The following excerpts are from the Introduction written by Bill Barclay.
Sunday May 8, 2011, I sat down at my computer to start the forward to Randy MacNeil’s book on Canadian blues and the day could not have been more auspicious. The first man known to have played blues in Canada and the greatest bluesman in history was born exactly one hundred years ago, on May 8, 1911, in Hazlehurst, Mississippi.
Robert Johnson and Johnnie Shines crossed the border sometime in 1937 after appearing on the “The Elder Moten Hour” radio show out of Detroit. According to Johnnie, the next night they crossed over near Windsor and played to a black audience. This is the first blues performance in Canadian history and the only performance outside the United States that Johnson ever made. Blues is an African-American art form; in fact it is the first non-aboriginal art form to emerge in North America. It is fitting that the audience for Johnson and Shines’ broadcast was the African-Canadian population of Southwestern Ontario.
As the postwar era developed, the original southern black blues audience spread out all over the northern states, and a 1928 agreement between The United States, Canada and Mexico began to have major and unforeseen consequences. The governments agreed that rural communities were missing out on access to radio and they agreed that it affected all three countries, so they authorized clear channel AM radio stations to use 50,000 watts of power and non-directional antennas between sunset and sunrise. This meant that the signal from the authorized stations could be heard almost everywhere east of the Rockies. The same system applied to the West. There were about sixty authorized stations, ten or so in Canada.