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Downchild : Can You Hear The Music : Band members and history

The Band

Donnie Walsh

Donnie Walsh named his band from a song by blues singer, songwriter and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson; his other early heroes included Elmore James and Muddy Waters. More than 50 years later, Walsh remains one of the most enthusiastic musicians to be found anywhere — on the rare occasions when he’s not fronting a Downchild gig or fishing up north, he can be found sitting in with friends — and he has ’em in dozens of towns and cities throughout Canada and the United States.

Known as "Mr. Downchild" since he started the band, Walsh's fans still argue as to whether he's a better guitarist than he is a harp player — most figure it's a tie — but musicians everywhere give him an A+ mark on both instruments, with special praise for his slide guitar work. Younger players in the tradition cite him as one of their strongest influences. He is also the band’s main songwriter; unlike most bands in the idiom, almost all the material in Downchild’s shows is written by Walsh or singer Chuck Jackson. Off–stage in the summertime — between jazz, blues, and folk festival gigs in Canada and the US — Walsh avoids the crowds by relaxing on his fishing boat.

Chuck Jackson

Chuck Jackson is Downchild's singer; the sort of open–hearted, friendly guy who builds an instant rapport with audiences. He came to Downchild 21 years ago after a long career with a number of top Canadian bands. An award–winning singer, who rates Big Joe Turner, Otis Redding and Junior Wells as major influences, Jackson's also is an excellent songwriter, and there are plenty of his songs on many of the groups recordings. He's also a fine harmonica player, and a special highlight of the band's performances is a harp duet with Mr. Downchild.

Chuck is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the annual Tim Hortons Southside Shuffle Blues and Jazz Festival, which has become an major event on the North American festival circuit. With Downchild he has been nominated for 3 JUNO Awards. Chuck has been nominated 7 times and won the Maple Blues Award, Male Vocalist of the Year twice, in 1999 and 2007. He was also honoured in 2002 with the Toronto Blues Society’s prestigious Blues With a Feeling Award for his achievements during a distinguished career.

Now in his 21st year with Downchild and 40th year in the Canadian music industry, Chuck says "being able to play the music I love and entertain the wonderful people across Canada and around the world is certainly a dream come true and one I will continue to follow."

Chuck's Awards and Achievements

2007 Winner, Male Vocalist of the Year, Maple Blues Awards
2006 Nominated, Male Vocalist of the Year, Maple Blues Awards
2006 Mississauga Arts Awards — Laurie Pallett Patron of the Arts Award
2005 Nominated, Male Vocalist of the Year, Maple Blues Awards
2003 Nominated, Male Vocalist of theYear, Maple Blues Awards
2002 Winner, Blues With A Feeling Award, Maple Blues Awards (Lifetime Achievement)
1999 Winner, Male Vocalist of the Year, Maple Blues Awards
1997 Nominated, Male Vocalist of the Year, Maple Blues Awards

Awards with Downchild

2009 Nominated, JUNO Award in Blues category for I Need a Hat
2006 Winner, Entertainer Of The Year, Maple Blues Awards
2005 Winner, Entertainer Of The Year, Maple Blues Awards
2005 Winner, Recording Of The Year, Come On In (Downchild Music), Maple Blues Awards
2005 Winner, Electric Act Of the Year, Maple Blues Awards
2004 Nominated, JUNO Award in Blues category for Come On In
1998 Nominated, Electric Act of the Year, Maple Blues Awards
1998 Nominated, Entertainer of the Year, Maple Blues Awards
1998 Winner, Blues Group of the Year, The Jazz Report Awards
1994 Nominated, Juno Award in Blues & Gospel category for Good Times Guaranteed

Michael Fonfara

Long known as one of the busiest, most versatile, keyboard players in North America, Michael Fonfara has added immeasurably to hundreds of recording sessions in a career that began in the early days of the rock revolution, when he was a member of the '60s supergroup, Rhinoceros. Since then, he has played with artists as varied as Lou Reed and Solomon Burke, and is building a new career as a record producer for a number of up and coming bands and singers. His vital, powerful keyboard work accents Downchild's unique sound. Michael was named Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year for 2000 by the Maple Blues Awards.

Pat Carey

From northern Manitoba — just a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle — sax player Pat Carey is the most schooled of Downchild’s players, with a degree in music from the University of Manitoba. He played with The Winnipeg Symphony, Jimmy King & the Golden Boy Brass, Rocki Rolletti, and his own jazz groups before moving to Toronto in 1984, where he played with such artists as the late Richard "Hock" Walsh and the late Tony Flaim and the Dukes before joining Downchild in 1985. His horn arrangements are an integral part of many Canadian recordings by such artists as Jack DeKeyzer, Chuck Jackson and the All–Stars, Big Daddy G and Sunny Fournier.

As well as his many recordings with Downchild, Pat has also recorded with Rita Chiarelli, Fathead, Danny Brooks, Curley Bridges, Kenny Blues Boss Wayne, & Sam Myers. Pat has been recognized as Horn Player of the Year at the Maple Blues Awards in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 & 2004. In 2002, Pat recorded the CD Starlight with his own band Pat Carey's Jazz Navigators. In this same year Pat became the President of The Iridescent Music Company Inc., a company comprised of a diverse group of Canadian musicians and business people.

Gary Kendall

Gary Kendall is one of the best known bassists on Canada's blues scene adding a rock solid bottom end to the band's distinctive sound. In his first period with the band (1979–83) he worked on four albums, We Deliver, Road Fever, Blood Run Hot and But, I'm On The Guest List. Since returning in 1995 he's played on Lucky 13, Come On In, Live At The Palais Royale, I Need A Hat and Can You Hear The Music. He was honoured with the Blues With A Feeling Award in 1993 and has received the Maple Blues Award as Bassist of The Year in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2013.

Originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Gary has also been honoured by his hometown, receiving the Thunder Blues Award from the City Of Thunder Bay and the Keeping The Blues Alive Award from The Thunder Bay Blues Society in 2002. When not touring and recording with Downchild he performs with The Gary Kendall Band, releasing two solo recordings, Dusty & Pearl and Feels Real Strong plus the download singles "This Sacred Ground" and "Sumlin Around", all on his own 47 Records label.

Mike Fitzpatrick

The newest member of Downchild is drummer Mike Fitzpatrick, but he's certainly no newcomer to the blues scene. And while he's been influenced by big band drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, he's found his niche with a flock of bluesmen — he's played with Big Joe Turner, Sonny Rhodes, Hubert Sumlin and Bob Margolin, but he's just as proud of the contributions he's made with Canadian artists like the late Richard "Hock" Walsh, Jack DeKeyzer, and Morgan Davis. He's recorded with Snooky Pryor, B.B. Odom and the Gold Tops, the Livin' Blues Band and Ray Materick, among many others. His role with Downchild is special — in his own words: "One of the first blues bands I ever heard was Downchild, and they were an influence on my style as well. I'm still a fan today, so for me this is a great gig." Michael won the Maple Blues Award as Drummer of The Year in 2005.