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In between 

Canadian blues icon Ray Bonneville hits Halifax this weekend. Stephen Clare talks to him about the vital gaps in his life.

Ray Bonneville likes his space.

“There is nothing quite like being out here on the open road; the fresh air, rolling countrysides, big sky…it all feels like home to me,” he says. “And here in the Maritimes, there’s plenty of that to make me feel like I belong.”

Speaking from his hotel room in Lunenburg during a stop on the east coast tour that brings him to Bearly’s this Saturday, the veteran bluesman has made the most out of meandering, both in his personal and professional life.

“It’s been a hell of a journey and it hasn’t stopped,” he says. “I was born in Canada but moved to Boston as a teenager, where I first picked up the guitar. After that I routed out through Colorado, Alaska, Seattle, New Orleans and Paris before settling into the groove of Montreal for the last few years. And even this past summer, after tossing all my furniture out onto the street for the local kids to take, I moved out of my little downtown apartment and into a trailer on a friend’s farm just outside of the city because I needed more a little more legroom.”

Although he might be passionate about the wide-open frontiers of his native country, Bonneville, like many of his fellow Canadians, heads for warmer climes every winter.

“I have a place in Arkansas that I go to when the weather turns for the worse up here,” he says. “I have a real hard time with the cold. My fingers just don’t want to work as well.”

Those fidgety digits have done well for Bonneville, earning him various accolades and awards over the years, including a Best Blues Album Juno in 1999 for his third release, Gust of Wind.

“That was pretty special,” he admits. “And then to be nominated for the last two records”—Roll it Down and Rough Luck—“almost makes me believe that I’m doin’ it right.”

Getting it right is something that that the middle-aged musician says has taken time to accomplish.

“There have been some rough patches and some better times,” he says, reflecting on the course of his career. “Unfortunately the blues has always been something of a fringe market with a smaller, though very dedicated audience. Don’t get me wrong here; there are plenty of great players across Canada and the people involved with the blues scene are as supportive as anybody in the music industry —there just aren’t that many of us. Somehow I’ve been able to carve myself out a living doing what I love.”

And doing what he loves means growing as a player and a performer.

“I really don’t like trying to label, or pigeonhole, what I do. It’s too confining for me to box it in as just blues. Having travelled so much, I’ve picked up musical influences from here and there that have allowed me to experiment with all sorts of other styles; country, Cajun, roots, rock, folk…Maybe the wonder and joy of getting older and a little wiser is that I can now see and hear life in both the details and the bigger picture. That broader vision is filled with the little day-to-day stuff. As a result, I am no longer interested in writing, recording or performing just one type of song or having a one-dimensional sound.”

Bonneville says that he is “excited by the sonic possibilities” as he prepares to go into the studio to work on more diverse material for his next release, due out in early 2007 on the Redhouse label. Still, even with the greater opportunity afforded to the process through new technologies, he is also very much a believer in the minimalist theory that less is more.

“Miles Davis once said that music existed in the spaces between the notes. It took me a long time to understand that, but now that I have been around a while I can appreciate the wisdom of that maxim,” he says. “The best songs, maybe like the best life, have plenty of breathing space and room to move. Like Thoreau once said during his stay at Walden Pond: I like a wide margin to my days. And those gaps are vital. It’s those in-betweens that leave room for the music, and the musician, to grow.”

Ray Bonneville, November 3 at Bearly’s, 1269 Barrington, 9pm, 423-2526.

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