Two of Paul’s most important musical “imprintings” came when he saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 and when he heard Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones play slide guitar on “Little Red Rooster.”
Brian played slide in Ottawa in 1965. The first time he heard Mississippi Fred McDowell on slide and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd were equally inspirational. Some of Paul’s favourite slide players are (in no particular order): Tampa Red, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Rory Gallagher, Duane Allman, Johnny Winter, Elmore James, Brian Jones and David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. Paul plays open tunings exclusively, among them: G, D, E, D modal, a D minor ‘drone’ tuning (taught to him by bluesman Guy Davis when they played together at the Ottawa Folk Festival in 1999), C and more.
Paul is entirely self-taught on slide guitar and began with the decision to take out several “how to” play slide guitar books from the local library. Most decisive of all, Paul was hooked for life after the time he ventured down Highway 401 to see and hear the explosive blues rock of ‘modern-day Robert Johnson’, Rory Gallagher in 1973 at the Colonial Tavern – with “King Biscuit Boy” (Richard Newell 1944-2003) opening up, backed by McKenna Mendelson Mainline.
After the Gallagher concerts, Paul decided to make music his life. Some thirteen years later, he would repay Rory by giving him a Supro Dualtone guitar as a thank you gift (Paul had also opened for Rory in Montreal at the 1,100 seat “Le Spectrum” in 1982).
In between, Paul had become the ‘charge’ of older brother John, a serious rocker and excellent guitar player in his own “rite”. John, the ‘Godfather’ of the Fenton musical clan (which also included bassist and youngest brother Michael) began his own career with Ottawa heavies Avalon in the mid-70’s, recording at Montreal’s Tempo Studios the same time as Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. Around 1977, after hearing an English punk music collection LP via a friend of Ted Axe’s who worked at Treble Clef (a local record store), Paul and the legendary band The Action merged the sounds of the Stones, Gallagher and Status Quo with the nitro of the mid-70’s London punk rock movement.
With controversial Ted Axe on vocals, Paul, John and Ted writing lyrics and music, Paul began his slide odyssey. At first rudimentary but terrifically emotional and exciting, his playing progressed rapidly after a freak incident. From the liner notes to Worldwide Slide:
Paul’s older brother John tells the story of the night long ago when young Paul was literally ‘woodshedding’ in a metal garage during a storm, on the shore of Green Lake. John heard wild loud slide guitar then a terrible crash like an explosion and feedback. Lightning had hit the garage, knocking Paul unconscious and the ‘untended’ guitar screamed like Hendrix’s Strat at Monterey. He’s never been the same since and John claims Paul immediately went “from good to gifted.”
The Action was recorded live and in the studio and were the darlings of the city’s lively punk-rock / hard rock scene. Leather, extreme volume, great original rock and roll guitar from John and Paul and Ted’s wild stage antics and hilarious patter drew legions of fans. John eventually drifted away to his own projects, Ted became too much to handle, going extremely “Bowie-glam” and was fired – but never replaced. The band has numerous bootlegs and two studio albums, the second remains unreleased. The first EP (1977), recorded in Montreal, was a big hit in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and New York and remains a coveted collectors item to this day. 1977-1981.
Next up came a band again featuring Paul: a bit spacier and more traditional in rock terms by the name of “Number One.” Local rocker Gordie “Uranus” Innes was in and out of the four or five piece outfit. Paul branched out, using echo, Leslie, chorus, a stereo Rickenbacker 12 string electric for the first time and some more Fenton magic was woven. Recorded extensively live, unfortunately only bootlegs and some unreleased studio recordings and demos remain of their excellent work, including a fine session at Connecticut’s Trod Nossel recording studios. 1982-83.
Paul played for a while with notorious and excellent Stones tribute band “The Blushing Brides.” Paul toured the US and Canada extensively for over a year but the muse called and he eventually returned to his first love: writing and playing original music. 1983-84. The ‘Brides later recorded Paul’s popular song “Nasty Boy” on their RCA debut.
