Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Bennetts Brothers

Each year there are always new faces turning up on the inner harbour causeway to try their hand at being a street musician.
In the summer of 2006, two of these new faces were a pair of brothers, who although they are relatively new to the Victoria scene, they are anything but novices when it comes to busking in general, they are in fact busking veterans.

The two buskers, or “street singers” as they call themselves, Ian and Jonathan Bennetts began playing on the streets of Paris, France in 1957. Other places they have busked include Denmark, Switzerland, the Middle East, North Africa, New York and San Francisco. More recently, since the summer of 2006, they’ve been living and busking here in Victoria. They both play guitar, and sing a mix of folk, blues, rockabilly, skiffle and country.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Ian and Jonathan, have a direct connection to the late ‘50s British skiffle scene through their younger brother Les, who was achieving success as a premiere guitarist in his own band Les Hobeaux, and then went on to play lead guitar as a member of Lonnie Donegan’s band.

After hearing a few of their stories, I knew their early experiences playing on the streets of Paris would be a different perspective from the Vancouver/Victoria angle that’s been the focus of the blog so far. Last January, I finally got a chance to sit down with the brothers at Serious Coffee in James Bay, where they shared a few of their memories from their early days as street musicians.

CD – How did you decide to become a street musician?
Jonathan – My father was a guitarist and a singer with a dance band, didn’t know him very well as he abandoned my mother at an early age. Not knowing him, I followed in his footsteps, joined the Paratroop Regiment and was posted to Cyprus, aged 18. That’s when I had this singular idea of being a singer, and it just stayed with me. I bought my first guitar in Cyprus just before heading back to (the) UK, and after checking out the local scene in London, figured I’d do a lot better in France, (it) seemed much more romantic than England and a hell of a lot less competition.
Within a couple of weeks of discharge from the army in 1957 and with about fifty bucks, I got the boat train from Dover, arrived in Paris, spent all my money quickly on a hotel room and largesse to waiters. I wanted to start from zero and declare proudly that I’m living totally off the money that I was earning as a singer.
I’d just turned 20. When I started singing, I knew exactly three chords, which my brother Les had showed me, plus one complete song, Yes Sir, That’s My Baby. I sang my lungs out, about thirty renditions, same song. Still makes me smile when Ian and I sing it on the harbour front here.

(Ian Bennetts, Alex Campbell & Jonathan Bennetts – photo courtesy of Jonathan Bennetts)

Jonathan – Then I met one of Scotland’s finest folk singers, Alex Campbell, (he) was working in a small club called La Contrescarpe, but wasn’t a street singer. I googled him recently and found out he made like a hundred LPs, really amazing guy. Anyway, he came roaring out of the crowd and said “For f--- sake, can ye nae play another tune,” and he grabbed my guitar and proceeded to play eleven different chords while singing San Francisco Bay Blues. We became really good friends and he taught me how to play the guitar, he was a lovely guy, he really was.
Ian came over and joined me about six months later after he got out of the RAF. We busked together probably about a third of the time. Generally we’d do it solo because you made about the same money, maybe ten percent more with an extra person, so it made more sense to split the places that we were doing.

Ian – I remember my first busking experience in Paris. When I got out of the service I went immediately to Paris where it was supposed to be really good, the woman were beautiful. I was put there by my brother Jon, with a guitar, right in front of Le Metro, the Parisian subway. (People) came piling out and I struck up with, I think it was a pretty poor attempt at Blue Suede Shoes, made not much better by the fact that my guitar was a very quiet electric Hofner cutaway I’d brought from England. It looked great, but was useless for a street busker (as) it had no volume or sound or tone whatsoever. And so there I was standing at the top with my knees shaking real bad and my voice was to say the least, feeble! I got through it somehow and within a few days I was totally confident that I was on my way to becoming what I’d hoped to be, a pretty decent busker. Still, after a while, I switched to a Spanish guitar, (which was) all you could get in France at that time.
I think probably we’re talking the late ‘50s, ’58 or something like that, Jon and I would sing outside of a café somewhere in the Latin Quarter of Paris. We’d do two songs and then Jon would go around with the hat, and while he did that, I would sing Summertime. At that time back then a long time ago I had a very sweet soft voice and I would sing Summertime and I’d usually aim my eyes towards a pretty young woman and sing the song as if I was singing it to her. I learned that trick as a busker early on, and so I did very well in the romance department by singing romantic songs, and that was a really good experience for me, and I’ve never looked back.

(Jonathan & fellow street musician Sammy Prosser entertaining the crowd at the Pont des Arts – photo courtesy of Jonathan Bennetts)

Jonathan – Every Saturday and Sunday, we’d go down to a place called the Pont des Arts which is just opposite the Louvre, and underneath the bridge on the Seine (River) we’d have a big outdoor concert, and usually about a thousand people watching our outdoor show. It was really extraordinary, a lot of the visiting musicians from Stateside, Jack Elliott, and Derroll Adams, Pete the Feet a superb 12 string player, and Joe Locker the banjo player, Mimi Baez, Richard Fariña, whoever was in town came down, and we’d do like a non-stop show, take a couple of crates of beer, and before the show started, holler at the gathering crowd to throw our beer money down, it was really fantastic, probably the best street singing experience ever.

(Columbia studio shot of Jonathan & Ian with Pete the Feet on bass in foreground – photo courtesy of Jonathan Bennetts)

Jonathan – Then we were discovered whilst busking, made a record for a small company called Unidisc, who recorded folk songs, we did EPs (extended plays) in those days, four songs and onto the juke box. Somebody from Columbia Records heard it and really liked what we were doing, so they got in touch with us and offered a one year contract, paid us about $500 a week plus our lodgings and expenses. (They) put us on a plane, flew us back to England, bought absurd tweed suits for us and then flew us back again on Air France, (where) we had the press meet us when we landed. We sang with people like Johnny Hallyday and Richard Anthony. Edith Piaf, was in the same recording studio as we were, I thought she was the cleaning lady the first time I saw her, and I was quite startled to discover she was “le petit oiseau, the little bird”. We toured all over France, during this year with Hallyday and Anthony, going to different cities and each night there’s a concert. (We) sang at the Palais du Sports and headlined the Olympia which is the French Carnegie Hall or London’s Albert Hall.
We did lots of television, made various records, often covers of hit Presley discs, we had several hits and the usual publicity, but no freedom of choice. Then we were offered a huge contract, but it was way too prohibitive. We used to go to Pamplona and run with the bulls every year, skied every winter, and I parachuted, lots of dynamic things, but we couldn’t do any of this in the contract. They were gonna put us in a house, (and) four mornings a week we had to have breakfast with specific visiting stars and music publishers and stuff like that. Plus wearing those stupid tweed suits, being British and I was supposed to smoke a f---ing pipe, like proper Englishmen, when actually, I smoked Gauloises like a good Frenchman.
Anyway, I turned it down, I said “No”, walked away from it and went back to the street scene. It was a good contract, a huge amount of money, probably like $500,000 a year, plus royalties for me as lead singer, and for the rest of the group it was a $100,000 each, but I didn’t want to do it, I really had no interest in being manipulated just to make some money, but I certainly had an interest in leading a free lifestyle. So, we walked away from it, pissed everybody else off, but I’ve never regretted it for a day.

CD – How would you describe your music at that time?
Jonathan – I was doing things like Bring A Little Water Sylvie and Lost John, Cumberland Gap, stuff from Donegan, and then as Presley got more and more popular, I started doing Presley songs and I moved easily into the diving around and doing the gyrations.
As far as I know, I was the first sort of rock ‘n’ roll singer to do a session on the street. There were French street singers, but they played the accordion and they did like the romantic songs, where as I was doing Elvis Presley, and from that it built up. After three years I think there was about 25 street singers from Germany, from Sweden, from America, from England, and it just got to be like an industry in that sense, so I’m really proud of the fact that we were there for the start of the whole thing. Then I got hired solo at the Moulin Rouge on Pigalle, and (laughs) I was stripped down to a pair of tight white pants and they painted my body gold and I stood on a thing and sang Elvis, Jerry Lee (Lewis) and Ray Charles numbers.

The brothers went on a trip to Turkey and sang in some nightclubs in Istanbul. They also traveled to Cyprus, Lebanon and Jordan, where they sang at a hotel called the Philadelphia Hotel, for King Hussein and the royal family.

Jonathan – It’s probably around ’59, ’60, Ian and I, we did various trips. I wanted to visit a lot of different places, and the beauty about being a street singer is that we literally didn’t have backpacks then, we just had a guitar case with a couple of pairs of shorts, and a pair of pants, and we didn’t need anything else. You just bought things as you went along, and you could arrive in a city with no money, and strike up and ‘bingo’. The first thing you’d do is make your hotel money, and then you’d make your food money. And then if you wanted a couple of days break, you’d work extra hard.
In Geneva, I was such a novelty, I was making around 50, 75 bucks a night, and that was a lot of money in those days, so it was pretty fantastic. I was the first street singer in Geneva. I know that for a fact ‘cause I got arrested and they said “What is this madness, singing in the street, rock and roll?”, and then I eventually I did a couple of days in jail, and they let me out, there was a newspaper article about my arrest, and then I got a booking in a nightclub, so (laughs) that was pretty nifty.
Then I kinda moved from singing in the streets if it was too cold, and I’d evolved into asking if I could sing inside of restaurants. So in the old town of Geneva for instance, (there) was a super five-star restaurant and I’d sing in there and I’d put like a twenty franc note on the silver collection tray, and I’d score around about $200 in one show, ‘cause they were very, very wealthy, and I spoke to them in French which helped a lot. There was a king called King Farouk, and he used to go into this place regularly. He lived in Geneva when he was in exile, and he was in there one night when I was singing, and he said “Do you know anything Arabic?”, he spoke in French, and I said ”Yeah.” There’s a song called Moustapha that was a very popular song by an Algerian singer, so I sang that, I figure he’s gonna give me at least fifty bucks, anyway (he) went up to the collection, and he pulls out a purse and he takes out a ten centieme piece, it’s like five cents, he clinked it on my tray. I picked it up, and looked at him and I said “Your Majesty, I understand you’re in exile, and things must be very hard for you, so I think you need this more than I do” (laughs), and I gave it back to him. He went berserk, so the owner of the place threw me out. He said “We’re terribly sorry, Your Majesty”, (then) threw me out, and he winked at me and he said “Come by tomorrow”. So I walked back in there the next night, and all the waiters and the chef came out and applauded me, they said “Fantastic, Jonathan”, gave me a beautiful dinner, and they said “This bastard’s been stiffing us”, he’d get a bill for $1000, and he’d leave a $1 tip”. (laughs). So I was popular for a long time in that place.

