A Nation Joined At The Hip

13925664_10154368268434715_2455127827189543616_oMy memories start with seeing Blow at High Dough on a video show. Then it was New Orleans is Sinkin’. Then Road Apples. I was aware of the first single form the EP but it didn’t bend my mind like Up To Here and Road Apples. I recall sitting at my desk in my room in grade ten, studying while listening to Road Apples. Instead of studying I was learning the entire album on my little red strat. Then I recall my Dad driving a few of us to see The Hip at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton. I recall standing on the floor not far from the stage and loving the great show they put on. I saw The Hip three times that I can recall. Sort of early, middle and late. The middle show was in Saint John with Plasket opening. Gord was heavy into his ranting and raving thing then. To be honest it turned me off. It just went on too long for me. I wanted the songs. Now, don’t mistake that sentence to mean it wasn’t good. Just because it didn’t move me or I didn’t like it or I didn’t get it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. Gord was then and certainly is now, one of the great front men of all time in rocknroll. Anywhere. Period. There’s more to fronting a band than just writing good words and being able to sing. Certainly Gord is one of the great writers. I also think he is an amazing singer. It may not have been until this last time I saw them, only weeks ago in Calgary, that I realized how great a singer. Huge range. Great cadence. Nimble. But again, that alone doesn’t cut it. He understands performance. It’s not just about standing there and delivering the song. He is entertaining. He is telling a story PHYSICALLY. He is in a unique stratosphere of front men in my books. Gabriel. Mercury. Jagger. Yes. That kind of company.

I’ve been asked, told or overheard all kinds of crazy things people say over the years. “he’s not a great drummer apparently”. “They can’t play their instruments”. “they’re not hard songs”. “They’re not great musicians”. Music and art is a funny thing. It’s one of the only consumable goods in life where lay people, aka people who don’t know how to create and perform said art, are allowed to say what is and isn’t good. Having seen The Hip, I can certainly say that yes, they are a good band. Yes, their songs are complicated and YES, they can play their instruments. Part of the greatness is the deception. It sounds easy. Sure it’s an “A” chord followed by a “D” chord. But Bobby Baker is playing two specific notes of the chord and Paul Langlois is playing the rest. ON PURPOSE. The last time I watched them tear it up in the Saddledome, it occurred to me how much the guitar work was like the Stones. The weaving and intertwining of two players creating the one thing. Very intricate. Not accidental. It sounds simple but is very complex. The other thing that occurred to me was the bass lines of Gord Sinclair are so great. At times simple but other times so unorthodox and unexpected yet exactly what is needed. And Johnny Fay on the drums? Rock solid. Propelling. As they should be in a rock band. And make no mistake, The Hip are a Rock Band. All of this allows them to lay down the grooves for Gord to do his thing. They build the canvass for him to paint his verbal landscape on. This is our Beatles! I don’t mean in hits or sales or ground breaking recordings. I mean in the sense that The Beatles permeated pop culture. If you’re of a certain age group then there is no way you have not been reached in some fashion by The Hip. Maybe you like the early stuff and lost track of them later. Maybe you tuned in during the hits of the late 90’s. Maybe your dad turned you onto them later in the catalogue. It doesn’t matter how we get there. What matters is the unifying part of it. The Hip is something so many of us SHARE. It is a common thread in the Canadian tapestry. The Hip are the patches on our favourite old faded jeans. Covering the holes. Holding it all together. We may not realize that. We might take them for granted. Not knowing that if that patch came off our favourite jeans would be unwearable. Useless. Maybe one side of the hole is our youth. The other our adulthood. The space between the fear of losing one to the other. The unknown. The mystery. Right now,  The Hip ARE that patch and their music shall be so forever

The start of the First Saddledome show on the “Man Machine Poem” Tour was intense. They were all huddled together. Close. A drum kit sat in front of another. Pedal boards were tightly snugged against mic stands. They could easily reach out and touch each other. It was like they were opening for themselves. Sure enough, after a 40 minute set they took a pause. The roadies stretched out the gear. The first drum kit was taken away and the larger kit behind was set for action. A wardrobe change. More space for the electric Downie to do what he does. It was on. They repeated this sort of mini set a few times throughout the night. Each time their roadies slightly altering the space on the stage. Subtle, yet interesting, detail.

