Talents can show up at the Smokey Smith Lounge from anywhere. Pictured is Mexico City's El Javi band

Bandmate of Roger Whittaker jamming at Smokey Smith Lounge

Local musician Brian Russell recorded with Whittaker in the 1970s, and later worked alongside him again on the road as a touring musician

At the Smokey Smith Lounge (better known as the Penticton Legion), new and returning talent will be sharing the stage every Thursday during shoulder season jam sessions.

On the Oct. 15 roster will be a guitarist who tagged along with renowned folk musician Roger Whittaker. Local musician Brian Russell recorded with Whittaker in the studio in the 1970s, and later worked alongside him again on the road as a touring musician for 13 years.

After growing up and graduating high school in Penticton, Russell, wanting to pave himself a career in music, made his way to Toronto by 1966. While working as a studio player in Toronto, Russell demonstrated his talent before producer Eric Robertson, who was a client of Whittaker’s. During one of Whittaker’s Canada tours in the late 1970s, the folk star decided to record analbum in Toronto. He consulted Robertson about needing a guitarist – and sure enough, Russell was given the endorsement.

Many years later in 1989, Whittaker’s regular guitar player had left the band.

“Because I did his recordings as the other guitar player, Eric Robertson was asked, ‘who do you know that we could call on to play guitar?’” Russell recalled. “‘Why don’t you give Brian Russell a call, he lives in Vancouver.’ I didn’t even have to audition or anything.”

Russell said he had “a nice long spell” touring the world with Whittaker until 2002

“Touring is a whole different bag of tricks,” he said. “You’re in each others face all the time, the band, Roger, doing the same routine every day which I wasn’t used to, so it took a bit of a leap to get into that rhythm of performing.”

Touring with such a big name offered lavish perks, and he felt lucky to have been part of a team that included a wardrobe assistant and a chef.

“I got a really good deal travelling with him.”

At the Oct. 15 show at the Smokey Smith Lounge, Russell said he’ll be staying away from the folk styles of Whittaker, and focusing more on different styles of blues, classic rock and instrumental pieces.

“You’ll probably never see the Roger Whittaker side of me.”

Performances run each week from 8 p.m. until midnight at 502 Martin St. Russell is expecting to take the stage around 9 p.m. on Oct. 15. There is no membership or cover charge to attend.

The house band to perform every week is the Analog Rockers, whose music rehashes the sounds of classic rock and blues.


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