December 10, 2023

Food City

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Bluesman Dwayne Dueck hosts city’s top songwriters weekly at Mikey’s

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Not long after moving to Calgary, Dwayne Dueck found an efficient way to immerse himself in the city’s music scene.

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The veteran blues and roots singer-songwriter and guitarist, who spent decades in Winnipeg’s music scene, began hosting Thursday night showcases at Mikey’s on 12th.

Dueck was approached by Mikey’s owner and fellow bluesman Mike Clark about taking over the Thursday night slot at the popular live-music venue, where he is joined by a different songwriter each week.

“He was thinking it would give me a chance to get to know a bunch of local musicians since there is a different one each week,” says Dueck. “And it has worked. It’s been great. If you want to get to know someone, there’s nothing like getting up on stage and making some music. I haven’t had one guest yet that wasn’t fun.”

It’s not a new format, of course. Carter Felker does a similar thing on Sunday mornings at the King Eddy. But the song-exchange presentation offers a relaxed and intimate evening.

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While Dueck may be meeting some of these songwriters for the first time, the showcases allow tuned-in musical fans to see some of the city’s finest let their hair down with impromptu sets. Thursday night regulars not only get to see Dueck play his assured originals and a nicely curated selection of blues standards and other covers but also hear his guests offer some surefire gems. In the past few weeks, that has included Tom Phillips’s expert rendition of Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart, Justine Vandergrift’s heart-melting run through Tom Waits’ Long Way Home, Tim Leacock’s rollicking take on the Charley Pride/Texas Tornados favourite Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone? and Brooke Wylie singing Gillian Welch’s Orphan Girl.

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“They call it a singer-songwriter night, but I treat it like there are no rules. Let’s just play music,” says Dueck. “If you want to do originals, great. If you want to do a cover, great.”

Dueck grew up in southern Manitoba in the largely Mennonite communities of  Winkler and Morden. It was a musical house. His father played guitar and had a large record collection of country music. The family sang gospel and church music.

“Lots of harmonies and stuff,” he says. “When I was a kid, I was just fascinated by it. When I started, I was, I don’t know, maybe 10. I started taking guitar a little more seriously when I became a teenager and discovered girls. I realized I could get more attention with my guitar than a hockey stick.”

One day in high school, Dueck was in the smoking area when he heard music pumping out of a car stereo. It was Stevie Ray Vaughn. “It was the first time I had ever heard anything like that in my life,” he says. “It literally changed my life.”

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By 1989, a 20-year-old Dueck began playing guitar for Canadian blues icon Big Dave McLean.

“He had an amazing record collection,” he says. “And there’s another fella in Winnipeg named Gord Kidder, he was a harmonica player. I would spend afternoons at their houses drinking coffee and listening to records. That’s where I discovered Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy. Those guys were hardcore. That’s all they listened to. They lived it. Being young like that, you fall into that whole thing. I used to walk around in black suits with a tie and shiny shoes and slicked-back hair, just trying to be the blues guy. It was cool, just a great education.”

All those miles on the road with Big Dave and other blues musicians allowed Dueck to develop an intuitive, well-honed style on guitar, which he often puts to use accompanying his Thursday night guest, regardless of what genre he or she happens to be playing.

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“I love to play in front of people,” he says. “A guy will look at me and say, ‘This song is in A and goes to this chord.’ I just say ‘Just play it.’ I find that exciting and I’m not scared to make mistakes. If I hit a bad note, just keep plugging. I think all musicians can understand that. A true musician is someone who is not scared to make mistakes.”

The Singer-Songwriter series with Dwayne Dueck is every Thursday at Mikey’s on 12th at 7 p.m. Upcoming guests include Richard Inman (March 10),  Patrick Alexander  and Frank McShane (March 17), Tim Williams (March 24), Jay Bowcott (March 31), Ben Sures (April 7), Steve Pineo (April 14.)

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