A few days before flying to Whitehorse, Matt Minglewood will be in Toronto accepting a Maple Blues Award for lifetime achievement as a bluesman.
The eclectic Cape Breton singer-songwriter could just as easily be picking up honours for his work in such genres as country, rock, roots, or folk music.
“I’ve never been one to be pigeon-holed and not explore a kind of music just because it’s not expected of me,” Minglewood says. “I play music for music’s sake, I don’t play it for fame and fortune. I do what I want to do.”
When What’s Up Yukon caught up with him recently, Minglewood was in the crawlspace of his 110-year-old home in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, doing electrical upgrades.
After a dozen albums (three of which went gold), plus an honourary doctorate and a lifetime on the road that has included performing for the United Nations in Afghanistan and the “Legends of the NHL” across Canada, Minglewood has scaled down his touring schedule.
“I don’t do the big, long three-month tours any more, on the bus all day going from one end of the country to the other,” he says. “I’ll do one-offs like this western trip, which is three weeks. I don’t mind that at all.”
Minglewood’s performing career began at the age of four, when he sang two Gaelic songs his grandfather had taught him.
“I had no idea what I was saying. He taught me how to sing them phonetically.”
Nearly 61 years later, Minglewood still doesn’t speak his ancestral language — “just the curse words,” he admits.
“My mother and grandmother spoke Gaelic whenever they didn’t want the kids to know what they were saying,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Surrounded by noted Celtic musicians such as Buddy McMaster, Minglewood took up the fiddle at the age of six. He later moved on to piano before adopting the guitar in Grade 9.
Many of his early influences came from country singers he heard on radio, such as Marty Robbins.
“Living in Cape Breton, we got a lot of New York stations that would come in at night clear as a bell, so we got a lot of rhythm and blues and stuff like that.”
Seeing Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show introduced Minglewood to a musical style that would have a particular resonance for him.
“And that led me to guys like Chuck Berry, and led me to the blues. You’re influenced by everything you hear.”
The four-piece Matt Minglewood Band — including Moon McInnis (drums/vocals), Grant Leslie (bass/vocals) and Colton Craft (keyboard/vocals) — will appear Feb. 1 and 2 at the Jarvis Street Saloon in Whitehorse.
Later, the quartet will play three nights in Fort McMurray, the adopted home of many expatriate Maritimers.
Minglewood vividly recalls his first tempestuous stint in the Alberta oil town shortly after RCA Records released his hit album, Movin’, in 1980.
“I don’t think they were ready for a Maritimers’ party. They were dancing on the tables. Some tables got broken; it was a wild scene,” he says.
The second night of a scheduled two-night gig was abruptly cancelled.
“The next morning, the Mounties woke us up and escorted us out of town, right to the town limits. We didn’t play there again for quite a few years, but I’ve gone back many times since,” Minglewood laughs.