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Aussie musician says G'Day to a rockin' weekend blues festival at Vangarde Arts

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When Michael Charles was a little boy, he wanted to be a cowboy in the American Wild West or, on occasion, even fancied himself a Matt Dillon-type authority figure, doling out a bit of Dodge City vigilante justice, "Gunsmoke"-style.

Such dreams weren't very common for kids growing up in Melbourne, the capital and second-most populous city in Australia.

"You must've been born in the wrong country," Charles' mom would tease. "You're more American than you are Australian."

In the back of his mind, he knew mom was correct.

"I grew up at a time when the only place you could hear music was on the transistor radio," the now 65-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist recalled. "That was where I was exposed to Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones and Carlos Santana."


Specifically, he was attracted to the blues-ier elements of such rock and roll artists.

"You can't have rock without the blues," Charles explained. "The bands that drew me to rock were fronted by guys who were inspired by blues music."

Charles, a nine-time Grammy-elected artist, will be a part of a two-night Harvest Blues Fest at Vangarde Arts, 416 Pierce St.

Electric blues musician Terry Quiett and voodoo rocker Eddie Turner will be heating up Vangarde's "Groovy Little Room," beginning at 7 p.m. Oct. 15.  Charles and his band will be headlining the 8 p.m. Oct. 16 show.

"I can't wait to perform at Vangarde Arts," he said. "I love performing live for an audience."

Indeed, that has been Charles' life for more than half of a century.

After his dad, an amateur musician, taught him a few chords on the guitar, Charles was forming and playing in bands by the time he turned nine.

Gaining experience and exposure in bands named Black Venom and Magnum, he later embarked upon a solo career.


"In Australia, it seemed like every band knew one another and we were progressing to the next level together," Charles said. "For instance, I first saw AC/DC in a little bar where they were performing for an audience of 10. I can say the same thing about other Aussie bands like INXS and the Little River Band."

After a successful touring and recording career down under, Charles received an invitation to perform at Legends, a Chicago blues club owned by iconic blues guitarist Buddy Guy.


"Not only was I on stage at Buddy Guy's Legends, I was performing with Buddy Guy while I was still jetlagged from my flight from Australia," he said. "When Buddy points at you and says, take it away, you better perform to the best of your ability, jetlag or no jetlag."

During this trip as well as many subsequent gigs, Charles befriended and worked with such Chicago blues legends as James Cotton, Eddy Clearwater, George Baze, Jimmy Dawkins and Junior Wells.


"The Australian music community was tight-knit and, in America, it was anything but," he admitted. "I was suddenly playing with musicians whose faces were on the covers of records that I owned."

Eventually, Charles emigrated to America. He's been recording music, headlining music festivals and touring throughout Canada, Australia and the United States ever since.

He was even the subject of a critically acclaimed 2016 documentary, "All I Really Know from A to Z," which chronicled his international career.


But Charles said a more important honor came his way in 2015. That was when he was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame.

"That was huge since I wasn't originally from Chicago," he said, displaying his still-distinct Aussie accent. 'You don't sound like you're from around here,' I thought people would say."

However, Charles has lived in America longer than he lived in his native Australia.


"Do I miss Australia? Well, I certainly miss some of the foods I grew up eating," he offered with a chuckle. "Having said that, my introduction to Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza more than made up for that."

But what about the weather? Australia certainly is head and shoulders above Chicago's sometimes frigid temps, right?

"Chicago winters are cold," Charles said. "To be fair, other places are worse. Anyone who has ever played a gig in Edmonton, Canada, in February knows that Chicago isn't bad in comparison." 


Reflecting on his more than 50-year career, Charles said he became a musician.

"When I started, my biggest aim was to be the best musician I could be," he said. "That is still the case."

Plus Charles said isn't slowing down anytime soon.

"You can never predict the future but I still feel great, health-wise," he said. "If you ask me, age is simply a number and retirement is vastly overrated."

Well, there is also plenty of longevity when it comes to bluesmen.

"B.B. King was well into his 80s when he died and Buddy Guy, who is in his mid-80s, is still a bundle of energy and he performs all the time," Charles said. "I'll be performing the blues for as l am still able to play the blues."





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