Jack Lavin – How I Got Here

I was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1952 to a musical family. My dad sang and played harmonica and guitar, my brother played guitar, and I started out on the ukulele at the age of 6. We would have family music nights through the early '60s on weekends, playing a mixture of folk, standards from the '40s and 50's, and a few '60s pop hits. My mom and sister would also participate, adding their voices and sometimes percussion to the 'jam'.

At about age 8, I got my first 6-string guitar. It was a Stella, one of the cheapest guitars made. Its action was more like a cheese slicer than a guitar, but it produced excellent calluses which have lasted till present day!

From listening to the radio I was influenced by such recording artists as Lloyd Price, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, and Nat 'King' Cole. As I reached my teen years the 'British Invasion' was in full swing and I began to realize that these bands that had swept the top 40 charts were performing songs and emulating styles that had originated in America. Thanks to groups like the Rolling Stones I found out about the Black Blues that had migrated from the Mississippi Delta and landed in my Chicago 'back yard'! Discovering Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, and other Chicago blues practitioners was an epiphany.

Leaving home in the turbulent year of 1968, at the age of 16, I moved to San Francisco to become a part of the Cultural Revolution and pursue my dreams of being a professional musician, meeting and performing with all the greats. I saw John Lee Hooker playing a rent party that year, a jam at the long defunct Matrix where Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop showed up to jam with their friend Charlie Musselwhite and his band, and I began working as a roadie for an established S.F. Band called the Cleveland Wrecking Company. While in their employ I was able to see and meet with many of the rock dignitaries of the day including Janis Joplin, Duane Allman, the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Country Joe, and more.

I gradually made my way north, spending 2 years in the rural Oregon commune scene. Here I continued to play in bands, performing in road houses and barn parties. Eventually I ended up in Vancouver, Canada. Here I began to find that my musical roots and experience were in demand and I began a decade of musical 'apprenticeship', performing in burlesque clubs and dance halls.

In 1978 I was asked to play a week long engagement at a club in Vancouver's seedy Gastown District. The club was called the Spinning Wheel, and there was a house drummer who wanted me to hire the rest of the musicians. The first person I contacted was Edmonton pianist Willie MacCalder. He sang wonderfully and played a boogie style piano with an expertise that I had seldom heard. I next contacted my brother, Tom, who had been living in Vancouver since the late '60s. He had been playing rhythm guitar with a rock band called Prism. This 4-piece band became the nucleus of what later turned out to be the W.C Handy Award winning blues band, Powder Blues.

I toured, wrote, and recorded 3 albums with Powder Blues between 1978 and 1983, was nominated for songwriter of the year in '81 for my song 'Thirsty Ears', and left the band in late 1983 because of artistic differences.

In 1985 I began a decade as jam host and house band leader at Vancouver's most famous nightclub, the Yale. Saturdays from 3pm till 8pm, and Sundays from 3pm till midnight saw me jamming with several different house bands and visiting blues dignitaries including James Cotton, Jimmy Page, Eddy Shaw, Amos Garrett, and lots more. Also I was given the opportunity to contact some of my old blues pals from Chicago and other places in the U.S.A., fly them up to Vancouver, and perform week long engagements with them. Among these were Otis Rush, Johnny Heartsman, Tad Robinson, Mark Dufresne (of Roomful of Blues), Fenton Robinson, A.C. Reed, Lowell Fulson, Mitch Kashmar (currently performing with WAR), and more.

Concluding my exclusive relationship with the Yale in 1994, I then began 6 years as jam host at the Fairview pub and plying my trade in the cabarets and restaurants in the Greater Vancouver area-also producing a number of local artists including 2 CDs for Aboriginal singer/guitarist Gerald Charlie, Mitch Kashmar's debut release, and Mark Dufresne's current and debut releases-Mark went on to become the front man for multi-award winning blues band, Roomful of Blues.

For 4 years, from 2003 to 2007, I performed, wrote, and produced CDs with the Kingpins, a soul/blues band doing mostly originals based on the musical influences of my life.

Currently I am writing, producing and playing live gigs whenever the opportunity arises. I do some regional touring with Sabrina Weeks and Swing Cat Bounce and perform local shows with many bands including Marty Bernard and the Bloo Zebras, the Pete Sweetzir Band, Brandon Isaak, and Jake and Gate featuring the amazing Gary Koliger. I am also involved in writing music for TV and have had a couple interesting offers to play in Japan in the near future. A book of my life in music is in the works and should be a fun and relatively easy endeavor since I have been keeping photographic and written notes on this subject for the past 40 years!