As a teen in the late ’60s, Harry Manx got a job as a sound tech at the el Mocambo Tavern, Toronto’s famed night spot.
Manx didn’t last long. One night he sat there enthralled by Mississippi bluesman Willy Dixon, who was plucking away at the double-bass. Two days later Manx was fired, but a sold-out house at Kamloops Convention Centre on Saturday night was glad the B.C. artist didn’t leave empty-handed. He took with him a lifelong passion for blues music.
“I’m not feeling too good unless you’re not feeling too good,” Manx joked before launching into a blues-filled evening in his characteristic east-meets-west style.
The audience — an unusual mix of the silver-haired set and the dreadlocked — loved every minute of the two-hour solo performance. There was only one musician on stage — and his irreverent sense of humour — but it felt like an entire band as Manx switched instruments just about every song.
He started off playing the mohan veena, the 20-stringed guitar/sitar hybrid that first distinguished his unique variation on the blues. The instrument features tuning heads the line the length of its neck and sympathetic strings that give it a shimmering timbre. He then switched to the banjo and then a home-made cigar-box banjo, playing dobro-style as he teased from its strings, first the hypnotic hum of an Indian raga that gave way to the steady rhythm of a blues tune.
Manx poured out a steady stream of the blues, ranging from his own compositions to the Thrill is Gone to Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues. He also covered Van Morrison’s Crazy Love and Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child.
“This won’t sound quite the same (as Hendrix),” he said.
He also played favourites from his seven albums of original songs, including such inspirational tunes as Make Way for the Living and Only Then Will Your House Be Blessed. Between songs, he’d keep the audience buoyed with jokes and puns.
At the end of two hours of levity and lightness, the audience must have assumed he’d play an encore.
“Thanks, Kamloops, for that sitting ovation,” he quipped. Two songs later he got the standing ovation he deserved.