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Downchild celebrates 50th anniversary in Kingston

Downchild performs at the Grand Theatre on Thursday

50 years ago, Donnie Walsh formed the Downchild Blues Band in downtown Toronto. Now known as simply Downchild, the Canadian blues legends perform at the Grand Theatre this Thursday as part of their 50th anniversary tour.

“We’re gonna give ‘em the whole package,” said lead singer Chuck Jackson. “We’re gonna play the hits and try and get something in from each one of our albums. There will be a few songs from our last few CDs, some special guests, a couple of duets. It’s hard picking from so many great songs. Sometimes we have to rock-paper-scissors to get songs in.”

After 50 years as a band, and with nearly 30 with Jackson as lead singer, Jackson doesn’t hesitate to give proper credit as to the longevity of the band.

“It’s our fans,” he said. “We’ve got such great fans across the country. People have been coming to see us for 50 years, and now they’re bringing their kids and their grandkids, and we’re reaching a whole new generation.”

Although the blues is arguably even less in the mainstream now than it has been in the past, Jackson is encouraged by the current state of the genre.

“We have lots of young kids, you know, that are maybe learning how to play guitar and really enjoying the show and coming up for autographs,” said Jackson. “And blues has had a few shots in the arms over the years: The Blues Brothers in the 70s, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Healey playing in Roadhouse. And now we have streaming and all these blues channels on satellite radio. There’s still lots of interest in blues and Canadian blues.”

The band are not strangers to the area. Jackson estimates Downchild has played in Kingston around 25 to 30 times over the years.

“Playing in Kingston is great, especially because sometimes Dan Aykroyd will show up. It’s always a joy to do stuff with him, and he’s always been so gracious with us.”

Downchild’s current tour started in June, with a date at Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto, where the band first performed 50 years ago to the day.

“It was rockin’,” said Jackson. “We don’t play in bars anymore, we mostly do theatres and festivals, so it was really nice and very intimate. People were dancing like crazy and you could reach right out and they were just right in front of you.”

Despite having sung the song at every show he’s performed since 1990, Jackson still loves belting out Downchild’s biggest hit.

“I’ve sang Flip Flop and Fly probably 5000 times, and it’s probably still my favourite,” he said. “Though Mississippi Woman/Mississauga Man from our last record is a lot of fun and it always gets a great response.”

Downchild is Kingston on Thursday and Ottawa on Friday with another Canadian blues legend Suzie Vinnick opening both shows. After that, the 50th anniversary tour resumes in the spring with an east coast tour.

“We don’t plan too much further ahead,” said Jackson. “At our age, you take it a year at a time. There are lots of sold-out shows coming up, so as long as that happens, we’ll keep going.”

Downchild plays the Grand Theatre this Thursday, November 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the Grand Theatre box office.

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