I didn’t expect the third song to be Fiddler’s Green. I figured I would lose my composure but perhaps not until the encore. Third song in and I was in full on ugly cry mode. A powerful tune. The band never once showed weakness. Throat punch after throat punch The Hip did what they have always done. Delivered. 30 years is a long time for a group of people to stay together. Let alone create art as a unit. I can’t imagine how tough it has been. The ups. The downs. While they have had many different sounding albums over the decades they have somehow always sounded like themselves. There is an underlying commonality where you know, when the needle hits the groove, that it is the unmistakable sound of the Tragically Hip. Whether it’s the blues rock of the first albums. The sonic palate of Day for Night. The modern crispness of Music at Work or World Container. Or even the latest, Man Machine Poem. Once thing holds true. You KNOW it’s The Hip. That is a unique place to be in for a band. To be able to retain your identity but not be locked to it. Stretch out. Explore.

Reach deep into the mind. The dark corner of your heart. The cold despair of where your hardened honesty lives. It’s in there. Pretending it’s not doesn’t change that. The truth is not dependent on your belief in it. Some performers sing the songs. Some performers deliver the goods as they are. Others explore. Live deep in the moment. Go with the little voice. Try this, it says. You do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes you fail. Either way, something is learned. When I watch Gord Downie perform it is clear to me that he is in the moment. Ready to offer up whatever the little voice compels him to do. To go beyond the comfort zone to give you, the audience, a unique experience. Over time we have become a unit. We have allowed, accepted and encouraged that kind of performance and in turn, Downie has reached down, dug deep and given himself and beyond to 120 + minutes on stage each night. This is not an easy feat. Most people would be scared. So much so, that they would tell themselves, “oh no, I can’t do that. People might laugh or not like me”. Ignoring that voice is brave. Being ones true self in spite of persecution is brave. That is truly living folks. What we are seeing in the past few months is a whole other level of what Gord Downie is made of. It’s like his bravery took steroids. Instead of hiding at home or becoming a recluse to maximize whatever time is left, he has done what he always did. Hit the stage with 100%. This time though, armed with a powerful new weapon. The very real, and likely, possibility that this is the last time he’ll stand on stage in each of these cities. Watching him in Calgary was beyond moving. Inspiring. Transcendental. So many people in Calgary and the other cities they play, are a part of a unique thing. Watching a man, and a band, say thank you and farewell. “Thank you. for Everything”, Gord said as he alone circled the stage waving to his support group. “Use it up” he advised. Good advice.

On August 20th, 2016, a once in a life time experience will happen in Canada. Thousands and thousands of people will take part in the same moment. During the CBC’s broadcast of The Hip’s “final” show, regardless of where you are…at the show, in a park watching on a big screen, in a bar drinking $2.50 high balls, on your computer, in your room on your phone or maybe you’re some place where you can’t watch it but you can take a moment to feel during that time…nothing like this will ever happen again in our lifetime, if ever. A Nation, brought together by the courage of a group of men, to say farewell to one another. To say thank you. This is a truly unique moment in life. Oddly it is death that has brought us this wondrous opportunity. That avoided one thing we all share. The taboo topic. The fearsome end. That thing we never want to talk about. Well now we all have someone to help us talk about it. Someone is showing us what it’s like to be brave. To be honest. That it’s ok to be afraid. Maybe you can’t be brave without being scared.

I’d like to be clear that this is not a eulogy for Gord or the band. They are still with us. This just me trying to make sense of my thoughts and feelings during this tremendous time in Canadian history. In Calgary, at the end of the show, as I was leaving the seating area I could hear familiar sound coming out of the speakers. A song by Crowded House, where the refrain sings gently…“hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over”. It sounded like hope. Who knows if we’ll ever see the Hip or Gord on stage again. I personally don’t think he Gord is done with his creative output. I think much like Bowie, now faced with his finite mortality, you will see an output of creativity. Gord could be here for years, or minutes. That is the beauty. We don’t know. There is a lesson to be learned there my friends. Not about Gord. About ourselves. Each other. We don’t know. It could be days. It could be minutes. Look around you. Use it up.

