Neilsen brings high-energy blues to Metro

The road to redemption isn’t always easy or without its roadblocks.

Fredericton blues rock band Ross Neilsen and the Sufferin’ Bastards learned this first-hand when it came to the making of their most recent record Redemption. Released last spring, the record shows the group to arguably be one of the province’s best blues acts with Neilsen’s scorching guitar leading the way. But getting Redemption from conception to finished product was a journey all its own.

Ross Neilsen and the Sufferin’ Bastards will be descending upon Plan B on St. George Street in Moncton tomorrow night for a show. Show time is set for 10 p.m.

Leading up to the making of their newest album, Neilsen had secured the production work of legendary blues man Jim Dickinson. Plans were set into motion for the band to head down to Dickinson’s studio in Tennessee however fate would intervene before the band would even leave Canada.

Dickinson passed away in August 2009, throwing Neilsen’s and his band’s plans up in the air for what could have been an indefinite period. Not long after Dickinson’s untimely passing though, Neilsen received an e-mail from the bluesman’s wife who said that her son Cody (himself a member of the acclaimed band North Mississippi All Stars) had heard their material and felt that he could capably step into the producer role suddenly vacated by his father’s passing.

“At the time, we were convinced that Jim was the guy to work with at that point in our careers,” Neilsen says from an Ontario tour stop. “We were super stoked knowing that we were going to work with him and then when he passed, we felt incredibly bad for the family and what they must have been going through. But then to have Jim’s wife and Cody reach out to us to help us make the record was just incredible in itself.”

Neilsen says that the process of making Redemption with Cody was a great experience, calling the band’s producer “very encouraging” and focused on making the band’s session as positive as it could be.

“We brought Cody songs that we had been working on the road for more than a year and even though we felt they were pretty fine-tuned, he was still able to offer a few good tips and ideas to help strengthen the songs,” Neilsen says.

With three cross-country tours in the past year under their belts, Neilsen is actually hoping the band will have the opportunity to reach the Pacific Coast twice this coming year. So is it safe to assume that Neilsen and the Bastards are well accustomed to life on the road?

“We’re not tired of road life yet,” Neilsen laughs. “Talking to my peers though, everyone seems to think I’m going to burn out but in my mind, we have to strike while the iron is hot. I’m a highly motivated musician and feel the need to always be working. Of all the bands I listen to, they didn’t count on radio play to help them build their name; they were out there, willing to pound the pavement to make it happen. That’s my school of thought as well.”

It seems to be no coincidence then that Ross Neilsen and the Sufferin’ Bastards are getting set to launch a new live album in their hometown of Fredericton the week after their Moncton show. Recorded at The Acoustic Grill in Picton, Ont., Neilsen says that the venue is one of his favorites in the country and captures the band performing their material acoustically, something that fans might not be accustomed to hearing.

“I like the new live disc because it is a little different for us as a band. The songs are arranged a little differently than if they were played electrically but even more importantly, we wanted to put something out to help show people that we are a well-rounded band. Plus, it is nice to have an acoustic disc to submit to play at folk festivals. We don’t want to scare them off with electric guitars!”

Neilsen anticipates being ready to hit the studio to make a new record next January but in the more immediate future, the band’s never-ending tour schedule in addition to next month’s East Coast Music Awards awaits. The band is nominated for Best Blues Recording heading into the awards ceremony, scheduled for April 17.

“I’m feeling extremely proud heading into the ECMAs,” Neilsen says. “Being nominated alongside guys like Matt Andersen, John Campbelljohn and Thom Swift is an honour but it is also a little daunting because all of the guys nominated alongside of us are so terrific. It is great company to be included with and whether we walk away with the award or not, the promotional push a band gets from the East Coast Music Awards is amazing.”

Article published in April 1, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript