Bob Blair

BOB BLAIR

I grew up in Lethbridge Alberta, and currently make my home in Edmonton. In the eighteen or so years in between those two towns I divided my time mostly between Toronto and Vancouver. I make a living in the labour law business, and moved back here to become Chair of Alberta’s Labour Relations Board. But music has been an abiding passion for me, and of all my achievememnts, the one I am proudest of is achieving a level of proficiency on pedal steel.

It must have been Buddy Cage, Sneeky Pete Kleinow and Gerry Garcia, at the “Festival Express” in Calgary, 1970, who really woke me up to Pedal Steel. I do know that after that weekend, I was sold on the sound. I was a guitar player and singer in various justly forgotten bands in the Lethbridge area, and I was desperate to have a steel in the band. I remember watching Stan Stewart for hours trying to figure out how his steel worked. In ’75 or ’76 I ordered an MSA “Sidekick”, sight unseen. My current steel is an EMCI, and I still use the Webb I bought from Al Brisco in the late ’70’s, by which time I was in Kingston, Ontario.

I don’t think there is a steel player around who wasn’t influenced by people like Lloyd Green, Buddy Emmons and Hal Rugg. If I were to name a couple of my biggest influences, though, I would say Pete Drake and Weldon Myrick.

In Kingston, I fell in with some local musicians, and earned some extra bucks while going to law school playing giutar, singing and, increasingly, playing steel (I had a Sho-Bud by then). The late Tom Keates taught me a lot. Bruce Hamilton was another local player who gave me some good tips. Don Cochrane and Sweet Clover gave me some early exposure, and pretty soon I felt pretty comfortable on stage.

Later, In Toronto, Al Brisco gave me some lessons which took me to a new level. I played with a popular bar band called Bad Reputation, and with Joe Sloan and the Stone River Band. Bad Reputation left me with permanent minor hearing loss, and Joe Sloan introduced me to what I still believe are some of the nastiest bars in Canada. I also played with my brother’s Ottawa-based “Great Divide” as time and geography permitted, and filled in for various Toronto bar bands.

In the ‘eighties I spent a few years in Vancouver, where other than a few jingles and a party band, I never found time to crack the bar circuit. Later on, back in Toronto, I fell back into the bar circuit for awhile, but by then I had professional and family obligations which proved incompatible with six or seven nights a week in a bar. In terms of life in Edmonton, that is more true than ever. These days, I spend a lot of time with my many guitars and some talented musician friends, but have so far resisted the ever-present temptation to jump onto the circuit, where experience has taught me that there is always room for another steel player.