CD – You’ve mentioned that you guys have also done a bit of jail time for singing in the streets?
Jonathan – We probably went to jail, at least a hundred times, Even when we had a contract with the studios, if they were late in giving us our allowance for a week, I’d say “If you don’t give it to us, we’re gonna go out and sing”, and they’d say “Oh, no, you can’t do that, you’re stars now.” And I’d say “Bollocks!” and off we’d go. I think we got arrested one time, we were both stars in the system, and there was a big headline in the newspaper “Les Travellers sont arrêtés par la police”. It was actually fantastic publicity and it really helped us.
We lived in a very immediate sense in those days and the fame didn’t mean too much, though it was certainly a terrific kick to go in a bar and put on one of our hits on the jukebox, or stand casually next to one of the huge posters with our photos on them all over Paris. (We) were pissed off ‘cause we didn’t have any money.
Ian – I think that one of the funny parts that kind of pissed me off at the time, but looking back it makes me laugh, is when and if the cops got us, because we got so good at sensing the cops coming, we’d take our guitars and put ‘em under a car and stand in the crowd and say “What’s goin’ on?”, when the cops would be there. But when they got us, fairly good humored about it, take us to the local cop station, take all our money, and keep us for a couple of hours and let us go. (laughs)
Jonathan – We finally developed a system where we had girls collecting and the moment we’d collected like $10, we’d put it in a special bag and she’d hang on to it, we wouldn’t put the money on ourselves, so that way the cops didn’t get all the money.
Ian – Tell him about Tangiers.
Jonathan – Oh yeah, we busked in Tangiers and within thirty minutes there was a riot, all these women with their (burqas) they were screaming, hysterically, and all the men were shouting at us and we were just singing, and we were arrested and slung in jail, for creating a riot, it was the newspaper headline the next day. Then the chief of police came to see us and he said “You know I can lock you up for a long time for this, it’s very serious, but we’re having a police benefit, so if you agree to play at the benefit we’ll turn a blind eye”.
Ian – And that’s where they asked us to play, right there in the jail.
Jonathan – We sang for them, then headlined the police ball.

* * * * * * * * * *
CD – You’ve been busking here in Victoria now for five years, how does the causeway compare with some of the other places you’ve busked?
Jonathan – (laughs) Financially, not at all. For crowd reaction my favorite country in the world to sing in was France, the French are just so extraordinary, they really reacted ‘cause they just have a joie de vivre which you don’t find in North America. For whatever reason North Americans are really tough to get involved. On a percentage basis, in France, if I stood on the Carrefour de L’Odeon, which I did when I first got there, within ten minutes of singing, I had about fifty people around me, where as here I can stand there for an hour, if you get four people around you, you’re doing pretty good. So, Victoria, we do it more for our soul than for anything else.

CD – What do you enjoy most about busking?
Jonathan – I think the sense of freedom, and it’s just a joyful experience to be out there singing for people. It doesn’t get too joyful when people just keep walking by, but once you get an audience and get some people that are responding to you, then it’s really a terrific feeling. And even at our advanced age it’s still a turn-on to do that. It’s a good feeling. So I enjoy the exchange essentially, where you move somebody enough that they’ll stop and they’ll interact with you, come up afterwards and say “We really, really liked that. That was good stuff.” For me anyway it’s much more about that.
I haven’t done a lot of it the last couple of years ‘cause I was pretty sick for at least a year. Now, Ian, he’s been really solid, he goes down there three, four times a week on average, and he does it ‘cause he loves doing it, it’s not really for the money, unless you do like three sessions a day, you’re not gonna make enough money to live on.
Ian – I can’t really add much to that. I agree. It’s the idea that you’re doing something artistic and you’re getting reaction from complete strangers, you know. And one of things I love about busking is when either foreigners or children get into it, and you know that they don’t understand really what you’re doing, but they’re so happy about it and they’re jumping around and laughing and giggling and stuff like that.

* * * * * * * * * *
In 1963, Ian and Jonathan got free passage singing on a boat to the States, and ended up in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where they met and hung out with some of the up-and-coming names of the early ‘60s folk scene including Bob Dylan and the Clancy Brothers. (more on their Greenwich Village experiences in a future post)

In the meantime you can check out the following related links:
Bennetts Brothers – C.C.Rider
Bennetts Brothers – Lost John
Lonnie Donegan with Les Bennetts on guitar

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Keep On The Sunny Side: interview with Emily Molloy & Leah Barley

A week ago Saturday, I was doing my regular busking slot on the north corner of the inner harbour causeway, when I happened to glance southward and noticed that there were a couple of unfamiliar street musicians playing in the center spot. When I heard that they were just in town for the day, I relayed a message down to them, that I was hoping we might arrange an interview before they left.

I was just packing up my gear preparing to go down to the center spot and catch up with the duo, when I noticed them approaching me, and we made our introductions.

It was apparent that their musical talents and their friendly, outgoing, sunny personalities had made quite an impression among the passersby, and a few of the causeway artists. As we were talking, people were still coming up and offering them tips and positive comments about their performance.

Sunny Side Up, as they call themselves, are Emily Molloy, who plays guitar and sings, and Leah Barley, who also sings, and plays the banjo and tambourine, or as she calls it “alternative percussion”. Both are originally from Ontario; Meaford and Newmarket respectively. Emily spent some time in Invermere BC, and Leah was living in Canmore AB, before moving to Vancouver where they met.

Emily – We have a mutual friend, actually two of our friends, Scott Bell and James Green, who have a band called the Buffalo Swans, and I was there to support them, and so was Leah, and we met each other dancing. Then we didn’t see each other for a little longer, and then we met again at a party through James and we just started hanging out and playing music together, and we loved it. We really collaborate well and compliment each others style, so (we) kept it up.
CD – And how long ago would this have been that you started playing together?
Emily – About two months ago.

CD – What made you decide to try busking?
Emily – I knew a couple of people who had done it before and I thought about it. I was like, what’s the difference between me playing music in my room or in my house by myself, and being outside, standing on the street and getting feedback and energy from people, and you can kinda make some money doing it. So, yeah, I just started trying to do it that way and went, set out my little jar one day and it was working, and I was like “Wow, alright, this can kinda work” (laughs).

Although Emily had done quite a bit of busking when she first moved to Vancouver, she and Leah had never busked together until they decided to try it in Victoria.

Leah – On this voyage in particular, we just wanted to kinda get away, and come see what Victoria was like, and wanted to play and share our music, so busking is just an easy way to just do it. We love playing for people at house parties and whenever we jam with our friends everyone has such a great time, so busking is just an easy way to share our music with everybody.
CD – So, you came over on the ferry last night?
Emily – Yeah, then we hitchhiked into Victoria, and from there we had some friends pick us up and we played music all night and ate some food and…
Leah – Here we are (laughs).

CD – What do you enjoy most about busking?
Leah – I like when you’re into a song and you’re playing and you’re totally into it and then all of a sudden you’re finished and there’s a whole bunch of people all around you, and you didn’t even realize it and everyone’s just clapping. Or, like that little girl, we sang a kids song, Five Little Green Speckled Frogs (laughs), for this one little girl, and she was so happy by the end of it. You know, it’s just nice to share your music.
Emily – It is nice to share your music, and I like to close my eyes a lot, and I’ll open my eyes up and there’s a big crowd around, and they all smile and you think “Well, okay that’s amazing, my music does get out to people”. I know that all the musicians that I’ve been listening to, that’s how they got to me, and I like to be able to give back to other people.

CD – How would you describe your style of music?
Emily – Eclectic. I’ll sing anything from, you know, Nirvana, covers from like early ‘90s grunge to, like jazz, Ella Fitzgerald style, it’s pretty all over the place.
Leah – I like to cover music on my banjo that you wouldn’t actually hear on a banjo, so I do Sublime songs, and I like doing music from the ‘40s and ‘50s, like, I cover Blue Moon and Dreams. I like to do songs that people love and enjoy but they’ve never heard it in that style and it makes them think, and I just kind of put my own twist on things.

CD – Do you write any of your own stuff?
Emily – Sure do. I’m recording an album right now, it’s gonna be out hopefully in the next eight months and, yeah, you can go to, and it’s all there. I think I have a very different style, I’m not really sure what I am, I can’t really, it’s… powerful, soulful… it’s hard… it’s just music, happiness, that’s what it is.
Leah – I’m attempting to (write), I’ve been singing for about three years, but I’ve only had my banjo for about a year, so just understanding the whole dynamics of putting lyrics together with chords is very new for me. I’ve written maybe three or four songs but nothing major and I’m just kind of playing with it. I just really enjoy accompanying Emily and learning from her, and learning from our friends, but definitely I’m learning a lot from Emily.

