Brent Parkin has worked the Winnipeg blues beat longer than Big Dave McLean


By Steve Newton

When you talk about the Winnipeg music scene, one name that tends to crop up repeatedly is Big Dave McLean. He’s a fixture of the city’s blues joints who’s been championed for years by the likes of Colin James.

But Brent Parkin is another blues veteran who’s been working the Peg even longer than McLean. The 51-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist has been at the game for nearly three decades, and, as he explains from a tour stop at Edmonton’s Blues on Whyte, it hasn’t got any easier.

“There’s lots of people eager to play,” says Parkin, “but now it’s like they’ve pushed the blues into a couple of little bars. You know, we used to play in the bars that the rock bands played, but the rock kids play now is not really compatible [with blues]. So I do the road thing quite a bit.”

Parkin’s current road trip includes two nights at the Yale on Wednesday and Thursday (April 30 and May 1), where he’ll be performing with some of this town’s top bluesmen, including keyboardist Darryl Havers, bassist Roger Brant, and drummer Chris Nordquist. Parkin played with Brant in the ’70s in the seminal Winnipeg blues act Houndog, and later on with Havers in the Stingers.

Parkin has also paid the bills working as a hired gun for the likes of touring American blues greats Otis Rush, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Bo Diddley. His latest recording is Treasure by the Long River: A Musical Journey to Amber Beach, a companion piece to a video that documented adventurer Phil Manaigre’s trip to Manitoba’s Cedar Lake reservoir. In the early ’60s, the Grand Rapids hydro project created that body of water, causing the relocation of the First Nations community of Chemawawin.

Picturesque, moody, slide guitar–driven music was the focus for Treasure, but Parkin’s current repertoire is more Chicago-style blues and jump blues. Versatility has been his calling card all along.

“I tried to cover a lotta bases over the years,” he points out. “I can mention quite a few influences—T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Muddy Waters—but I like swing quite a bit too, Wes Montgomery, and the stuff that Duke Robillard’s doin’. I also try and play country blues, like Blind Boy Fuller, and ragtime. I do a single and a duo [act] sometimes, so that comes in handy. I try to stick my nose in a lot of different styles, really.”

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