As a native French speaker from Canada, it’s only natural that Ray Bonneville would love New Orleans. The Juno winning singer-songwriter will bring his blues-influenced New Orleans-style groove to Fiddlers Crossing Saturday, August 26, at 7 p.m.
“Colorful” is an adjective that doesn’t even come close to describing Ray Bonneville’s eventful life story. His bio is packed with world travels that have provided him with enough observations about the human condition to fill many albums with perceptive songs about living in a rough-and-tumble world. As a touring musician, Bonneville plays more than one hundred and fifty shows a year across the United States, Canada and Europe.
Bonneville was born in Hull, Quebec, the second-oldest of nine siblings in a family that spoke solely French. When his father, a mechanical engineer, found work in Boston, Massachusetts, the family relocated to the States. Bonneville was placed in a public school without knowing a bit of English. He fell behind in school, but took to music in a big way after a friend showed him how to play guitar.
A contentious relationship with his father pushed Bonneville to try and run away from home. To keep his son home, his father bought him a guitar. When the family moved back to Canada, Bonneville was old enough to sign up for the United States Marine Corps — just in time for the Vietnam War.
Returning from the war, Bonneville worked in Boston as a taxicab driver, teaching himself to play harmonica between fares. He began freelancing with R&B and blues bands. In the 1970s, he traveled the country exploring and absorbing musical styles, playing at festivals and small clubs across the United States, and opening for headliners such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Dr. John. Along the way he learned how to fly a plane, and supplemented his income by working as a flight instructor in New Orleans and Boston as well as doing aerial-advertising banner-pulling over Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1988 he returned to Quebec to work as a bush pilot.
Bonneville’s music was heavily influenced by his time spent in New Orleans during the 1980s and later. It is often said that the sound of New Orleans is that of rhythm — the rhythms of a brassy jazz band, the mighty Mississippi River, the Delta bluesmen, and of slowness. Bonneville soaked up the prevalent take-your-time attitude that ran through the music being played in New Orleans.
“There’s something about the heat and humidity that makes people slow down,” he says. “New Orleans is where I learned to take my time, to allow space between the notes so the songs could truly groove.”
That groove is the core of Bonneville’s sound. He backs his weathered voice with a highly percussive guitar style, dramatic harmonica lines, and a foot that keeps a steady beat.
To learn more about Ray Bonneville and hear samples of his songs, go to fiddlerscrossing.com and raybonneville.com.