Lorrie's Blog

Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown

When I was a kid on the farm in Northern Saskatchewan, I didn’t know all that much about the outside world. My main sources of information were the CBC and 630 CHED (the top-40 AM station) out of Edmonton. CBC was the only television we had on the farm (we would have had to get a separate antenna to put on the roof of the house to pull in the CTV feed) and I would endure that snowy signal to see my favorite player on Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night. CHED was my main new music source (when I could pick it up) and I spent hours taping my favorite songs onto my little shoebox cassette recorder, setting the radio next to the little mic on the recorder when “Video Killed the Radio Star” came on, cranking it up full volume and pleading with my sister to “shut up! For 2 minutes!”. Lotsa cassettes of badly distorted, static-y mono recordings, with faint (sometimes not-so-faint) traces of yelling in the background.

Although this huge country of ours was largely a mystery to me (Montreal was home to the Canadiens, and they spoke a different language there, which is why there was French on the cereal box), even at an early age I felt very proud to be Canadian, that this was a great and noble land. Obviously too young to understand the politics, I was so confused by Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois’ urge to separate from Canada – why would anyone want to leave the best country on earth?

Even though the struggles between French and English and white and Aboriginal citizens were well documented, and we spent a lot of time learning about them in school (I was a massive Louis Riel fan), I naively thought it was all in the past, that we all could live in harmony, that the biggest conflict was whether the Leafs or Habs sucked.

It wasn’t so, and all through my school years the tension between aboriginals and whites was a daily reminder of our differences. To get a really good idea of the situation up there, I would encourage you all to read Warren Cariou’s “Lake of the Prairies” (He was a year or 2 ahead of me in school, I was pals with his brother and once had a heartbreaking crush on his sister). I read his book in one sitting – incredibly powerful, and the most honest and accurate portrayal of the place I grew up there will be. If you’re in town, give me a call – I’ll lend it to you.

After I left school and Meadow Lake, I found myself in many strange and wonderful places, one of them being BC’s Okanagan Valley, where there is a rich aboriginal culture as well, and where I fell in love with a girl who was actively involved in the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. They were one of many groups in strong opposition to plans for a logging road through the Stein Valley on the West Coast, one that would disrupt land sacred to the Nlaka’pamux people who lived there. In order to raise funds an awareness, the Stein Valley Festival was launched, and in 1990 (partly because of my politics, partly because of the girl, but mostly because of the music) I went to the festival, which was held on the Tsawwassen First Nation, just south of Vancouver.

There was a heightened sense of urgency at the festival that year, not only because of the fight to preserve the Stein Valley and the spiritual home of its indigenous people, but also because of the crisis happening at the same time 5000 km across the country in Oka, Quebec, – just a few miles from the Montreal Forum I’d see almost every Saturday on HNIC – where the Mohawks were trying to preserve their sacred lands. Tons of media attention on the struggles of Canadian aboriginals and the electric atmosphere at the festival really made me feel like I was part of something really important.

Many of Canada’s biggest musical acts came to Tsawwassen that weekend, none bigger than Gordon Lightfoot, who headlined the show. Lightfoot was a staple on the radio and TV when I was a kid – you heard/saw him on the CBC on a weekly basis – and I was fascinated by him. Not only did he have dozens and dozens of amazing songs, but he (along with Tom Thomson and Guy Lafleur) was somehow the very definition of ‘Canadian’ to me.

I hadn’t listened to him in a long time (I was more into Husker Du by then), and many of my friends who were there with me were guffawing about the ‘old man’ who was about to play.

Admittedly, I was not that enthused either, but I was interested enough to hear him that I wandered away from my clique, to the back of the field, in order to listen to the show without distraction. It was a beautiful summer night on the ocean, the full moon was rising as the sun was setting, directly behind the illuminated clam-shell stage, the entire crowd in front of me. I really wish I had a photo – the sight was mind-blowing.

Lightfoot was on fire, too. “Whooo! Whooo! How are you tonight, Tsawwassen?!?! Whooooo!!” I did not expect him to be so gleeful at such a gravely important event – all the other acts had been far more earnest and sober, and he, being the elder statesman of the bunch… well, it was a bit incongruous. Anyway, the set was amazing. He played all of his classics, singing beautifully with that rich tenor of his, the band supporting him flawlessly. I was taken back to my younger days when I would be in the truck on the farm with my Dad and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” would come on the radio, or seeing one of his countless TV appearances, cross-legged on the living room floor, entranced.

