Western Montana is known for many things, but blues music ain’t one of them. Local bluesman Mike Bader is aware of the disconnect between his locale and his brand of music, but with his upcoming five-state, 15-date tour, he’s ready to break the perception that 12-bar structures and syncopated 4/4 rhythms can’t come from up north.
“Certainly, to be a blues act in the Northern Rockies is an oxymoron of sorts,” says Bader. “I played in Omaha on my spring tour last year and played with another band of full-time musicians from the big city who were just awesome. They play four times a week, and were blown away when I said how often I play. I mean, you gotta drive a long way in Montana just to get more than one gig at a time.”
Bader, a Missoulian since attending the University of Montana and working at Yellowstone National Park in the mid-’80s, released his first album in 2004, Clearcut Case of the Blues. Marked by Bader’s smoky vocal delivery and slide guitar, the 11 original tracks are a good example of his authentic mix of grit and soul.
“What I do is blues-based, and I certainly do a fair amount of urban-based, Chicago-style blues, but I also like to get in the Cajun influence, zydeco and R&B,” he says.
Part of Bader’s traction, both locally and with his upcoming tour, is due to a partnership with Hamilton’s Peter Pilkey and the annual Bitterroot Smokin’ Blues Festival. Bader played the first festival in Hamilton in 2004 and got invited back to play the second year. This summer, when the festival moves to its new Stevensville location, Bader will kick off the weekend with a main-stage set. And in exchange for Bader’s help promoting the festival, Pilkey is sponsoring Bader’s upcoming tour.
“We kind of view ourselves as ambassadors,” says Bader of his touring band, including Larry Hirshberg on bass and Brandon Zimmer on drums. “Peter’s bringing a lot of big names to our area every year, and I think we can help spread that word…It may seem odd to have the blues in Montana, but I think we’re going to make it work.”
The Mike Bader Blues Band kicks off its tour with a show Friday, March 10, at the Union Club, at 9:30PM.