Blue Room

Cashbox Canada Blue Room Oct. 31.png

Submitted by Sandy Graham
Cover Photo Credit: Kevin Kelly

Eighteen years later and this band is still rockin’ the blues on the TO scene and beyond. Formed in 1996, Blue Room will celebrate their 20th Anniversary in 2016.  This is their fourth album and sure to join the other releases that have received international attention and radio airplay.

The core musicians of Blue Room are veteran live and studio players, featuring: Brian Neller's big, bluesy, passionate vocals; Fraser Lawrason’s solid bass lines and backing vocals; Paul Sanderson's soaring blues rock guitar; Norm Ryan's fluid and inspired saxophone; Pat Quinn's seasoned drum grooves. (Frank Watt started with the band and is a lifelong friend of all the musicians in the band and a musical colleague, but only Pat plays on this last CD)

Songwriting is shared by Brian Neller (vocals) and Paul Sanderson (guitarist) and this new offering will not disappoint fans who fell in love with Blue Room’s signature tune ‘Red Beans and Rice’.
Blue Room has a list of accomplishments that reads like a Juno nominee:
Finalists in the 1997 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search, runner-up in 1998, and second runner-up in 2000! Since 1997, the band has played in major blues venues around Toronto, including the Silver Dollar Room, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, and Chicago’s. Sharing the bill with the likes of John Hammond and Jully Black, BLUE ROOM has also played the JVC Jazz Festival, The Beaches International Jazz Festival, First Night Toronto at the SkyDome, and Lloyd’s Blues Music Festival, featuring B.B. King, and Buddy Guy.

The band’s CDs have garnered airplay on over 40 radio stations in Canada, including CBC, Q107, CJRT, and internationally on hit top 20 CHR radio station, Radio Kaleidoscope in France, and received a 5 star rating (the highest) on Radio Halo in Holland.

TELEVISION: BLUE ROOM’S debut video for “SPARE CHANGE” (2001), and “Who’s on the Telephone” (2002), hit #1 on BRAVO! and stayed at the top spot for four weeks! A spotlight on the making of “SPARE CHANGE” the video was also featured on the station. “Spare Change” was nominated for three Toronto Online Film Awards.

Not too shabby for a local blues band with a founding member who is also one of Canada’s top entertainment lawyer. Paul Sanderson has a stellar reputation as owner of Sanderson Entertainment Law, an entertainment and arts law firm located in Toronto, Canada, who primarily provide legal services to music and arts law clients concerning their specific contractual matters, but also provide service and advice to clients concerning trade mark, copyright and corporate matters relevant to their business affairs. It would hard not to have faith in an entertainment lawyer who is also a musician and songwriter.

Blue RoomPhoto Credit Kevin KellyBlue Room
Photo Credit Kevin Kelly
AIR PLAY: We posed the question to Paul Sanderson of where the inspiration of the name Blue Room originated and he had an interesting answer; “In 1997 we decided to record and then realized we needed a name for the band. Blue Room was the only name we all liked. But there is another explanation that goes back to my childhood. When I was a young lad we moved into a new house and my mother asked what colour I would like to paint my room. I said black. She said no. We came to an agreement that I could paint it blue;  it was the closest to black I was going to get in my negotiations. Blue Room has many connotations; baby blue, the legendary band Roomful of Blues. The White House even has a blue room. On a poetic artistic note, Yoko Ono had a Blue Room Event as part of her retrospective at the AGO, it was based on standing in a white room until it turned blue.”

The other reason they went with Blue Room as a name was based on their music. “We didn’t want to use the word blues in our name as the band’s roots are based on classic rock. We have been blessed to be embraced by the blues community as we actually all came from the cover band era – playing bars and doing mostly cover tunes with sliding the odd original song in there. My early influences were Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny WINTER, Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters. I also still like to think I channel the energy of Mike McKenna, an amazing Canadian player noted for his electric slide playing.”

When asked how a band can stay together this long and still love what they are doing the answer was simple. “We still love to play music. Over the years we have grown as people and we all have diversified careers. We didn’t rely on it for a living so that takes the pressure off. For all of us it is still about the music.”

There were many years between the last CD and this new offering. When asked about what drives the band to continue to record Sanderson said, “Break even is a good proposition and we can do that. We have grown immensely since the third and fourth album, so this documents our musical growth as well.  We did this latest recording at Phase One, which was a great experience. We are all Scarborough based so doing it in this East End studio was great. We did bed tracks and solos together so this became the closest thing we could experience to recording live off the floor.

Special acknowledgement needs to go to Paul Irvine as the producer of this latest offering. Irvine has produced all four albums to date, doing all the arrangements as well as guest performing on sax and flute, performing on the horn section on this CD of which he wrote all the horn charts. He is responsible for producing, arranging and mixing this latest recording. Paul Irvine seems to have a grasp of how to make Blue Room sound crisp, clear and current, while staying true to the blues sound.”

Much of the songwriting is done by Sanderson, and some of the lyrics can be intense and deep from the soul. “I think I have an alter ego as a songwriter. Sometimes I get inspired in the middle of the night and I just have to get up and create. I try to take the time every day to concentrate on my writing. With Blue Room I have been able to develop a great portfolio of my songs.”

Blue Room CD Cover Design Cristine GiampaoloBlue Room CD
Cover Design Cristine Giampaolo
This new CD kicks off with ‘Honey Bee’ grabs from the get-go, with the gravelly vocal and tasteful horns. Gets you from the first song which is always a good thing. ‘Please Come Home’ gets into the swampy, blues feel and slide guitar with the telltale story of an abandoned kid still trying to understand what happened when Mama and Papa just up and left. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll the Blues’ is a great history lesson naming all the greats of rock and blues while declaring Blue Room a little bit of both. Amazing guitar solos that sound a little like The Allman Brothers and Clapton/Derek and the Dominos all at the same time. ‘The Cure’ brings it all back to the swing/shuffle feel is a guy on the hustle, while ‘Clarksdale, Mississippi’ is good old fashioned blues  with smooth harmonies and great harp playing provided by John Bjaranason. ‘Walkin’ Shoes’ is a walkin’, talkin’ tune about leaving together and loving forever. ‘Three Weeks of Rain’ sounds like a JJ Cale tune, with a bit of jazz guitar parts leading you into ‘Ride with Me’ takes you back to the 40’s feel of Goodman and Basie. ‘No One Else to Blame’ is full of moodiness and conviction of a man who is accepting of his fate that he himself created.  The closing track ‘Shake Hands With the Devil’ invites you to “sign on the dotted line” to make a deal; shows how versatile Blue Room can be as musicians. Strangely enough it is a one chord song with a rap in the middle and somehow it all works.

This Toronto treasure is looking forward to their 20th Anniversary and will continue to perform locally and outside of the GTA so catch ‘em if you can when you see their name listed at an event.

If you are lover of blues and swing, this is the CD for you, and even if you are not (yet) this is a fine introduction to whet your appetite for this genre of music. Impossible to not enjoy this CD. 
Kudos Blue Room – you have done it again.

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