MILWAUKEE - Wade Fernandez is an established, remarkably talented young musician nominated for three major NAMMY Awards last year: Best Male Artist, Songwriter of the Year, and Best Blues/Jazz Recording. This year will bring a third CD, a DVD, and tours of New Zealand, Europe and the United States. Not bad for someone who had considered giving it all up just four years ago.
Tending to his son in his home in Milwaukee, Fernandez politely excused himself from his interview to rescue baby Wade from a small enclosure the toddler crawled into. His family means everything to him, yet he finds the time to focus on his skyrocketing career and maintains an exquisite balance. Fernandez is blessed with talent that can't be learned, and with a gracious and inspiring soul that can't be tainted by the pitfalls of the music industry.
Combining elements of several musical styles, including blues, traditional singing and drumming, rock, world-beat and jazz, Fernandez has developed a unique style as both a musician and songwriter. His soaring voice can only be described as phenomenal. Within minutes during a live performance, Fernandez demonstrates the skills comparable to any world class pow wow singer or hand-drum competitor. Most recently, He has focused his attention toward performing live, playing under the bright stage lights alongside such artists such as Jackson Browne, Bill Miller, the Indigo Girls and Annie Humphrey.
His first two CDs were well received by critics. "Wiciwen Apis- Mahwaew" and "Black Wolf's Blues" are brilliant, transcendental collections of astonishing songs. All songs were composed, arranged and produced by Fernandez. He played all guitars, Native flute and vocal tracks and added a top-notch drummer, bass player, and keyboardists to back him up. "Funky 49" is hard to forget after one listen, as is "Commod Cheese Blues" (an ode to that old familiar USDA staple). "Black Gold" is as good as anything on the alternative charts.
As of now, there are few places where Fernandez's recordings can be heard. Even though some Indian casinos are just beginning to book American Indian acts, major music industry retailers are still hesitant to promote Native music. Fernandez might be the artist to break down those barriers. His forthcoming CD may be on the shelves next to Santana or Buddy Guy this summer.
Hailing from the Menominee reservation near the town of Keshena, Wis., Fernandez confided, "I grew up in the woods, away from the villages and towns on the rez. I think that this enabled me to focus on music as a young kid, kept me on the right path. Music runs in my family, my grandparents on both sides were musicians as were my parents. I am mostly self-taught, by ear and played before my first audience when I was 11. My first bar gig came when I was 15."
Fernandez's influences run from Tom Waits to Charlie Parker, Johnny Cash to Mitch Walking Elk. "I played cover tunes with many groups and played guitar for artists on stages from the rez to Woodstock '94." It soon became apparent to him that he felt unfulfilled, musically. "I got a call from a concert promoter in 2000, and she asked me if I would open an outdoor concert that was coming up in three and a half months and sell some of my own CDs. I said 'yeah,' but the problem was that I had no band, no money, and no CD. In the evenings after teaching music to the kids on the rez, I would write and arrange songs until 4 a.m. I borrowed money from friends to pay for the CD. During that time I had a lot of experiences that told me I was taking a path that I was supposed to. Something would come into my mind, and then it would actually happen shortly after."
The NAMMY nominations have given Fernandez exposure that he is extremely grateful for. His acclaimed live performances with his Black Wolf Band - with or without dancers in traditional regalia - continue to gather followers and critical acclaim. Fernandez is also a motivational speaker who understands the importance of children and encourages music programs in reservation schools.
Preparing for the memorable events that 2004 will surely bring, Fernandez is enjoying the peace of the cold Wisconsin winter by spending time with his family. "Someday I would like to tour with my kids and wife, playing my music wherever." His deadpan humor illuminated the conversation, "I could start the tour in Neopit, head to Keshena and Zoar and end it at the Warbonnet Bar in the parking lot. Call it the Menominee Circle Tour."
Fernandez can be contacted by visiting his Web site: www.wadefernandez.com or by calling (414) 444-3970.