CD – Is there a song that you never get tired of playing, that you could play ‘til the cows come home?
Leah – To play with Emily, my favorite song by far is No Rain (by Blind Melon), the song that we performed for you. That song has such a deep emotional impact on me from when I was a kid, such a fun, fun song. But, I just love playing and singing, so I can’t really pick one song because, depending on my mood, it’s just whatever comes out of me.
Emily – For me, wow I was gonna say Black by Pearl Jam, it’s the song that I absolutely love to play, and everytime I play it, it’s actually different than the last time. It’s one of the first songs that I learned how to play and sing and it’s just very powerful and yeah, I love it. I did get sick of it for a while ‘cause it was the only song that people wanted to hear from me for a while, and then I started writing my own music. In terms of my own music, the one song that I could play forever is called This Old Box, it’s kinda got a special little special place.
CD – And is it on your website so people can check it out?
Emily – It is, yeah. People can totally check it out.

CD – In your short time busking, do you have any memorable experiences?
Leah – Well, this (interview) is going to be memorable (laughs). Just today was great having everyone clapping and being nice to us. One man came and gave us some of his paintings, and everyone’s been so friendly, and definitely, that little girl coming over and letting us sing for her was really sweet. It was just nice to see everyone was just so happy. It’s nice to do something we love and to have it impact people so positively.
Emily – I have two that really stick out with me. A little girl actually came and started dancing and she was wearing a tutu and her name was Ocean and her mom was just walking by like, they weren’t gonna actually stop, but she just couldn’t stop dancing, and so her mom eventually just ended up staying, you know watching her kid dance (laughs). It was like the cutest thing in the world.
Another one, this man came by one day, he was just walking by (and) he had a bunch of sage with him. He gave that to me as a gift instead of throwing a twoonie or something, and he asked if he could take my picture and I said ”Of course”. He used some of the pictures as part of his art project, and he put me up in (laughs) one of his art gallery openings, yeah, so that was pretty cool.
CD – Did you get to play at the opening?
Emily – No I didn’t even think about it at the time (laughs) I could’ve but (laughs) I didn’t think about it.

CD – If somebody came up to you and said “You know, I think what you’re doing is pretty cool, I’d like to try it”, is there anything that you’ve learned from busking that you could pass on to them as advice?
Emily – Definitely, just don’t reserve yourself, I think that’s the biggest thing, is just have fun with it and be yourself, that’s all you can do, right? Just being yourself and playing what you love to play, that comes out more than any other thing. Just putting your heart into it, that’s about it. As long as you love what you’re doing, people will come around and wanna be part of it, so yeah.
Leah – Make sure your heart’s in it, come prepared, know what you wanna play, keep ‘em rollin’. If there is a crowd, kind of try to interact with them.
Emily – (And) go when it’s not raining (laughs).
CD – (laughs) Sounds good to me. Have you ever done it in the rain?
Emily – I have.
Leah – Yeah? You busked in the rain?
Emily – Yeah, but I was under a covering thing, and it was raining on the street. It wasn’t good. (laughs) It really wasn’t good!

So, there you go. Best advice is if you’re going to try busking, "keep on the sunny side".

The pair are hoping to have a myspace page set up in a few weeks, at which point I will link it.
In the meantime, you can check out Emily’s music at the following website:
Music Of Emily

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Caleb Kennedy & Jaime Nolan

For most of my busking career, I have been primarily a solo performer playing my guitar, harmonica and singing, but over the years I have also had quite a few occasions to busk with other musicians be they non-busker friends or fellow buskers. Last year I posted a story in which I related some of those occasions. I also mentioned a few of the benefits of teaming up with someone else, the most obvious one being the extra boost of energy that comes from the interaction with another musician, which can go a long way to making the busking experience a lot more fun. (see blog archive – Sept 2009: Making Music With My Friends)

Down on Victoria’s inner harbour causeway, there have been many local buskers who have periodically joined forces to entertain the passersby. Some of these combinations have included one-man-band Dave Harris teaming up with myself or Swan Walker (steel drums) or Marty Field (guitar). Marty has himself paired up with Jake Quake (guitar), Leigh Grisewood (upright bass) or Julian Vitek (violin).

Another such combination is the duo of Jaime Nolan and Caleb Kennedy, two singer/guitarists who offer up rockin’ sets of popular songs that range from the ‘60s to more recent fare.
Of the two, Jaime, 34, has been busking the longest. After growing up back and forth between Ontario and Montreal, he moved out to Victoria in 1994 where he began playing along Government Street, and eventually he became a regular down on the inner harbour.
Caleb, 32, is originally from Keremeos BC in the southern Okanagan, and has been living in Victoria for the last seven years. He met Jaime when they began attending a weekly open stage / jam session at the Spiral Café in Vic West. In 2008, Caleb began busking as a guest on Jaime’s license, and last year he successfully auditioned for his own license on the harbour, and can now be found performing solo, as well as continuing the duo sets with Jaime.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Jaime and Caleb for this interview.

CD – Have either of you busked anywhere other than Victoria?
Caleb – I busked a little bit on the (BC) Ferries, I wasn’t planning on busking, I actually just started playing by myself and then people came by and they ended up giving me some money at the end of the thing. I (also) busked in the Okanagan when I went back to visit. In Penticton, there was a farmer’s market and I just played my guitar and people threw money in it so, it was good.
Jaime – I’ve busked all across Canada. When I was 21, I went all the way to P.E.I., and busked all the way back to Vancouver Island. Every city except for Edmonton, so I hit all the major cities, Quebec, Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown, St John, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, didn’t do Regina.
CD – How did those places compare with Victoria?
Jaime – They didn’t. Victoria’s the best. That’s why I’m here.

CD – What do you enjoy most about busking?
Caleb – I like playing for people, and we get a really nice crowd down here and you make a little bit of money doin’ it. There’s not much better that you could do with your day, you get to be outside in the sun, playing music, I mean, the whole thing about it is good.
Jaime – Yeah, I just love bein’ out here with the people. There are other busker spots that could be more lucrative, but the inner harbour, I just love socializing with the people, I love being down here, the community.

CD – How would you describe your style of music?
Caleb – You couldn’t say a genre because we do all sorts of genres, but just energetic. We like to put out a good energy, sometimes we’re kinda funny, you know, but, energy almost in everything we do, whether it’s a slow song or a fast song, we’re always puttin’ a lot into it.
Jaime – Yeah, we definitely have a different style when we play together as opposed to when we’re playing separately. When we’re together we try to play off each other’s energy. And this year we’re trying to incorporate some comedy stuff in there. But whenever I play alone, I’m mostly a real mellow player, you know like slow songs, like Neil Young kinda stuff, Blue Rodeo, but when I’m with Caleb it’s upbeat the whole time.

CD – Do you write any of your own material?
Caleb – Yeah, I write lots of songs.
CD – And how much of that do you do out on the street?
Caleb – I don’t know, probably like five or six songs that I’ll do on a fairly regular rotation. When I’m by myself I actually do a decent amount of originals, stuff which goes okay, hit and miss, it kinda depends on the crowd. And it depends on the day, if it’s a quieter day, sometimes I’ll just try a new song out and surprisingly I’ve had a pretty good response. If there are kids around occasionally I’ll pop into a little repertoire of original kids’ songs as well.
Jaime – I write a lot of songs but I don’t play them down here. When I first started, I played mostly my own stuff ‘cause I didn’t have a large enough repertoire, and then the more covers I learned, the more money I made so I just stopped playing my own stuff, and I just keep my own stuff to play in coffee shops.

CD – Who would be your musical influences?
Caleb – The Beatles, I think is an obvious one for me. I really like Weezer, which is a band that we do a couple of tunes of. I personally like things that are catchy, I don’t care who the person is who writes it, if it’s got a good feel to it; I like music to sound honest. I mean some pop songs are honest, some are not, so I like honest songs that are lyrically driven. I’m a big lyric guy.
Jaime – Me, definitely Neil Young, Bob Dylan, mostly acoustic artists like Van Morrison’s early stuff acoustically, something that I can busk with, you know. I love Pink Floyd, but I can’t play Pink Floyd down here, so what influenced my playing is definitely Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

CD – What’s your all-time favorite song to perform, the one that you never tire of playing?
Caleb – I don’t know if it’s my all-time favorite, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. Every time we play it we get such a reaction that you just can’t help but wanna play it. Even if I was tired of playing it, I would keep playing it because you get such a good energy that it feels good playing it anyway.
Jaime – You go through phases, like where you got a song that you just love playing and you play it all summer, sometimes you play it twice in a set, but it changes. However, I never get tired of my Neil Young songs.

CD – What is your most memorable busking experience?
Caleb – This summer my two kids came out with me, and Jaime’s son Harbour came out, and we had another friend over and the kids came up and they happened to be wearing their soccer gear, and they sang the “Waving Flag Song” which is the soccer anthem for the World Cup, and people just went crazy for it. So, it’s kind of a dad moment, ‘cause it wasn’t really as much about me, it was more about them, but that was pretty cool for me.

Jaime – It’s tough ‘cause most memorable moments, they change. This is my 16th year and maybe five years ago I might've had a different answer
‘cause other memories are fresh in your head. But for me definitely, I started busking this summer with my son on the drums. That was like the coolest thing ever. I thought that maybe when he was 16 he might play with me, but I didn’t expect him to be 6 years old.