Now, it’s easy to be revisionist here, but this is how I like to remember it:

The dusk has settled and the full moon is shining brightly over the ocean as the drummer goes into this hypnotic, insistent beat. Lightfoot thanks the audience for coming, says a few words about the reason we’re all there, and starts strumming his guitar. Bass player kicks in, and they settle into an unreal, trance-inducing groove, which seems to go on forever. Just when you think vertigo is gonna take over, he begins to sing:

“I can see her lying back in her satin dress/in a room where you do what you don’t confess”

Sundown. Could it be more perfect? I don’t think so. I was utterly mesmerized, one of my favorite musical moments, ever.

The Oka Crisis came to and end, and the Stein Valley is now protected – I guess we were in some small way taking part in something important that weekend – but to say that tensions between the various segments of our country are settled would be a lie. Maybe if we all got together to watch a game or 2 on Saturday night and then had a listen to “Gord’s Gold” it would all be better… at least I’d like to think so.

After many repeated listenings of the song over the past 20 years, combined with my memory of the one time I saw him perform it live, I seriously suspect that Gordon Lightfoot, Canada’s Folk Laureate, was a Velvet Underground fan. Chan
ces are I’m totally wrong, but that sure wouldn’t be the first time.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown”

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Wagbeard – TNT

(I wrote this last night, but due to tech trauma, was unable to post until this morning – good thing SOMEONE in this household knows a thing or 2 about a thing or 2)

This past weekend, our campus/community radio station, CJSW, celebrated 25 years on the FM dial. To mark the occasion, they invited all kinds of local bands past and present to come and play a massive music fest in MacEwan Hall on campus. 25 bands, 25 bucks, 4 stages. One of my old bands was asked to perform, but sadly, we couldn’t make it happen as James is busy making a new record with his current band out in Vancouver.

There was a fairly sizable part of me that was sad that I was gonna miss playing the party at Mac Hall. I have never known our city without CJSW in it, and as a local musician, the station has been a huge source of inspiration, resources and support. I remember distinctly the first time they played Fire Engine Red – we pulled over to the side of the road and listened to the whole song, grinning from ear to ear, excited as little kids on Christmas. Our song was on the radio!! An unbelievable feeling, lemme tellya.

The best thing, though, about CJSW was the community it reared and fostered over the last quarter century. There are so many dear friends and memories I have that I can directly trace back to being a part of our scene, I could write a book. Bands break up, people move on, new bands form, the circle is endless – but I can safely say I would not be who I am today without the amazing music in our city and the personal relationships it has given me.

One band that means a great deal to me is Wagbeard, a loud, visceral punk rock combo that raised the bar for rock bands in Calgary. Smart, hooky and tight – they were the band that dudes loved ‘cuz their music would kick you in the face and make your ears bleed, and chicks loved ‘cuz you could dance all night and sing along to the choruses. I still don’t think Chris Temple, Steve Elaschuk, Pat Andrews and Trevor MacGregor (and Chris Faulkner before Trevor) know what kind of influence they had on the kids who went to their shows and on the bands that shared the stage with them. There was time when if you were on 17th Ave and had to make a right turn every time you saw a kid wearing a Wagbeard “77” t-shirt, you’d spend all day walking in a very tight circle. I got to know those guys pretty well over the years and I gotta say, you will never find a more stand-up bunch than them. Really, truly great human beings, all of ’em – which is why I was humbled when Chris Temple asked me a while back if I would get up and sing “TNT” with them at the CJSW party. I was floored. Wagbeard’s gonna play! Unbelievable! “Too Easy” and “Worth” and “Darwin Bonaparte” – live, one more time, and on top of that, Temple wanted me to get up and sing a tune. Of course I would, I said. Of course…

Except I wasn’t gonna be there. I had a gig as a sideman, helping to release John Rutherford’s album, one that I produced, and one that I am very proud of. As I do with terrible regularity, I neglected to check a calendar. Turns out John’s record release shows (Friday in Edmonton, Saturday in Calgary) were on the same weekend. In a way, it was serendipitous that FER was unable to get back together and I could do the right thing and play the gigs that I had committed to with John.

