Jason Buie, a powerful electric guitar player and a mainstay of the Vancouver Island music community, lived and breathed the blues for nearly 40 years. The music came to a stop Thursday morning when Buie died suddenly at his Esquimalt home.
He was 47. No cause of death has been revealed.
The Victoria native rehearsed with his bandmates on Wednesday night, in preparation for a concert in Nanaimo on Saturday.
John Hunter, who played drums in the Jason Buie Band and was with the singer-guitarist at the rehearsal, didn’t notice anything awry with his longtime friend.
“He was a little tired, because he’s always so busy, but he didn’t look sick or anything,” Hunter said.
“There was no indication. I’m shocked.”
Buie got his start in music during the 1980s in blues bands around Greater Victoria, with a style reminiscent of Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was introduced to the business of music when he was in high school, gigging seven nights a week at Victoria’s now-defunct Brass Rail when he was a student at Belmont Secondary School.
“These bikers in Victoria took out an ad in the Times Colonist wanting a lead guitar player,” Buie told the Times Colonist in 2012. “I was 15 at the time and I called up and auditioned. I told them I was 19 and I got the gig.”
Metchosin favourite Jesse Roper played often with Buie, and loved his all-encompassing spirit.
“The music community has lot of nice people in it, but he was one of the more inclusive. Everybody was welcome around Jason,” he said.
“None of it was competition — he was just out for a good time, and for that, he was one of my favourite guys to play music with.”
By the time he reached his 20s, Buie was playing at Harpo’s, among other local venues, with blues greats Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor and Jeff Healey. Years later, he moved to Vancouver, where he co-founded the White Rock Blues Society in 2007. Buie moved back to Victoria in 2011 in order to raise his two children.
Music was his main passion, though he had other gigs on the side, including graphic design work. He performed briefly as the hypnotist Jason James, following in the footsteps of his father, Bob Buie, who was known as the hypnotist Mesmer.
The blues were his biggest passion, however. “He had all sorts of gigs lined up through the spring and summer, all the way to the fall,” Hunter said.
Buie was enjoying a career resurgence, and had spun his artist-of-the-year win at Toronto’s annual Maple Blues Awards in January into a string of bookings, including a performance with Vancouver’s the Odds at the Upstairs Cabaret on May 12. His most recent album, Driftin’ Heart, had earned Buie some of the best reviews of his career.
“It was turning a corner for Jason,” Hunter said. “The dominoes were starting to fall.”
Buie was known for his support of other blues musicians, and his philanthropy. He staged the annual Toy Jam event to benefit children, and Yuletide Blues to benefit homeless people. He did the bookings for the annual charity fundraiser Esquimalt Ribfest, giving up-and-coming local acts a chance to perform before large crowds.
“He left a legacy of good music, but he was also a good person,” said Hank Lionhart, of Victoria blues band Uncle Wiggly’s Hot Shoes Blues Band.
“A really nice man. His heart was in the right place for sure. There’s no question he will be missed. We all benefited from having someone like that in the community.”