Long, long ago, Benjamin Darvill was a member of the Winnipeggers-done-good Crash Test Dummies, the singers of Superman's Song. For more than a decade, though, the 43-year-old Darvill has based himself in London, where he operates as Son of Dave, a one-man tornado of snappy fedoras, husky opinion and excitable electric-cotton blues.
And while he may be no superman per se, he is an old-fashioned superhero of an idiom that needs as many as it can get. You need to know about Son of Dave (who is currently in the country for a string of shows), and there are at least 10 reasons why.
1. He's offbeat, but his rhythm is true and all his own. "I'm a one-man blues band," Darvill admits, "but I don't have a big bass drum strapped to my back. I make the beats with my lips, and I loop that up with a foot pedal. So, beat box and a cheat box, I call it. It's a very crude beat box - it's not as amazing as the hip-hop kids - but it's enough to chug out a little disco rhythm I can play harmonica and sing over the top of."
2. He's into the whole "honour thy father" thing. The musician truly is a son of a Dave.
3. He fiercely dispenses inarguable wisdom, free of charge. For five years, Son of Dave has written for the bimonthly, independent music newspaper The Stool Pigeon. He entitled his first column Music Magazines are Agonizingly Boring Things to Read, and then has gone about trying to change that premise single-handedly and gonzo-like. In 2007, for example, he wrote that "belly dancing is best observed in a low, reclining position." So true.
4. He is old-school dignified, fashion-wise. "I was wearing my grandfather's suspenders when I was very young," says Darvill, who favours wide-brim fedoras and three-piece jobs from the fifties.
5. He does not repeat himself, and his albums are easy to keep track of. "My pendulum keeps swinging back and forth," Darvill says when asked about albums 01, 02, 03 and the new stripped-down Shake a Bone, which vary in instruments, production and levels of way-outness.
6. His blues disobey faux convention, and he's environmentally and socially aware. Son of Dave uses modern beats and foot-pedal looping, but harbours high disdain for so-called contemporary blues and its love of squealing guitar shenanigans. "Blues, in most people's minds, was killed by the guitar solo," Darvill reasons. "The amount of electric guitars in the world is incredible. You could take them out of all the teenagers' hands, chop them up with a chainsaw and reassemble them in the form of a housing development for poor people."
7. He likes 60-year-old music, played during balmy summer evenings in the park, on battery-powered picnic turntables. John Lee Hooker's Let's Go Out Tonight, Sister Rosetta Tharpe's Down by the Riverside, Earl Washington's Wolf Call and Big Maybelle's Baby Won't You Please Come Home is the type of music to which Darvill listens.
8. He despises iPods and the music-hogging folks who use them. "These are people with their little music-stealing machines, sitting there, with a smile on their own face, not sharing the music with anybody else," says Darvill, a proponent of public transportation. "In fact, they're irritating other people, not paying for the music and just making a company that makes iPods rich."
9. His shows are interactive. "I like things with a beat, that you can dance to," says Darvill, who isn't worried about shy Canadian audiences. "They tend to stay in the back of the room, but they follow instructions well. I have no worry about getting them closer to the stage."
10. He's not nostalgic, especially when it doesn't pay. "Brad Roberts asked me to tour with the Dummies, which was nice of him," says Darvill, who played mandolin, harmonica and percussion on the group's first four albums. "The thing is, I can make more money in a couple of weeks doing shows in France, or going into Glasgow and filling up King Tut's Wah Wah Hut than I can touring with the Dummies. They simply can't afford me."
Son of Dave plays Montreal's Divan Orange on Wednesday; Toronto's Rivoli on Thursday; Hamilton's Cork Town Pub on Oct. 8; and Peter's Players in Gravenhurst, Ont., on Oct. 9.