Northside Art's got the blues and loves it
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
It's been a struggle, but Northside Art Suankum — who simply goes by Northside Art — is making a living doing what he loves most: playing the blues.
The Northside handle refers to the Chicago area where he grew up, though he was born in Thailand.
The guitarist gets a chance to strut his stuff when he collaborates with Downtown Charley King and Mark "The Doc" Prados in the 5th annual Nu'uanu Blues, Brews and BBQ street festival Saturday in downtown Honolulu.
"We'll be doing a three-piece acoustic blues act, but I didn't come here originally to play the blues," Northside Art, 42, said. "I moved to Hawai'i in 1996 and was in the hotel biz then. But in Chicago, I was with several original bands, performing live music — guitar, bass, piano, harmonica."
He had come to the Islands on an earlier visit and discovered "a jazz scene, not a blues scene," he said. "I thought it would be a cool place for me, being Asian (his mother is Thai) in a good market. When I finally left Chicago, I drove across the U.S. to Los Angeles, and in St. Louis, I looked over a cornfield and saw a big boat with its back to me, with the name 'Blue Hawai'i.' It wasn't even near water — and that was a positive sign for me to make the move."
When he arrived on the music scene, he was repeatedly told that most folks simply couldn't make a living doing music, especially the blues. "It's a frustration for any musician," he said. "To try to get established, to work regularly, to get decent pay."
He's been taking it slow and easy, gigging at O'Toole's Thursdays and Fridays and giving private music lessons through his Do-Re-Mi Music operations. He just completed a four-tune CD of "traditional blues, electric blues, slide blues — which I composed and arranged. I'm looking to create a Web page (for download purchases). I've heard of some success stories (doing the download thing), but for now, I'll play anything and everything, even Zydeco music, folk like Neil Young and rock like Ted Nugent."
He has a passion for Mississippi Delta blues, "which, to me is a challenging form which deals with the performer and his guitar," said Northside Art. "It's the root of modern American music, and I do some teaching on the side, and I tell my students that if they want to play rock, they first gotta play the blues. It's all about the performer and his guitar."
He met his wife, Lorie, in the Islands, and they have been married for five years. "We both left big cities — she was in New York — with the hope of escaping the rat race," Northside Art said. "We're kindred souls, having the time of our lives here."
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.