A Port Theatre Spotlight Series Presentation
“Mysticssippi” blues man 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 and deliciously addictive to listen to.
Harry forged his distinctive style by studying at the feet of the masters, first as a sound man in the blues clubs of Toronto during his formative years and then under a rigorous tutelage with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt in India. Bhatt is the inventor of the 20-stringed Mohan Veena, which has become Harry’s signature instrument.
Harry played slide guitar for many years before meeting Bhatt in Rajasthan; he had been living in another part of India for many years already, but he started at the beginning under Bhatt’s tutelage unlearning most of what he knew about playing a slide instrument. He learned Eastern scales and eventually ragas, deceptively complex and regimented musical patterns that form the basis of Indian composition. Learning the voicings of Indian music is a subtle art that comes with time. Harry spent most of twelve years in India learning that. It was later on that Harry decided to explore the connection between Indian ragas and blues scales which eventually led to the Indo-blues hybrid that has become his style.
Born on the Isle of Man, Manx immigrated to Ontario with his parents when he was a child. He started working with bands as a ‘roadie’ at age 15 and gradually worked his way up to becoming the regular sound man at the well-known El Mocambo (blues) club in Toronto. There he worked with a slew of blues legends. Harry admits that blues is still at the heart of much of his work. “I’ve always had one foot in the blues from those days… what I got from those artists is a groove. That’s what I’m particularly interested in is the groove, and that’s the way I play blues. I went to Europe when I was 20 and started making money as a busker,” recalls Manx. “I’ve worked mostly as a musician since then, though I did some theatre work for awhile. I was a one-man band with drums and cymbals for a time too. It was really a lot of fun.”
Manx’s time in India has imbued his music with an intangible spiritual quality. “The song reveals who you are, it’s the vehicle for your message, your inspirational ideas or your story,” explained Manx. “Like many people I’m interested in my own development as a person and that’s represented in my songs. I’m searching for truth through art and spirituality. My songs are a synthesis of everything I’ve absorbed, all my experiences and I share that. I’m glad that it means something to people.”
“Indian music moves a person inward,” he explains. “It’s traditionally used in religious ceremonies and during meditations because it puts you into this whole other place (now, here). But Western music has the ability to move you outward, into celebration and dance. There are some ragas that sound bluesy, and there are ways to bend strings while playing blues that sound Indian. I may be forcing the relationship between the two musical cultures, but I keep thinking they were made for each other. That leads me to more and more experimentation. The journey has been great so far.” Manx is a prolific artist, releasing 12 albums in a 12 year span with no signs of stopping. He has received seven Maple Blues Awards, six Juno nominations, the Canadian Folk Music Award in 2005 for Best Solo Artist and won CBC Radio’s “Great Canadian Blues Award” in 2007.
His most recent original release, “Om Suite Ohm” was voted by the Montreal daily La Presse as one of only 4 CDs to watch for in 2013. Guitar Player Magazine called it “his most fully realized work to date”. Blend Indian folk melodies with slide guitar blues, add a sprinkle of gospel and throw in some compelling grooves. It’s a recipe that goes down easy and leaves you hungry for more.