dopting their name from the Sonny Boy Williamson song “Mr Downchild,” Downchild Blues Band’s roots run deep, first planted in the Toronto jungle in 1963. Singer Mike Smith, guitarists Don Walsh, Tom Extence, and Gary Stodolak, John Lamb on bass and drummer John Tanti got together playing mostly for fun while attending Northern Secondary School at Mount Pleasant and Eginton in Toronto.
By ’68, a new version that had Walsh and his brother Rick, bassist Jim Milne, Tanti, and Dave Woodward became the house band at Grossman’s Tavern. But after a couple of years, they outgrew the nest and flew the coop.They doubled the horns attack by adding Ron Jacobs, and their gigs across Canada and into the Chicago and Detroit areas became more frequent.
They released their independent debut, BOOTLEG, in 1971, starting a career of albums that traditionally featured a few originals mixed in with covers, such as their copies of Taj Mahal’s “Change My Way of Livin'” and Jimmie Rogers’ “That’s All Right.”
After signing with GRT Records, their first single was “Flip Flop Fly” from their sophomore album in ’73, STRAIGHT UP. The song spent time in the top 40 pop list, and made them the first homegrown blues act with a gold single, (50,000 copies). As they continued a relentless tour schedule on both sides of the border for the next few years, and the Walsh Brothers’ “I’ve Got Everything I Need (Almost)” was released as the second single,” also spending time in the top 40. Also included was “Shotgun Blues,” another tune pegged by the Walsh Brothers, which would be covered later by The Blues Brothers during their movie and subsequent soundtrack.
They added Jane Vasey and Tony Flaim replaced Rick Walsh for the next album, 1974’s DANCING. Vasey was a classically trained pianist converted into a boogie woogie rockin’ machine. Walsh’s instantly recognizeable raspy textured vocals soon became trademark, such as in the Elmore James cover, “Madison Blues” and Otis Spann’s “Must Have Been The Devil.”
With new drummer Bill Bryans, next up was READY TO GO a year later, which featured the top 40 single, “Old Ma Bell.” Other tracks like the covers of Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Baby” and BB King’s “Caledonia” showcased the band’s versatility as they became mainstays across Canada, and regulars throughout the New Orleans, Kansas City, and St. Louis scenes.
But the rigours of touring and recording got the best of the band, and taking a break turned into a full-fledged breakup by 1977. While SO FAR; A COLLECTION OF OUR BEST, the first of what would become several compilation albums, was released, Walsh was out doing his own thing, and as a favour to friend Dan Ackroyd, helped The Blues Brothers by writing a pair of tracks for the BRIEFCASE FULL OF BLUES album in ’78. The other members were also out doing other projects, and Woodward moved to the west coast and joined Powder Blues.
That same year, Walsh reunited with Vasey and Flaim, along with Gary Kendall on bass, drummer Frank Russell, and Tony Rondolone on sax. After signing a deal with Attic Records, they released a pair of albums in 1980 – WE DELIVER and ROAD FEVER. Both produced hits, with Vasey’s “Tryin’ To Keep Her 88s Straight” and “I’ve Been A Fool.”
They streamlined their name to just ‘Downchild,’ and hooked up with legendary artist Spencer Davis for 1981’s BLOOD RUN HOT. their first album after shortening their name to just ‘Downchild.’ Along with the title track and “Hey Hey Little Girl” released as singles, the band had also picked up the touring schedule to include most major blues festivals throughout Canada and the US, as well as studio accolodates from the critics for their choice in covers, like Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” “Natural Ball” by Albert King, and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Nine Below Zero.”
And this is their album with Spencer Davis as the producer. Not the best album by the Downchild Blues Band, but a pretty fine album including powerful blues-rock. Listen to the titeltrack and you´ll know what I mean.
Larry Bodner (saxophone)
Tony Flaim (vocals)
Bob Heslin (trumpet)
Craig Kaleal (drums)
Gary Kendall (bass)
Jane Vasey (piano, background vocals)
Don Walsh (guitar, harmonica, vocals)
Spencer Davis (percussion on 01., background vocals on 06.+ 08., vocals on 08.)
Rabbit (keyboards on 06.
01. Hey Hey Little Girl (McGuiness/Stonebridge) 2.07
02. Rocket 88 (Brenston) 2.56
03. Could Have Had All Your Lovin’ (Walsh) 4.23
04. Natural Ball (King) 3.13
05. Drivin’ Blues (Walsh) 2.45
06. Blood Run Hot (Samsel) 3.55
07. Nine Below Zero (Williamson) 4.20
08. Shot Full Of Love (McDill) 3.08
09. Let’s Get High (Gordon) 3.15
10. They Were Rockin’ (Walsh) 2.18