CD – What was your worst busking experience?
Caleb – It was probably one of my early ones when I went to do an evening shift and I didn’t know much about it and it was windy and cold and people weren’t interested at all, and a couple of guys heckled me and I think I made like $4 in like 2½ hours, it was just terrible, so that was probably my worst one.
Jaime – I think my worst was, I was like busking hard for so many days and on the day of my birthday I got intense sunstroke and I got violently ill and I almost didn’t make it home and that was a horrible experience.

CD – Anything else you’d like to add in relation to busking?
Jaime – It’s definitely something you have to be devoted to. A lot of the new buskers, they try it once or twice and when the income’s not sufficient they give up. It’s something you’ve gotta be disciplined and you just gotta play all day in order to pay that rent, but, you have to love it, you can’t just do it ‘cause it’s a job, you have to love it.
Caleb – And you’ve got to be willing to take those days when you’re not going to do much and you have to be willing to be okay with that. You know sometimes, the next day you’ll do better, so you just gotta be okay with that. And that’s one thing I’ve sort of been training myself, like I’ll look down and it’s been an hour and there’s five bucks in there, and I’m like okay well that’s five bucks I didn’t have before. I could’ve sat at home and played guitar and made nothin’, so you know, attitude I think is a big part of success.
Jaime – Attitude, yeah.

When not performing on the inner harbour, Caleb and Jaime also play together in a 5-piece band called Weak Patrol, which will be playing at the Upstairs Cabaret in Bastion Square on Thursday, August 5th.
Jaime told me “It's nothing like our busking sets. It’s completely electric, and it’s all originals”, to which Caleb added “But, it’s still good, still high energy”.

If you can, be sure to check ‘em out, and in the meantime you can find video clips and more info at the following links:
Jaime Nolan circa 2007
Caleb Kennedy

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just Four Guys Named Shmoe

Take a stroll to Market Square, and wind up at the Empress,
Come and catch the causeway show, if you’re feeling restless.


So go a couple of lines from Take Me To Metchosin, a song by a very popular combo that spent most summer evenings through the 1980s, busking on Victoria’s inner harbour causeway. Over their seven year run, Special Delivery aka The Shmoes entertained the tourists and locals that were strolling along the harbour, and in the process built up a following of regular fans with their high-energy show that incorporated tight musicianship, catchy song parodies, humorous patter, and wild and crazy visual antics.

I was living in Vancouver at the time, so I missed most of the band’s heyday, but when I moved to Victoria in ’89, I do remember that after spending my days busking on the harbour, I’d usually stick around in the evenings and hang out with the audience to watch the Shmoes' shenanigans.

Over the years I have seen and listened to many street musicians, and I have to say that the Shmoes rank up there at the top of my list of favorite busking acts, along with Diamantose in Vancouver circa ‘79-‘81, and the Okie Doke Band in Seattle in the early ‘80s.

I recently sat down with fellow busker, one-man-band and former Shmoe, Dave Harris, to get the story behind the band. I could tell from the enthusiasm with which he spoke, that he was enjoying the memories of what was obviously as much fun for him as it was for all the folks that came out to catch the “causeway show”.

CD – What can you tell me about the genesis of the band?
Dave Harris – I was busking on the street as a solo, when I met Jimmy Sinclair. (He’d be) in town visiting from Pender Island, (and) he’d sit in with me on Government Street and play a few tunes on guitar, and I played fiddle or mandolin, so that’s how I got to know Jimmy.
I probably already knew Mike Kraft from the days when we played in front of the Empress (Hotel) under the Captain Cook statue, that’s how I met Mike. He would come down and listen to me playing with the Anonymous Street Band. Mike was a budding banjo player, so he would come and sit in with us when we were the large group, safety in numbers a little bit, he was very green, he’d be real scared, but we’d say “Jump out there”, and he’d do Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms and things like that.
Rod Thomson was another catalyst for a lot of all this. Rod was a little bit older than the rest of us and he played mandolin. He used to come and play with me for free on Government, those were the days when I was really struggling, and he started to teach me bluegrass songs, he knew a lot of songs and he was really into it.
Rod and Mike started living together and doing a little bit of gigging with other guys, and they formed the original Special Delivery band, in early ’79 I think, with a guy named Tom Coles, and I don’t remember who else. They were short-lived, but they did a few gigs.

The other guys ended up leaving, and when Mike came into the group with me and Jimmy he brought the name Special Delivery with him, so it was Rod on mandolin, myself, Jimmy and Mike, and we usually busked under the Captain Cook Statue on top of the causeway.
Around 1980, Rod, Jimmy and Mike went on the road with John Hopkins, but then Jimmy quit and we teamed up as a duo. We used to play a lot at the tourist information up on the top of the causeway, sometimes down below, but a lot up on top. This would be maybe about ’81, something like that, and sometimes my girlfriend of the time, Rhonda Broadfoot would join us as well. Then Mike came back, so we started playing as the three of us.
I was also playing with Jeremy Rogers in a separate thing. We were doing Blue Sky with Rhonda, and Jeremy was playing keyboards with us, so that’s how he came into the group. We didn’t have a bass player really, Jimmy would play some bass, but he was mostly playing guitar, and I was playing fiddle and mandolin, and Mike was playing banjo, so Jeremy came in and covered the bass lines on the keyboard. That basically covers sort of the genesis of the group.

CD – How would you describe the style of music you played?
Dave Harris – We were basically a bluegrass band, certainly when Rod was in the group we were really quite hardcore bluegrass actually and did quite a bit of Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and Jim and Jesse, that kind of material. I was mostly singing a lot of the material, songs like Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, I Gotta Travel On, Nine Pound Hammer. I was really into the Kentucky Colonels, Clarence White’s group from the ‘60s, and so I learned a lot of their songs, If You’re Ever Gonna Love Me, and Dark Hollow, Take A Whiff On Me and Last Thing On My Mind.
Jimmy really was the one who brought the diverse repertoire to the group. He did things like the Kinks’ Skin And Bone, and a bunch of songs by Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen, (and) he brought in some John Hartford too, like Steam Boat Whistle Blues, kind of obscure songs. We did all the big hits too Dueling Banjos, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Rocky Top.
Mike brought a couple of Lightfoot songs into the group, Did She Mention My Name, and You Are What I Am and I did Early Morning Rain, so we had a bit of Canadiana in there as well. The songs that we covered weren’t necessarily always bluegrass, but we covered them in a bluegrass manner, so we were sort of newgrass, in a way.

CD – And some of your most popular songs were the parodies?
Dave Harris – We had quite a few parodies. That was Jimmy’s influence although all of us contributed. I can remember the funny story of us all sitting at Coffee Mac’s, it was an all-night restaurant, now long gone, over at Rock Bay and Gorge. We’d go play and when we were done we’d go home and we lived in that area, so we’d walk over there for something to eat, and sit around late at night yukking it up in a booth, and that’s how we wrote Take Me To Metchosin, which was a rewrite of a Bob Wills tune Take Me Back To Tulsa. It was all written right there in the booth, and we were rolling in the aisles. The waitresses were thinking “Boy, what are these guys on?” We just couldn’t stop laughing, we laughed about it for days. I remember the first time we tried to do it on the causeway, we just about broke down and fell on the ground, we were laughing so hard. In retrospect it wasn’t that funny, but at the time, you know.
Under The Empress of course came from (The Drifters’) Under The Boardwalk. That was Jimmy and another guy Joe Figliola, who played bass with us on occasion down there.
Then we had Just Four Guys Named Shmoe, that was mostly me. Jimmy and Jeremy, and actually even my wife Jane contributed a few lines in that, but that was basically mostly me. That wasn’t really a rewrite, it was just a funny song.”
Other rewrites that we did Bowling Down At Mayfair to the tune of Proud Mary, we did Fumbling Stumblebums to Tumbling Tumbleweeds.
The Polite Rodeo Song, instead of all the swear words it was “I’m overly concerned, you’re causing me to be irate”, that was mostly Jimmy again. Jimmy was into David Letterman who was really big at the time, he had a lot of that same kind of humor, dry wit.

CD – Your show was very visual. Tell me about some of the more popular antics?
Dave Harris – Dueling Banjos was a really big hit for us because when we were doing it, me and Mike would put on silly hats, I’d put the antlers on, it was like antlers on a helmet, and Mike would wear the pig hat and squeal like a pig. We’d each go a different way off to the wings of our playing area, and then we’d run back to each other and lock our heads together like a couple of bucking deer, that would be sort of close to the end of it.
Turkey In The Straw was another really big hit for us. We would put two cases out and run around them doing figure-eights (and) kicking each other in the butt. Of course ring-around-the-bass in Under The Empress, that was another big antic, and in Take Me To Metchosin we’d lie down on the causeway, flopping around like landed carps.
We had one that we called the "Toyota Jump", which was actually a couple of old fiddle tunes, I believe it was Devil’s Dream and Wagoner’s Lad. In the Wagoner’s Lad it goes da-da-dit-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da, so we’d jump on the da-da-dit (jump) da-da, and then Jimmy would yell out “What a fun bunch of guys”. We called it the "Toyota Jump", ‘cause that was when Toyota had their big “Oh, what a feeling” and they’d all jump, it was the big thing for about a year. A lot of our stuff came from television.
The fiddle tunes were the things where we really would usually do a lot of the dancing around, and so things like Orange Blossom Special was another big one for us, we’d go faster and faster, we’d actually use that as a money-grab, we would say “We’re gonna start off really slow, and every time somebody puts some money in we’ll speed up a little bit,” and that sometimes would work.

