Chris Cain is an American blues guitarist and singer. He writes his own songs – has nearly a dozen albums to his name, but it’s the blues he carries inside him, a repertoire of songs by the greats, the legends – B.B. King and Albert King, for example – that make Cain worth seeing and hearing. He’s a terrific player. So much emotion there. And knowledge. A guy who grew up fixated with the blues – with music. And it hasn’t stopped.
Proficient across a handful of instruments (saxophone, harmonica, bass) it’s the guitar that’s Cain’s first love, his true love. I interviewed him for the podcast earlier this year, in a tiny Wellington hotel room. A bed and a table, and his guitar in its case leaning against the door. We spoke for nearly an hour and a half and I caught Cain looking longingly at the guitar at least a dozen times, he specifically gestured to it another half-dozen times. He spoke of it as if a person, as if remembering a dear friend, conjuring a spirit.
When he was a kid he took to music. His parents would take him out of school to see The Beatles and the aforementioned blues legends. His dad’s record collection was “the greatest thing in the world” and his dad, a truck driver, was an amateur musician, an enthusiast. That enthusiasm from the weekend warrior (“on Sundays my father would put on his suit and tie and go in the garage and play his set”) was absorbed by Cain.
By his teenage years Chris Cain was out playing in bars. He cut his first record in 1987 and by then he had caught the attention of his musical heroes.
The great Albert King, an imposing figure, an intimidating force, thought Cain was the real deal. A validation that helped Cain carry on.
He met Robert Lockwood Jr, went from seeing any B.B. King concert he could to sharing a stage with him.
In the early 2000s Cain made his first trip to New Zealand – Rodger Fox, such an ambassador for music, as band-leader, promoter, educator, enthusiast and player, had heard of Cain, had seen him play, he packaged him up as part of a tour.
Next thing Cain was out here regularly, returning to work with other international greats such as Bettye LaVette, Robben Ford and Charlie Musselwhite. From there it was to visits on his own – always working with Rodger and his local big band, the music school students who offer big band charts across jazz and blues and even some pop music.
Last year Cain released King of the Blues, an album recorded with The Rodger Fox Big Band. He tackles some blues classics and reworks some of his own material here. Cain told me it’s one of the things he’s most proud of in a life dedicated to the blues.
Touring the world, giving his time as a teacher as well as sitting in on any, nearly every stage, Cain has become a regular fixture with Fox and his band. Here every year or so.
He’s not to be missed. If you love great blues guitar playing this guy is most certainly the real-deal, not some hit-and-hope blues-rock bogan you can catch at one of the local clubs where shouting is thought of as showing emotion, where clichéd, workmanlike playing gets applauded by the clueless and hopeful.
Also, and I can say this first-hand, a nicer guy you could not meet. I found this out when I sat down with Chris Cain for over an hour to chat about his life and times for Sweetman Podcast. And if you’ve got any interest at all in a working musician’s life on the road, or blues music, then I think our conversation is a must-listen. Kudos too to Rodger Fox for recognising this great talent.
And for more details about Chris and his work check out his website.