A concert by the singer-guitarist Jose Feliciano next week at the Toronto Centre for the Arts is in benefit of Canadian Friends of Israel Guide Dog Center For the Blind.
We spoke to the 68-year-old Puerto Rican-born American about an uptempo blues he wrote after authorities in England and the Netherlands said “no way, Jose” when in 1967 he attempted to enter those countries with his guide dog.
Given the nature of the show you’re giving here, can we talk about your song No Dogs Allowed?
Sure. I wrote it back in 1969, while I was playing a concert at the London Palladium. It was about an incident which happened two years earlier, when I had a guide dog. I don’t have one any more. But I did when I visited England and Holland in 1967, and I wasn’t allowed in unless the dog was quarantined.
I read a description of the song, where it’s referred to as “hilarious.” I guess I get that, but I don’t imagine it was all that funny for you to be put through that experience. I mean, it’s a protest song, right?
I was stating a fact. It was something I thought if I put it into music and it was heard, it would address the issue. And the law was changed.
There’s an old video of you performing the song on YouTube. You sang that a big change was going to come, even if it took a long time. And you were right.
That’s it. Changes that mean anything do take a long time. And changes that don’t mean jack are hurried past quickly.
Growing up in New York, how difficult was it to build a musical career, being blind?
When I was 16, I started learning cane travel. I would travel by myself when I was taking classical guitar lessons. I got sick and tired of my brothers arguing back and forth as to who was going to take Jose to his lesson. So one day I said, “Screw all of you, I’m going to do it myself.”
How did that go over?
Well, my mother had a panic attack. She was protective of me.
But I told her, “Mom, don’t worry, I’m gonna make it.” So, I got on the bus and I told the driver where to let me off.
When I got off, I asked
people for directions and walked to the York Tower Hotel. My guitar teacher complained about me being late. I said, “You know what, sir? Why don’t you close your eyes and try to get somewhere, like I’m doing now? You’d be late too.”
Jose Feliciano performs May 22, 7:30 p.m. $55 to $75. Toronto Centre for the Arts, George Weston Recital Hall, 5040 Yonge St., 1-855-985-2787 or ticketmaster.ca.