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courtesy Bill Steber Photography

'The old songs are the best songs'

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Blind Boy Paxton is a musician of a different era. Paxton plays old-style blues, folk and jazz music highly influenced by traditional southern United States blues. He plays old songs from “the folks” as he describes it, stressing the role of tradition and storytelling in his choice of songs.

Despite his southern charms, Paxton grew up in a Creole neighbourhood in Watts, south-central Los Angeles. His family moved to L.A. from the southern states with most coming from Louisiana. Paxton says they brought Creole music with them.

“When I say Creole music, that means anything Creoles listen to,” Paxton says. “That means country or religious [music], jazz and blues. All the old stuff, the good stuff.”

Paxton is insistent in his love and defence for traditional folk music. When asked why he plays traditional songs, he says “because they are the only ones worth playing.”

His music has the grit and feel of blues musicians from the 1930s. On stage, it's just him and one of the many instruments that he plays — usually a banjo — singing old songs taught to him by his family. Paxton is deliberate in this approach, saying many musicians try to write their own songs too early.

“The old songs, the folks songs, are the best ones, so why would you want to play anything else?” Paxton says. “Somebody learns two or three chords on the guitar then think they should be writing songs. You can't put a Band-Aid on and call yourself a doctor and you can't pour cereal into a bowl and call yourself a chef.”

This is both the first year Paxton has toured professionally and the first time he has come to Canada, making his first stop earlier this month in Courtney, British Columbia for the Vancouver Island Music Festival. He talks about his new love for the island because it's “closer to heaven,” and about his time spent exploring the forest and the secret charms Canada has brought him.

“Y'all doing pretty good up here,” Paxton says. “To be this good y'all stay pretty low-key. If I had this much good stuff I'd be flaunting it.”

Paxton seems to be everywhere at the festival. Along with playing several stage shows, he has been putting on intimate, folk-music workshops by the river and has watched other artists play.

When asked why people should come see him play, Paxton was blunt in his answer.

“You should come because I play the old songs and the old songs are the best songs. Everyone knows that,” he said. “There's a reason everyone sings songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ — because they're good.”

He'll be playing three shows on Sunday: Stage 6 at 11:30 a.m., Stage 3 at 12:50 p.m. and Stage 2 at 3:20 p.m.

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