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Blues legend Byrnes taking country road

A Canadian blues legend has earned the right to tell it like it is and he shoots straight from the heart.
Jim Byrnes plays the Bragg Creek Community Centre April 13.
Jim Byrnes plays the Bragg Creek Community Centre April 13.

A Canadian blues legend has earned the right to tell it like it is and he shoots straight from the heart.

Musician and actor Jim Byrnes will perform at the Bragg Creek Community Centre on April 13 as part of the Bragg Creek Performing Arts spring season. A multiple Juno award winning singer and guitarist, Byrnes, 64, who lives in Vancouver, has been a professional performer for more than 40 years.

His latest project, released last October, is I Hear The Wind in the Wires. It’s a country album that is a surprising departure from Byrnes’ blues past. He said people are challenged to understand and accept the recent direction his career has taken.

“All of the booking guys don’t know how to take it and it is throwing them a curveball,” said Byrnes. “But, who am I trying to please but myself?”

People should not try pigeon-hole artists, said Byrnes, who loves performing and writing different types of music.

“Music crosses over, but people love to categorize stuff,” he said. “A good story and a great singer is a great song.”

Blues and country music came out of the same place, said Byrnes, and he sees more similarities than differences between the two genres.

“I don’t see any differences between blues and country music,” he said. “Blues and country have a lot to do with race and are sounds that grew up together.”

Byrnes has wanted to produce a country cover album for a long time, and he said the hardest part about creating his latest project was narrowing down the song choice.

“I could have done six albums and not touched all the songs I want to do,” he said.

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, a hotbed of the early blues scene, Byrnes credited famous blues musicians, like Muddy Waters, for inspiring him on his musical journey.

Byrnes, who always wanted to be on stage, began his musical journey by studying music and theatre in school and university. He has had a prolific and varied career spanning the mediums of music, television and films.

For those not familiar with the blues music scene, Byrnes is best known as an actor who has appeared in many television shows and films. Most recognized for his roles in the 1980s and ‘90s television shows Wiseguy and Highlander: The Series, he was fortunate to be able to combine his love of music and acting in his career.

Byrnes credited his producers for his having his television characters play guitar and sing on those shows.

“It was a win-win situation and worked out quite well,” he said.

Due to job uncertainty, and the need to make a steady income, Byrnes performed as a musician during his time off between acting gigs.

When asked which he prefers, acting or live music performances, Byrnes said he could not chose between the two careers.

“That’s like asking me which one of my two daughters I love more,” he said. “Both (acting and singing) came from the same creative source.”

While Byrnes said he has enjoyed his acting career and it has helped pay the bills, he admitted being a musician is inspiring.

“I own a nice house through money I made acting, but it’s a tough grind,” he said. “Music is such a special gift that I wouldn’t want to give up.”

While people may have differing opinions about economics, politics, and religion Byrnes said they can be brought together through music.

“We may disagree, but we all want the same thing,” he said. “Most of us just want to have a warm place to stay and warm people to be with.”

He said he does not want to turn people off by writing and performing songs with a political message. Instead, he enjoys writing music that speaks to the human experience.

Byrnes also said he likes to perform live as it gives him the opportunity to connect to his audience on an emotional level.

“I want to touch as many people as I can emotionally with my music,” he said. “The audience and I can share a moment of understanding through a musical performance and find something common in our humanity.”

Byrnes will be performing in Bragg Creek with Juno award winner, Steve Dawson, who has been his writing partner, producer and accompanying guitarist for the last nine years.

For tickets and information visit braggcreekperformingarts.com or call the Bragg Creek Performing Arts ticket and information hot line at 403-949-4114.