CD – And you also had some clever lines in some of the songs.
Dave Harris – “Clapping’s the butter, but we sure need the bread.”
CD – Yeah, and “Some folks like to come down close…”
Dave Harris – “…and get into the show, others like to stand up top and hang onto their dough”, and we’d call it (street level) the cheap seats, and things like that.
I should mention the girls, Mike’s wife Sandra, my wife Jane, and Jimmy’s wife Barb, we called them the Shmoettes, and they would sing some backups on some of the tapes, not live. And Jane would go around with the hat for us, that was even mentioned in the Shmoes On Parade song, “there goes Janey ‘round with the hat”.
We had a line about “our omnipresent baby” in Under The Empress. Our omnipresent baby was a lady that was probably an Eric Martin patient, I believe, and we maybe didn’t always handle her with the kid gloves that we should’ve, but she would come down and be pretty outlandish, sort of off-the-wall behavior. One night we were setting up to play and she was hanging around behind us. Anyway, she actually took a swing at Jimmy one night down there, and luckily without even knowing what was happening, he bent down just as she did it and she missed him, so that was sort of the initiation of her as the “omnipresent baby”.

CD – So, the the period we’ve been talking about from 1983 to 1990, that the last year with the group?
Dave Harris – When Rod was in the group in the very earliest years, that was about ’79, but the full-on era of the four Shmoes with Jeremy starts probably about ’82, ’83, somewhere in there, and runs right through until ’88, and then we had a falling out and Jeremy and Jimmy split off and decided they were gonna do their own thing, and Jimmy’s wife Barb came in on bass with them and Mark Bracken played a little bit of guitar with them few times.
Me and Mike Kraft kept going as a duo us and we brought in Dan Clifford for a summer, and then ’89 I think we may have done something different again, I don’t remember exactly, but definitely not with Jimmy.
We had a one month reunion with Jimmy and Jeremy in August 1990, (that) was the last year as the group for sure, and (then) we had another reunion in 2006.

CD – So, where is everyone now?
Dave Harris – Mike Kraft, of course as we know, is playing with the Clover Point Drifters, and living in Sooke, raising his girls who are actually just about ready to leave home, and he coaches sports, and works as a salesman for PFC Natural Foods.
Jimmy Sinclair is following his passion in a way, he always wanted to get more into writing, so he did that when he left town in the early ‘90s, and he just came back maybe three or four years ago, and he’s writing copy and covering sports events for the Sooke newspaper.
I don’t see much of Jeremy, he lives on the mainland. He’s not doing music much at all, I think he’s still in the accounting business of some sort, but I’m not positive exactly what he’s doing.
Rod’s back in Saskatchewan where he was from.
Joe Figliola passed.
The wives are all still with the guys. That’s a success story, all three of us are still with our wives. Jeremy is married now.
I’m still basically doing the same thing I’ve been doing since 1977, and that’s busking. I’ve gotten back to being a solo working as the one-man-band, and I occasionally play with some other people. I’ve started resurrecting a little bit of the old material from way back in the day, and I still do a couple of the causeway hits by request.

Special Delivery released six cassette tapes, 1983’s Highway Roller, 1984’s Special Delivery, 1985’s Just Four Shmoes, 1987’s Midnight Special, 1988’s Under The Empress and 1990’s Shmoes On Parade.
The cassettes are all out of print, but the greatest hits package Shmoes On Parade is available on CD, and can be purchased either from Dave when he’s on the harbour, or at his website Dave Harris One-Man-Band

See Special Delivery aka the Shmoes in action at the following links:
Special Delivery 1990
Special Delivery 2006

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Interview with Blaine Komatich

The Sunday before Christmas, I was reading the Times-Colonist newspaper, when I came across a photo of accordion player Blaine Komatich and his canine companion Ranger, under the heading “Busker doggedly pursues the holiday crowd.” After the new year had arrived, I made a point of searching them out to see if I could get an interview for the blog.

Blaine, 23, was born and raised in the north end of Winnipeg MB. When he was 8 years old, an uncle who was visiting from Gabriola Island gave him a little baby accordion, and he took beginner lessons until he was 10. He later attended Music Conservatory where he took piano lessons for a while. He also played guitar in his high school band. At 19, he decided to take a couple of months of classical lessons, but decided later that classical accordion wasn’t what he wanted to do. Blaine also spent a bit of time in a street marching band that walked around the neighborhoods once a week playing in outdoor bandshells and parks.

I thought I’d start by asking Blaine about the busking scene in Winnipeg, and he told me there were a few magicians and jugglers, but not a lot of music buskers. “Sometimes they’re passing through town and they’re playing fiddle or something in front of the liquor store, just trying to make enough money to get out.”

CD – Do you know if you need a license to busk in Winnipeg?
Blaine – You do in certain spots, down in the Forks, (at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers) some of the tourist traps down there, you need a license.
CD – Have you ever busked in Winnipeg?
Blaine – No. I liked to play outside a lot, I’d go play in the park more often than go out on the street. I had a little bit of change thrown in my case, but never really made a point of doing it every day.

When he was 20, Blaine got an offer of a job in the Northwest Territories, so he left Winnipeg and headed north to Yellowknife, where he did maintenance work on Twin Otter floatplanes. He spent the next 2½ years in Yellowknife and it was there that he got Ranger, a Canadian Inuit husky, and they have been partners since.

Not too long after he arrived there, he moved onto a houseboat that was only accessible by canoe, which he tipped one day with his accordion in it. He managed to save the instrument, but all the seals were broken so he had to get a new one. “I had a nice one shipped up from Winnipeg, one I kinda had my eye on before I left. The fanciest accordion in town, and probably the only guy who could play it.”

According to Blaine, Yellowknife is a small town, but it does have a pretty good music scene with a few local bands, and some open mics and jam spaces.

“I ended up living in the backyard of, this guy, Chris, who played in an 8-piece bluegrass band, and I was playing in the backyard one day and he walked over and said he’d love to make it 9. They had a nice medley of instruments, and they wanted to have it all, banjo, ukulele, electric bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, fiddle sometimes and accordion.”
“The coolest place I ever jammed, the band’s jam space was an old derelict ship, a surveying vessel called the Aurora Surveyor, that had all the engine ripped out, it was rusted away, and anchored out on Great Slave Lake, you had to canoe to get there. We had a nice jam space, carpets all over the walls, it was safe, quiet, good vibes in a rusted out ship.”

In August of last year, Blaine and Ranger left Yellowknife and hit the road together for “the long trip down,” to Victoria. They finally arrived here this past October, and since then they’ve been busking along Government Street.

“I came here and I got a brand new accordion, dropped a whole bunch of money on it as soon as I got into town here and decided to try and pay it off. I met all these buskers that were working down here everyday and just felt like joining the family” he said.

CD – How have you been finding the busking here?
Blaine – Oh, great. It’s a lot of fun, yeah. I get to come out and practice, got children dancing, and smiles on people’s faces. And it’s a really nice way to sustain yourself to get your groceries and whatever you need, food for the day, beer, (laughs) it’s a really nice way to live, fall in love with the life, just playing music everyday in the street.

CD – Do you have a favorite spot to play?
Blaine – Starbucks (on Government). I like it ‘cause it’s dry, ‘cause you never know when it’s gonna start raining, and water and moisture’s not good for my instrument. And the sounds, I have a hard time time hearing myself when I’m too close to traffic, even though the thing’s bloody loud, other people can hear me but I am distracted by the traffic a little bit, and at Starbucks there, I can stand back, and you have stone walls behind you and above you. I can hear myself a lot better, it’s helps me play better. Playing outside’s difficult sometimes. I don’t know how those guys do it up on Douglas (Street).

CD – How would you describe your style of music?
Blaine – Oh boy (laughs), I don’t know, that’s really hard to do. It’s really my own style of accordion. I like alternative accordion. Right now, I’m more inspired to play rock oriented style. You know the accordion’s like an acoustic organ I can carry around with me. That’s the way I’m seeing it now. I really like playing with guitar players, and improvising and jamming, and finding the right keys to play in, and soloing on the accordion like a rock organ player would solo a bit.

CD – Who are some of the musicians that have influenced your style?
Blaine – Tom Waits, I guess. Ian MacKeye (from Minor Threat). I listened to lots and lots of music, and I went through lots of different phases. Listening to Robbie Robertson particularly, and the Band, for sure.

CD – Do you write your own material?
Blaine – Yeah, it’s almost all original and it’s all starting to come together the more I play it. I really improvise a lot of it and what’s happening after you improvise a lot, is you start to remember things and you write, you keep on playing and you keep improvising and you end up getting something together, trying as best as you can to play it exactly the same. (laughs) That’s why I have this (digital palm) recorder now, so I can record myself, if I forget, I can listen to it.

CD – What’s your most memorable busking experience?
Blaine – All the crowds of people around this (past) Christmas, and lots of little kids dancing in front of me. When there’s lots of people out, it’s nice, when you have people who are going to sit and listen, and it happens. I don’t think I have one that’s most memorable. I’ve had a lot of (laughs) interesting offers. Somebody offered when I was playing with a guitar player, told us to come and play at their hot-springs. I had a lady come and ask me if I wanted to come live on a farm with them.

CD – Have you played at any open mics around town?
Blaine – Yeah, I’ve done a few. The Hootenanny at Logans. Ocean Island a couple of times, I was living at the hostel when I first got here, so I did the Ocean Island one. Cabin 12. I prefer open jams rather than open mics, I perform just about all day, every day, so when it’s time to go to open mic, I’d wanna go there to be playing with a bunch of other musicians who wanna jam together. That’s what I prefer, and you can find things like that. Once in a while, the Hootenanny’s all right for that, you can kinda just go up and play. I’ve been to open mics where there’s more of a circle, like a song circle, and you can play, everybody can either request something, play something, sing something, and pretty much anybody can play, if they want to, everybody in the circle.

