Ray Bonneville’s latest album is titled “Goin’ by Feel,” and there couldn’t be a better summation of the Canadianborn roots artist’s life and approach.
Inspired early on by country music, blues and pre-Beatles pop, he remembers pressing his ear against his grandmother’s furniture-size radio in the 1950s upon hearing that oldfashioned twang. Soon, he got a guitar and taught himself to play.
The spirit of those early days inform Bonneville’s music, a mesmerizing, unhurried blend of folk, blues and country, with a strong percussive undercurrent.
“I like to get a groove going and tell some kind of story in there,” said Bonneville, who plays Friday at The Blue Door. “I love that sort of music which is attempting to hypnotize the listener into paying attention.”
He’s unconcerned with lots of chords and flashy changes; his focus is more on how one plays than what. When he first picked up the guitar, he spent months strumming the first chord he learned, feeling little need to go further.
“I used to only know the E chord, and my parents at one point asked me to please learn another chord! I learned a couple more and now I know maybe five,” he said. “I’m not a schooled musician. I’m a by-ear guy. I play the chords that are on page one of book one of guitar-playing.”
That humility infuses his music. “When it comes to songwriting, I am trying to make the listener make up how their own life pertains to the song,” he said. “I like to sketch them just enough to be a trigger or a catalyst to the listener so they can say, ‘This song is about me.’” He’s lived a nomadic life; being born French-Canadian, he didn’t even learn English until he was 12. He played in bands in high school, and returned to music after military duty.
But he didn’t strike out on his own until nearly 20 years as a sideman and session player. He worked as a taxi driver and flew airplanes, but it wasn’t until 1993, well into his 40s, that he released his first album, ‘On the Main.’” “I really had to feel confident with the nuance of the English language, and for a long time, I didn’t,” he said. “That allowed me to develop the style I have on the guitar and the harmonica.”
Things have been going strong ever since. His 1999 record, “Gust of Wind,” won a Juno — Canada’s Grammy — for Best Canadian Blues album, and he was nominated again for 2000’s “Rough Luck.” He’s currently working on his seventh album for release this summer.
In the meantime, he keeps doing the only thing that’s really made sense to him.
“There was a voice inside of me saying, ‘Do what you like in this world, because you only have one time around,’” he said.