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Melissa Neels, above, is one of three former Oakville Senior High School students who is making a name for herself on the local blues scene. Neels, Brian Curran and Kari Liston have had a significant impact on the area's blues scene.

Singing the blues

Three Oakville High graduates are singing the blues, but they're loving every single minute of it

Kari Liston, a former Oakville Senior High School student, sings the blues as the lead singer for the Bottom Up Blues Gang.
People don't usually think of the blues when they go to the suburbs.

Oakville certainly wouldn't be high on most people's list of places expected to turn out blues performers.

But three Oakville Senior High School graduates are trying to change that.

Brian Curran, a 1995 graduate, Kari Liston, a 1995 graduate, and Melissa Neels, a 1992 graduate, are making marks on the local blues scene by playing regularly at bars and clubs in the metropolitan area. All played on Nov. 30 at the Baby Blues Showcase.

They have had a significant impact on the area's blues scene, and are proud to break the stereotype that only those from the South or the city can perform the blues.

"The music doesn't know whether you came from the county or the city," said Liston, lead singer for the Bottoms Up Blues Gang. "It finds you. It found me."

Curran, who primarily plays solo, agreed.

"Oakville's known as a pretty affluent area," he said. "When you tell people you're from Oakville, people ask: 'Where does somebody from Oakville pick up the blues?' Well, you can pick (blues CDs) up at Best Buy in the county just as well as you can at the Best Buy in the city. Plus, my father's got about 300 CDs, and about 150 of them are blues CDs."

The three grew up listening to such stars as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Now, they make their own music.

Neels is the lead singer and guitarist for the Melissa Neels Band. Her band plans to release a self-titled first CD in March with 11 songs.

Curran, a solo artist, plays the guitar and sings. His newest CD, "I Made Myself Lonesome," was released in July. His first CD was called "Straight Up Blues."

Curran has been playing professionally for about 10 years. He's best known for "Delta-style" finger picking.

"He plays in a style that's not played so much anymore," said Jeremy Segel-Moss, a member of the Bottoms Up Blues Gang and organizer of the Baby Blues Showcase. "He's a great storyteller. He's a mix of a folk musician and a blues musician."

Curran and Liston played music together in high school. Liston said Curran is one of her main influences.

"I think he's an amazing artist," she said. "He's one of the best finger pickers in the city, any age. I've seen him grow from a good guitarist to a great one, and from not singing to being a singer."

Liston respects Neels as well.

"I think she's a great performer," Liston said. "She's got a good band. She's one of the only female guitarists in the area. There aren't many female singers, and she's the only one who really plays blues guitar."

Liston mixes a bit of Memphis flavor, rock 'n' roll and jazz into her style, Segel-Moss said.

"Kari likes to rock and roll," he said. "She's got a lot of strength in her voice."

The Bottoms Up Blues Gang plans to release its second CD in March. The name hasn't been released, but the CD will have some live performances on it.

Neels gained some of her drive to perform from the day she met Bonnie Raitt as a teen-ager. She is excited to be part of a new generation of blues performers.

"We all have something different to offer the blues scene," she said. "The more of us younger people who come out, the better."

Blues music will hook anyone who hears it, regardless of where they are from, Neels said.

"You've got to love it," she said. "You've got to get into it."

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