Artist bio: Marshall Lawrence

June 2010 /

Not many blues artists can call themselves “the Doctor of the Blues” without a whole stretcher-full of the idiom’s winking big talk. But Marshall Lawrence can, and with only the slightest bit of irony. The award-nominated Canadian bluesman actually holds a doctorate in psychology, and he knows how to use it—just as he knows how to use his slashing guitar, stinging, lightning-fast slide, and pleading, mournful moan: Marshall’s prescription for maximum blues remedy.

“Psychology is about talking about the good times and the bad times, about dealing with it and getting it out there,” says Marshall, who recently retired after 10 years of counseling troubled teenagers to devote himself full time to playing the blues. “And that’s also what the blues are about—singing about the good and the bad. So there’s always been a parallel there for me.”

As festival, theater, and club audiences have been finding out, the best place to get a dose of Marshall’s medicine is right in front of the stage. Thanks to his jaw-dropping technique, moving delivery, and engaging persona, crowds of all walks and ages have been blown away. Of course while nothing can take the place of one of Marshall’s amazing live shows, his excellent studio albums are riveting calling cards, each one a shot of rough-edged, high-energy, Delta-style sounds with a raw twist sure to delight long-time traditionalists as well as newer, perhaps less-reverent converts.

Marshall’s newest release, Blues Intervention, is another stunning all-acoustic offering, following his 2008 Roots Music Report chart-topping The Morning After. A deep, soul-baring set of his self-described “acid blues”—a reference to the music’s alchemical mix of blues and Marshall’s background of playing everything from rock to soul, funk, bluegrass, and even punk—Blues Intervention is stacked high with one searing nugget after another: the dark, tell-it-like-it-is social commentary “Lay Down My Sorrow”; the truckin’ rip through Tommy Johnson’s “Travelin’ Blues”; the sage, slide-lashed “You’re Gonna Find the Blues”; and 10 other down-home tracks fueled only by Marshall’s voice and guitar, Sherman Doucette’s wheezing harmonica, and bassist Russell Jackson’s acoustic upright. “Marshall plays the best acoustic blues in the Great White North,” raves Jackson, who’s toured and recorded with such legends as B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Katie Webster, Kenny Neal, and Matt “Guitar” Murphy.

Born in a cabin in the woods, Marshall discovered the blues like many others of his generation did: through Jimi Hendrix. “I loved his freedom and expression,” he recalls. “When I heard him I knew I had found my direction and there was no turning back.” Marshall performed his first show in 1969 and continued playing with several other groups in the 1970s and ’80s. After studying birdsong and earning his Ph.D. in psychology he spent some time in California before returning to settle in Edmonton, Alberta. When Marshall came back to Canada he also came back to the blues, putting together an R&B outfit that eventually morphed into the electric blues-oriented Marshall Lawrence Band. Although Marshall’s taken more of a pure acoustic road since debuting with that band’s acclaimed 2003 disc Where’s the Party?, he hasn’t left an ounce of his inner electricity behind.

“For me, playing solo acoustic is the real deal,” says Marshall, who has his own signature-model guitar slide available from Rock Mountain Slide Company and has a signature-model amplifier being developed by Pascal Vinot Custom Amps. “It’s just me, my guitar, maybe a harmonica or a stand-up bass, and the audience—that’s it. So it’s my job to entertain the audience and try to give them an escape from the bad patches in life. The blues are a healing music.”

And blues lovers will definitely agree: Dispensing those same healing blues is exactly what Marshall Lawrence was put on Earth to do. The doctor will see you now…