I can’t lie. As the date grew closer and the hype about the big show at UofC grew, I was pretty bummed about missing out. Not only would I miss the festivities, but I would miss my chance to sing a tune with one of my all-time favorite bands. This was on my mind all week, and on Wednesday as I was thinking of what tune to do for the Covers Project I thought it natural to pay tribute to the ‘Beard. “TNT” was a natural pick, not only because Chris had asked me to perform it with them, but because of the line in the chorus, “All I wanted was a friend to guide me through these turbulent times”. The ’90s were a very turbulent time for me, and Wagbeard as a musical force and as a group of friends most definitely helped me through it, although they never knew it, I don’t imagine.

The one aspect of the band that never got enough respect, I think, was Chris’ lyrics. They were always intelligent (if sometimes unintelligible), poetic, occasionally really funny and always thoughtful. There was never a throwaway line. Not to me, anyway, and his way of putting things was unlike any other’s. It still is today – check out this lyric from his new band, The Great Evil, as quoted in this month’s Beatroute

“Well lately I’m so downhearted. These changes really changed me up, they nearly did me in, I nearly bought the drugs. Who would have thought my body would be so kind to her and so mean to me… ”

And so, last Wednesday night (or early Thursday morning), I made a recording of “TNT”, a great song with a great lyric.

Anyway, this past Friday night, I was gigging in Edmonton with John, and when we arrived, I found out through a friend of mine up there that Wagbeard was playing a show at a local bar, a tune-up for the show in Calgary the following night. As it happened, my gig was done early, and I was able to race across town to catch what turned out to be the last 5 songs of their set. Pat saw me in the crowd and said “Hey Lorrie – you know this one… get up here!”, and so I got up and sang “TNT” with the boys. It probably wasn’t very good (Wagbeard songs are hard to sing, believe me), but whatever. I got to do it after all. It felt so good, i can’t describe it. After the show, it was great fun to hang out and have a few drinks and catch up with everyone, and then head to a pizza by the slice joint to fill up on doughy late-night goodness, and to act like a bunch of idiots like it was 1994 again. It really meant a lot to me, and I am not ashamed to say that I shed a couple tears of joy before going to sleep, re-hashing the night’s events in my mind.

The last thing Pat and Chris said to me before parting ways on the snowy street at 3 AM in Edmonton was this, “After your gig tomorrow night, get in a cab and get up to the University. We’ll save “TNT” for the end, and if you make it, we’ll get you up.”

The gig with John last night was awesome. The crowd was great, the rest of the band was great, and I didn’t embarrass myself too badly (I’m new at this sideman thing). It was done at midnight, and Wagbeard was scheduled to go onstage at the Mac Hall Ballroom at 12:30. I raced up there, and caught the whole set, which sounded like they hadn’t missed a beat in the intervening 12 years. Again, Pat saw me in the crowd and I was asked up to sing. I think I did a marginally better job the 2nd time around, but really, it doesn’t matter. I got off the stage and they cranked into “Helluva Way to Die”. If I had died right then (and believe me, I almost killed myself screaming the words to “TNT”), it would have been a hell of a way to die, for sure.

In the version here, of course, I screwed the lyrics up – those of you that are Wagbeard freaks, I know the acronym in the first verse is “RPG” and not “RGB”, but I sang it wrong. So there… (another reason why Chris’ lyrics are so great – “RPG” could mean “rocket-propelled grenade” or “role-playing game”, both of which would make sense in the context of the tune. I have it on fairly good author
ity that it is the former, but who knows for sure – Temple ain’t talking).

There’s no way I could replicate the awesome power of the band, so I thought I’d strip it down to a bare-bones acoustic version. I listen to it now, 4 nights later, and it sounds more melancholic than necessary, but considering my mood at the time, I hope it’s understandable. I realize that I may sound like a bit of a sentimental fool in this post, but if that’s the case, I’m 100% OK with that.

Wagbeard’s TNT

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Vic Chesnutt – The Gravity of the Situation

For those of you who don’t know, when I am not playing shows or making records or screwing around on the Internet, I book bands at a club in Calgary called the Marquee Room. It is a small place, not very fancy, but with a really cool vibe, on the 2nd floor of the Uptown, along with 2 arthouse cinemas. The building is an old art-deco hi-rise that I would categorize as in a state of disrepair, with a landlord that doesn’t seem to care too much about it or it’s only tenants – the club and the theatre.

