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Old Blind Dogs

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Biography

In Britain and Ireland, as in America, a number of folk music bands sprung up that have combined strong elements and foundations of the traditional with a variety of influences from other cultures and styles. Steeleye Span, the Tannahill Weavers, Fairport Convention, the House Band, Wolfstone, and others all produced music that borrows as freely from reggae, African rhythms, and American folk and rock music, as from the ancient ballads and tunes of their own cultures. Among the most striking and interesting of these bands was Scotland's Old Blind Dogs, an Aberdeen-based band that toured Europe and North America extensively throughout the '90s before dissolving in 1998. The genesis of Old Blind Dogs dates to 1990, when three veterans of the Aberdeen music scene came together after having played with each other in various other bands. Guitarist and lead singer Ian F. Benzie, the elder statesman of the band, had been involved with folk music since the glory days of the late '50s and early '60s. It was the realization that many of his favorite songs by American folk icons like Joan Baez were, in fact, songs from centuries past in his own culture that steered him toward the traditional side of the music, while becoming adept at writing his own powerful material. As a singer, Benzie has been compared to fellow Scotsmen Dick Gaughan and Archie Fisher, a master of phrasing and delivery, whether of his own songs or of classics like "The Cruel Sister." Joining Benzie in the original configuration of the Dogs were fellow Aberdeen natives Jonny Hardie on fiddle and Buzzby McMillan, a jack of all trades on bass, whistles, cittern, and just about anything else with frets and strings. Though classically trained as a viola player, Hardie became enamored of the traditional fiddle tunes he heard while traveling throughout Britain. Meeting up again with McMillan after returning from music college, they began busking together on the streets and playing in a succession of bands before forming the Dogs with Benzie. By 1992, they had gained a reputation as a band adept at mixing traditional Scottish fare with more modern material, but it was the addition of percussionist Davy Cattanach in that year that gave the band a character unlike any other of their contemporary bands and allowed them to branch out in new directions. Cattanach had played drums in a number of reggae, rock, and blues bands that McMillan had also been part of. After spending five years or so in London, Cattanach returned to Aberdeen, where he met up again with McMillan. He had never played or been involved with traditional music before, but was intrigued with the sound of the band his friend was playing in, and on being told they were looking to add a percussionist, immediately went out and got a set of congas. With the addition of the exotic rhythms Cattanach brought to the band, they were able to explore new ways of expressing their distinctive blend of old and new. For the next five years, they toured and recorded to rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1997, a fifth Dog was added in the person of piper and woodwind player Fraser Fifield, whose work was welcomed by the band's die-hard fans as an added dimension to the sound. In 1998, Cattanach departed the band and was replaced by long-time Wolfstone drummer and percussionist Graeme "Mop" Youngson. Following their 1998 U.S. tour, though, the years of being on the road induced Benzie to also quit the band, and as the clock wound down on the century, Old Blind Dogs were on hiatus. The new millennium found them revitalized though, and the group has issued several new albums, including Tall Tails (2000), Fit? (2001), The Gab O Mey (2003), Old Blind Dogs Play Live (2005), and Four on the Floor (2007).

Top Songs

Formed:

1990 in Aberdeen, Scotland

Genre
Years Active:

'90s, '00s

Influencers

Contemporaries