By Sue Tiffin
Five years ago, Patrick Monaghan might not have pictured himself sitting in his living room, decked out in Canoe FM swag, a popular radio host with a blues show nominated as one of the best in the country.
An hour or so into the National Campus and Community Radio Association’s first ever digital awards gala celebrating the 2020 Community Radio Awards in Broadcast and Online on Nov. 6, an envelope was opened and Monaghan heard his name called when his Buckslide Blues Cruise program took the award for Best Jazz or Blues Music Show.
“I was quite thrilled to get it,” said Monaghan. “Honoured to even be considered and thrilled to win the award.”
Buckslide Blues Cruise, which Monaghan began hosting on Canoe FM in January 2016 is described as being “two hours of rocking blues with a tip of the hat to the pioneers and legends of the past,” or as Monaghan himself describes it, “there’s new and old, definitely off the beaten path and everything from Leadbelly to Led Zeppelin’s in the mix.” The show is broadcast on Canoe FM on Tuesday evenings – right after radio bingo – from 7 to 9 p.m. and has a big following of listeners who tune in by radio or online. Monaghan notes that within that listener base, he has a lot of converts to the blues.
He’s been listening to the blues himself for almost 50 years, although he didn’t always recognize that he was drawn to that genre.
“I was interested in that kind of music before I realized what it was called,” he said. “I listened, when I think about the rock music that I listened to in the early ’70s, it was all blues-based, whether it be ZZ Top or Ten Years After or early Rolling Stones, when I look back it was all blues-based. As Muddy Waters said, the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll.”
That interest led to an expertise in the music that gave him something to focus on when he joined the radio station’s team of volunteer hosts and announcers after being discovered at the farmers’ market.
“I ran Buckslide Dog Treats for five years, and I would be at the farmers’ markets, and different people from Canoe FM would stop by the farmers’ market and say, you’ve got a good radio voice, you should come and do a voice test,” said Monaghan. “That went on for a few years before I did it. They give you a few paragraphs to read, you read it, and if you don’t sound like Pee-wee Herman you probably can be on the air. They want you to do a voice test so they know you’re not going to sound like finger nails on a chalkboard.”
Monaghan, with experience in public speaking, passed the test. But at first, he wasn’t completely comfortable in the role.
“At first, it was a challenge to get on the air,” he said. “Once I get started, I’m all right. It’s just the anticipation. I had no background at all … The first little while, it was very shaky. If I listen to a show from five years ago and I listen to a show now, they’re very different. My confidence and relaxation. I don’t like making mistakes but I don’t sweat it now, like I used to. You can’t get it back, you’re live.”
Prior to passing the torch, then-blues show host Lee MacLean stayed with Monaghan for the show a few nights, Monaghan said, “and then they cut me loose and I was on my own.”
He credits her help, and that of Dave Kirkland, whose show Tuesday Night Sessions airs after the Buckslide Blues Cruise, for helping him find his way.
“One evening after I’d been there for a couple of months, I used to hang around for a couple of minutes, look at the board and see what [Kirkland] was doing. One night I asked him, do you mind if I hang around for awhile and try to get some tips from what you’re doing – he has about 40 years in the business. He said to me, better yet, get your butt in that chair. So I sat in the chair and I produced his show for the next two and a half years, with his training and guidance, by all means. The way I like to say it is, Lee McLean showed me how the buttons work, and Kirkland showed me how to work the buttons.”
On average, Monaghan said he spends about five hours preparing for the weekly two-hour show. He puts together the playlist for the evening, researches each song that will be played, prepares for and conducts interviews, and puts the show together.
“I’m old-school, so I write it all out by hand and I find I learn better that way,” he said. “The same goes for my shows, I don’t pick from a list, I have a CD rack with about 1,000 CDs on it, and I stand in front of the rack the way I used to pull albums for a house party.”
He also takes to the road to see shows – one weekend last year in June, he was in Rochester, New York, with Downchild Blues Band, in Oshawa the next night with the B&B Blues Band, and then the next day, MCing at the Stratford Blues and Ribfest.
“I put 1,500 kilometres on in about three days,” said Monaghan. “To be there, and enjoy it, and I love it.”
It’s a lot of work to organize a show, and promote it in the enthusiastic way he does, but Monaghan said he thinks he could do a three hour program – he always seems to run out of time at the end of the two hours, and said there’s never enough time for all of his songs. Mentally, he sometimes feels exhausted by the end of longer stints in the studio though. A few weeks ago he told his listeners he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about 14 months ago, but that the show would go on.
“That’s two hours a week that I’m not sick,” he said. “When I hit that button and that board lights up, I’m not sick. It gives me energy, it takes me away from any of the anxiety that comes along with the situation, for two hours I’m good. It’s an outlet, it takes me away from what I’m dealing with.”
When he got his diagnosis, and had a related surgery, the musicians he has followed and promoted for years recognized his effort and gave back, putting on a benefit for him in Wasaga Beach that raised about $5,000 for the expenses incurred due to illness. Crowbar, Cheryl Lescom, B&B Blues Band and Chuck Jackson were among the performers who took part in A Bluesman’s Concert and Dance benefit last November.
“I can talk about it now, but I couldn’t do it without tears in my eyes before,” he said.
The diagnosis, and the pandemic, has slowed down some of the promoting work Monaghan has been involved in, but instead he has taken to the airwaves ensuring the musicians who are suffering without live concerts can still be heard.
“I’ve been doing my very best throughout this virus to promote the musicians that are able to play live, and CDs,” he said. “Now that they have the time they’ve been recording music they’ve set aside for quite some time. Once they record it they have no way to promote it. Since the virus I play a lot more new music. Muddy Waters has been dead for 40 years so it doesn’t matter to him if I play his music … I’m trying to help out where I can.”
The physical Award for Best Jazz or Blues Music Show from the NCRA was created by a Toronto artist who hand-paints and hand binds notebooks, with each bespoke notebook’s colour choices being inspired by the award.
“We chose a notebook because during the pandemic, and the lock-downs, we wanted to recognize the reality we are living in this year, but also celebrate the opportunity granted to us of time for creative pursuits,” said Luke Smith, NCRA director of learning and development. “We hope that the award winners will see the notebooks as an opportunity to explore their creative side as they continue to create incredible programming.”
Monaghan thanks everyone who has given him the opportunity he has had at Canoe FM, which has led to an award that celebrates his commitment and gusto, passion for learning, appreciation for the music he wants so much to share with listeners, and for the musicians who create it.
“This has been my passion, by all means, it’s my joy, there’s no question about that,” he said.
The Buckslide Blues Cruise airs from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday evenings on Canoe FM, 100.9 on the radio, or online at canoefm.com.