Ken Whiteley

Ken (Kenneth David) Whiteley. Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, record producer, b Bellefonte, Penn, of Canadian parents, 30 Apr 1951. Taken to Toronto at 5, Ken Whiteley began playing guitar at 12 under the influence of folk, blues and jug band music.

Whiteley, Ken

Ken (Kenneth David) Whiteley. Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, record producer, b Bellefonte, Penn, of Canadian parents, 30 Apr 1951. Taken to Toronto at 5, Ken Whiteley began playing guitar at 12 under the influence of folk, blues and jug band music. In 1965, with his older brother Chris (guitarist, singer, harmonica player, trumpeter, b Manhattan, Kansas, 1948), and Tom Evans (clarinet, vocals), he formed what came to be known as the Original Sloth Band. The trio, which supplemented Whiteley's earlier interests with traditional jazz, made three albums 1973-8 (Whoopee After Midnight, Sloth SL-1/Woodshed WS-003/Troubadour TR-005; Hustlin' and Bustlin', Woodshed WS-005; Original Sloth Band 1978, Troubadour TR-006) and appeared at folk festivals (eg, Mariposa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Chicago, and Philadelphia), coffeehouses, and bars before reducing its activities in 1980. Whiteley also recorded and toured with Raffi in this period and served Mariposa as artistic director for its 1978 summer festival and its 1980 fall festival.

The Whiteleys, who began performing in Toronto schools in 1972, formed the Junior Jug Band in 1981. Augmented later by Chris's children Jenny and Daniel, the band performed in Canada and the northeastern USA in concert, at children's festivals (eg, Winnipeg, Toronto, Vancouver), and in schools and libraries. It made three albums 1981-9: Junior Jug Band (Troubadour TR-0018), Lots More Junior Jug Band (Kids' KRL-1018) and Songs to Sing (The Children's Group SAN-1011).

Recordings; Producing

Concurrently Ken Whiteley has pursued a solo career in a variety of idioms, from R&B (accompanied by his Paradise Revue) to acoustic blues and folk. His first LP, Up Above My Head (1978, Boot BRP-2106 with the Sloth Band and the Honolulu Heartbreakers) was in a variety of gospel styles. Three albums followed 1982-7 for his own Pyramid label: the Paradise Revue's Stand the Storm (P-001), a second R&B effort, Here I Am (PC-003, cassette), and the acoustic LP Bright Side (P-004).

Ken Whiteley's encyclopedic knowledge of traditional blues and folk ("roots") styles, displayed with an entertaining blend of enthusiasm and respect on more than 20 instruments (guitar, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, jug, bass, piano, organ, accordion, percussion instruments, etc), has made him a valued musician both at festival workshops and in recording studios. He has produced (and played on) more than 45 albums, including many by children's performers (most notably Raffi and Fred Penner, as well as Sandy Byer, Kim and Jerry Brodey, Nancy Cassidy, Cathy Fink, and Tom Paxton) and others by blues musicians (John Hammond Jr., Paul James), folk singers (Paxton, Rodney Brown, Linda Morrison, David Parry, Eileen McGann), and country artists (Chris Whiteley and Caitlin Hanford, whose Lovin' in Advance, Troubadour TR-0019, was issued in 1981). Ken Whiteley also produced the album Where Old Friends Meet (1986-90, Pyramid P-006), on which he shared co-billing with Mose Scarlett and Jackie Washington. Whiteley has produced 11 Canadian gold- or platinum-selling albums, including two Juno award-winners. He appeared on at least another 35 recordings into the 2000s, including albums by Willie P. Bennett, David Essig, Leon Redbone (with whom he performed on Saturday Night Live), Stan Rogers, Sharon, Lois & Bram, Sneezy Waters, and others. In addition to more work with Scarlett, Washington, and others, further collaborations have included work with his brother Chris as the Whiteley Brothers, whose 1993 album Bluesology won the Jazz Report blues album of the year award. He has also performed with Pete Seeger, Blind John Davis, Lonnie Johnson, Guy Davis, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, and with his son, Ben Whiteley. Other Whiteley releases in the 2000s have included 2004's Gospel Music Makes Me Feel Alright!

Awards

Ken Whiteley won a 2004 Genie Award for best original song for "Tell Me" (from the 2003 film Falling Angels), and best children's album at the 2006 Canadian Folk Music Awards for 2005's Join the Band, which was also nominated for a 2006 Juno award. The Ontario Council of Folk Festivals awarded Ken Whiteley its 2005 Estelle Klein award, and in 2008 the Mariposa Folk Festival inducted him into its hall of fame.


Further Reading

  • Harting, Lynn. "Ken Whiteley's Roots Revue," Guitar Canada, vol 2, Winter 1987-8