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.

Erin McCallum

- Singer, Musician, Writer