Those Among Us...Colin Dussault... Lakewood's Blues Legend- "One Of The Best Blues Harmonica Players Around"

Colin Dussault, by his band trailer. Photo by Gary Rice

"The Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits" (Colin Dussault, quoting blues master William James "Willie" Dixon)

I don't care much for platitudes or superlatives. I've been around way too long to pull the wool over anyone's eyes or, for that matter, to have said "wool" pulled over my own. Still, this is my column, and since columns are, of course, opinion pieces, I'll state it again for the record, just in case any of you missed the point here.

Colin Dussault is one of the best "Blues" harmonica players around, at least in my considered opinion, and, as some of you are well aware, when it comes to music, I've been around the "Blues" block more than a few times m'self, thank you, so I should know. Thanks to my family, my work with the Rock Hall, and playing more musical engagements with more people than I can remember, in road houses from here to Florida...yeah, I should indeed know who's good at the real "Blues" musical game, and who's just blowing smoke.

Colin's not just good at his game though, he really and truly smokes right up there at the top of that game. Period. From one bluesman talking about another one, I'm telling you, that's just the way it is. My dad, Robert Rice, would agree, and he too should know. After all, he once taught young Colin in school as a student at Harding!

The "Blues," of all the contemporary musical styles, is perhaps the most deceptive and difficult to master. Although the origins of the "Blues" are lost to time, one of the first descriptions of this music comes from black bandleader W.C. Handy, who once reportedly observed an early 1900's guitar player at a railroad station playing a mournful tune called "Goin' Where the Southern Cross the Dog" while using a pocket knife to slide across the strings. Handy himself later recorded some of the earliest known blues records, including "St. Louis Blues."

Structurally, the "Blues" in its basic form consists of just three chords and the use of a pentatonic major or minor scale. (That's five notes out of the twelve tones of our Western scale.) In one form or another, the pentatonic scale is an ancient group of notes going back to Africa, Asia, and even showing up in our Native American flutes. Christian Europeans tended to look down their noses at this scale, except perhaps at the time of year called Advent or Lent. (Think about the hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" and you've got it.) Future hymn writer John Newton supposedly heard that sad-sounding scale coming from a hold of a slave ship bound for the New World and wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace."

Those five pentatonic notes made their way to the slave cabins on the Carolina/Georgia Sea Islands and gave us "Kumbaya" before traveling across the high Piedmont Country of the Deep South, down to the Mississippi Delta and on up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, where native Alabamian Handy decided to record what had, up to that point, wafted on the air around the road houses and sharecroppers' cabins.
The "Blues" kept traveling up the Mississippi, and by rail to Chicago, Cleveland, and other big cities, and became electrified and amplified. Slave drums were exchanged for drum sets and the "Blues" got rhythm.

From "Rhythm and Blues" came "Rock and Roll," but that's another long, sad story. Originally a tradition of the black community, the "Blues" soon attracted young white musicians like Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, Michael Bloomfield and yeah, for the purpose of this column at least, young Lakewoodites Gary Rice and, a few years later, Colin Dussault, both of whom wanted to play with more meaning than was evident with some of the relatively shallow commercial pop music tunes.

Although there were plenty of "Blues" women (the great Bessie Smith, for one, comes to mind), the term "Bluesman" came into vogue to describe male practitioners of the art of mastering those three chords and five notes: a seemingly simple and yet infinitely complex and deceptively sublime mixing of ethereal tones sounding out during a moonless night. Indeed, legends emerged that one needed to meet a certain being in the dead of night at a crossroads and sign a blood-drenched contract in order to play the "Blues." Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" song, recorded by Cream and Eric Clapton, tells about as much. If "Gospel" music pointed you towards Heaven, it was sometimes said that the "Blues" had other ideas.

Theology aside, the "Blues" was indeed exciting, driving music that was not for the faint-of-heart. Musicians met to play the "Blues" in juke joints and once there, lined up like gunslingers, ready to cut each other down. If you were not REALLY good at your game, you had no place being on a "Blues" stage. Even today, there are places around town hosting "cattle calls" of young wanna-be "Blues-players" ready to be led to the slaughter on the altar of the "Blues."

But for a few? A chosen few? Stardom and much more.

As a member of the family's "Dussault Moving and Storage Inc." business (started by Colin's grandfather in 1961), Colin often recalls the "smell of moving blankets and diesel fumes," and that was a powerful motivation to seek out the musical profession as an alternative to loading and unloading those big moving vans. Colin's dad Artie had played bass professionally here in Cleveland for many years. One day, young Colin got up at a wedding and surprised everyone with his prowess on the "harp" (as the harmonica is called in blues jargon). After that, there was no stopping him. Like many Cleveland-area professional musicians, Colin learned to play a wide variety of music to suit the crowd, but it was with the "Blues" that his harmonica really took wing. Colin played just about everywhere, and with just about everyone around here who's been seriously into the "Blues." He's even played with Dan Ackroyd, of "Blues Brothers" fame. His band, "Colin Dussault's Blues Project," continues to crank out CD after CD and continues to pack them in at local venues like Around the Corner, Screaming Rooster, Brothers, The Boneyard, and the Savannah Bar and Grille, as well as down at the Rock Hall, the House of Blues, and many other places in and out of town as well. Colin also has a new band called "Colin Dussault's Acoustic Side Project, featuring Jim Tigue & Eroc (Eric) Sosinski" (two other local well-known music legends), and there's a new CD out with that group as well.

A man of sublime musical and artistic talent, Colin continues to be a proud Lakewoodite, contributing immensely to the pulse of this city. To get in touch with Colin, or to order his music, just go to his website at  http://www.colindussault.com/ or you can reach him by e-mail at colindussault@excite.com.

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Volume 6, Issue 24, Posted 9:02 AM, 12.01.2010