Barb Brouwer/Salmon Arm Observer
Steve Marriner and MonkeyJunk are on a roll.
The band scored their second Juno, this time with the 2018 Best Blues Album.
Named after the album, their current cross-Canada Time to Roll tour is stopping at this year’s Roots and Blues Festival in Salmon Arm, which runs Aug. 16 to 19.
Known as Ottawa’s ace swamp roots-rockers, MonkeyJunk is an accomplished trio comprised of Marriner on vocals, harmonica and baritone guitar, Tony D. (Tony Diteodoro) on lead guitar and Matt Sobb on drums and percussion.
A huge movie fan when he was young, Marriner says he was inspired by Back to the Future and a scene in which Michael Fox played Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Good.
That launched a quest to discover more artists – intensive and extensive research during which he came across Little Walter Jacobs, whom he calls the archetype of electrified blues harmonica.
“There were other Chicago guys and I got into Chicago blues and rock and roll of the ’50s,” he says, noting he discovered that while blues are regionally similar, there are fascinating geographical differences and different sounds, depending on where they are played and who plays with whom.
“I’ve had an awesome education about the history of music,” he says. “I love learning about obscure artists from the ’50s and ’60s; Marriner started playing the harmonica when he was 11 and as his interest in music grew, he tried piano and guitar. His first gig was with a piano player who excelled in Chicago blues and boogie woogie.
“I’d be going home to try what I saw, teaching myself,” he says of his ability to play several instruments. “It’s important to learn them so I get perspective from every seat on the stage.”
“Tony is king of the castle as far as blues guitar goes,” says Marriner, who started playing harmonica with him in a weekly gig at Ottawa’s legendary home of the blues, The Rainbow Bistro, when he was 13. “It was in the summer of ’98 and I played about the same three songs every week.”
Marriner stayed friends with Tony D, who had been playing with Sobb since 2001, hiring each other for a variety of gigs over ensuing years.
Bored with what they were doing, the three musicians were jamming together at Tony D’s home in 2008 – just playing the blues with two guitars and the drums, no bass.
“The answer was clear; we got together the following Sunday at Irene’s,” Marriner says of the Ottawa pub that also supports musicians. “We sat down, we had no material written as a band. We just started jamming and people started coming, packing out the bar.”
Marriner says the musicians had no plan or agenda other than getting together on a Sunday night and spending time together making music.
But the fans pushed their own agenda – to listen to MonkeyJunk play.
Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, the band has played in several countries, touring Europe, the U.S. and every corner of Canada.
Between them, this trio of musical veterans have boosted luminaries from Fabulous Thunderbird Kim Wilson to Buddy Guy, the late Jeff Healey to the lamented Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Mariner has toured with Colin James and will perform with him in his MainStage performance at Roots and Blues.
As well as a pair of Juno Award wins, MonkeyJunk has also scored 21 Maple Blues Awards, two Canadian Independent Music Awards, and a Blues Music Award (USA) for Best New Artist, for 2009’s sizzling Tiger In Your Tank.
The band’s name was inspired by one of Marriner’s idols, delta blues great Son House, who said, “I’m talking about the blues, I ain’t talking ’bout no monkeyjunk!”
Audiences will be blown away by the trio’s blistering mix of soul, grit, humour and harmony.
Catch MonkeyJunk at 10:45 Saturday night as they blow the lid off the Barn Stage, and in a workshop appropriately called Bombs Away, when they’ll share the stage with Colin James, Big Dave McLean and Rick Vito at 4:10 Sunday afternoon at the Blues Stage.