Courtesy of the Colin Dussault Blues Project
Almost 30 years ago to the day, Colin Dussault's Blues Project
played its first-ever gig at the Ultimate Sports Bar (now Bobby O’s), a club located just down the street from Dussault’s Lakewood home. The show sold out, the kegs ran dry and Dussault had a helluva time covering tunes by bands like Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Credence Clearwater Revival.
“We made some good money at that show, and I realized that could be a way to make a living,” says Dussault, who had just turned 19 when he played that first gig. He's talking to us from the office in his Lakewood home where he handles his own booking. On the walls, he’s hung photos from local photographer George Shuba as well as various rock n’ roll memorabilia, including a framed Beatles ticket and a photo signed by Who bassist John Entwistle.
Dussault had started playing harmonica when he was in high school, and he says when he heard the Yardbirds, a British blues band that made use of the instrument, he knew that he could capably play the thing too.
“To try to emulate [harmonica players such as] Little Walter or James Cotton is really difficult, but to play like [Yardbirds singer-harmonica player] Keith Relf was possible,” says Dussault.
Since his dad was a notable bassist who played with the rock act Audi Badoo, Dussault grew up listening to lots of music. That meant he got a good dose of classic rock, but he also absorbed some more obscure music too.
“I grew up with music all around,” he says. “After my mom and dad got divorced, I would spend weekends in Westlake, and when I was 10, I found all the Elvis records that my aunt had. Then, I found my dad’s records. The collection he had was kinda cool. It wasn’t just the Monkees and the Beatles. He had Crabby Appleton, the Left Bank, a lot of Zappa, Roy Buchanan, Love, Yardbirds.”
After playing that first show in 1989, the group started recording in the early '90s. It alternated between working with two local icons — Chris Keffer at Magnetic North and Paul Hamann at Suma. Dussault says 1998’s Moving On
represented a big breakthrough for the group. With its call-and-response vocals, the snappy “Good Booty and Barbeque” remains a staple in the live set and often includes a sing along with the audience and a vigorous jam when the band performs it.
had ‘Good Booty and Barbeque’ and ‘Little Chicken Wing Girl,’ and it marked a leap forward,” says Dussault. “Despite us not being amazing talented musicians, it sounds great. They’re really good recordings. [Hamann] was that missing part that made us sound better than we were. [Suma] was an amazing studio. I always enjoyed going out there.”
Keeping the band going all these years hasn’t been easy. In 2008, Dussault had a dissection in his aorta that would eventually require surgery. He didn’t let that slow him down, however.
“It was a blizzard in April, and the gig in Akron got canceled,” he says. “I wasn’t feeling well. I had a headache. I went to the hospital and waited forever. The nurse knew me and the band and convinced me to sit around and wait to get a CAT scan. She convinced me to stay. I watched an Indians game. They did the CAT scan and all of a sudden locked me on the bed. They took me to the Cleveland Clinic and kept me for four days. They finally came in after that and said an artery popped and sealed itself up. They told me I should’ve bled to death.”
A couple of years ago, he had surgery to make sure that artery wouldn’t burst, and he timed the surgery so he’d be able to start performing by the end of May when his busy season starts.
“We went ten weeks back from May 31, and I went under the knife,” he says. “I didn’t miss too many gigs.”
Within the past year, Dussault teamed up with locally based singer-pianist Maurice Moss Stanley and Nitebridge to start a Van Morrison Tribute.
“I’ve been wanting to do a Morrison tribute forever,” says Dussault. “Maurice Stanley had Nitebridge, and I’ve sat in with them before. It’s cool because I fit in with their horn section perfectly. We’ve done [the Morrison tribute] four times at the Music Box, and it’s sold out four times. It’s a fun band. There are great musicians in that band. I do the Van Morrison songs anyway, so it was easy for me, and Music Box is a great venue.”
Dussault attributes his work ethic to the fact that he grew up moving furniture for his grandfather and dad.
“That taught me you had to work hard,” he says. “[The late local musician] Mr. Stress used to say to me, ‘You’re so hard working and tenacious, it’s a shame you got into music because you could’ve been something.’ I took that blue-collar work ethic to the bands, which is why we would do two or three gigs a day and why I can load the trailer in 20 minutes and get on the road.”
Dussault says it’s difficult to keep a five-piece band working, but when he looks at the calendar on his desk, he admits he’ll be busy this spring and summer and says he has 17 shows coming up in the next few weeks.
In the immediate future, he performs at 8 p.m. on Friday at Mario’s in North Royalton, and he’ll team up with Nitebridge to do his Van Morrison tribute at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 24, at the Music Box Supper Club. He'll then hold down a two-day stand at Mon Ami Winery in Catawba over Memorial Day Weekend and plays there on Sunday, May 26, and Monday, May 27.
Thirty years into his career, he still loves Cleveland's music scene.
“I’ve been to Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and Chicago and sat in and jammed with bands there,” he says. “I always come home with an appreciation for what we have here. People are friendlier and cooler and less cutthroat. I don’t know if I would be able to survive playing music in those other cities. They’re very competitive. Cleveland is very unique. On any given night, if you go to a jam, we’re all friends. [Local bluesmen] Michael Bay and Butch Armstrong and Allan Greene are all formidable purveyors of their craft. I haven’t run into any assholes here. There’s enough work for everybody. I never had to fight with anyone or stabbed anyone in the back or gotten stabbed in the back. I’ve been lucky.”
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