His ‘return’ was greeted with tremendous excitement in local quarters. Fans spoke of a combination of 4/4 roots rock and roll, hard electric blues and the nasty punk energy of The Action married with the ‘prettier’ and more experimental Number One period. The Fenton Brothers Band was born. Featuring Paul, the bass and vocals of brother Michael, Andre’ “Action” Gauthier (and many others) on drums, first Fred Guignon (later Ronald Gilfillan) on guitar, they ruled the Eastern Ontario and western Quebec bar circuit, setting many beer-selling records, hence their popularity with club owners and booking agents as well as audiences.
While the Action had had a couple of high-profile openers (The Stranglers, The Diodes, a couple of others), The Fentons as they soon became known ruled as the ‘house’ band at B-circuit 1920’s vaudeville – survivor club and rock palace Barrymore’s. Opening for Mick Taylor, Jack Bruce, George Thorogood, John Mayall, Thirteen Engines, John Hiatt, Edgar Winter, John Kay and Steppenwolf, and Roy Buchanan, the group also opened The Strawbs at the Diamond in Toronto after which Rod Dennick (bass, vocals 1985-1998) said “I almost shi* my pants when I heard that slide!” Rod dragged the group off to a Queen Street club to jam with Paul. The Fentons also opened for Rory Gallagher in Montreal (Le Spectrum), Tom Cochrane in Toronto’s beautiful Diamond Club and Johnny Winter (three times, including at the prestigious National Arts Centre), during which the reclusive Texan ran from his dressing room in the midst of the Fentons’ set to watch Paul play and, tapping his cowboy boot vigorously, exclaimed “Man, this guy is a red hot slide player!” After his own set, Johnny summoned Paul to his dressing room for a rare private National guitar acoustic blues jam session witnessed by Workman John of CHEZ FM. They were also picked to open for Huey Lewis twice at 37,000-seat Lansdowne Park (Huey bumped them at the ‘rain date’ due to the threat of precipitation but graciously paid them in full anyway).
Scores of demo sessions followed, including a partial, unreleased session produced by legendary Mick Ronson at Nevessa studio in Woodstock, NY (Mick also played on one of the three songs – the session was engineered by Todd Rundgren and Utopia’s main man Chris Anderson), A&R shopping, a relocation to Toronto and 2 rock solid EPs later, the band dissolved due to industry indifference, over-exposure and Spinal Tap drummer syndrome. 1984-90.
Paul then formed “The Bleedin’ Hearts”, named after the Elmore James song and a very happy and successful period followed. Once again, fronted by a controversial and energetic singer and featuring Paul’s mastery of rhythm, slide and delicious writing, the band took off. Playing extensively in Eastern Canada, they garnered heavy local airplay and were signed to an International recording contract with the Netherlands’ ‘Continental Record Service’, a Rounder Records Europe company. They were also inked to do an eight-country European tour. Virtually the day the second CD was released however, Paul and the band broke up acrimoniously, citing the usual personal and music business conflicts. (They were to have opened for Walter Trout and his band in support of the Bleedin’ Hearts record “Seconds to Go”.) The superb CD sells to this day in Germany, England, Italy and the Netherlands. A very good ‘run’, 1992-96.
The move to singing and playing as the front man was not a change Paul took lightly. Frustrated by years of sideman duties, cover bands, pretentious lead singers, he took the bull by the horns and again ‘woodshedded’ for a year. Audiences immediately responded warmly to his move and the Paul Fenton CDs “Binson’s Blues” and “Worldwide Slide” confirmed his arrival as a critically acclaimed solo artist and the heralded “Vancouver Blue” EP CD and incendiary “Live! In Toronto” as well as the summer 2004 “Judgment Day” confirm and strengthen Paul’s status as a serious cult hero in Europe and the US with a smattering in Australia too. Look for the new CD “Judgement Day” in June 2004.
