Some of the biggest names in the Halifax blues scene are joining forces this Sunday to help out a friend in another country.
Artists like Buck Tingley and Garrett Mason will be playing Sniggily Wiggily’s Booze & Beer Concreatery on Argyle Street as part of a benefit for the family of late blues musician Lazy Lester.
Lester’s widow, Pike Kaksonen, lost the home she and Lester shared in the Northern California wildfires earlier this month. She escaped with just her dog, passport and Lester’s instruments.
The fire that claimed Kaksonen’s home and many others began on Nov. 8 in Butte County, near where she was living in the town of Paradise. The fire has since spread to other communities, burned over 150,000 acres and has caused 83 civilian deaths. It is now considered the most devastating fire in the United States since 1918.
Tingley, a singer and guitarist, organized the Halifax event after seeing similar ones in California.
“Everybody in the blues community knows who Lazy Lester is, and he’s given so much to us through music,” says Tingley. “The least we could do is try to help out the family he left behind, in his honour.”
Lester was born Leslie Johnson in Louisiana in 1933. He achieved fame as a blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player with songs like Sugar Coated Love, I Hear You Knockin’ and I’m a Lover, Not a Fighter. A pioneer of the swamp blues subgenre, blues legend Buddy Guy once referred to Lester as one of “the old masters.” Lester died of cancer on Aug. 22 at 85 years old.
Tingley was introduced to Lester’s music at a young age by his father, and has been a fan ever since. He had the chance to play with Lester several years ago during gigs in Montreal and southern Ontario, describing him as “super sharp” and having a witty saying for everything.
Lester never played Halifax, but his influence is felt by many blues musicians working in the scene today.
“I don’t know of a band that I’ve played with — and there’s been many — that haven’t covered at least one Lazy Lester song,” says Tingley.
Mason, another blues musician, considers Lester “one of the best blues singers of all time.”
Tingley says they may not raise much money at the benefit, but it still sends an important message.
“It’s moral support for his family,” says Tingley. “Just to show that there’s still a community out there who loves Lester. Even though they’re not Lazy Lester, we’ll look after them, too.”
The benefit runs from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Sniggily Wiggily’s.
Admission is free, but Tingley says donations will be accepted and items will be auctioned off to support Kaksonen.