Long-time Toronto promoter and music aficionado Richard Flohil believes that the blues’ reputation as a simple art form is, in fact, a testament to its power.
We feature Flohil, among others, in the new Soundboard podcast, which takes a closer look at the blues: the history and evolution of the music, and its influence on the artists performing at Massey Hall over the coming months. Flohil, who has spent several decades working on and watching some of the most memorable blues concerts in recent history, has collected more than his share of stories – many of which will appear in a forthcoming book and several of them can be heard on the podcast.
The blues, he says, continues to be such an affecting form of musical storytelling because of “the way an artist writes (or interprets) what has gone before.” That performers must “do it so that the audience can really see, and hear, that it’s real – that it means something,” he says, "It is the best thing about any story telling."
The blues is known for its realness, and as the soundtrack to sadness, heartbreak and loss. But it’s also, a soundtrack that moves you. When someone says they’ve got the blues, a feeling is evoked. It’s not the only genre that expresses intense emotion but it is one whose very core identifies emotion, and tells a specific story, minute details and all—and often with an extended solo that amplifies that emotion. But the results are often uplifting and empowering. Indeed, the genre’s name belies its celebratory nature. It’s in that spirit that we look deeper into the blues’ special place in the history of the Hall.
Flohil recounts the most memorable show he ever promoted: B.B. King’s 1968 Massey Hall debut, the bluesman’s second Canadian date. “I paid [him] $2000 and tickets were $4.50, $3.50 and $2.50 - as a promoter I think I made $700” Flohil recalls. “The audience,” he says with a confident and nodding grin in a long slow stride as though watching it back in his mind, “loved it.”
Though he looks back at a career full of moments with the giants, he speaks excitedly about discovering the next generation of blues musicians. “If you have open ears and a big heart, you’ll go ‘whoa! What’s that?!” Which is just what he did the first time he saw Matt Andersen, feeling immediately that the New Brunswicker was destined for the Massey Hall stage. “It was like getting hit on the head with a rock,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh f--k, it’s gravity!’”