Erin McCallum interviews Blackburn’s guitarist Brooke Blackburn
about the Blackburn family name, its history, and the newest music
from the band who wears its Brotherhood with pride.
An obvious uniqueness that identifies and sets apart the band is that
Blackburn is a band of brothers – literally. Duane (lead vocals),
Brooke (guitar), Cory (drums) and Robert (who took part on harmony
vocals and songwriting on the newest release) all share the Blackburn
name; a name that has become truly connected to Toronto music history.
Musically, the Blackburn name has been forever imprinted in our ears
by Bobby Dean Blackburn, an R&B artist who gained legendary status
in the Toronto music scene, performing the city circuit for over 30 years.
Beyond the music, other history runs deep too. The Blackburn name is
tied to the history of the Underground Railroad, and there is a direct
connection to the musical talents that we know and listen to today.
Brooke and Erin opened the conversation by discussing the family
history of the Blackburn name. One of the first things that Brooke
spoke of was the family’s connection to the Underground Railroad.
Clearly educated on his lineage, I get a paraphrased crash course on
the last 182 years of history attached to the last name that has become
synonymous with the Toronto music scene. He gives me a simple
breakdown of how the Blackburn family ended up from slavery in the
United States to present day; “My father’s Great Grandfather was Elias
Earls. He was born a slave in Kentucky in 1833.” Brooke told the story
of how Elias went from Kentucky to the Boston area, met an Owen
Sound woman named Sarah, and headed north to Canada. The two
ended up in what we know today as Chatsworth, Ontario and had a
child, Solomon. Settling in to the Owen Sound area, the town is the
most northern terminus (retreat for the Underground Railroad) in
Canada to date. From there, Estelle (Grandmother) was born, and
then came Bobby Dean Blackburn. As we know, the Blackburn name
made its way to Toronto - Bobby Dean Blackburn grew up in the city,
and soon became a seminal figure in the Toronto R&B scene. Brooke
proudly adds to the conversation; “My Dad is 70 years old, and he’s still
on the road playing. He just came back from Mexico.”
This is where some might insert that old cliché “the rest is history”,
but it certainly doesn’t end there. Proudly rhyming off his family
tree seemed as effortless as playing music for Brooke, however,
the legacy is still being written.
The Blackburn brothers have been playing music together for years,
and by Brooke’s admission, came together as a band naturally.
“We grew up around music. My Dad would bring home rehearsal
tapes so we would hear music all the time, and he would bring
musicians over all the time. When he wasn’t at home, we knew he
was on the road. Of course having a parent that is involved in music
influences what you are around, so that’s probably why all of us knew
how to play. It was never expected of us though – it’s just what we
were around. Coming together as a band was something we started
to do organically. My brother (Cory) has a studio (Toronto West Sound)
in Toronto, so that’s where we got together.” When asking him if he
always knew his path would be in music, Brooke says “When I was
about 15, I kind of decided this is what I would do. We didn’t necessarily
all sit down and say “this is what we are going to do” though. My
brothers and I have educations outside of playing music, so the fact that
this happened was just truly a natural process.”
The Blues Community has been sitting on the edge of their seats for the
next serving of Blackburn since the release of “Brotherhood” in 2009.
That album – and the tour that followed it – garnered the band a Maple
Blues Award in 2010, and they have continued to impress, leaving
people wanting more ever since. This year, Blackburn has quenched
the thirst of Canadian listeners, releasing their newest album “Brothers
In This World” last March (2015). Although the band switched labels
from Make It Real Records (Brotherhood) to Electro-Fi (Brothers In This
World), the fabric of what makes Blackburn a band that captivates remains
threaded throughout the entire album.
“Brothers in This World” contains 14 tracks of signature sounds from the
band – blending a mix of Blues, R&B, Funk, and of course, Soul. The
album features Duane singing lead vocals on most of the tracks. He even
plays some soulful B3 in a few places. Expect to hear horns and solid
grooves too, as evidenced on the catchy track, “Holla Back”. When asked
about his thoughts on the new album, Brooke says “This album is an
amalgamation of three years of writing. It’s a really good album. My
Brother Robert is on this album too, and he offered up some great
songwriting. This album is a collaboration of songwriting with some
covers as well. I really like it.” When remarking that Blackburn has an
obvious thread of Soul in almost every track the band records, Brooke
says “Oh yeah, it's true. Soul is us. It’s where we live.” The new album
is slated to be released in the United states in April 2015.
Keep your eyes open and check show listings for Blackburn this
upcoming festival season – you will not be disappointed if you make
your way out to a show.
- Singer, Musician, Writer