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Blues Notes: Elevators, going up

Ethan Askey and the Elevators, Cranbrook’s Blues quartet, are setting traplines and baiting them with the Blues
Ethan Askey and the Elevators, from left: Ben Dunn, Ferdy Belland, Ethan Askey, Keith Larsen. (Brian Clarkson photo)

Ethan Askey has a lot going on, in the almost two years since the release of his debut album.

So much, in fact, that he’s turned his working life over to music full-time, as one of Canada’s premier Blues harmonica players.

Askey, who alternates between Calgary and Cranbrook (where he’s from originally), has recently toured Europe with Jimmy and the Sleepers, and will be returning there in the spring. But first, there’s the Saskatchewan Blues Festival in Saskatoon, where the Sleepers headline on Saturday night, March 2, plus on Friday, March 1, backing up Blues giant John Primer.

Plus, Askey and his new Cranbrook band the Elevators are getting set for a series of winter shows, and working on new material and songs. He’s been tapped to take part in a prestigious Hornby Island Blues camp later in the spring, along with other top Blues players from all over the country. And his debut album, “Walk When You Wanna Run,” is getting plenty of play, is continuing to get plenty of play, landing on the Roots Music Report “best of” charts for both 2022 and 2023 with some real heavyweights like Buddy Guy and Sue Foley.

All this time, Askey and his bandmates are “setting traplines,” so to speak — and baiting them with the Blues. That is to say, laying the groundwork for shows around Western Canada, and possibly the U.S. Pacific Northwest, with an audience all set to receive them.

Between all the gigs around the country and the world, the Sleepers are taking up a fair bit of his time. But Askey is now turning his attention more and more to his band the Elevators.

First up — the Winter Ale concert series at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook, Wednesday, Jan. 24, with the Elevators, the band Askey put together in 2022 with some hot Cranbrook area players.

Ethan Askey & the Elevators — Ben Dunn on drums, Keith Larsen on guitar, and Ferdy Belland on bass — could be described as an East Kootenay supergroup. All the musicians have played in prominent local and Vancouver-based combos for years. Coming together to join Askey in the Elevators, they bring with them a wealth of musical expertise, experience and intuition.

“This is really the first full year of the Elevators,” Askey said. “We’ve all been part of bands here in the past. And the fact I’ve known them all for 20-plus years is pretty cool.”

Besides the Winter Ale show on January 24, the Elevators will be playing a number of winter shows before Askey jets off back to Europe with the Sleepers. But afterwards, Askey is looking to really get things going with the Elevators, playing gigs and festivals when summer comes. The groundwork was laid — the traplines set — with a tour to the west coast and back last year.

“We called it the Scorched Earth Tour, because everything was on fire last August in B.C.,” Askey said. “We kind of ran around the flames and lived up to our commitments for those shows.

“I see it, myself, as in the process of setting up a trapline, if you will. Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan are the obvious choices. We can bridge those distances. Ontario has a good market for the Blues, but it’s a long way away. So I’m looking Stateside. It’s a bit prohibitive, with the American musicians union and the P2 visas (a visa that allows entertainers to come to the U.S. to perform for money), but I’m going to try to take a run at that.

“Because if I can set up a trapline throughout the Pacific Northwest, that’s a couple million people, I reckon, in my demographic to reach.”

Ethan Askey with international touring Blues artist L’il Jimmy Reed, October, 2023. Photo courtesy Ethan Askey)

Certainly last fall’s tour of Europe with Jimmy and Sleepers demonstrated that an international appetite for the Blues is alive and well. Following a short run of Alberta shows in October, 2023, with international touring artist L’il Jimmy Reed, Jimmy and the Sleepers headed off to Germany for a two-week tour.

The testing of the European waters was successful, to everyone’s taste, and so Jimmy and the Sleepers are heading back to Germany in the spring of 2024

In the meantime, Askey’s album released in late March, 2022, “Walk When You Wanna Run,” has since made several Roots music best-of lists, and has stayed in the top 50 of the Canadian Blues and Roots charts.

As a band leader with the Elevators, that kind of feedback is helping inspire Askey to write new material with the Elevators.

“We’ve got a few new songs — we’ll be playing one or two of them January 24 at the Key City. We’re touring them, getting to know them a bit, and then we’re hoping to record a couple of them in March, towards a new album.”

“So now I have the luxury of letting some songs breathe a little bit, and playing them with this great band.

“I’m kind of interested to see, for the next album, what comes out of my brain, through the filter of this band, how it will express itself.”

“With the Elevators. I don’t have any doubts we’ll have the same level of musicianship, but the beauty is now we have a chance to try the songs, at different tempos, with different feels, to see what works or doesn’t work with an audience.”

Ethan Askey and the Elevators play the Fisher Peak Performing Artists Society and Key City Theatre’s inaugural Winter Ale concert on Wednesday, Jan. 24.

Ethan Askey’s album, “Walk When You Wanna Run,” can be found streaming everywhere and is available for purchase through his website:

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998.
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