Led by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Donnie "Mr. Downchild" Walsh, the Downchild Blues Band is the premier blues band in Canada. Their saxophone-driven jump blues provided a major inspiration for Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi's Blues Brothers, who included Walsh's tunes, "Everything I Need (Almost)" and "Shotgun Blues," on their 1978 debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues. Formed in 1969 by Walsh and his brother, Richard "Hock" Walsh, the Downchild Blues Band endured continuous personnel turnover. More than 18 musicians came and went, including Gene Taylor, who went on to play with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Kenny Neal, who joined after leaving the employ of Buddy Guy and relocating to Toronto. Conflict between the Walsh brothers resulted in Hock Walsh being fired from the band shortly before work began on their third album in 1974. Although he returned to work with the band in 1977 and 1985, his hard living caught up with him on February 1999 when he succumbed to an apparent heart attack. Since the early '90s, Downchild Blues Band has benefited from a more-fixed lineup. Vocalist/songwriter Chuck Jackson, who joined in 1990, received a Maple Blues award as "best male vocalist of 1999" and a "Blues with a Feeling" award, from the Toronto Blues Society, for his "achievements during a distinguished career". A former member of '60s rock band, Rhinoceros, Michael Fonfara received a Maples Blues award, in 2000, as "piano/keyboards player of the year." Mike Fitzpatrick has played drums with Big Joe Turner, Sonny Rhodes, Hubert Sumlin, and Bob Margolin and has recorded with such blues artists as Snooky Pryor and B.B. Odom. Gary Kendall, who played bass on the band's earliest recordings, returned after a 12-year break, during which he booked concerts at Toronto blues club the Silver Dollar. The recipient of a Toronto Blues Society "Blues with a Feeling" award, in 1993, he received Maple Blues awards as "bass player of the year" in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002.
The signature sound of the Downchild Blues Band continues to emanate from saxophone player Pat Carey. A member of the band since 1985, Carey previously worked with the Winnepeg Symphony, the Jimmy King Golden Boy Brass, Tony Faim & the Dukes, and Richard "Hock" Wilson. In addition to providing horn arrangements for such Canadian artists as Jack DeKeyzer, Big Daddy G, Sonny Fournier, and Chuck Jackson & the All Stars, he has recorded with Rita Chiarelli, Fathead, the Unity Band, Danny Brooks, and Curley Bridges. The recipient of a Maple Blues award as "horn player of the year", in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, he recorded an album, Starlight with his group, Pat Carey's Jazz Navigators. Raised in northern Ontario, where their parents ran a resort hotel, Donnie and Richard "Hock" Wilson relocated to Toronto in their teens. Together with the Downchild Blues Band, they recorded one of the first independent albums to be released in Canada. Recorded in two nights in a small makeshift studio at Rochdale College, the album, titled Bootleg, was picked up for distribution by RCA Victor and re-released in Canada and Japan. Their second album, Straight Up, released in 1974, included the band's only hit, a reworking of Joe Turner's "Flip, Flop and Fly." ~ Craig Harris