Bye to blues brother

JIM SLOTEK

, Last Updated: 4:38 PM ET

As much distance as they put between each other -- both geographically and emotionally -- Donnie "Mr. Downchild" Walsh still can't help dropping into the present tense when he talks about his late brother Richard "Hock" Walsh.

 We ask him about the last time he saw Hock, when his brother dropped in to jam with Downchild in an Etobicoke club 18 months ago. Was it a case of bygones being bygones? "There are no bygones. We just don't have anything in common really," Donnie says, pausing and adding, "didn't."

 "It's tough," he says laconically of losing a brother.

 Heart attack

 Hock -- the possessor of a booming born-to-the-blues voice -- died in front of his TV of an apparent heart attack just before New Year's, at age 51. He'd been expected at a New Year's gig with Rita Chiarelli in Peterborough.

 Sunday the Horseshoe hosts a memorial blues jam for Hock, with proceeds going to a college fund for Hock's son Richard. Big Sugar's Gordie Johnson will sit in with the current Downchild Blues Band lineup. Others include The Sidemen, The Rockin' Highliners, Tyler Yarema and the Magnolia Brass Band, who can be counted on for a Dixieland dirge.

 There was a time when Donnie and Hock Walsh were sewn at the hip in people's minds, in the early days of the Downchild Blues Band, when they caught the eye of a pub-crawling comic actor named Dan Aykroyd. Some years later Aykrord would reinvent the Walshes, put suits and sunglasses on them, cast himself as Donnie and pal John Belushi as Hock and call them The Blues Brothers.

 The Blues Brothers album Briefcase Full Of Blues would, in fact, contain two original Downchild Numbers, Everything I Need (Almost), written by Donnie, and Shotgun Blues, written by Donnie and Hock. As well, they covered Flip, Flop And Fly, the band's big hit.

 "I thought it was great, it was semi-accurate," Donnie says. Selling three million copies out of the gate, Briefcase also provided some fair-sized royalty cheques for the brothers.

 Brother difficult a person

 "It was pretty good cash for a while. Unfortunately Hock wasn't in the band anymore when that went down. I had a lot of problems like that, do an album and the singer leaves. That happened twice, once with him and once with another guy. They do one tour and say, 'I think I'll leave the band.' It's weird, that lack of consideration for everybody else."

 He agrees with the general assessment that Hock was both tremendously talented and difficult. "He had his moments," Donnie laughs over the phone from his Key Largo winter home in Tavernier, Fla. "But eventually I just sort of had to move on with this being my living, y'know? He just sort of didn't show up if he didn't feel like it."

 Walsh was on his way to the Keys four weeks ago when he stopped in Ohio to check messages and got the news and turned around. "The (Horseshoe) memorial kind of came out of the fact that we had a private funeral, but we heard from so many people who wanted to pay their respects somehow. I think it's gonna be one of those great experiences that maybe only comes out of something sad.

 "The Sidemen are cool, and Gordie I haven't seen in a long time. I remember him at the Izzy (the old Hotel Isabella) when he played with Hock for a while. The Highliners are neat. They're a jump band from Edmonton with two guitarists and no horn section. But the section stuff is there because of the way these guys play together."

 And will there be speeches? "Geez, I hope not," Donnie laughs. "There'll probably be something, sure. I'm not a big public speaker myself. I say let the music talk."


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