Alan Black remembers it as “an accident” while Rick Fines recalls it as “a fluke.”
Whatever it was that brought the pair, along with Gary Peeples, to the historic Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee back in 1988 was undeniably a springboard to something very special in the form of Jackson Delta.
“We had gone there for the tour,” recalls Fines of the trio’s gathering at the Union Street landmark and their subsequent encounter with the studio’s owner. “He said there was supposed to be some people recording an album that night but they had cancelled on him. We looked at each other and then asked ‘Well, how much would that cost?'”
Just 250 copies of Delta Sunrise, the trio’s debut recording, were ultimately pressed, of which Fines still has a precious sealed copy.
“We spent 96 bucks making that record — $60 an hour for the studio, $17 for the engineer, and the rest for the cost of the tape,” marvels Fines.
“We had just enough money to put gas in the vehicle to get home,” Black adds.
Home was and remains Peterborough where, 35 years after that initial recording session saw them dig deep and count pennies, Jackson Delta returns to the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, April 8th. Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert, billed as ‘True Blue’, cost $30 ($40 for cabaret seating) and are available at markethall.org.
As much as that Memphis coming-of-age moment remains a highlight for Fines, Black, and Peeples, what followed for the trio has left them, and thousands of loyal fans, with much reason to smile.
“We didn’t think anyone was interested in what we were doing,” says Fines. “We were playing rock and roll to make money. We loved the blues but, as far as paying gigs, it was rock and roll. The acoustic thing was a little side project.”
VIDEO: “Sink or Swim” – Jackson Delta (1990)
Beginning with well-received gigs at Trent University’s Hangman Pub, that “little side project” took on a life of its own, garnering the trio wider recognition and more appearances and, in 1991, a Juno Award nomination for Best Roots and Traditional Album for Acoustic Blues, the trio’s second studio album.
Just two years later, Jackson Delta scored another Juno Award nomination for the album I Was Just Thinking That.
As one would expect, invitations to perform poured in. During the early to mid-1990s, there were very few major festivals that didn’t count Jackson Delta among the headlining acts. Those that didn’t wished that they had.
“It just kind of took off,” recalls Black of the trio’s sound and stage presence. “Maybe what people wanted to hear was something that was kind of honest. There was no sort of big plan but it was a lot of fun and people enjoyed it.”
“We did it because we loved it,” adds Fines. “We would do it in each other’s living rooms and in each other’s bedrooms. We’d just bring our instruments and gather around in a circle and play music. We just did it for fun.”
Both Black and Fines acknowledge the two Juno nominations provided a welcome boost at just the right time, with Black adding the disclaimer that, while it’s great to be nominated, “It’s kind of like winning but it really sucks.”
VIDEO: “Back Up From Zero” – Jackson Delta (1990)
Come the new millennium, as is the case with most all bands in all genres of music at all levels, the urge to individually explore other avenues proved too strong to resist and Jackson Delta called it a day.
“I was itching to be touring and playing all the time,” recalls Fines. “At that time, they (Black and Peeples) had young families. We couldn’t be on the road all the time. I needed to go and do that. I had no plan B. I didn’t have the skills the other guys had that they were making a living off of.”
Fines would go on to have an excellent solo career that continues to this day, his impressive resumé overflowing with several collaborations, his work with the touring Blues In The Schools music education program and numerous album credits, including Solar Powered Too which earned him a 2021 Juno Award nomination.
Black and Peeples, meanwhile, have stayed closer to home but have kept busy musically with a number of acts.
Having reunited in 2014 and again in 2017 — both those shows also at Market Hall, with another show planned for April 2019 cancelled because of the pandemic — Jackson Delta has seen a rebirth as of late, the upcoming show following a recent run which saw the band perform at Zimart’s Rice Lake Gallery near Bailieboro, on the cruise boat The Island Princess off Parry Sound, and as part of the 2021 drive-in concert series in the Memorial Centre parking lot.
“Playing with these guys is so much fun,” says Black. “I don’t know what’s going to happen but it’s so comfortable. Blues is a conversation. Sometimes you don’t know where it’s going to go. Musically, they sometimes throw something at me or I throw something at them but we always seem to bail each other out somehow.”
VIDEO: Jackson Delta at Showplace Performance Centre (2012)
Asked what their longtime fans can expect during this go-round, Fines can’t resist a playful reference to the longevity the band shares with them.
“Considering the state of the memory of our audience, the whole show will be brand new,” he laughs. “Just kidding. We’re going to do a lot of the things that people expect of us, and we’ll have a couple of little surprises in there for sure.”
“Collectively, we have one memory, so when we get together it just falls back into place. Some of these songs we’ve been playing for decades. People think of us as good times from the past — good times from decades ago. That’s what we want to give them.”
In the meantime, the trio continue to follow their own musical pursuits.
“I’ve been writing songs and having fun with my new little baby, a jazz guitar,” Fine says. “I’m messing around with some stuff so we’ll see where that goes.”
Black, meanwhile, continues to provide the backbeat for his Steady Band, comprised of Andy Pryde, Jim Usher, and Peeples. He’s also playing with Charlie Horse, which performs rarely heard country songs recorded by The Rolling Stones and, better still, performs a lot of the band’s hit songs “in a country manner.”
“I like to think of myself as a mentor,” says Black, adding “I like playing with young musicians. They keep me on my toes. You’re never too old to learn anything.”
AUDIO: “T.V. Mama / Bad News Blues” – Jackson Delta (live)
As for Peeples, he was not in on the chat to let us know what he’s up to, which provided an opening for Black to have some fun.
“I think he’s renovating a bathroom,” he laughs. “I don’t know, but he tells me he plays every day and I know he does. We had a rehearsal a few days ago and he’s on top of things. He plays all the time.”
When all is said and done, with all signs at this point indicating there remains plenty to say and do, the trio shares an unwavering friendship that has respect for one another firmly at its centre.
“We all came from a different place,” reflect Black. “When I met Rick, I was tired. I had been playing on the road. I was tired of peanut butter and trying to pay bills. I met Rick and he was very inspiring to play with. There was excitement playing with somebody young and new and very talented. Gary was a tradesman with a huge amount of musical talent. We all came into it very differently, but we all had a passion for the kind of music that we’re playing.”
Fines, meanwhile, says he feels to this day like “the fortunate one who got to have two mentors from a really young age.”
“Gary played guitar like I wanted to be able to play guitar,” he reflects. “I got to play right beside him and learn a whole lot. Alan brought with him a whole library of music. Then it was off we’d go, on another trip down some old blues alley that three guys from Peterborough had no business being in.”