There’s not a lot of money (in case you were wondering) in playing or promoting original live music, but I do the best I can. Most nights you will find a local act or 2 or 3, and the odd band from out East or the West Coast on their way across the country. Chances of more than a handful of people knowing about any of these artists are slim, and with all the options for the entertainment-seeker in our fair city, it is a rough go to even get those in the know out to see the show sometimes.

Some of the bands are not all that great. Most of them are really good, and a select few are unbelievably awesome. What I have found watching as many bands and singers and songwriters as I have from my perch beside the soundboard is this: all of these people believe wholeheartedly in what they are doing, and they always give their best show, the best they can. No-one mails it in. No matter how crappy their day was, or how many (or few) came to hear them, or how in the red they are because of their drive to make their voice heard and to give some songs to whoever will listen, the one thing all of them have in common is their sincerity, whatever form it comes in, and I am grateful to be able to give every one of them a venue for their art.

Once in a blue, blue moon, an artist who (in my mind, at least) should be a household name across the land with their records in every collection coast to coast finds their way onto the Marquee Room stage.

On October 20 of ’09, such an artist came and played. His name is Vic Chesnutt. I was really worried about the show, not from an artistic standpoint (I was giddy like a schooolgirl at the prospect), but from a logistics point of view. See, Vic was in a wheelchair, and our elevator was broken (it still is – one of many reasons why I suspect the landlord doesn’t really give a damn), and the only way we could get him up to the club on the 2nd floor would be to carry him up the main staircase.

How would he take it? Would he be offended? Would be so put off that he’d treat the show as a throwaway (after all, he has played thousands of shows all over the word. Big deal if these idiots can’t treat an artist with respect…)? I had no idea. All I know is that I desperately wanted this show to go off without a hitch – one of the greats was coming!

Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Vic and his band arrived, I welcomed them at the front door and explained the situation. He grinned at me and said, “Well, I ain’t that heavy. Let’s go.” A man who I admired the work of for so many records was so gracious. And humble.

That night, I saw the best show of 2009, hands down. In the running for best show of the decade, even. I’ve seen very few that hold the conviction that I saw displayed on Vic’s face, in his voice, hands, and songs. The band was in top form, and Vic was at what I imagine to be the height of his powers. It was absolutely perfect. Leading up to the show, I revisited all of his albums, and was amazed again at the body of work he had amassed over the years, and stunned that a man of such immense talent had to play our little club. I mean, I was excited that he was playing our little club, but I couldn’t fathom the idea. He should have been playing to thousands.

On Christmas day, 2 months after I saw him play that show – that mind-blowing show – I heard the news that he was gone. I still don’t really know what to say or even think/feel about all that.

This is the first song I ever heard by Vic Chesnutt, which why it is one of my favorites. Humble and gracious, The Gravity of the Situation.

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

The 2010 Covers Project

Happy 2010, all!

It is amazing to me how fast the first decade of the millennium flew by. I don’t feel all that far removed from NYE 1999 when I watched the sunset on the 14th Street bridge over the Bow River, thinking that our entire world could very well change entirely at midnight (I admit it – got sucked in by Y2K mania).

Not so long into the new decade I pronounced Gillian Welch‘s album ‘Time (the Revelator)‘ to be the best record of the decade, and I still stand by that assertion. ‘Ribbon of Red Taillights‘ from my “A Dime at a Time” album is essentially about driving and thinking and dreaming whilst listening to that record. It is a treasure, for sure.

Countless amazing things transpired in the decade past, too many, in fact, to list here. Suffice to say I have had many ups and downs and trials and tribulations, and much, much joy. I count myself lucky that I have met and come to know so many great people, and true and wonderful friends are something that I have no shortage of (the real, flesh-and-blood kind, not the cyber-variety, although I have my fair share of those, too… some of which may actually read this…).