CD – I’d guess that when you’re busking, Ranger here, is probably a big part of the attraction?
Blaine – Yeah, talk about the dog. He’s become part of my act more just because I can’t leave him at home, but, he’s become part of it, yeah. People like seeing this guy. It’s a little bit like a circus sometimes, when I’m playing something fast and weird and the dog’s tied to my leg, trying to chase after another dog.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview with Sean Winter

Just last month I was walking down Fort Street when I came across Sean Winter playing his tenor saxophone halfway up the block between Douglas & Blanshard. I introduced myself and we arranged to meet after he was done his set, and headed across the street to Delicado’s at Fort & Blanshard, where over coffee we got down to the interview.

Sean, 21, is from Victoria, and he has been playing saxophone, and busking for about ten years. While he was attending high school, he played with the Vic High R&B Band. Sean spent the last three years living in Vancouver where he also did some busking. Since moving back to the island in October of last year, Sean has been spending quite a bit of his time playing on the streets of Victoria.

Since the interview I have seen him busking at Douglas & Yates in front of the Scotia Bank, and he has also been regularly playing evenings outside the Market on Yates at Blanshard. Both are spots that are pretty non-traditional as far as busking goes, but Sean says they have been working out quite well for him.

CD – What made you decide to try busking?
Sean – It was pretty much pressure at home. My mom said “If I’m going to be paying for these saxophone lessons and renting this instrument, at least you could go out and try and make some money”. I was terrified, I thought that people would laugh at me, or point and stare, but then I just got out there and started playing and realized that half the people aren’t even listening (laughs). So, it was really scary at first, the idea to go out and make some money because we were poor, and at the same time not being confident because I’d only been playing for two weeks at the time.

CD – And how did it go on your first few times out?
Sean – Well, I really didn’t know what to do, so I just sort of noodled around and surprisingly, I was so young, that I think people were giving me money because of the novelty of it, that I was a little kid and I was out there by myself playing and that seemed really cool to them. So, that part was good and I guess right away I started playing more and more, just because I had to go out there. I found it pretty easy, not as scary as I had originally thought. Now I can’t even really imagine anything else.

CD – You mentioned that you did some busking in Vancouver, where would you have played?
Sean – On Seymour outside of the Granville Skytrain station, it would be one of my favorite spots because it was good for late and it was close to the big intersection, you know, Georgia and Granville. I played in Gastown almost every day because I lived there. The west end around Davie and Bute. I didn’t have my license the entire time that I was living in Vancouver, never really got harped on about it, but it did mean that I couldn’t play in certain spots.

CD – And you mentioned that you were thinking of going to Europe, maybe try some busking over there?
Sean – Yeah, I’ve been to Europe twice on school band trips, one I was of age and the other I wasn’t. It wasn’t that I was making any more money, it was just that the smiles were more plentiful and the people stopping and talking were nicer. I played in Copenhagen and in Liverpool.
There was a funny story, I was playing, and this little boy probably like 10 or 11, was holding his mom’s hand and (he) looks up at me and goes “Oh, why don’t you get a bloody job?”, and I pulled my saxophone out of my mouth and I said like “Hey, that’s not very nice!”, and he goes “Eh, you f---ing yank! “(laughs), and I’m like “Oh, okay.” And yeah, there’s gonna be bias anywhere, that we’re just like glorified panhandlers, but none the less, you know I was making good money, so you know, who’s to say that that’s not a job (laughs), yeah.

CD – Tell me about your experience with the Vic High R&B Band?
Sean – Oh, that was good. It basically was my professional training. Elementary school and middle school and even just like concert band in high school, got me learning my instrument, but there’s no real place to take a course to learn how to be a musician, to learn how to be a gigging on-call musician. And that essentially was it. We’d have such heavy intense rehearsals, and we’d be reading charts, and you know getting everything really polished and tight, and (it was) probably the tightest band that I’ve ever been in. Yeah, it was real like life experience, career experience, and now I know hundreds of songs, and I’ve played hundreds of songs with them.
When I first moved to Vancouver I auditioned for a band called Soul Assembly and got in, I think based on the fact that their entire set list, I knew, just because I was in the Vic High R&B Band.

CD – What do you enjoy most about busking?
Sean – I think I enjoy the freedom of busking the most, the nomadic kind of nature, basically, you can just go anywhere, any city in the world and just plop down and make a living. I don’t know, I think a lot of musicians are very self-critical and self-reflective and at the same time as it not having to matter if you’re doing good or you’re sounding good, it’s nice to have people stop and chat and saying ”You’re good, you’re great.” It’s a lot of fun, the social interaction (but) at the same time you don’t technically need that, you can just go play and do your thing, and you can close your eyes if you want and just be alone, doing what most of us love, be alone and intimate with your music. Then every couple of minutes somebody stops and says “Hi”, and chats, and you just keep going (laughs).

CD – How would you describe your style of music?
Sean – When I filled out my application for my busking license, it said style of repertoire or whatever like that, and I put “jazz standards & familiar tunes on tenor saxophone.” I guess that’s what I try to do, because I do movie themes and stuff, recognizable little riffs and things like that even if they aren’t real songs, they’re things that people can kind of recognize or latch onto. As well, I try to do like all the jazz tunes and things that I know. I got straight-up jazz like some improvisational kind of, no matter how much of a rock ‘n’ roll tune, or how much of a blues, or how much of an old sad song, I try and make everything a bit jazzy. And sometimes I play too many notes, so that’s jazzy (laughs).

CD – And what are the songs that you really enjoy playing, never get tired of playing?
Sean – I kind of have my repertoire that I do and it’s sort of about an hour, and I can stretch it and do maybe an hour and 20 minutes, or so, and then I just kind of repeat it, but there’s songs certainly that I play maybe a little bit longer or that I really stretch out on because I just like playing them, (like) Georgia On My Mind by Hoagie Carmichael, and Summertime by (George) Gershwin. I really like putting songs together, so if a song’s in the same key and maybe it’s around the same feel, I like to put them together as maybe a little medley, and so the one that I like the most is putting On The Sunny Side Of The Street and Makin’ Whoopee, together because they’re kind of in that same feel, and they’ve got good changes to them.

CD – Who are your musical influences?
Sean – Really, anybody who’s just rippin’ on their instrument, you know. On tenor saxophone specifically, Frank Catalano is a great player from Chicago, with a great sound, who I try to sort of emulate as much as possible. Also on tenor there’s pretty much all the big greats, Dexter Gordon, and (John) Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins. A lot of people tell me I sound like Sonny Rollins, but it’s funny ‘cause I don’t listen to him as much. We have the same kind of quirky mentality of playing, and I think that’s why people say that. I like guitar players and drummers, you know, if I’m ever at a jam I’m always listening to the drummer the most I think, yeah.

CD – Have you done any indoor gigs around town?
Sean – Oh yeah, mostly with the Vic High R&B Band. We did so many shows each year, and I was in the band for three years, probably did like 150 shows with them, just around in different venues and things. We played Hermann’s (Jazz Club) a couple of times.
I’ve played outside of the R&B band with people at Hermann’s. I like playing at Sopranos for the blues jam, but there’s been a couple of venues, and there’s coffee shops and things around that do open mics which I love going to, and just jamming.

CD – Do you have any memorable busking experiences?
Sean – I was playing in Gastown a couple of years ago and I was just on the corner and kept seeing this guy looking over from the table at the Chill Winston, it’s like a lounge, and there’s an outside patio. He kept looking over and finally he gets up and he’s wearing really nice clothes, nice jacket, and really expensive jeans, and was well manicured and all that, and he comes over and he said like “Hey man, you sound really good, that’s great”, and I said “Oh, thanks very much.”
He asks “So like, do you do any recording? Do you play around town or anything?”, and I said “Of, course, like what musician isn’t.” He goes “Would you be interested in listening to something to play over”, I’m like “Okay”.
So he said “Well, it’s just in my car.” And I go “That’s a little bit weird,” I’m not gonna go to his car. And he says “Oh, no, my car, right there”, and he points to the big limousine right outside of the Chill Winston, and I’m like “Okay, that’s kind of even weirder” (laughs), and he’s sensed I was a little apprehensive. So he says “Well, no, just let me put something in the CD and you just stand outside and just listen, and start playing along”, and he puts in, ah, what was it?, um, Easy Star All-Stars Dub Side Of The Moon, and he says “Can you play stuff like this?”, so I start playing and he’s like “Oh, this is great”, and he starts putting on other stuff, and he starts sensing that I need to go “Oh, you’re workin’ right, I’ll give you some money for your troubles”, and he opens up his wallet and he hands me a hundred bucks. And I went “Wow, thanks very much. Is there anything else?”, and he says “Come have a drink with me”.
So I come over and sit down and he’s got a $300 bottle of Cristal (laughs) on the table, and we just chatted and drank and had a merry good time, ended up being good friends for about a year. He was just a really nice guy, and that was just an interesting connection, meeting a lot of people, and he was an amazing drummer, so we’d go out to Delta for after hours club and then jam there, and play at the Yale all the time, just playing blues. Yeah, that’s probably one of my more memorable experiences.

CD – What’s the strangest thing that anybody ever threw in your case?
Sean – You know what? That’s a hard one, because I’ve had some weird things, I’ve had some really cool things, like little bouncy balls, some people put like candy or a cookie, or like an apple, or things like that. I’ve made beer, people would give me pot, maybe the strangest thing which somebody threw in a little while ago was (reaching inside his shirt collar) this dog tag, that you know, I just wear it for fashion, I don’t much support the military, that’s why I’ve got my little pot leaf here (laughs).

