ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 18, 2002
By Steve Newton
Rough Luck, the latest CD from Montreal-based blues artist Ray Bonneville, is about as solo as you can get. It’s just him, his guitar, an occasional harmonica, and his trusty footboard—a piece of plywood with four rubber stoppers to get it up off the floor. As Bonneville explains in a phone call from the Elbow River Inn in Calgary, the bare-bones solo release is something his fans had been requesting for a while.
“I tour a lot by myself,” he notes, “and people would always say, ‘Well, do you have anything that’s just you,’ and I would have to say ‘No.’ And then one day somebody approached me here in Calgary about doing just that. I had just released Gust of Wind, so it wasn’t really time for me to make a record, but the opportunity was so natural that I just jumped on it. We just went in the studio at the end of a tour and recorded a bunch of songs. It was a little bit reckless, but it’s all instinct, which I really think is a recorder’s ally.”
The Colin Linden–produced Gust of Wind won Bonneville his first Juno Award, for best blues album of 2000. Rough Luck was nominated in that category last year, but didn’t win, not that Bonneville was too broken up about it.
“Sue Foley won,” he says, “and I’m very happy for her, she’s great. I had a couple of cowrites on her record anyway, so I kinda won peripherally.”
Still, the 53-year-old tunesmith doesn’t downplay the significance of those golden statuettes, the latest batch of which were handed out in Newfoundland last Sunday.
“I think it affects your career in some ways that are a little bit subtle,” he relates. “In Canada, it’s not so much like a Grammy, where if you win a Grammy there’s a rush on the stores and you make a million dollars. But when you work hard all these years and somebody gives you an award like that, it’s a very nice thing.”
When Bonneville plays the WISE Hall on Sunday (April 21), he’ll be performing tunes from his previous four albums, as well as his work in progress. He’s been collaborating with Canadian roots kingpin Linden again, and hopes to have the resultant CD in stores before the end of summer. In the meantime, it’s just him, his guitar, an occasional harmonica, and that old chunk of plywood. And no, he didn’t get the idea of using a footboard from Stompin’ Tom.
“That’s an old idea,” he points out. “John Lee Hooker used to do it, John Hartford. The thing is is that your foot’s down there tapping on the stage anyway; it’s not as if you have to give it any thought. So all I did was put a mike in front of it.
“It kinda sounds like a boot on the porch,” he adds. “I tell the soundman, ‘I want a boot on the porch,’ and if he doesn’t get it right away, I say, ‘Okay, a front porch.’ ”