Ann Arbor blues musician Chris Canas freely admits he wore out “The Simpsons Play the Blues” before he discovered the real deal at about age 10.
Primed up by “Moanin’ Lisa Blues,” “Look at All the Idiots” and other early Simpsons classics, Canas was ready for a genuine epiphany when his Uncle Jamerson rolled up to the house one day in a cherry red T-Top Camaro.
“I was about 10 years old, sitting at home, watching Power Rangers or something, and I suddenly heard all this bass,” Canas said. “He had these giant woofers in his car. Then I heard B.B. hollering over it. It was intoxicating.”
Not all blues musicians bubble up from the bayou, or drift into town with the Chicago wind. Canas, a home-schooled Ann Arbor kid who was classically trained in trumpet, learned early in life how to to boil things down to the basics. After his first taste of B.B King, he scampered to his room and learned “The Thrill is Gone,” note for note, on guitar, rewinding his tape player over and over to get it right.
“Name an album, I could play it exactly as he played it,” Canas said. “It’s like a religion. He’s so expressive.”
All three Kings of blues — B.B., Albert and Freddie — ushered Canas deeper and deeper into the music, and that was just the beginning.
“Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jonny Lang — it just snowballs and keeps going and going,” he said.
He still loved classical music, but B.B. put a big dent in his trumpet.
“My instructor, David Drake, said, ‘You’re putting a little bit too much stank on this classical stuff,’ he recalled. “He took me from sixth grade classical to eighth grade jazz.”
He enjoyed that, too, but he kept coming back to the directness of the blues.
One day, while still in his teens, he found his grandfather’s old bass in his grandmother’s garage.
“It only had two strings and it was full of dirt,” he recalled. “I cleaned it up and learned on two strings. She eventually fixed it and got four strings and I played it that way. Then I got two more.”
It wasn’t a bad way to gradually master a string instrument.
“It helps because sometimes I break a string, or two strings, on my guitar, and I know how to work with fewer,” he laughed.
At 15, Canas wrote an entire album of tunes, “Shades of Blue.” His parents gave him a four-track mixer for Christmas. He won talent contests in Ann Arbor playing songs from the album and still plays some of them today.
Soon, Canas joined regular jam sessions at Ypsilanti’s Tap Room and got a life-changing gig with Detroit blues legend Thornetta Davis, who mentored Canas and helped plug him in to the Detroit music scene. By now, he’s recorded six albums and written nearly 200 songs.
Canas will set the stage for Chicago legend Lil’ Ed, a diminutive dynamo with a spangled cylinder hat whose live-wire approach is decidedly less relaxed than Canas’ simple sincerity. But that’s all in the spirit of BluesFest.
“It’s unlike anything in Michigan, one of the best blues festivals we have,” Canas said.
Chris Canas Band at BluesFest 8:30-9:30 Sat., Sept. 16 North Stage