By Mike Pearson, News staff
When Steve Briggs and a talented group of musicians started the Bebop Cowboys, band members shared one thing in common – a love of western swing.
With its danceable rhythms, jazzy beats and bluesy feel, western swing blends elements of country, R&B and jazz.
“It has elements of country music to it. It has elements of blues. It was a precursor to rock n’ roll,” said Briggs, vocalist and a founding member of the Bebop Cowboys.
On Feb. 2, the Bebop Cowboys are the featured performer in the Hot Jazz and Cool Blues concert series at the Old Firehall Arts Centre in Ancaster. Special guest vocalist Russell deCarle from Prairie Oyster is also making the trip. Briggs and deCarle recently toured as duo in support of country legend Merle Haggard. Like the Bebop Cowboys, Prairie Oyster blends multiple musical styles, with country playing a lead role.
“Russel is kind of a kindred spirit musically,” said Briggs.
Western swing wasn’t exactly a household musical genre when the Bebop Cowboys first formed in 2000. As Briggs explained, part of the group’s motivation was a desire to hear more of this emerging sound. Heavily influenced by the country sounds of the southeastern U.S., western swing is known for its unique instrumentation, reminiscent of the classic sounds of the 1940s and ‘50s. A violin and steel guitar are featured, as opposed to saxophones.
After playing a few shows to only a handful of people at Toronto’s Cadillac Lounge, the group quickly attracted a loyal following. Today the Bebop Cowboys are known as Canada’s premier western swing group. With three albums to their credit, the group was named best roots/country act for 2006 by Now Magazine’s Best of Toronto. They were also nominated for a 2006 Canadian Folk Music Award in the best ensemble category. The group has toured extensively across Canada over the past decade.
Along with Briggs on guitar, mandolin and vocals and deCarle as featured vocalist, the Bebop Cowboys will feature Howard Willet on harp and vocals, Burke Carroll on steel guitar, Dennis Pendrith on stand-up bass, drummer John Adames and violinist Aaron Solomon.
Fans will recognize traditional favourites like the instrumental selection Caravan, plus original signature tunes like Shooting Star. On the group’s most recent album, Canadian Dance Hall, a long list of collaborators includes deCarle on Shooting Star, Sarah Harmer on Stardust, Chris Whiteley for the Bebop’s original Dancin’ on a Saturday Night and many others.
After playing for the Music at Fieldcote summer concert series in 2011, Briggs said the group is eager to return to Ancaster for the upcoming series. The Feb. 2 concert will mark the band’s first appearance in the intimate, cabaret setting of the Old Firehall.
“We were really happy they called us,” said Briggs.
Tickets for the second annual Hot Jazz and Cool Blues series are on sale at Cavallo Nero Restaurant on Wilson Street in Ancaster and online at www.hamiltonallstarjazz.org. Show time is 8 p.m. for all performances. With seating limited to just 100, tickets are expected to go fast.
Other upcoming performers include two sold out shows this weekend by Motown Can Never Say Goodbye, Pat Labarbera (Jan. 26), Adrean Farrugia and Sophia Perlman (Feb. 16) and the Hamilton All-Star Jazz Band (Feb. 23). A third performance by Motown Can Never Say Goodbye is also anticipated for a sell-out on March 2.