String music of East and West comes to the Duke Theater
Harry Manx likes to say that he lives in British Columbia, home of the blues.
“When I say that, people just stare until they figure out that I’m joking,” said Manx, the veteran bluesman who was born in the British Isles and has lived in just about every other place on the globe. “I say, yeah, I’m from Saltspring Island, home of the blues.
“But you know, the blues can come out of any place,” he said. “Johnny Lange is from Fargo, N.D. If you can play it, you own it.”
School of hard knocks
And Harry Manx can play it. The 53-year-old is a graduate of music’s school of hard knocks, primarily self-taught. Along the way in his career he’s mastered the slide guitar, six-string banjo, harmonica, Ellis stomp box and even a cigar box guitar of his own design.
Then there’s the Mohan veena, a modified, 20-string guitar used to play Indian classical music. Manx learned that while studying with Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt while living in India.
Harry Manx has been called an “essential link” between the music of East and West, creating musical short stories that wed the tradition of the blues with the depth of classical Indian ragas. He has created a unique sound that is hard to forget.
Manx is a prolific artist, releasing six albums in a six-year span with no signs of stopping. Manx will perform at the Duke Theater at Lake Tahoe Community College on Friday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
“People say that I’m self-taught, but I’m self-motivated more than anything,” he said. “Whenever I’ve wanted anything I’ve found my own way to get there. The whole process of trying and failing has been important to me. It’s really what my life is all about.”
The first lesson came when Manx was only 15, and had left home (the Isle of Mann) to join a rock band in Toronto.
“I played bass, but it wasn’t long before I realized I wasn’t really good enough for that, and became the band’s sound man,” Manx said. “And that turned out to be a great thing for me. I was working sound in this Toronto blues club in 1972, and in would come Muddy Waters or Buddy Guy or Junior Wells.
“And since I was working behind the scenes, I got a chance to watch these guys,” he said. “But I didn’t so much study them as I did catch some of the feel. I would go home after the gig and get my guitar out, and try and catch some of their groove.”
At the age of 19 Manx moved to Europe, and played music on street corners and in cafes.
“I became kind of a one-man band,” he said. That’s where I graduated to become a real musician.”
Manx then moved to Japan, got married, and then moved to India. He stayed there for 12 years, along the way meeting Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and studying classical Indian music.
He then moved to Brazil, where he played music until realizing that “they have so much of their own wonderful music there, that they didn’t need me.”
He moved to Canada in 2000, where he recorded his first album, “Dog My Cat,” which got him his first record deal.
“That sold 30,000 copies and got the attention of the NorthernBlue Music label, which is a small label out of Toronto,” Manx said. “I did three records wit them. The first won Blues Album of the Year in Canada, and the next two (“Wise and Otherwise” and “Jubilee”) were nominated for Juno Awards, which is Canada’s little version of a Grammy.”
His latest, “In Good We Trust,” has received a Western Canada Music Award nomination for Outstanding Roots Recording (duo). The awards will be held in Moose Jaw, Saskatechwan on Oct 21.
Manx collaborated on that album with guitarist Kevin Breit.
Manx usually tours in the fall, and made a point of making several stops in California this year. He’ll be playing in Berkeley, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Redding and San Diego in addition to South Lake Tahoe.
Q&A with blues/folk musician Harry Manx, who will perform at the Lake Tahoe Community College’s Duke Theater on Friday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Q: How long did you live in India?
A: I lived there for 12 years, and studied for five years with Rajasthani Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt in Indian classical music. He developed the Mohan veena, which is a 20-stringed sitar/guitar. I have one and play it in my shows.
Q: How did living in India change your music?
A: Well, you can’t live in India without it having a huge effect on you. It’s a concentrated version of the whole planet, because there are so many people there. It’s a very powerful place. I think the experience brought a quiet intent to my music. I found meditation there, and that has put my on the path to where I am now.
Q: How much of the Eastern music do you play in your shows?
A: I don’t play a whole lot. I find that a lot of the music doesn’t coincide with Western taste. But I play some, just to give it an East-meets-West feel. A little Eastern music is good for flavor.
Q: Have you been to Tahoe before?
A: No, this will be my first trip. People have been telling me I should go there, so I’m excited to see it. They say it will seem like home. In British Columbia you have lakes and trees and the nature is wonderful.
Q: Has living in British Columbia affected your music?
A: Yes. You don’t live anywhere without it having an effect. You don’t think of blues as being a Western thing, but blues is actually big here in the West. You’re exposed to a lot of great stuff here. Whenever I tour, I always ask to make sure I get to go to California. I love playing there.