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About Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne
Juno Award winning keyboardist/singer/songwriter KENNY “BLUES BOSS” WAYNE’S “Can’t Stop Now”, his third release on Toronto-based Electro-Fi Records, is abuzz with crackling Blues Boss originals, plus a pair of well-chosen covers, that embrace his elemental influences – high-energy boogie-woogie piano, rolling New Orleans blues and jazz, improv-heavy Kansas City swing AND vibrant West Coast jump.
The influence of rock legends Fats Dominoand Johnnie Johnson play a key role on the record. Wayne is well known for his boogie woogie capabilities but as noted blues piano historian Barry Dolins observes, “Kenny’s piano work has more of a jump sound – a rock’n’roll base versus a strictly blues base.” Dolins, who has coordinated the Chicago Blues Festival since 1984, says “It’s a sound influenced by Amos Milburn, Bill Doggett, and Johnny Otis. There’s another instrument at which he excels: his richly warm and gritty voice. Oh, and he’s got a third vital element working for him: the look.”
“When a piano player’s got the three most important things – the playing, the voice, and the look – he’s the whole package. And that’s what attracts me,” says Wayne who himself favors boldly colored, French custom-tailored performance wear, such as the fuchsia-hued ensemble he sports on the new CD’s cover. Wayne notes that it was pianist Linton Garner, brother of “Misty” composer Errol, who hipped him to the power of the definitive sartorial statement.
Can’t Stop Now was recorded at studios in St. Louis, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver (Wayne’s longtime home), and Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon. Co-produced by the Isaak Brothers (owners of the Yukon studio) and Wayne himself, Can’t Stop Now features many of Kenny’s regular crew, Russell Jackson (bass), Dave “Hurricane” Hoerl (harmonica), Johnny Ferreira (sax), Theo Brown (drums) WITH A SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE BY the late guitar great Jeff Healey.
Kenneth Wayne Spruell was born in Spokane, Washington in 1944, and spent his early years in New Orleans with his Louisiana-born parents. At AGE 8, he moved with his family to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles. A child prodigy on piano, Kenny was encouraged by his preacher father to play gospel music. But UNBEKNOWNST to his father, the Reverend Matthew Spruell, he was also secretly introduced to the radically more exciting boogie-woogie style by his rebel uncle Charlie his father’s youngest brother.
By his early teen years, Wayne was an accomplished keyboardist, working dozens of gigs during the early ’60s — including a 1962 appearance at the Alpha Bowling Club with the great Jimmy Reed, the biggest blues hit-record king of all time. It was an infamous gig, featuring everything Kenny’s father, the Reverend Spruell, feared about the “Devil’s Music.” A vicious brawl erupted in the crowded, smoky, alcohol-fueled club, and one man attacked another with a broken bottle, blood spraying everywhere. As Kenny recalls with a chuckle, “My Dad grabbed my mom with one hand and ran up to the stage and yanked me off the piano bench and led us through the kitchen and out the back exit…That was the end of my blues career for over 20 years”.
By the late 1960s Kenny Wayne was in tight with the burgeoning Los Angeles soul/R&B scene, WAYNE played with Delaney & Bonnie Bramlettwhen they were based in Sherman Oaks, CA and quickly became first-call keyboardist for live club and concert dates around L.A. Work with Billy Preston, members of Sly & The Family Stones and Doobie Brothers soon followed.
The second half of the ‘70s saw WAYNE moving to Canada, where he QUICKLY established a strong reputation on the Manitoba-to-BC club circuit. Wayne’s reputation as a gifted keyboardist put him at the top of everyone’s on-call list and he established himself not only with the R&B circuit, but also with Vancouver’s blues and jazz communities.
Kenny’s full transformation into “Blues Boss” (the nickname taken from the title of Amos Milburn’s Motown Records comeback album) came about following a 1994 tour of Europe. Kenny’s longtime passion for Fats Domino and Amos Milburn paid off in the form of star treatment from piano-loving European music fans.
Kenny’s first release in 1996 “Alive & Loose”, second release “Blues Boss Boogie” in 1998 and third release “88th & Jump Street” in 2002 were all nominated for the Juno Award. The follow-up CD “ Let it Loose” was honored with a Juno Award win (Canada’s Grammys) in 2006 on Electro-Fi Records, one of Canada’s premiere blues label.
WAYNE’S new album CAN’T STOP NOW kicks off with the rollicking, propulsive music that first caught Wayne’s fancy as a young man, in the form of a traditional boogie-woogie number, ‘Boogie Woogie Mama.” Next up is HIS Fats Domino tribute, “You Can Pack Your Suitcase,” a 1954 hit for Domino penned by producer and songwriter Dave Bartholomew. Wayne says he was inspired to pen the churning R&B track “Judge by the Look” by a news story about a comely TV anchorwoman drawing a prodigious salary based solely on her appearance.
Arguably the album’s most soulful number, “You Cured My Blues” has a gospel feel embellished by the guitar work of Jeff Healey. WAYNE proceeds to shift gears completely in the next cut, “My Sweet Little Peach,” a funk workout with a tantalizing slice of hip-hop grafted in. That’s Wayne’s son Cory, by the way, providing the tight rap break.
The song title says it all in “Let’s Have Some Fun” – which offers a striking contrast to the subsequent cut, “Ragin’ Storm.” Wayne’s sober-eyed take on the hurricane that laid waste to his childhood home of New Orleans is unsparing in its view of the U.S. government’s complicity in the Katrina disaster: “The system failed to do its job/Now the troops are down here trying to control the mob.”
Kenny goes on to offer upbeat comfort in the Crescent City strut of “Don’t Cry,” before kicking into the loping, high-spirited blues of the late Johnnie Johnson’s “Tangueray”. And, Wayne notes with a touch of deserved pride, “Johnnie’s widow was in the St. Louis studio when I recorded THE SONG.” Wayne wrote the following track, “Johnnie J. Was Good,” as a direct tribute to his kindred stylistic spirit.
Can’t Stop Now concludes with a fitting title – “The Party’s Over” – though the accompanying tune exuberantly contradicts that sentiment.
With his supercharged new album Can’t Stop Now, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne continues to FURTHER his reputation as one of the premier purveyors of red-hot contemporary blues piano.
“There’s no boogie-woogie-blues piano man out there today who pounds the 88’s with the conviction of Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne.” (Jeff Johnson/Chicago Sun-Times)
By Moira McCormick
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