"I'm lucky that I'm not in the same boat as Michael Stanley," says local blues musician Colin Dussault. "He was trying to become a pop star. I'm still sticking to the blues thing because there is always going to be an audience for the blues."
Averaging four to six gigs a week for the past decade, Colin Dussault's Blues Project is considered by many the hardest-working blues band in Cleveland. But at 29 years old, it seems about time this five-foot-eight, 300-pound big fish started exploring bigger ponds.
Using blues as his commodity, Dussault has created quite a successful business venture. While that may sound sacrilegious to some blues purists, Dussault has no problem selling out. Aside from being a formidable harmonica player, Dussault is one heck of a pitchman. "The last five or six years I have been able to support myself quite well with my music," he says. "I have been able to procure endorsements from Bud Light, Reebok, Zildjian cymbals, Yamaha drums, Gibson guitars, and GHS strings." Can a McDussault sandwich at McDonald's be far away?
Dussault's entrepreneurial instinct also crosses over into his music. On occasion, it appears to be little more than cheap publicity stuntwork. His 1994 release His Blues Project and Friends had a song that reeks to high-marketing heaven: "Howard Stern's FCC Blues." This somewhat shallow theme also continues on his new album, Movin' On, with the gimmicky--and outdated--"O.J. Simpson's DNA."
For less talented artists, this somewhat flimsy self-promotional technique could be perceived as a misguided attempt at success. While he may be guilty of trying, this is by no means the act of a desperate musician. Dussault has sold close to 7,000 CDs as well as composed a mailing list totaling nearly 5,000 names. "This business is not even so much talent as it is luck, timing, and connections," Dussault says. "With my Budweiser endorsement, all of a sudden I was opening up for Buddy Guy and all these people. And I was the same fucking band. What made me any different? All of a sudden I was good enough to open up for Buddy Guy, whereas a week prior to signing my contract, I wasn't. So it's all about power. It's all about what and who you know."
Lucky for Dussault, blues bars like Wilbert's and Fat Fish Blue--and to a lesser extent Brothers' Lounge, his atmospheric West Side stomping ground--have become trendy hangouts for the nontraditional blues fan. Aside from reaching more of a mainstream audience, Colin Dussault's Blues Project has educated the suburbs on the finer points of the musical style.
"We're in bars where there are a lot of yuppies; there's a huge cross section of people. A lot of people come up to me and say, 'You know, we never thought we'd like the blues, but you guys are cool.' Then they start delving into it. So while I'm not a pure blues band, I'm not ashamed of being able to turn people on through our interpretations of the music.
"[Cleveland blues legend] Robert Lockwood told me this: 'A lot of people have a preconception the blues is some poor black guy drinking wine, sitting in the ghetto.' He told me, 'That's bullshit.' He said, 'When we played'--he's been around forever--'we put on our best clothes and we were out to score chicks and have a good time.'"
Instead of concentrating on a certain style--Memphis, Chicago, St. Louis, Delta--Colin Dussault's Blues Project likes to meld its blues with other genres, including Latin, Cajun, and funk. "Blues music is the root of everything, and then everything else is the fruits. Willie Dixon said that and it's true. Because no matter how far you go, everything comes back full circle to that. By no means am I a blues purist, but I'm not going to beat somebody over the head with that."
Dussault isn't shy when it comes to discussing his accomplishments. "Basically, we've conquered Northeast Ohio and Cleveland as far as I'm concerned. Without blowing my own horn and sounding pompous, we're as busy as we want to be, and we work as much as we want. We're as well known as we're going to get here. The key is to transfer all this success to Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago."
With that in mind, Dussault needs to find a record label with national distribution. Recently, he sent his material to Alligator Records, one of the biggest independent blues labels. While he didn't necessarily receive the news he was looking for, Dussault is looking on the bright side. "[An Alligator executive] liked my style of harmonica playing. To be honest, he didn't particularly like my vocals. But, that's what he's known for. He's more interested in hiring black blues [musicians] and that's fine. I'm a white kid trying to play blues. When I send them my stuff, I ask them for comments: Tell me what areas I need to work on, focus on. So the next time I send you something, instead of five things wrong, you are only going to find three things. And who knows, maybe down the line it will be perfect."
While his self-assuredness may be just short of cocky, Dussault says that five years ago, he wasn't ready to play out of town. "I was just getting my legs and trying to write my own material. Why would I want to go to a city and fail miserably? At least now I know if I go to a city, I have a shot, and I'm confident I can kick some ass."
Colin Dussault's Blues Project CD release party. Wednesday, November 25, Phantasy Nite Club, 11802 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, $6.