Award-winning guitarist Joel Fafard performs Southern roots and blues classics with the soul of a purist and the showmanship of a seasoned entertainer.
He sings with the sexy, sandpapered-sounding vocal style of the new-generation bluesman. He tells his hilarious between-song stories with the confidence of a late show host delivering his monologue. And when he lets rip a solo on his resonator guitar, it’s easy to hear how he once earned both a Juno nomination and a Western Canadian Music Award for his skills on the axe.
With his latest albums, Cluck Old Hen and Borrowed Horses, along with his live show, Fafard is using his uncommon skill as an entertainer to embark on a new musical mission: breathing new life into grand old numbers like “Ain’t no grave,” “Sitting on top of the World,” “Spoonful,” and “Long Black Veil.”
His performances are as authentic as those of a Beale Street busker but infused with a touch of contemporary urban attitude. And his live show is pure polish and professionalism.
Fafard has been playing old Southern classics for years as part of his live set. His love for it can be traced back to his youth in Saskatchewan and his time spent at Georgia Fats, a Regina biker bar that was a destination for musicians from the Chicago blues scene. Canadians like Amos Garrett and Sue Foley also passed through the joint, as did Delta bluesmen like Charlie Musselwhite.
Until recently though, Fafard’s covers of Southern gems served as mere vocal interludes in his live sets of award-winning guitar instrumentals.
A gifted slide-fingerstyle player, Fafard earned a Western Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Instrumental Album for his 2006 collection …and another thing… He was also nominated for both a Juno and a Canadian Folk Music Award. The album’s follow-up, Three Hens Escape Oblivion, received a second CFMA nod and was a runner up for an International Acoustic Music Award. Meanwhile, Fafard’s music was featured in the TV shows Alice I Think and Road Trip Nation, his compositions were included on several well-respected guitar compilations, and he co-scored the Middle of Somewhere TV series with Jason Plumb. In 2008, he was commissioned by The Globe Theatre in Regina to write a one-man show of tunes with tales.
Fafard began studying guitar back in the Georgia Hotel days, inspired by the fingerpicking style of Bruce Cockburn. He took lessons with local bluesman Jack Semple and went on to spend two years in the jazz program at Vancouver’s Capilano University before finally leaving to develop his own style. Blues music would be one of several influences to shape his stirring and expressive rootsy sound.
He launched his music career in the mid-90s as a member of Scruj MacDuhk, the predecessor of the Juno-winning Grammy-nominated Duhks. Later, he established himself as a solo singer-songwriter, releasing three albums, touring coffee houses and earning praise for the maturity of his songwriting. But there was something missing for Fafard in the life of the folk-singing troubadour. Eight years ago he traded it in for the seemingly-less-lucrative life of the acoustic guitar instrumentalist, and it was all up hill from there.
But fans kept asking what album those soulful Southern roots covers were on, and Fafard got tired of saying “none of them.” In 2009, after a brief creative breather, during which he felt drawn to the music like never before, Fafard – who had recently relocated to B.C.’s Sunshine Coast — decided it was time for a musical change of direction to match his geographic one. He gathered his long-time band-mates Gilles Fournier (bass) and Richard Moody (violin) and headed off to Winnipeg’s Private Ear studios to commit the songs to record. Mixing was done by award-winning Vancouver roots and blues producer Steve Dawson.
As he closes in on 20 years as a professional musician, Joel Fafard has traveled down several distinct paths: folk singer-songwriter, roots rocker, acoustic instrumentalist and now interpreter of Southern roots and blues. But regardless of which direction he goes in, his fans seem happy to follow, because Fafard has a few key attributes that remain constant. First, he is one of Canada’s most tasteful acoustic guitarists and one of the funniest and most personable entertainers on the circuit today. He is also an artist so brimming with authenticity that he’s not afraid to play exactly the style of music that feels most real to him in the moment.