CD – Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Sean – I think I mentioned it a little bit before, that there’s a really unjust misconception about buskers, that a lot of us are homeless, or a lot of us are feeding a habit or something like that, that as soon as you’re on the street, you’re essentially begging for money. There’s a lot of people who think that it’s something that it isn’t. But, we’re professional musicians, and we need to make money however we can, and busking is a great way to do that. It’s its own marketing system. If I could count all the people I’ve met, and the number of gigs or business cards, that I got from just playing on the street, I’d be very surprised. It’s far more exponential than if I was just sitting at home practicing, which would be good, but it wouldn’t be the same.

You can check out some of Sean’s tunes at the following link:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Good, The Bad & The Weird

In August of last year, I did a couple of posts in which I related a few of the memorable busking moments that I and some of my fellow street musicians have experienced. All of those stories shared were all on the positive side, so this time I've also asked around for some that maybe weren't so wonderful, and some that were, shall we say, on the odd side. But, lets start with the good:

I think it might have been my first or second summer in Victoria, 1989 or ’90, I was playing an early afternoon set on the center spot of the causeway when a couple of guys came up off the docks and asked me where the nearest liquor store was. At that time there was one just off Government on Courtney, so I told them how to get there, and they threw some coins in my case and headed in that direction. About half an hour later they were coming back towards the docks carrying some cases of beer and wine coolers, and one of them asked me what I was doing later. When I told them I had no plans, they told me to come on down to their sailboat with my guitar around 4:30 and play some tunes and they’d feed me a meal and a few beers. So anyway, I showed up and was welcomed on board by the guys and their female companions who were all visiting from Anacortes. One of the guys pulled out his guitar and we ended up jamming for a couple of hours, and at the end of it all they sent me on my way well fed and de-thirsted (is that even a word?), with an American $50 in my pocket. So that ended up being a lot of fun and profitable as well.

Dave Harris (one-man-band) – I've had many fine compliments. One special one was one day about seven years ago. A lady came by and said she had seen me playing for many years and always thought nothing of it, just went on by. But one day I guess she stopped to listen, and it had jogged her memory to when she was a girl. Her mum would take them out, I think they lived in the States, for some reason, and while they were out, her dad would set up his one-man-band and play. She remembered seeing him through the window. She said I reminded her of him and she thought my talent was taken for granted by the local public, as she herself had. (That) definitely made me feel good.

Ian Daykin (fiddle) – I was playing at the south corner when two girls stopped and watched for a while. They tipped me and also gave me this folded up piece of paper, which I later opened, they had written this poem about me, and I guess they had just written it as they were sitting there listening to me. I wish I could quote it, but I can’t really remember it all. But that seemed pretty neat.

Jay Garnett (guitar/vocals) – The nicest thing that was said to me, was a young lad in a wheel chair who could not speak, but he had a machine that typed out words for him, and he typed "I love you, Jay."

Jean Bedard (guitar picker/singer) – I was busking outside the James Bay liquor store on Menzies Street when this woman comes out of the liquor store and opens up her bag and she pulls out this bottle of wine and says “I want you to enjoy this.” And I said “Thanks a lot,” and then she looks at me, I swear she was so emotional, I thought she was gonna cry or something, I don’t know if she thought I was down & out or what, but she says “If you ever want a steak and prawn dinner, give me a call and then she starts to walk away and she says “I forgot to write my phone number on the bottle.” (So) I got a free bottle of wine for busking, that was kind of neat.

Jen Book (marimbas/vocals) – I had someone record me singing and playing guitar on the causeway my first year out, and sent it in as a demo for a folk club in Europe. They accepted me without any info and he tracked me down to tell me the good news. I wasn't even aware he had recorded me. This was one of the nicest things that ever happened while busking.

* * * * * * * * * *

If you’ve put in any amount of time as a street musician, as well as the really great moments, you will no doubt probably have a few experiences of the “not so good” variety. I myself remember a couple such incidents.

Back about 1986, I had been busking for about an hour and 20 minutes one morning in front of a liquor store on Davie Street near English Bay in Vancouver, when a guy walked up to me and said “This is my spot, take off.” I politely responded "Look, if you go across the street to McDonalds and have a coffee, I’ll be done in about fifteen minutes, and you can have the spot.” Well, he went away and I started into another song, and about half way through it, here he comes back again waving a 2x4 at me, so needless to say, I was outta there.

Probably, the worst experience that I’ve ever had, was in early 2006, I was down on the harbour waiting around to play, and my guitar case was sitting on the steps holding my spot. Meanwhile, I was not too far down the causeway chatting with one of the artists. While we were talking, I was also kind of peripherally keeping my eye on the guitar, but obviously not well enough, as Dean, the artist said “Dave, your guitar.” When I looked over, there was a guy running up the stairs by Milestone’s Restaurant with the case under his arms. Dean and I and a couple of others who were around at the time, gave chase up Government Street, but we never caught up with the guy. I was very upset at the time, but there was bit of a silver lining to the incident. A week earlier, I had just started a janitorial job, so it wasn’t as bad a situation as it might have been had it happened ten days earlier, when I would have had no other means of income.

Dave Harris – Some of my worst experiences have included dealing with bad drunks or occasionally, the mentally ill, or getting rained on unexpectedly with all of my gear and no umbrella.
(One time) my steel body guitar got blown over and broke it's neck! I had put my umbrella on the tripod guitar stand and the wind took it over. I was able to glue it, and I use it to this day.
In my early years playing on Government Street, maybe 1979 or so, an elderly man came by and said I was the worst singer he'd ever heard in his life. I was hurt at the time, but tried to turn it into a positive, using it as motivation to improve.

Jay Garnett – The worst thing anybody said to me was a couple of times I heard “Why don’t you go back to the East where you came from."

Jonathan Bennetts (guitar/vocals) – I was arrested and beaten up by the Danish police, then thrown out of Denmark for street singing.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sometimes, along with the tips that a busker might receive in their case, there are the strange or weird things that they may find themselves the recipients of. When I asked a few of the other buskers, I found that there were some things that seemed to be commonly received by a number of us, such as bottles/cans of beer, cigarettes, joints, flowers, candies, fruit, foreign currencies, condoms, drawings, tracts, etc.

Over the years, I myself have had cookies, lasagna, video arcade tokens, lottery tickets, guitar picks, once I even got a can of Carnation condensed milk put in my case. The one I remember most was the day a number of years ago, I think it might have been in the off-season, when I was playing down on the harbour. There were several people walking around handing out little bags of peanuts that had a label/tag advertising some airline’s new triangle schedules between, I think it was Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton. Anyway, these people were walking back and forth around the causeway handing out these bags of peanuts to passersby, and several times when they’d pass me, they’d toss a bag into my guitar case. I believe I ended up with about five or six of these bags. So, I guess the gist of the story is that I can quite literally say that “Yes, I have actually played for peanuts”.

Dave Harris – I was playing down here last summer, and a guy came up and put something in my case. I really didn’t think anything of it and I said "Thank you," and then a couple of minutes later, I happened to get up to do something and I looked in the case and there’s this big piece of dry toast.
Another time I was doing some filming of fiddler Graham Sullivan while he was playing, and a young kid came along and he put something down in Graham’s case and Graham says "Thank you," and he’s sawing away on the fiddle. I looked in the case and then I said "Hey Graham, look what you got," and we both couldn’t believe it. It was a woman’s shoe, like an Italian shoe not a high heel, like a wooden sole kind of thing, so that was pretty unusual.

Dylan Driscoll (guitar/vocals) – I once got some really vibrant looking crystals, like gems, they were just really wild patterns and looked pretty magical like.

Ian Daykin – I got a container of yogurt from a fellow who was flying out the next morning. It was really good, Liberty Mediterranean yogurt, that’s like five bucks for a small thing. He said he had planned to eat it that night, but went to dinner instead. He said “I don’t know if you want this”, but I was stoked, I mean, I was happy with yogurt.

Jay Garnett – I have received tokens for the bus, vouchers for free meals and a few hot phone numbers.

Jonathan Bennetts – I had an experience in Amsterdam, when a lady came up, and she’d just been shopping and she said "You boys look very hungry", and put two tins of meatballs in the collection hat.

Micah Walker (guitar/vocals) – I’m not sure what the weirdest thing I got would be. I got rocks, bracelets, pictures, cardboard, individual personal art that people have made, picks, cake. I’m not sure, I’ve never had like panties or shoelaces or anything like that.

Tristan Teal (guitar/vocals) – Me and Micah were busking at Murchies together, and this guy that we kind of know a little bit, one of those crazy out-there street guys that you always see around, and always kinda has something to say to you, he’s walking by and he’s searching in his pockets, smiling at us trying to find something to tip us and he tips us three little maple syrups.

So there you have it. Some of the good, the bad and the weird experiences in the lives of local street musicians. As these are but just a few of the stories out there, no doubt there will be more in future posts.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Larry, The Dobro Guy

I first met dobro player Larry Stevens back in 1999, and we spent the next couple of summers busking together around town. We played mostly as a duo, although for a short time in ‘99 we played as a trio with Earl Purvis (mandolin/vocals), and in the summer of 2000, Tjac Townsend joined us on resophonic guitar. We usually would do a noon set at the north corner of the lower causeway, then uptown to Bastion Square for a mid-afternoon set, and then back down to the harbour where we’d do an early evening set at the Wax Museum.

