Based on a 12-bar structure, blues music embodies a ballsy sense of catharsis, skilled inventiveness and an acute sense of musicianship. Often, blues lyrics are thickened with a sense of moody subjectivity, yet the rich melodies are a far cry from depressing, says Ottawa’s blues boy Steve Marriner, who rolls into town for a double date to celebrate the release of his debut disc Going Up at Bearly’s on Friday and Saturday.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find music that is as emotionally charged as the blues,” says Marriner in a phone call from his home in Ottawa. “It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s sexy, it’s honest and it’s emotional. People have the misconception that blues music is a downer, but that is so far from the truth. It doesn’t bring you down when you listen to it—it brings you back up when you are down.”
Marriner’s latest musical installation is highly anticipated by old fans of his rockabilly outfit The Polaris, which has since disbanded. His solo album has been simmering on the back burner for the past few years, as he’s been kicking around with his musical comrade Harry Manx, a slide guitarist from British Columbia. The duo has toured countless cities, a favourite being the Big Apple. Apparently Manx and Marriner got into cahoots with The Boss himself over drinks last time they found themselves stateside.
“Just being back on tour with Harry is always great,” says Marriner. “We haven’t toured together since October, so it’ll be nice to get back at it. The last time I played in New York with Harry we ended up going drinking with Bruce Springsteen, so as you can imagine, I left New York with a few great memories. Who knows what will happen this time.”
Although Manx won’t be accompanying Marriner at these Halifax shows, the boozy brothers-in-blues are hitting the road again together in early February. And they did have a chance to reunite when the time came for Marriner to settle into the studio and record Going Up. Manx and producer Jordy Sharp run the Vancouver-based Dog My Cat Records, and they scooped up Marriner for their label.
As a pimply teenager Marriner strictly studied the harmonica, but as he grew from pubescence his musical horizons expanded and he started singing and began toying with the guitar, eventually picking up the upright bass. The multi-instrumentalist is a far cry from the awkwardness of adolescence, yet the boyish, well-tailored, handsome songwriter still longs for love.
“The single biggest struggle with being a touring musician is the love life. It can be brutal,” says Marriner. “For me personally, I have a real knack for falling in love with women who live ridiculously far away from Ottawa. Or if I am lucky enough to meet somebody I dig back in Ottawa, trying to explain to her that I’ll be gone for the next two months and calling at strange hours from the road can sometimes be tricky business.”
Marriner considers himself an alumni of the class clown school of study, as performing is a part of his character, and the decision to pursue music professionally was a natural fit. He puts Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Hopkins and The Fabulous Thunderbirds at the top of his charts for musical influences; although country wonders Hank Williams, George Jones and Johnny Cash come in for a close second.
“I just want to move people; emotionally, spiritually, physically. I love playing with a really hot band and having a crowded room of dancing people just having a good time, feeling it, not thinking, just reacting to what they’re hearing and seeing. As much as I play for other people, I play a lot for myself too. I just have music going on in my head all the time and it’s got to come out. Music for me plays so many different roles, it can be a release for whatever frustrations are going on in my own life, or it can be the frustration.”
Steve Marriner, January 26 and 27 at Bearly’s, 1269 Barrington, 10pm, $5, 423-2526.