Travelin’ — it’s not only the name of Alberta blues guitarist and songwriter Charlie Jacobson’s second and newest album, but also an autobiographical description of his 25 years on Earth. Playing percussion and providing backing vocals for his parents’ Red Deer-based band at four (he added fiddle and ukulele before hitting his stride as a guitarist) led to a natural progression of gigging around the region. This led to the young musician hanging out his own shingle in his teens, although he continued to play with the family band, The Jacobson Four, as recently as a few years back at the Central Music Festival.
“Since I was about 15 I was playing gigs all over around Central Alberta, and then when I was 18, I started playing gigs further away,” Jacobson says. “Eventually, it just took over and I was doing it all the time. It wasn’t dramatic; it was a pretty natural progression. So I’ve been playing music my whole life.”
That progression led to Jacobson completing a diploma in contemporary music performance and engineering at Selkirk College in B.C., where he met B.B. King’s bass player Russell Jackson. Back in Alberta, Jackson invited the young guitar player into his band for a regular gig at The Blues on Whyte. Jacobson’s been a full-time musician ever since.
“(Jackson) was my bridge-way into playing professional blues and I was, of course, already performing under my own name and playing blues, but that was my bridge into full-time professional blues guitar as a trade, and broadening my range of artists I was backing up. At the time I was playing a lot more sideman gigs (for) guys like Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne, Sherman Doucette, David Vest, and Troy Turner — lots of older blues headliners. I played the Calgary blues fest a couple of times as sideman on guitar.”
Jacobson gleaned a lot from playing with these veterans. “There’s a lot to be learned other than just the music. Of course, I learned a lot musically from these different mentors, about things like living on the road, lifestyle on the road, how to communicate with your band, being sensitive to people’s personalities. Working with bands is really important; musicians are an interesting group, so you have to be careful the way you handle people. You’ve got to be professional is the main thing.”
Jacobson’s on the road year round, but states the summertime is the busiest time of year. For his pair of gigs at The Blues Can — Friday, Aug. 24 and Saturday, Aug, 25 — his usual Alberta rhythm section of Donny Smith on drums and Andy Hamilton on bass will take the stage. For gigs farther afield, he hires a series of musicians to play with him. For Jacobson, travelling guarantees continuing with music full time.
“As far as paying the bills goes, it’s live performances and traveling. The only way to survive is to continue to be on the move and performing live in front of audiences. That’s where I make 80 per cent of my living … You keep your costs low and that way you don’t find yourself beyond your means, and that way, you get to keep bringing music to the people. That’s kind of what it’s all about, just make sure you just get to keep on spreading the music around.”
Jacobson’s alchemy of youth and experience fuelled the songs he wrote that became Travelin’.
“In a simple way, blues was originally performed mostly by younger people, and as they got older, the tradition became known as them holding that tradition as older people. But the main point is blues is an expression of young people as well as older people. And everyone has their own blues.
“My main contribution is that I’m alive and I’m here to bring the blues to the people in a new way from a new perspective and in a different time.”
Charlie Jacobson plays The Blues Can Aug. 24 and 25. For more information, go to thebluescan.com.
Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer.