On the bandstand, he was a bluesman down to his fingertips.
Maple Blues Award-winner and former Peninsula resident Jason Buie could always command any room with his powerful presence, impassioned vocals and an always-inventive, lightning-fingered guitar technique that could wail with all the soul and fire of such musical idols as B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
In a performing career that started in his early teens, the bluesman with a penchant for hats had shared stages with such greats as Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor and Jeff Healey.
But, off the stand, he was well-known among audiences and fellow-musicians for a soft-spoken kindness, and an open generosity of spirit that made it known that music, for him, was not a competitive, commercial battlefield, but a constant joy to be shared with others.
The Victoria-born-and-raised musician – who passed away at his Esquimalt home last Thursday at the age of 47, from unspecified causes – was anything but a stranger to the Semiahmoo Peninsula, where he co-founded the White Rock Blues Society in 2007.
A Facebook posting by friend and White Rock councillor David Chesney on Thursday, prompted an outpouring of comments by local fans and other musicians, such as keyboardist Jim Widdifield, who posted that Buie was “a great musician and a loving caring person and father… he will be sorely missed.”
He performed here regularly, most recently ushering in the New Year for the society at The Pacific Inn’s now defunct Rhumba Room, followed by a sold-out show, two weeks before he died, at Blue Frog Studios.
And the Peninsula knew him as a man who liked to give back.
Every Christmas season he would organize – and usually participate in – the Society’s Yuletide Blues Fundraiser to benefit the Sources’ White Rock-South Surrey Food Bank. Over 10 years it collected thousands of dollars in monetary contributions and thousands of pounds of non-perishable food donations.
Buie also staged an annual Toy Jam locally to benefit children, and he created a similar event when he moved back to Victoria in 2012.
He was also a dedicated family man, according to his friend Rod Dranfield, president of the Blues Society.
Dranfield said he leaves behind twins Jo-Etta and Jackson, 11, as well as Pearl, daughter of his partner Yvonne, and Sophie, a daughter from an earlier marriage.
It was the care of his children that motivated the move back to Victoria area, Dranfield added.
“He loved this side of the water, but he felt he had to go where his parents and his aunt were, while they were growing up,” he said. “His kids were a top priority for him.”
Dranfield said that while a cause of death has not been released by Buie’s brother Chris – a Victoria firefighter who found the bluesman in his home Thursday morning – it was known that he suffered from sleep apnea and also Type 2 diabetes.
“Thankfully his kids were at his aunt’s place,” Dranfield said.
It was a great irony, he noted, that Buie was reaching the greatest fame of his career at the time he died, thanks in part to his newest album Driftin’ Heart, which had been receiving a lot of airplay.
“His career was getting to be on a roll, and audiences were eating out of his hand,” he said. “He was so close to getting broader recognition.”
The pinnacle of his career came on Jan. 15, he was at Toronto’s Koerner Hall to receive the Toronto Blues Society’s prestigious Maple Blue Award for “best new artist or group of the year.”
“Here he was, the best new artist, after busting his chops for some 35 years,” Dranfield said. “It was a huge audience – a sell-out crowd.
“Jason didn’t play the show because there were so many in the line-up, but he played the after-party and he was knocking it out of the park. So many people had never seen him or heard him before, but they knew who he was after that.”
The show at Blue Frog Studios was also a triumph at which Buie exhibited all of his boundless energy and joie-de-vivre, Dranfield noted.
Dranfield, who had known Buie since around 2006, said the bluesman had another performing life as stage hypnotist Jason James, following in the footsteps of his father, Bob (who worked professionally under the name Mesmer).
“He taught him everything he knew, and whenever he was booked on cruises, Jason would get all the calls. He could have been doing these shows for $2,000 or $3,000 a night, but he was happier playing blues and making sometimes $100 a night.
“He wasn’t driven by fame – music was his passion. And, then, (doing hypnotism shows) was very stressful for him, but when he played the guitar, there was no stress.”
Dranfield said the blues society came out of a short period when Buie was between homes and staying with him and his wife Marg in White Rock, and discussion turned to a shared feeling that local audiences needed greater exposure to the blues.
“Without Jason, there never would have been a blues society,” Dranfield said. “He had all the contacts and got (co-founder and fellow bluesman) Harpdog Brown involved.”
The secret of the society’s success, Dranfield said, is that it wasn’t simply an organization reaching out to employ musicians.
“It was being put on by musicians themselves – they were calling people and saying ‘we know you’re coming to town for a show – how do you feel about doing another show for which we’ll give you 80 per cent of the gate, after fixed costs?’ We’ve had a lot of great people play for us on that basis.”
And while the society is no longer based at The Pacific Inn – currently undergoing re-branding and remodelling after being acquired as part of the Hilton chain – Dranfield feels it has well achieved its objective in its 12th year.
“Our mandate was to get the music played, and Kelly Breaks and Juanita VanderZalm at Blue Frog are putting on two to three blues shows a month and we’re co-producing shows.”
Buie’s family, according to the Facebook page Remembering Jason Buie, are finalizing plans for a memorial in Victoria, but it may be only the first of a number of events in his name in the blues community, Dranfield said.
“Harpdog and I are going to be doing something to acknowledge him later this year – maybe a concert at the Coast Capital Playhouse, possibly with proceeds to start a fund for his kids, for when they get to be 18.”