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Garret T. Willie Was Born To Play The Blues

Raised by the greats, the young rocker delivers an avalanche of emotion on his debut album, Same Pain.

by Brad Simm

Blues guitarist and soul singer Garret T. Willie oscillates between light and darkness. He plays a tough, raw style of guitar, a direct descendant and superb cross-section that draws from AC/DC, George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan. And while he often sings with the seductive growl and moan of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, there’s a sweetness in his voice that’s undeniably gospel-tinged, landing somewhere between Otis and Elvis. That’s a whole lotta homage to bear, and Garret T. Willie carries it well. 

 

Raised in the remote wilds of BC’s West Coast, Willie bounced between Alert Bay, Campbell River and Kingcome Inlet, some 300 kilometres north of Vancouver. At a young age, he came across a live AC/DC recording, which set the ball in motion. 

“I saw a concert video with Angus (Young) running around the stage and Brian Johnson singing harder than I’ve ever heard anyone sing. Just how they performed and how the audience reacted, a sea of people that you couldn’t even see where it ended,” he says. “I imagined what it must have sounded like. The roar of the audience and how happy, how much fun they seemed to be having. All the energy getting pushed out and the rush people got. I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.” 

Inspired by Angus, he built himself a starter guitar out of cardboard. Soon after, his dad bought him a budget Fender Stratocaster, where he cut loose on Stevie Ray riffs. But Angus remained his hero, and his dad, who was “doing well as a logger,” fuelled Willie’s dreams by giving him an upgrade to a guitar just like the one carried by AC/DC’s master showman. 

Next in line was Willie’s discovery of the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards’ love and honour for blues legends Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson. Willie sought out those artists, gave them a hard listen and “dove in deep.”

Teaming up with Parker Bossley  (Fur Trade, Gay Nineties, Hot Hot Heat) out of Vancouver, the two set out to write Willie’s recording debut, Same Pain. As they roam through hard rockers, blues shuffles, blistering barroom boogies, and heartache ballads, what strikes you immediately about Garret T. Willie’s intense delivery is the landslide of emotive power that reaches far beyond what you might expect from someone who’s just in his early 20s. His virtuosity as a guitarist and his searing vocal force reveals tremendous depth and a vintage quality that’s one scotch, one bourbon, one beer times 10—mighty, mighty, hard driving blues that Willie says comes from living through a bad patch. 

“The thing about this album is that it’s kind of like a time capsule, because everything we wrote about happened in a period of about six months,” he says. “At that time, I was living pretty rough. I was in addictions still, doing a lot of cocaine, traveling here and there and going wherever the wind blew me, pretty much. Going back to my ex and splitting up, then going back to her again. We all do that at one point in our life.”

A fierce conviction comes flowing through on Same Pain. Willie squeezes out every note, his vocals overflowing with emotion. Yet, surprisingly, he says there were many times he lost confidence and wanted to put down the guitar altogether—only to pick it back up and keep doing it again and again. He readily admits to his obsession and being “real hungry,” and if you watch some of his YouTube clips, it becomes clear that Garret T. Willie exorcises his demons with electric guitars.

“I guess that’s the only way, you know. When things get tough, when they’re hard, I figure I gotta play harder.”