For Big Dave Mclean, Blues Is The Meaning Of This Old Life With His New Album

Is it possible to still be underrated at age 71, and after a five-decade career in which you’ve inspired just about everybody in Canadian blues?

Big Dave McLean is about to offer an emphatic “yes” with This Old Life, an album that’s poised to finally shine the light of mass acclaim on his mighty talents as a singer, harmonicist and slinger of the National guitar—skills that, among his many other accomplishments, once led Billboard to proclaim “He’s done more to shape the Western Canadian blues scene than perhaps any other artist.”

 And now everybody gets to hear why. The new record is a 14-song collection of immediately indelible, classic blues, combining supremely authentic covers of tunes by legendary artists like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Little Walter with three new McLean originals that can stand proudly with the best the art form has to offer.

 The bar is set by leadoff track “Well, I Done Got Over It,” a rendition of the 1953 Guitar Slim nugget that shows McLean’s soulful, gravelly rumble of a voice is perfectly suited to the archetypal lament of a good man done wrong:

 On the day we first met, baby

You sure was a sweet little thing

After a while you got so bad

You know it was a cryin’ shame

Well I done I got over it

Hey I done got over it

Lord I done got over it

I done got over that lass

Check out “Well, I Done Got Over It” on YouTube here:

Versions of Waters’ “Honey Bee” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave’s Kept Clean” are among the smartly chosen, impeccably performed tributes that round out the record. Meanwhile, McLean shows his more romantic side on his own “You Mean So Much to Me,” gets wistful on “Sometimes” and spins a yarn of escalating neighborhood violence on the regretful, world-weary “Billy Canton’s Bulldog.”

In true traditionalist style, the album was recorded in just four days at The Ganaraska Recording Company in Cobourg, Ontario, on a purist’s arsenal of vintage instruments and equipment. And most of the performances are first takes, with all of the core guitar, bass and drum tracks cut live “off the floor.”

 The approach was hugely satisfying to co-producer Steve Marriner, a Juno- and Maple Blues Award-winning musician in his own right who counts himself among McLean’s biggest fans.

 “He is as genuine a bluesman as it gets, and I’ve been dying to capture Dave and present him to the rest of the world in the way I’ve always heard him: raw and real,” says Marriner, who also brought along his producing partner, Jimmy Bowskill, to help shepherd the project and join him in its core performing ensemble. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done here. I think we’ve shown Dave and the music itself the deep respect [they’re] so deserving of.”

Listen on Spotify here:

The Saskatchewan-born McLean has been earning that respect since 1969, when he received his first guitar lesson from the legendary John Hammond after a gig. After that, you couldn’t stop him: He became a regular presence on the Canadian club and festival scene, where his profuse talents and obvious love of the blues won him the support of further mentors like the aforementioned Waters, whose friendship ended up inspiring the title of McLean’s debut album, Muddy Waters for President.

 But the blues has never been a rich man’s game, and for decades thereafter, McLean had to work in construction and at other odd jobs to supplement his gigging and recording habit. His struggles were even documented in a 2015 short, “Ain’t About The Money.”

Accolades, fortunately, have been a good deal more forthcoming than heaps of cash. McLean has been nominated for three Junos and won one (for 1992’s Saturday Night Blues). He’s also received a Western Canadian Music Award, a Prairie Music Award, a Great Canadian Blues Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Blues Society. And in 2019, he was made a member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of his influence in the field of Delta and Chicago blues, and his own mentorship of younger artists like Colin James, Shaun Verrault and Luke Doucette.

 Is the mainstream finally catching up with the tastemakers? Everything about This Old Life points to a big breakthrough— ironically but rewardingly, since it makes no compromises in its warm embrace of everything that’s always been great about the music.

 With the album out and the whirlwind tour looming, McLean is feeling reflective. “I would like to send out my deepest gratitude, respect and admiration to all of the many people who have shared their incredidble talents and have helped me present my interpretation of blues over the past fifty years or so,” he says.

 And thank you, Big Dave. We promise we’ll never get over it.