Banjo baron breaks the rules

Ryan McNally sounds like a black man. Sure, sitting right in front of you, squinting into the sun clad in a tweed blazer and hat, there's no mistaking he's a skinny, white guy. But he sounds black.

Ryan McNally sounds like a black man.

Sure, sitting right in front of you, squinting into the sun clad in a tweed blazer and hat, there’s no mistaking he’s a skinny, white guy.

But he sounds black.

In that, he’s a lot like greats Van Morrison and Buddy Holly.

In fact, Holly was the first white guy to play Harlem’s Apollo Theater, laughs McNally, noting the booking agent thought Holly and the Crickets were black.

Similarly, punch play on McNally’s newest album, Down Home, and your surprise at learning the swampy, southern swoon weaving around the frantic banjo picking and crying harmonica is coming from a Canadian boy can be forgiven.

In fact, McNally’s first visit to Louisiana and Tennessee didn’t happen until this past year.

However unusual, he’s comfortable with his decisions.

“Every once and a while, I feel like I should have gone to college or something, or back to school,” he said. “Or I should really get out of here. Or I should really do this, or that. But then, all of a sudden I feel like, ‘Wow, I am learning so much, or doing so much.’

“I’m doing what I want to do. And I have all kinds of debt to pay … but I’m not studying something that somebody tells me I should be. I just got my own plans.”

And this past year, those plans included a cross-Canada tour, followed by a dip down into the southern United States where the blues, rockabilly, folk, jazz and ramblin’ rock sounds that McNally plays originate.

“We went through Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and all through Texas,” he said, drawing his finger down and across the air in front of him. “I didn’t get to stay exactly as long as I wanted to, but now I know where I want to go back to. If I could go right now, I would.

“You go to all kinds of cities and there’s all kinds of people doing really cool things and it’s pretty inspiring, but in New Orleans it’s just like everybody. And I wasn’t even there long enough to really describe it well enough, but I just felt like down every street I’m just meeting and seeing these people play and they’re just the best people that I’ve ever seen play.”

The kind of music McNally loves to make does not necessarily shoehorn into a specific genre.

On his newest album, for example, one song can definitely be considered a straight and classic blues tune. But the next is a little folky, with some Dixieland jazz mixed in. Another sounds like R&B and, for the first time ever, there is one song on this album that could even fit into the realm of pop.

“Now that I’m learning so much, they’re all the same to me now,” he said. “It’s all kinda based on the same kinda thing.”

But overall, most music labelers would probably stick McNally in the broad “old time” category.

His music doesn’t sound like it was made this year, or last. It doesn’t need a whole lot of electronics or computer manipulation and it wouldn’t necessarily accommodate several backup dancers and costume changes.

He’s McNally, a Canadian guy who sounds a lot like musicians twice his age – or even those who have passed on.

And it was street after street of buskers, jazz bars and juke joints in places like New Orleans that affirmed his path.

“It’s still going on,” he said. “Just because it’s an old way of doing things doesn’t mean it’s still not pretty current. It just solidifies what I’ve been trying to do. It’s there. It’s not just some old thing that might be dying or something. It’s still as new as it ever was.

“Ultimately, I’m just trying to make good music.

“And people like it or people don’t. I’m just trying to keep doing something that I’m really going to really like.”

There is a CD release concert and party for Down Home at the Yukon Arts Centre from 8 to 11 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $20.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read