I am feeling quite nostalgic on this night, probably because I have finished the first part of a new project that I decided a few months ago to undertake in ’10. This is not an original idea – I stole it from Bill Janovitz, a man I have never met in person, but one who has influenced me greatly. He is the guitar player, singer, and chief songwriter in a band called Buffalo Tom, a band that will go down as one of THE all-time greatest in my book. I cannot tell you how many times I have played their records, but I can tell you there are few who mean more to me than they, and especially Bill’s tunes. I think in some interview somewhere a while back I made mention of the fact that what I wanted most from my music was to make somebody somewhere feel the way my favorite records make me feel. The kicker is, I will never know if it has happened or will ever happen, since it is such a deeply personal thing, and indescribable, to boot. All I can say is that there are no words for the worth his songs have to me.

In late 2008, Bill started posting “The Cover of the Week” on his blog, and the first tune he did was ‘Little Mascara’ by The Replacements (another band and songwriter – Paul Westerberg – on my list of all-timers). That started an amazing little run of sometimes incongruous, sometimes brilliant, but always entertaining 3 and 4-minute breaths of fresh air, on a weekly basis. I like it so much, I decided to steal the idea.

So, for the next 12 months, I am going to post a cover song here, for you to listen to or download. Hopefully you enjoy, and hopefully you will come along for the ride.

Obviously, there are some that I have been thinking of doing, and some that I do in my show that will make it here, but by no means do I have a complete list, so it will be as surprising to me as it will be to you at times.

So, without further ado, I give you the first of 52 ( I realize I’m a week late in this – I am nothing if not tardy – sometime this year I’ll make up for the week I missed).

Buffalo Tom’s Sodajerk.

(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)

Everyone loves a house party, or: my friends make awesome music

This Sunday the 13th of December, I will be playing a house concert at Kate Gerritsen’s place – and she’s making spaghetti! Check the Facebook event for all pertinent deets.

Then, on Saturday Dec 19, I will be playing with Rae Spoon and Ghostkeeper at the Marquee Room. I guess I did an OK job making both their records, if they are still asking me to play shows with them…

Ryan and me – Skatch Blues

Ryan Boldt is the lead singer and principal songwriter in the acclaimed Saskatoon roots-rock outfit, The Deep Dark Woods:

“Dark songs of betrayal, remorse and redemption, steeped in traditional American songwriting… hinting at influences from the Band to Gram Parsons… ”
-Vue Weekly

After a busy year of touring North America with his band, Ryan is taking some time away to play some solo shows, and I’m lucky enough to join him for this show.

This is shaping up to be an awesome night!

Show at 8 PM at Weeds Cafe, $10 cover. All ages show, full beverage menu and food available. Get there early to get a good seat!

Ghosts, Cars and the 3rd World War

Hey! Bring the whole family. Wholesome, all-ages entertainment…

Old Reliables

A couple shows to tell you about –

Thursday, Oct 22 – The Marquee Room(2nd level of the Uptown – 612 8 Ave SW), with my pals Shuyler Jansen and Mark Davis. We will be playing in the round, workshop style. Doors at 9 PM, $10 cover.

Saturday Nov 7 – Weeds Cafe (1903 20 Ave NW) ALL AGES with Extra Happy Ghost and Crash the Car. I’ll be opening the show. Show at 8 PM, $5 cover.

Hope to see you at the shows – stay warm…

From my perch high above Little Italy

Wow. The time flies. Here I am in Toronto, in the midst of a whirlwind tour of S. Ontario. My NXNE showcase was last Friday at Mitzi’s Sister- a cool venue with a great burger on the menu. Felt good to be playing again, after what seemed like an eternity behind the board in the studio. The rest of the weekend was, ummm… hazy.

Shows this week included a gig with Jason Plumb at the Casbah in Hamilton and a show in Kitchener at the Boathouse. Tonight I’m off to Guelph, and will round out the trip with shows in Kingston, a couple in Ottawa and one in Wakefield. Check the shows page for all pertinent deets, please…

Looking forward to catching up with some Ottawa pals and a little R&R; over the Canada Day holiday.

For those of you in Cowtown, I am lucky enough to be warming up the stage for Black Francis at the Grand Theatre on Tuesday July 7th, and then I’m heading out to the Vancouver Island Musicfest in Comox.

Busy times. I’m exhausted just writing this…

T., me, and the CBC 3

Shows in BC last week were a ton o’ fun- was good to see some old friends and make a few new ones… here’s a lil chat i had with my pal tariq, who was good enough to invite me down to Radio 3 HQ before he joined me for a coupla numbers at the Railway…

Check out the shows page for more stuff upcoming…