by Jane Ledwell
Charlottetown has got the blues on Saturday afternoons. It has for a while and is likely to continue, as long as the “Got Blues” collective of blues musicians keeps hosting winter Saturday afternoon jams with special guests at The Globe on Victoria Row (and at The Factory while The Globe is under renos). If you can say there’s a “blues scene” on PEI, musician Chris Roumbanis of the Blueprints band and Got Blues is a key figure behind it. “There were other artists,” Chris says, “but we were the ones that kept at it and created an environment for the many bands and jams that exist now.” Now, he says, “It’s become a community almost. Musicians feel [the Saturday jam] is a place they can come and let loose. There’s a camaraderie of fans and patrons who come out every week… And there’s something about electric blues that gets the toes going and makes the heart happy.”
In his ECMA-nominated band The Blueprints, Chris says, “we played literally all the time. We didn’t miss more than two weeks in ten years, from 1998 on.” The band played “Tuesday nights at Hunter’s, Sundays at Fishbones, and every place we could get a gig.” For Chris, with a job as a letter-carrier for Canada Post and a second job selling real estate, seven in the morning came early after late-night gigs, especially when his children were small.
Finally, he says, “I spoke to Steve Barber at The Globe and said ‘Do you want to do a Saturday afternoon blues jam?’ He said, ‘No, it won’t work.’” Chris worked on “wearing him down,” he laughs, and Barber agreed to try it out. These years later, The Globe has still got blues, and, Chris says, “Steve Barber from Hunter’s/Factory/Globe has been my biggest supporter.”
Now that Chris is a grandparent of seven kids, sixteen and under, he still likes that Saturday slot. “It’s daytime. It’s civilized,” he smiles. And playing with Got Blues, he says, “It’s like second nature, we play so much. It’s more of a blues conversation.”
Chris grew up in a musical family in North Bay and moved to PEI with his wife from British Columbia in 1980. He played in rock bands and played country and bluegrass, but it was the blues that he says “rings right to me.” In the late 1990s, he was in a band with friends, and when they brought in a country tune to learn—“Dust on the Bottleneck” Chris remembers it was—“I just said I can’t do it. I gave my notice,” he says.
And he gave himself over to the blues, with the Blueprints, a band that has lasted through personnel changes and side projects, but according to Chris, “We haven’t disbanded, but we don’t play much.” He hopes for a reunion of all the musicians who’ve been members and perhaps another recording, but, he admits, “I don’t see myself and the boys hopping in a van and touring Canada.” Meanwhile, Got Blues has moved beyond being a Saturday afternoon gig band and released an album, “Vol. 1” in 2013 with plans for another soon.
There’s an old saying Chris quotes, that “if you want to make a million dollars playing blues, you’ve gotta start with two million.” Chris is not in it for the money, though: “The way I see the blues, there are many, many songs with the same structure, but there’s a whole conversations between musicians happening in the moment,” he says. “It’s a soul thing that happens, and you can’t make it happen another way. Magic happens.”
The blues is part of the East Coast music tradition for good, Chris says. “It’s the same tradition as traditional music, like Celtic stuff (that I’m not a big fan of)—but it’s the same thing. People just have a different wavelength, or a different way of getting there. Blues is more of that same tradition of people sitting around sharing songs,” he says. “It’s like you’re all going to different churches, but you all end up in the same place.”