A Look At Young Blues Star Spencer Mackenzie
The Ontario blues guitarist/singer/songwriter is readying the release of his third studio album, Preach to my Soul, set for Aug. 13. Here, largely in his own words, is a look at Mackenzie's sound and vision.
By Bill King
Highly acclaimed young Ontario blues guitarist/singer/songwriter Spencer Mackenzie is readying the release of his third studio album, Preach to my Soul, set for Aug. 13.
Here, largely in his own words, is a look at Mackenzie's sound and vision.
"I'm only myself when I have a guitar in my hands." - George Harrison
At 22 years of age, Spencer Mackenzie celebrated three 2019 Independent Blues Awards Nominations for Blues Rock CD, Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Blues Song.
2017 Blues Artist of The Year, Niagara Music Awards, New Artist of The Year
2016 Maple Blues Awards, 2016 International Songwriting Competition, 3rd Place Winner Blues Category, and 2016 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search Winner. This while completing four years of college as a music major at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario.
“My first guitar was a Fender Telecaster in grade seven purchased with my own money, and I absolutely dug in. In elementary school, I was introduced to Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King. Soon after, I bought a Stratocaster. I bought the Telecaster in Buffalo, living so close to Ft. Erie. My first guitar teacher had me do a lot of listening, putting on records until my ears bled. Playing along, then playing it back to him. One of the earliest songs I ever learned by Stevie Ray was Cold Shot. I could recall every moment in that video. Live versions, for me, work a lot better. Listening to a record is important, but putting on a live video of your favourite artist, you can’t beat it.”
Locating one's roots, the phrase can infer roots or “routes” – that journey back in time, the history that preceded or the path forward.
“In the new recording, I’m totally connected to my roots. The album title, the tune Preach to My Soul (set for release on June 3), essentially refers to that. Learning from those that came before me. They are fundamentally preaching to my soul. I see them trying to come out through me. Some tracks have a heavier feel, like a Joe Bonamassa kind of vibe. More intricate blues, fewer shuffles, more of a blues-rock intent behind it.
"My writing partner and I write about the things we have and are experiencing in our lives. Baptize by Cold Water is a protest song. A few years ago, out west, they were building a pipeline, and the Americans protested and sprayed them with cold water, as witnessed on the news. Later, the line ultimately burst and destroyed the land. Watching the news and following current events helped shape the writing. Sometimes lyrics come out, even though I haven’t experienced much trauma in my life because I’m only 22. We wrote a song called Don’t Wanna to Be Your Dog about karma and getting turned off by someone. Some pieces are light-hearted among the Battling from Within types, which are about battling mental health and depression.”
The way forward is the return to live performance, that special bond between audience and performer.
“Over the years of performing, I’ve become more aware of my surroundings. I’ve been able to pull together a group of guys and women I play with whom I’m comfortable and compatible. As young as I am, I have played many stages, been to the right places, and am now much more composed playing my original material. Early on, I just played songs I thought everyone would like to hear, but through the last couple of recordings, I’ve been able to play originals drawn them and build a show of current material, and everyone digs them. This gives me the confidence to be myself and find my way forward.”
US blues publication Blues Blast Magazine describes Mackenzie this way: “…his guitar playing is crisp and clean even as it delivers some down-to-the bone licks…He’s got the blues power in his soul...”
”The guitar speaks for the person whose hands embrace. It cries, it excuses, it laughs when poked and commands the stage like no other electric instrument. “For me, I think the only danger is being too much in love with guitar playing. The music is the most important thing, and the guitar is only the instrument.” –Jerry Garcia.
MacKenzie has a developed a tone, a vintage sound, a style that resonates and the phrasing of a seasoned pro. Music is language. Words matter, as do notes. Where they reside in a solo and how, when layered, sometimes crunch and distort, at others sing and sting, is where the artistry resides - the messenger plugged in.
MacKenzie has toured with Miles Evans on keys, Matt Burns on drums and Justine Fischer on bass to many significant festivals, including Thunder Bay Blues Festival, Paisley Blues festival, Tremblant International Blues Festival, Donnacona Blues Festival, Trois-Rivieres en Blues, Southside Shuffle, Sarnia Jazz and Blues in the Village, and many more.
He is looking forward to performing to audiences everywhere while he plans his 2022/23 season and album release tour, which includes: The Lighthouse Blues Festival (ON), Montreal International Jazz Festival (QC), Festival Blues d’la Baie (N.B.) Trois-Rivieres en Blues (QC), Highway 401 Blues Festival (ON), Badlands Roots and Blues Barbeque (AB), First Ontario Performing Arts Centre (ON) and more to come. Check his concert schedule here.