From Barcelona Spain’s “La Hora del Blues” Good composer and excellent singer and guitar player, this Canadian musician called Paul Fenton. In this CD Fenton shows himself as a bright straight powerful boogie-rock performer. With a powerful grooving flaming style, Fenton is a real “killer” on overdrived guitars. Listen carefully to “Midnight Train”, “Twister” or “Luddite Blues” and you will understand what I mean. He has got a terrific punching sound and the backing band also give their ‘warrior’ strong sound, perfect for emphasizing Fenton’s original performing. This is one of those CDs I would highly recommend without making a mistake to those of you who like electrifying vigorous guitars. GREAT.” Vicente P. Zumel
en Espanol: “Buen compositor y excelente catante-guitarrista, el canadiense Paul Fenton. Paul nos demuestra que es un brillante y poderoso exponente del boogie-rock sin reservas sofisticaciones. Vibrante, potente y explosivo Fenton un autentico “killer” de la guitar saturada. Escuchad atentamente canciones como “Midnight Train”, “Twister” o “Luddite Blues.” Su sonido es tremendamente efectivo y directo y la banda que la acompana aporta un sonido “guerrero” y musculoso muy apropriado para que los temas que Paul Fenton interpreta suonen con caracter y personelidad. Este es uno de esos discos que, sin miedo a equivocarme, puedo recomendar a los buenos aficionados al sonido de las guitarras incendiarias y provocativas. MUY BUENO.” Vicente P. Zumel
“Jaw-dropping technique, which alternates between that of a grinding chainsaw and a mellifluous violin… gruff Johnny Winter vocals (with a dash of Presley vibrato)…take a listen to his slide breaks, especially on ‘Time and ‘I’m Goin’ Upstairs’…what a team of players he has here! Peter Jermyn goes beyond ordinary distinction on the Hammond B3, notably on ‘Time’ and ‘T-Bone Walker Blues’… I have heard many different versions by Mr. Fenton of “Shake Your Money Maker” , including the version on the compilation disk, which was produced in Woodstock , N.Y., by Mick Ronson (now deceased), and “Little Red Rooster”, recorded live at the National Arts Centre in 1984, (and) they always sound better the next time around! This instance is no exception.” DD Rocker, “Rockin’ the Blues”
Excerpt from Toronto Blues Society’s “Maple Blues” magazine (Sept. 2002 issue) – Toronto Blues Society vice-president John Valenteyn writes: “Recorded live at Blues On Bellair, this Ottawa-based, frequently-visiting band got me off on the right foot with a rousing song called here “Highway 401″… I’m told that the lyrics are a true story and the connection to the city is a nice touch indeed. Mainline is also a pretty good indication of their sound…Fenton plays a mean slide guitar…with club co-owner Peter Jermyn sounding just fine on the B3. “Luddite” continues the rocking pace with literate lyrics on the human cost of innovation. “Little Red Rooster” & “Shake Your Moneymaker” keep everything grounded before original material returns with “Midnight Train” and “T-Bone Walker Blues”…”T-Bone” is a slow blues about playing “Stormy Monday” so often it’s driving him to drink!…things pick up with “‘Way Down In Georgia”… A fine version of “It Hurts Me Too” closes things out…excellent results – this live CD is more than just a souvenir of a night at the club.”
“I have given a rave review to Buddy Guy for his Sweet Tea CD. It’s for the most part R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough songs from the Fat Possum label, in the hill country of MS where the blues is closely tied to the fife and drum marching band tradition, West African traditions and long modal/modulation chang-up long electric jams. What that all means is the music there is a lot like the late sixties British blue invaders. It’s not 12-bar blues, it’s not Piedmont blues, its Holly Springs style blues. But that’s the stuff that is so much like blues rock of Cream circa 1968. You would hardly know the difference. I managed to sneak in a reference to both Jeff Beck and Paul Fenton in the same breath, but the review largely talks about Clapton, the live portion of (half of the double album for) Wheels of Fire, and the similarity of that kind of rocked up long jam blues has with what Buddy Guy is doing right now at age 65, all captured on the bold new Buddy Guy CD called Sweet Tea, named after the recording studio down there by the same name. I thought you’d enjoy the company I am placing Paul in. But I believe he earns the reference.” – George Seedorff, Big City, Blues, Detroit.