What: Powder Blues with the Jason Buie Band
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Tally-Ho Sports Bar and Grill (3020 Douglas St.)
At their peak, Tom Lavin and Powder Blues pulled off 322 one-nighters in one year. They happily would have played 365, according to frontman and founder Tom Lavin, but clubs in Vancouver were closed on Sundays during their early days as a group.
That work ethic is miles removed from the current concert climate, especially where blues bands in Canada are concerned.
“It was very typical for a musician to have a gig six nights a week, minimum four to five hours a night, and then play after-hours clubs,” Lavin, 66, said from his home in Vancouver.
“Most guys now, if they want to go on tour, they work a straight job for 11 months of the year, save their money, and go on tour in the summer.”
Much has changed in the musical world since Lavin and Powder Blues made their mark nearly 40 years ago. For starters, the singer-guitarist, a Chicago native who came to Vancouver in 1969, no longer does endless road trips. Lavin, the only original member currently with the group, said he will likely do 25 shows this year, including his return to Victoria after a three-year break for a Powder Blues show Saturday night at the Tally-Ho Sports Bar and Grill.
“I’m one of those musicians who’s real fortunate. I don’t have to play. I play because I love it, and because I want to. I don’t make any outgoing calls. In other words, I don’t call and say: ‘Hey, hire us.’ ”
Lavin said he got in early on the dot-com boom, and made what appears to be ample profit in the process. He hasn’t lost his appetite for the blues, however.
“I’m totally enamoured of music. I love songs. I love harmony. I love chords. I’ve done it my whole life, so I’m one of those lucky guys.”
Powder Blues had an impressive run that included career highlights on par with any blues rockers of the era, from dates opening for the Who and Texas tours with an unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan to headlining Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival. Not only did they score a handful of hits along the way, they did so on their terms.
Despite shopping the band’s 1979 debut, Uncut, to several labels, Powder Blues found no takers and released the album independently. Once it became a regional, then national, hit for the group — thanks to the singles Boppin’ With the Blues, Hear That Guitar Ring and What’ve I Been Drinkin’ — a bidding war took place.
The band signed a precedent-setting distribution deal with RCA Records, which re-released the record to great success in 1980. In 1981, Powder Blues was named most promising group of the year at the Juno Awards.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Lavin said. “I didn’t know what a record contract was, but I knew what was fair, so I wrote one.”
Lavin will return to Victoria this weekend with a six-piece band in tow, one that features tenor sax and trumpet. The band will also include a special guest, Victoria-born keyboardist Willie MacCalder, who co-founded Powder Blues with Lavin and who shares with the Powder Blues mainstay a background that includes wild days of Vancouver gigging during the early days of the group.
According to Lavin, a strip bar on Hastings Street was their unofficial school of music.
“There’s still musical prodigies, there’s no question about it. But there’s not very many places for these guys to play. We sucked at 19 years old. Playing in front of a stripper who can’t keep time, you stink. But that’s how we all learned our instruments.”