I had a lot of fun hanging out and playing those two summers with Larry, and when I started this blog, he was one of the musicians that I’d put on my list of people that I was hoping to do an interview with.

In early October, I thought “why not kill two birds with one stone,” and so I phoned Larry and asked him if he wanted to bring his dobro down for a set and we could do the interview before we started.

CD – When did you start playing the dobro?
Larry – How it turned out, was these friends of mine were all players, you know, guitar players, mandolin players, and I didn’t play anything at the time, so, I’m blessed with a half decent voice, so I was the singer, but, after a while I got kinda tired of singing two or three songs over the night and not being able to participate in the playing. Because I had a big liking for country music, my friends decided “Oh, Larry should play pedal steel.” So we had been on a trip to Winnipeg and met this gentleman named Wayne Link, who was a pedal steel player, and he made steels as well, so these guys unbeknownst to me manoeuvred this deal, and I ended up one weekend going out to Namao Beach (near Edmonton AB) to my friend Dennis’s, and here’s this steel sitting there, “Well, here you go, Larry.” The unfortunate part about it, was it wasn’t really a beginners model (laughs), it had five levers, and four pedals, or whatever it was, so I was lost basically. I started trying to learn it, and it was a struggle.
Then I got a job working up in the Arctic islands, and I was thinking “Well, I don’t want to be packing an amp and a pedal steel with me” so I thought about it, and decided to trade in the steel and I bought myself a dobro and took it up north with me, and with the help of Dennis, he got me started, and I sort of self taught myself from there until I actually got up enough nerve to finally go to a workshop, and start learning how to play the thing properly, so to speak (laughs). So it was kind of an interesting story, how it all evolved. And I don’t play anything else, don’t play guitar, or mandolin, or anything, just dobro’s more than enough for me.

CD – Who are your musical influences? I know you’ve mentioned Jerry Douglas a few times.
Larry – Yeah, he’s definitely an influence. I guess Shot Jackson was the first dobro player I heard, he played with Johnny & Jack. And Cliff Carlisle, who played with Jimmie Rodgers. They were probably the two dobro players I heard first, and then Dennis and Rod, my two friends that were introducing me to bluegrass music at the time, threw on some Josh Graves. That was basically the end of the story there, I went from Josh to Jerry. The list just goes on and on, there’s too many to mention now.

CD – And, you’ve got a bit of a history in the bluegrass scene on the lower mainland, you were in a band in Vancouver?
Larry – Yeah. I was in several bands. I was in the New Nash Ramblers, they won the Bluegrass Band of the Year, back in the ‘80s. Then I was in 5 On A String for a little bit, and then I went on to play in several other bands, and I guess the most memorable for me was the Bluegrass Princesses.
CD – You didn’t have to dress in drag for that one, did you? (laughs)
Larry – No…no we didn’t, but that question has been asked quite a few times (laughs).

CD – What do you remember of our early days busking down here?
Larry – Well, I recall I’d just moved to Victoria, I wasn’t doing anything at the time, and I was going through a bad patch, and I spent a lot of time wandering around. I just remember seeing you on the causeway, and because I liked your choice of material, you were playing country music, which was my favorite, I would stop and listen, and then finally one day I just figured “Well, geez I wonder if he wouldn’t mind a dobro player”, so I just got up and approached you and introduced myself, and asked if you’d mind if I sat in with you the next day, and then it sort of went from there. It helped me occupy my days, and get some playing in, and it always put a little bit of change in my pocket, so a guy could buy a box of Kraft Dinner on the way home (laughs).
CD – And you brought a lot of bluegrass songs to the mix, I’d never actually played any bluegrass prior to that.
Larry – That’s right. And I really liked the little trio we had going there for a while with Earl, that was a lot of fun.
CD – Yeah, I don’t think we did that for very long though, maybe a couple of weeks?
Larry – Long enough for that lady to paint us (laughs). (one of the Bastion Square artists, Bonnie Lee had done a painting of the three of us playing in the square).

CD – Had you ever done any busking before?
Larry – Yeah, I used to busk at Granville Island (in Vancouver), quite a bit in the middle ‘80s. Sometimes it would be with some people who knew each other, and the other times it would be in a band, sort of thing, we used to just get together and play, something to do. “What are you doin’?”, “Oh, well, let’s go down to Granville Island and busk”, just out of the blue, and we’d figure we’d get to go play some tunes, and maybe make a couple of bucks. It was mostly about the fun though, for me playing is. As my good friend Mike Kraft says “Money just cheapens it all” (laughs). I just like playing, so, any opportunity I can get to play, whether it’s for money or not, I’ll take it.

CD – Do you have a memorable busking experience?
Larry – One of them is, we were busking at Granville Island, myself and the New Nash Ramblers, and this gentleman walked up and he threw a $10 American bill in the case, and stood around and clapped, so we had a little bit of a break, and I sort of recognized him, but I wasn’t sure, he just looked familiar. So, when we were done our little set, we stopped and this gentleman approaches us and he said to me “Gee, that’s pretty good dobro playing, “ so I said “Thank you very much,” and I said “My name’s Larry Stevens,” and he says “Oh, pleased to meet you Larry, my name’s Gene Wooten.” Well, Gene Wooten is a fabulous dobro player, and he did country stuff, so anyway, I knew who he was, and I had several records that he’s played on, so it was very “Oh, well, your highness, pleased to meet you” (laughs). Then he asked to play my dobro, and he played a couple of things, so that was one of the highlights for me.

CD – Now you’re a member of the Clover Point Drifters. How long have you been with them?
Larry – Well, we’ve been together ten years, this year. That’s myself, Alan Law, who in his own right is a pretty darn good dobro player and steel player. Mike Kraft plays banjo, George Robinson plays bass and Dan Parker plays mandolin.
CD – And you guys actually did a very prestigious gig playing for former Lieutenant Governor, Iona Campagnolo.
Larry – Yeah, and the new one, we’ve played for Steven Point this (past) summer, so we’ve been there (Government House) twice. We’ve played Butchart Gardens, we’ve done several workshops up around 108 Mile House, and done a couple of little mini-tours around the province, and played around town, and stuff like that, and then of course the Sooke festival, and the Coombs festival, so, yeah, we can be pretty busy. Sometimes we’re not busy.
CD – And, you and the guys have come down and joined me a few times. You remember that night when the big concrete slab dropped into the water while we were playing there?
Larry – Yes, I do. That’s true.

CD – I was talking to Dale (Manason) recently, and he was telling me about your trip in 2000 to Tennessee.
Larry – Yes, we went with Leslie Baker. She put together a Patsy Cline show, and I was lucky enough to be asked by Dale, if I recall correctly, Dale was sort of putting together the musicians, so he asked me and yeah, I’d never been to Nashville, so, that was a lot of fun. We did a BC tour, and played at the groundbreaking for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame that was being built in Jackson, Tennessee, the home of Carl Perkins. Leslie was planning on moving down there and pursuing a musical career and they invited her down to do her Patsy Cline thing, and she’d managed to talk them into allowing her to take us all with her, so that was pretty exciting.
CD – And that was you, Mike Brooks…
Larry – Mike Brooks, Mike Kraft, Dale, I don’t recall the drummer’s name off the top of my head.
CD – So you went to Jackson, and you went to, uh, no you missed the trip to…
Larry – I missed the trip to Memphis. Actually we were playing this set, they had this outdoor stage and they had this rockabilly jam right before we went on, and as the jam went on the volume went up and up and up and up. So, when we came onstage, we were all excited and everything, and Dale just wasn’t thinking, with nerves, so he never thought to check the volume button. I was playing lap steel, and was sitting down, while right at my left ear was Dale’s amp, and by the end of the set my ear was just ringin’ and I mean Dale had turned it down, but, it was just painful. So I ended up staying in the motel room while Mike Kraft and Mike Brooks went down to Memphis, which was too bad I missed (it), but that’s how it goes. Now when I see Dale I’m always giving him “Oh, yeah, my Memphis ear” (laughs).
But, anyway, I did get to go to the Station Inn (in Nashville) twice. It’s quite a hotbed for all kinds of country music, but, its known for acoustic music, as well. So, we caught Kathy Chiavola there one night, and when we were heading back from Jackson and waiting, our plane was late or early in the morning, so we went back to the Station Inn and there was this marvelous Texas-swing band playing, so I was in heaven myself, I just kept yelling out requests, and they just kept playing them. And then Tommy Allsup walked out on stage, he was a guitar player that had played with Bob Wills and Buddy Holly.
So anyway, it was a pretty marvelous trip, we wandered around Nashville, went to Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, the Ryman (Auditorium). We didn’t actually go in, they would only allow you in on tours and there wasn’t a tour going on, so we sort of stuck our heads in the door before they caught us (laughs). We went to Tootsie’s (Orchid Lounge), we went to all those lounges, and you know the bands change in those places every hour, and it goes all day long, and they play for tips and CD sales hoping to get discovered. And it just amazed me how many people were playing on the street, I met this one guy who was a fabulous singer and guitar player and he’d been playing on the street like for three years. So, yeah, it was a wonderful trip, it was a lot of fun. I heard a lot of good bands. That was another highlight of my life ‘cause I never thought I’d ever get there.
CD – Well, you did, and I’m just a little bit envious (laughs).

We finally came to the end of our interview, so we grabbed our instruments and ambled over to our spot on the causeway and set up for a two hour set. Over the years, I have kept a number of the songs that I learned from Larry in my repertoire, but I always enjoy getting reacquainted with some of the others, that I usually only get a chance to play when Larry, the Dobro Guy drops down to the harbour to join me.

For more about Larry and the Clover Point Drifters, be sure to check out their website.