Vancouver guitarist Steve Dawson doesn't recall ever having a burning desire to start a record label -- he's been too busy between extended stays on the road with fiddler Jesse Zubot and gaining valuable studio experience.
Dawson doesn't even remember when he decided to make Black Hen Music an entity. But after a few years of operation, there's no doubt it was a good move for the artist, his friends and the national roots music scene.
"What I do remember is that my wife and myself and a lot of my musical friends were transient, always moving around," he says. "We wanted to have a mailbox number that gave us the reliability of being contacted, and the label was in part born out of that necessity."
Soon, he was booking tours for artists.
He'll be performing and showing off some of his acts -- including Edmonton native Shuyler Jansen, Cara Luft, and The Sojourners -- tonight at The ARTery, 9535 Jasper Ave. The showcase, which is part of the Western Canadian Music Awards Festival, starts at 10 p.m. (Tickets are available at the door.)
Over the years, Dawson and Black Hen artists have won an impressive number of national music awards -- including Jenny Whiteley's Hopetown (2004), which was presented with a Juno for best roots traditional album.
Since those days where Dawson began to realize that "everybody with an independent label is flying by the seat of their pants," Black Hen has cobbled together an impressive and eclectic roster -- including Jim Byrnes, Deep Dark Woods, Geoff Berner, and John Wort Hannam.
"It was a steep learning curve but I gained a lot of knowledge from associations with Pacific Music in Victoria and from Bernie Finkelstein of True North Records when he released Zubot and Dawson records," says Dawson, who has released two solo albums of his own this year, Waiting For The Lights To Come Up and Telescope.
Another Black Hen project that's creating a buzz on the roots scene is an upcoming tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks, an influential country/blues act from the 1930s.
"John Hammond, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bob Brozman, Bruce Cockburn, Ry Cooder, Madeleine Peyroux and Bill Frisell are a few of the artists who have agreed to be on the record. My wife and I listen to the Sheiks music a lot and we put one of their tunes on Jim's (Byrnes) Fresh Horses album and the idea grew from there."
The tribute album is tentatively scheduled for release before the end of 2008.
- Peter North