Valentine’s Day show not just for lovers: Blues double bill next up for Tour De Fort

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer
abradbury@fortfrances.com

While one lives in southern Ontario and the other lives in Melbourne, Australia, both Suzie Vinnick and Lloyd Spiegel have great passions for blues music and both came to the genre at a young age.

Growing up in Saskatoon, Suzie Vinnick started playing the guitar at age nine with plans of starting a band with a childhood friend. That band never came together but as Vinnick continued to learn, she fell in love with music.

“Over the years growing up I participated in school bands…and learned how to play bass and I started going to dance lessons with a couple of my friends and got introduced to blues music,” Vinnick said. “So I’d go to this little bar in Saskatoon called Buds on Broadway in the late ‘80s. Every Saturday we’d get up and jam and I got to hear live music and the fans and the bar was great, they let me hang around as a teenager and hear music.”

Vinnick says she met a lot of musicians coming through the bar and eventually connected with blues guitarist Tony D. After living in Saskatoon a while, D returned to Ottawa where he is from and invited Vinnick to play music in Ottawa one summer.

Having won many awards for his blues records in his native Australia Lloyd Spiegel is a talented musician and performer. He takes the stage at the Townshend Theatre on Valentine’s day. –Press photo

“That kind of opened doors for me,” Vinnick said of playing with D. “We played together for a couple years and I ended up moving to Ottawa and then Toronto and I’ve been doing music full-time for over 20 years now.”

For Lloyd Spiegel, blues was in his home from a very young age. His father was a founding member of the Melbourne blues Appreciation Society. Which meant that there was a never-ending stream of blues musicians coming through his home as a child.

“There was always blues artists coming to stay when they traveled from overseas or from different parts of Australia,” Spiegel said. “We had blues players in the living room most weekends.”

Spiegel says having seen his father work as an auto mechanic and then watched these blues artists ply their trade his mind was made up.

“I decided they had a better job,” Spiegel said. “From the age of four or five I’d already decided that was a path I wanted to take. So by the time I was eight years old I was going to the local blues jams and getting up with local blues artists and started touring around [the age of] 11.”

Spiegel says blues really appealed to him as a child and he thinks any child who was exposed to it at a young age would fall in love.

“I think if you expose any child at that age to blues music they’ll probably fall in love with it,” Spiegel said. “I don’t think I was different or special in any way. I think it’s a non-abrasive, easy to follow, simple form of music for everybody and kids react to it really well. I certainly know my kids have grown up with it as just a normal part of life. I guess I was probably 10 years old before I realized that all the other kids weren’t listening to blues.”

Like Vinnick, Spiegel’s instrument of choice when it comes to blues is the guitar and he’s well-known for it in blues circles. He says he picked up the guitar because it was what was available.

“Honestly, there was a guitar in the house, and that’s what I decided to make a racket on,” Spiegel said. “Most of the players that came to stay with my family were solo blues guitarists, acoustic blues guitarists, so I really always loved the acoustic blues guitar.”

“I’ve certainly never considered myself a guitarist,” Spiegel said. “I know that other people do and I appreciate it. I know that guitar magazines like to talk about my guitar style but the reality is that there was a guitar in the house and I consider myself a blues artist and the guitar was the tool that I happen to be handed.”

“Suzie Vinnick is the proud owner of a gorgeous voice, impressive guitar and bass chops and an engagingly candid performance style. Suzie has won 10 Maple Blues Awards, 1 Canadian Folk Music Award and is a 3X Juno Nominee.” –Press photo

While Spiegel doesn’t think of himself as very much when it comes to his guitar playing, Australian Guitar Player Magazine calls Spiegel “A guitarist almost without peer.” Then goes on to say, “Spiegel deconstructs how the blues guitar is supposed to operate, makes sweet love to it, then kicks it out the back door”

Neither Vinnick nor Spiegel would consider themselves exclusively blues artists though that is the majority of what both of them play. Vinnick also calls herself a roots artist.

“I call it roots and blues music,” she said. “I spent a lot of time listening to blues and playing blues music as a teenager and into my 20s but I also have a lot of other musical influences as well. Through high school I played in our stage band and jazz band so I got into jazz music a bit. And even before my introduction to blues I was listening to classic rock. There’s a lot of music that does weave its way into the music that I perform but I say that it’s blues based.”

When it comes to his shows, Spiegel says he likes to mix things up.

“I really like to mix a healthy dose of blues guitar with singer-songwriter material, and comedy storytelling,” he said. “I want to put on a complete show, all of my heroes are entertainers rather than musicians.”

“They’re triple threats, but I can’t dance.” He added with a chuckle.

Both musicians also say they’re ready to get out for a full tour in the post-pandemic world. After being sequestered in his native Australia Spiegel says he’s ready to play for Canadian audiences again.

“I’ve toured Canada several times before, and found that of all the places around the world that I’ve ever traveled, and I mean this, I feel like I’ve found my people,” Spiegel said. “It was a really wonderful experience, each time, to travel to Canada and I find that storytelling a blues mix beautifully.”

Spiegel says he finds that the storytelling and music blend in his show doesn’t always land with other audiences as well as it lands with Canadian audiences.

“A lot of places around the world are one or the other. I can do my storytelling show or I can do my blues guitar show and very seldom do I find the country that understands both,” Spiegel said, “So I really did find that (Canadians) have been my best audiences.”

“I’m mostly excited,” Vinnick said of hitting the road. “I had COVID late in the fall, so if I hadn’t had it I’d probably be a little bit more nervous. It does make me a bit nervous as far as getting sick and the challenges of traveling, but hopefully we’ll stay healthy.It’ll be really wonderful, more importantly, to be playing music and getting to see folks again and interacting, and I’m really excited to be touring with Lloyd Spiegel.”

After meeting in the past, before COVID, Vinnick and Spiegel hit it off and hoped to play together for a while now and are both complementary of each other.

Spiegel says he loves that they both seem to come at blues from the same angle.

“Sharing the bill with Suzie is wonderful, because she comes from a similar idea in taking blues music as a foundation of what you’re doing and then building upon it to sound unique and have your own sound that doesn’t necessarily fit into that blues music box, but always with the flavour of blues underneath it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to having the best seat in the house for Suzie’s show.”

Vinnick says she loves Spiegel’s style as well.

“I’m excited,” Vinnick said. “He’s an amazing musician. We’ve gotten to know each other mostly over Zoom and FaceTime but he seems like a really great guy so I’m excited to hear him play and he seems like a really funny guy so that’ll be fun too.”

During their shows, each will play a separate set but Vinnick said they will likely come together for a few songs at the end. Since they’re playing in Fort Frances on Valentine’s Day there may even be a few love songs in the mix but Vinnick says she won’t be sticking to that theme.

“I’ll shape the set a little more to see if I can get some more love songs in there,” Vinnick said. “There’ll be some folks who maybe aren’t in a romantic relationship, so I’ll try to find songs, more about loving your fellow man and taking care of one another, that sort of thing, to make it all encompassing, maybe get a little sassy too.”

Spiegel speculated that maybe the pair might do a duet at the end.

“I think it would be really nice by Valentine’s Day to work out a lovely duet, because anything that adds her voice would be a blessing,” he said. “I seem to find myself in Canada on lots of those kinds of days, Valentine’s Day or on my birthday or Father’s day, all kinds of things when I do miss home and my family so I think I’ll probably need a little comfort music.”

Tickets for Suzie Vinnick and Lloyd Spiegel are available at Ski’s Variety, The Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre and online via tourdefort.com.