Chris and Ken Whiteley are well-known figures on the Toronto-area blues scene and the scene in Canada. Born in the U.S., they've made Toronto their home base since 1956. Blues scholars, studio owners, and impresarios, the Whiteley Brothers' knowledge of acoustic and electric blues is matched by their passion and enthusiasm for the music. They're well-versed in many styles, including jug band blues, electric urban Chicago blues, and acoustic blues à la Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
The Whiteley Brothers first gained renown in Canada in the early '70s, when they performed with Tom Evans as the Original Sloth Band. Their repertoire then included traditional folk songs, old-time jazz, and swing, country music, and gospel, but traditional blues has always been the music they've been most passionate about. They shared folk festival stages with Roosevelt Sykes, Bukka White, Sam Chatmon, Yank Rachell, Johnny Shines, and John Hammond. The brothers became friendly with the Chicago pianist Blind John Davis and toured and recorded with him frequently until Davis died in 1985. Working in his own studio, Ken Whiteley produced John Hammond's 1985 Flying Fish album, Nobody But You.
Together, the brothers have performed as sidemen on over 100 recordings, including on albums by John Hammond, Blind John Davis, Leon Redbone, Tom Paxton, Stan Rogers, Cathy Fink, and Sylvia Tyson (of Ian & Sylvia). The Whiteley Brothers have performed at over 80 folk festivals and dozens of clubs around the U.S. and Canada. They are frequently showcased on CBC Radio, and their performance at the 1993 Chicago Blues Festival was a first for any Canadian blues group.
The pair recorded and released Bluesology: A Journey Through the Blues in 1993 on the Pyramid Records label out of Toronto. The recording includes their interpretations of Perry Bradford's "Crazy Blues'' (the first blues song ever recorded), and the album introduces listeners to the songs of Willie Brown, Sonny Terry, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, and Big Joe Turner. The concept album takes listeners on a journey through the development of the music and many different styles, acoustic, and electric, are tackled. A nice touch is Ken Whiteley's original song, "We Don't Talk." If you own no other blues album by Canadian artists, this one is a keeper, because of its excellent liner notes, its empathic renderings of classic blues songs that don't stray too far from the original arrangements, and its high fidelity.
The Whiteley Brothers continue to perform at coffee houses, clubs, and festivals around Toronto and the rest of Canada, occasionally making forays into the U.S. to perform at folk and blues festivals. ~ Richard Skelly