Brooke Blackburn has spent a lifetime in music. The second son of Toronto music veteran Bobby Dean Blackburn, Brooke was surrounded by music in the home growing up because that’s where his dad’s musical friends gathered to rehearse.
“My mom and dad owned their home so we had a basement, and that was the rehearsal spot,” he said at last year’s Folk Music Ontario conference.
Whether they were local musicians or Americans avoiding the draft during the time of the Vietnam War, the Blackburn home was the place to congregate and play music.
Bobby Dean’s career started when he was 15 in the mid-50s with his group “Bobby Dean & the Gems,” playing Bo Diddley/Fats Domino/Little Richard-style rock and roll. So it’s no wonder Brooke and his brothers followed in their father’s footsteps.
Brooke started playing at venues like The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto when he was 15. When younger brother Cory turned 16, The Blackburn Brothers Band was formed with brothers Robert and Duane. They built their own recording studio and released their first album, Soul Searching, in 1996. Four more albums have followed, including their latest, SoulFunkn’Blues. Robert no longer performs in the band but still contributes as a songwriter, as does Brooke.
Throughout his long career, Brooke has played electric guitar in a wide variety of styles, from reggae to R&B to jazz and blues. He didn’t play acoustic guitar until about 10 years ago. It was a musical revelation. Right away he wrote the song, ‘Conqueror’, which is on the 2016 album, The Bentley Collective. Bentley is Brooke’s middle name.
“I never played in open keys before. It’s almost like a piano for me. It has a richness.”
Brooke keeps busy with his acoustic act, be it solo, duo, trio or quartet, at places like the Shangri-la Hotel, The Function Bar and the Poetry Jazz Cafe in Toronto. Working with his brothers means touring to the Panama Beaches Jazz and Blues Festival, Ottawa Blues Festival, White Mountain Boogie n’ Blues Festival and the International Blues Cruise. And that’s just this year! There’s also the prospect of a booking at a blues festival in Norway later on.
Brooke is well-versed in a variety of blues styles, whether from Louisiana, Chicago, Kansas City or elsewhere. So the question is, is there a Toronto-style of blues?
“It’s more of a collaboration thing,” said Brooke.
“Everything in Toronto is about multi-culturalism, so you get all these feels in your music. We’re big into jazz, so all the different kinds of blues find its way in there. It’s very international.”
Speaking of collaboration, you can also see Brooke supporting singer-songwriter Shakura S’Aida in concert and providing music for Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto.