Bluegrass music group
"Like Nickel Creek, the Duhks are young and hip, they play and sing well and seem intent on crossing older folk stylings with new ones," noted All Music Guide in its review of the group's 2006 album Migrations. Young groups all over the spectrum of folk, acoustic, and roots music were experimenting with eclectic stylistic fusions by the mid-2000s, but the Duhks, one of a group of new bands to emerge from the Canadian prairie city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, pushed those fusions further than most. Their music had elements of bluegrass, gospel, Latin music, Celtic and French Canadian traditional music, zydeco, and singer-songwriter folk, all tied together with a youthful rock attitude. Among the most visible new ensembles on the folk and acoustic music circuit by late 2006, the Duhks were recognized with a Grammy nomination that year for their song "Heaven's My Home."
The Duhks (pronounced "Ducks") were formed in Winnipeg in 2002. Both the band and its odd name were offshoots of previous efforts by banjoist and founder Leonard Podolak, who had performed in a band called Scruj MacDuhk. Podolak was already a veteran of Winnipeg's folk music scene; his father, Mitch Podolak, had been one of the prime movers behind the formation of the Winnipeg Folk Festival when Leonard was young, and Leonard made an early stage debut. "At four, when I was really into the TV show The Incredible Hulk, I once walked on stage and went from Bill Bixby's Bruce Banner to Lou Ferrigno's Hulk, uttering the word, ‘metamorphosis.’ That was my act then," he recalled to Stephen Cole of the CBC.
Rather than just form a new group devoted to old-time sounds, Podolak looked around for a variety of talents as he assembled his new band. Lead vocalist Jessee Havey gave the group an instantly identifiable signature with her blues-drenched singing, while fiddler Tania Elizabeth came out of the area's vibrant French-Canadian traditional scene. Guitarist Jordan McConnell had studied Celtic styles, and percussionist Scott Senior was nicknamed "Señor" for his interest in Latin rhythms, particularly Brazilian samba, which showed up in many of their recordings. The five musicians found themselves influenced by one another as well as intrigued by the mix, and the band quickly found gigs at a Winnipeg club called Shannon's. They released an album, Your Daughters and Sons, that at first was distributed only in Canada but was later released in the United States as well.
The U.S. release came about after the Duhks began to find exposure south of the border. Several small festivals, including Michigan's Saline Celtic Festival and the Suwannee Spring Fest in Florida, took a chance on the new band in 2004, and a representative from the U.S. bluegrass label Sugar Hill brought a copy of Your Daughters and Sons back to the label's Nashville offices. "The Duhks' sound is unique, blending many styles of music together that are so radically different, making it their own," Sugar Hill director of label operations Lynn Lancaster told Rob Williams of theWinnipeg Free Press. "Every one of them is talented in what they do and are willing to work hard. When you have that, you have the ingredients for success. You have to get behind a band like that." The Duhks were brought into the studio with a new producer, veteran banjoist and progressive bluegrass musician Bela Fleck. Their official U.S. debut, The Duhks, was released in 2005.
The disc made quite a splash. It earned them admirers as diverse as folk-rocker David Crosby and traditional musician Doc Watson, and the Duhks took home two awards at the first annual Folk Alliance Conference in Austin, Texas, for best emerging artist and best band, as well as an Americana Music Association award for best emerging artist. The "All Things Considered" evening news program on the U.S. National Public Radio network devoted an entire half-hour segment to the Duhks. In Canada the band won two Juno Awards, but Podolak pointed out to Cole that "we have unfinished business in Canada. We're way bigger in the United States. We sure never wanted that." After the release of The Duhks, the band landed a track, "Camptown Races," on Beautiful Dreamer, an album of new versions of songs by nineteenth-century American composer Stephen Foster.
The Duhks' sophomore album, Migrations, appeared in 2006 and exceeded the success of its predecessor, at least on the awards front. The gospel song "Heaven's My Home" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, putting the Duhks in competition with such famed groups as the Dixie Chicks and Rascal Flatts. Podolak told Williams that he estimated the Duhks' chances of winning the award at "10,000 to one" (they lost), but the nomination from their peers in the recording industry was nevertheless an honor. "It proves the Grammy people were paying attention to the songs coming in." The album had the same kind of stylistic mix as The Duhks but broadened this with some electric sounds and with denser textures forged by producer Gary Paczosa.
For the Record …
Members include: Jessee Havey (left group, 2007), lead vocals; Sarah Dugas (replaced Havey, 2007), lead vocals; Tania Elizabeth , fiddle; Jordan McConnell , guitar; Leonard Podolak , banjo and founder; Scott Senior , percussion.
Formed 2002 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; released album Your Daughters and Your Sons, 2002; performed at Suwannee Spring Fest, Florida, signed to Sugar Hill label, 2003; released The Duhks, 2005; released Migrations, 2006.
Awards: Juno Award, Best Roots & Traditional Album, for The Duhks, 2005; two Folk Alliance awards.
Addresses: Record company—Sugar Hill Records, 120 31st Ave. N, Nashville, TN 37203. Website—Duhks Official Website: http://www.duhks.com.
The group had toured for nearly 18 months in support of The Duhks, going as far afield as Australia and Europe. They undertook more touring in support of Migrations, but the heavy schedule cost them one of their charter members: Jessee Havey departed amicably in order to pursue solo projects. Not every band could proceed forward seamlessly after the loss of its lead vocalist, but Sarah Dugas, a school friend of Podolak's, stepped into the breach with a much-talked-about performance at Merlefest, a large North Carolina roots music event. Taking vocals on a song by traditional Cajun musician Dewey Balfa and Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," she attracted Led Zeppelin multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones, who happened to be in attendance, and she joined the band on stage for a repeat performance of the number.
That performance was widely circulated on the YouTube website, and the band resumed touring with Dugas installed as Havey's replacement. The moment seemed to encapsulate the success of the Duhks, a band that was greater than the sum of its parts. With a largely youthful fan base that reached far beyond the usual circles of folk and acoustic music, they seemed ready to forge a lasting new direction for old-time traditions.
Your Daughters and Your Sons, 2002.
The Duhks, Sugar Hill, 2005.
Migrations, Sugar Hill, 2006.
Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), September 10, 2006, p. D1; December 8, 2006, p. D12; February 7, 2007, p. D3.
"Bio," Duhks Official Website, http://www.duhks.com (October 2, 2007).
"The Duhks," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (October 2, 2007).
"Homeward Bound," Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/arts/music/winnipegfolk.html (October 2, 2007).
—James M. Manheim
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