A pianist keeping the sound of boogie-woogie and vintage blues alive and well, Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne has become one of the leading lights on the Canadian blues scene since making Vancouver his adopted home in the early '80s.
Known for his mastery of classic boogie-woogie as well as jump blues and New Orleans jazz, Wayne has also played with Latin jazz, rock, and soul acts over the course of a career spanning seven decades. Wayne won a Juno Award for his 2006 release Let It Loose, and has frequently collaborated with respected American blues guitarist Duke Robillard, who appeared on 2001's An Old Rock on a Roll and 2016's Jumpin' and Boppin'.
Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne was born Kenneth Wayne Spruell in Spokane, Washington on November 13, 1944. Kenny had a nomadic childhood; his family moved from New Orleans to San Francisco to Los Angeles to Compton when he was young. Wayne's father was a preacher who encouraged his son to listen to gospel music, but his mother preferred the sounds of Nat "King" Cole, Little Willie John, and Fats Domino, which sparked his early interest in blues and R&B. (He also had an uncle named Charlie who shared his interest in classic boogie-woogie with his nephew.) Wayne's mother had some basic skills on the piano and liked to play, but Kenny would gain his first formal instruction from the organ player at his father's church. Wayne learned to read music and mastered some basic classical pieces, but soon gravitated to R&B and boogie, drawing inspiration from the likes of Ray Charles, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, and Big Joe Turner. By the early '60s, Wayne was playing club dates in Los Angeles, and through the '70s he was a journeyman musician, playing jazz with the combo the Latin Jazz Prophets, working dates on the R&B and soul circuit, and gigging as a sideman with rock acts such as Delaney & Bonnie and Billy Preston.
In 1981, Wayne landed a job with an R&B group who had booked a tour of Canada, and after visiting Vancouver for the first time, he fell in love with the city and decided to relocate. (By this time, he'd adopted the nickname "Blues Boss," taken from an album by R&B legend Amos Milburn.) Wayne became a respected member of the Canadian blues community, known for his sure hand at boogie-woogie, New Orleans-style jazz and blues, swinging Kansas City jazz, and West Coast jump blues styles. In 1995, he released his first album as a headliner, Alive & Loose, and the follow-up, 1999's Blues Boss Boogie, included guest appearances from Shuggie Otis and noted Canadian blues group the Twisters. Both albums were nominated for Juno Awards as the Best Canadian Blues Album of the Year, as was 2002's 88th and Jump Street, which featured a cameo from Jeff Healey. After cutting 2002's Blues Carry Me Home for the French Isabel Records label, Wayne teamed with the Canadian roots music imprint Electro-Fi Records for 2005's Let It Loose, which gave him his first Juno victory, and 2008's Can't Stop Now. (He also appeared alongside fellow pianists Bobby Dean Blackburn, Curley Bridges, and Julian Fautch on the 2010 release Electro-Fi Records Presents Blues Piano-Rama.)
Wayne appeared in the 2009 documentary film International Boogie Woogie, which won the Gold Remi Award at the Houston International Film Festival. 2010 saw Wayne honored as Piano Player of the Year by Living Blues Magazine, and he was cited as Outstanding Musician (Keyboard) in the magazine's critic's poll in 2012 and 2015. In 2011, Wayne struck a deal with the respected Canadian independent label Stony Plain Records, who issued that year's An Old Rock on a Roll, which included contributions from celebrated guitarist Duke Robillard and members of Roomful of Blues. In 2012, Wayne was nominated for the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Award by the Blues Foundation's Blues Music Awards. Two years later, he dropped Rollin' with the Blues Boss via Stony Plain. Jumpin' and Boppin', another recording with Duke Robillard, followed in 2016, and in 2017 he was inducted into the Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame. That same year, Wayne collaborated with Brandon Isaak and Tim Williams on the album Big City Back Country Blues. Still keeping up a busy schedule at the age of 74, Wayne returned in 2018 with Inspired by the Blues; once again, Duke Robillard contributed to the sessions, as did harmonica ace Billy Branch and bassist Russell Jackson. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi