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The “Bruise Brothers” play the blues

Clare Cecchini,
CHS Program Coordinator

It has often been said that to play the blues you have to have lived the blues, or at least overcome challenges or hard times at some point in life. In the case of Steve and Mike Myers, blues musicians from Ottawa, Ontario, their experiences growing up with mild hemophilia in the 1960s and 70s led them to their own special style of Mississippi hill-country juke joint blues.

The Myers brothers were diagnosed at a young age with mild hemophilia when they almost bled to death after having their tonsils removed. There was no history in the family. After the diagnosis, they were discouraged from participating in active sports like hockey and picked up instruments instead of baseball bats.

“Without realizing it at the time, this was probably our first real experience with the blues,” Steve remembers.

Even though the boys could not play hockey or go roller-skating, their father kept them busy doing outdoor activities like camping, canoeing and fishing and never allowed them to use their hemophilia as an excuse.

Living through the tainted blood tragedy in the 1980s and seeing the impact on the bleeding disorders community was another challenge. “Mike and I count our blessings for having made it through these tough times and our personal experiences are reflected in our blues.”

Music was always a big part of their lives while growing up in Ottawa and the Gatineau region. Their mother’s French Canadian family was musical and many of their uncles and cousins played instruments, mostly old-time music and country & western. Their first contact with blues music occurred in the early seventies when they saw BB King performing on CBC television. As they began to explore playing blues music they were influenced by musicians like Johnny Winter, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.

In the early 1990s, the TV documentary Deep Blues/A Musical Pilgrimage To The Crossroads had a profound impact on their musical direction. They began a new musical and spiritual journey, and developed their own style of “hypnotic trance-blues and rockin’ boogie”. By the late nineties they were travelling to the Mississippi delta on yearly pilgrimages and performing in “juke joints” in places like Memphis and other delta towns, including a club owned by Morgan Freeman.

As Steve was proud to point out, “He asked Mike and I to autograph a poster for the wall of his club.”

In 2005 they recorded their CD Straight From the Woods with the legendary delta drummer Sam Carr of the Jelly Roll Kings. In 2007 they will be returning to the delta to record another session for their upcoming CD release.

The brothers have factor VIII levels of 20 to 30% and, since they have mild hemophilia, are not on home infusion. They receive treatment as needed at the Hemophilia Treatment Centre in Ottawa and in emergency situations rely on their FactorFirst cards. When asked if hemophilia has affected their lives as musicians, Mike mentioned that he suffers from arthritis in his hands and has had to adapt the picking style he uses when playing the guitar. He also recalled the time that Steve bit his tongue minutes before a show and it was bleeding badly during the performance. Mike joked, “It’s lucky that he doesn’t do the vocals!”

Steve and Mike are both married and Mike has a ten-year-old son. Like many musicians, the brothers work by day and play the blues by night. Mike is involved in a family-run pollution abatement environmental business and Steve recently completed a degree in criminology at Carleton University. They plan on retiring within ten to fifteen years, which would give them the opportunity to realize their dream of going on the road for several months a year to perform the blues.

Members of the Ottawa and Eastern Ontario Region (OEOR) of Hemophilia Ontario had a unique opportunity to hear the Myers Brothers, or as they sometime refer to themselves, the Bruise Brothers, perform on March 24, 2007 at the Region’s Annual General Meeting and Family Weekend. In past years, Steve and Mike volunteered on the OEOR Board and attended several meetings and retreats, but this was the first time that they had performed for the CHS. To find out more about the Myers Brothers Band, please visit their website.

- Spring 2007

Just a quick update since that 2007 story: The Myers Brothers Band has recorded several more albums (CDs) all available from iTunes, Amazon, etc. and also toured the U.K. (2014), and performed in Canada's largest festival - RBC Ottawa Blues Fest (2015). They are currently working on another trans-Atlantic project (besides Myers Brothers Band) with a Brit called Mark Cole (the band is called 'Brothers and Sons') and should have new music out in 2017.