was more roots- and blues-oriented music. For the past two years he’s been singing and playing guitar in Highway 61, which includes Montreal-born saxophonist Clinton Swanson, bassist Dan McLean, and drummer Dave Gustafson. Most of the eight songs on the band’s CD were written by Schau, but they also include covers of Zu Zu Bolin’s “Eat Where You Slept Last Night” and Hendrix’s “Red House”.
Livin’ the Blues was produced and engineered at New West’s Fiasco Bros. Recording Studios by owner Len Osanic, whose name is appearing on more and more local releases these days.
“I’ve known Len for about 17 years,” says Schau, “and he gave us a really good deal on recording—an open-ended sorta deal, without a heavy time limit on it. And I trusted his mixing. He’s really got a good ear.”
So far, Highway 61 has scored gigs at venues such as the Lamplighter and the now-defunct Hogan’s Alley, and it is trying to squeeze in at the heavily booked Yale. The band isn’t confining its attention-getting antics to the Lower Mainland, though.
“We’re getting a lot of good response out of town,” says the 37-year-old rocker. “Like, we’re on KPLU All Blues in Seattle—actually, they just played us tonight. And there’s two radio stations up in Edmonton that are playing us. The club there called Blues on Whyte just phoned and said the people are really responding well to our stuff, and when can we come and how much do we want? I like those kinda options!”
For Mike “White Bread” Schau—who had that nickname pinned on him by Gustafson while ordering grub at a Subway—his immediate career plans are pretty cut-and-dried.
“I’d really like to get signed,” he says, “to distribute the music and get out there and tour. To play live in front of people—that’s our main goal. Just to get out there and share it, ya know.”