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**disclaimer…I stole the title of this blog after reading fans have been waving banners that say Joined At The Hip on it. I love it.

GOT GRIND?

 

Labour day. Work. Jobs. Holiday. Day off. Time and a half. This day lends itself to many thoughts, meaning many different things for many a different folks. Just so happens I’ve been thinking a lot about my jobs lately. I have three. I work a record store. I work a bar and I work for myself in music. I don’t do any of these gigs because i have to. I do them all because i want to. Each one gives me something i need or desire in return and as a result, i enjoy these various jobs. My Dad was a “workaholic”. My mom too. I don’t view that word poorly, as some may. Both my parents worked hard at their jobs because they seemed to enjoy them, or that’s how i perceived it. This was not lost on me as a youth and certainly not as an adult. I’m pretty fortunate to say that there have been only a few times I’ve done a job that i didn’t like or want to do. Those ones always filter themselves out though. So I believe I come by my work ethic naturally. I was instilled with values. An appreciation for hard work, follow through. Respect for a job well done. These traits have been a great asset to me in my life and likely, at times, a real pain in the ass to other folks that i’ve worked with. Be it in my own business or working with coworker in someone else’s business. I can be demanding. I’ve mellowed as I’ve aged, yet I still have high expectations. When it’s something I care deeply about, only the best is good enough. I will drive myself crazy to get it done. To sweat it out until it is just how I desired. Grind. That’s right. Grind people. Follow though. To me, this is the ability persevere. To triumph adversity. To fail and continue on in the face of defeat. Rise above. Grind. It. Out. I got grind. I don’t need to convince you and have you agree with me for me to know this. The truth is not dependent on your belief in it. My resume from the past ten years tells the truth. The respect I have from my peers tell the truth. That is enough for me.

So why the diatribe? I’ve been working at The Snooty Fox again lately. I took an eight year break from bar tending. Then I found myself single again, back in Fredericton with some downtime and needing a break form music. I was all too happy to accept the job offer from my old friends, Kyle and Krista, owners of The Snooty. This has been a real blessing. It reminded me how much of a social creature i am, even though at times i like to hide away. It also reminded me how much i need human interaction to aid in my writing. It reminded me how great it is to pay off bills again. I have met some great folks from bar tending there. I love them all. Such Characters. A couple of these folks in particular set me to thinking about GRIND lately. It has become apparent that GRIND is a thing that seems to be missing in society today. The willingness to follow through. to see it go the distance regardless of outcome. Where has that gone?

Society seems all too quick now, to accept the instant, temporary, satisfaction of a lesser quality product. I too, have been guilty of this. I had a revelation while streaming the first four episodes of Game of Thrones when it was leaked online. The quality was terrible yet i wanted that immediate, temporary satisfaction of seeing all four episodes NOW!!! Instead, i should have waited. Watched them as they aired. Enjoyed the suspense. Watched the masterful videography in HD quality, as it was intended to be enjoyed. But no. I wanted it NOW! This woke me up. The world is deep under the wheels of this bus. Jobs. Food. Relationships. LIFE. We all want that quick, temporary satisfaction. Even if it’s not the high quality long time satisfying feeling we could have if we Grinded it out. Waited, were PATIENT.

Last month I had two gig cancellations in the same week. This amounted to the lose of $2000.00 for my business. That spins out into two employees losing money and a variety of local businesses not getting my hard earned money and had I not taken the job at Snooty Fox it most certainly would have meant I could not have paid my bills that month and I CERTAINLY wouldn’t have been able to afford to paint my house. I lost one gig after I had been under the impression we were confirmed, when the “council” decided to go with another band. One month before the Scheduled gig. Disappointing for sure. But as I was told “such is life”. Can you imagine trying to use that phrase with your plumber? Your banker? Your boss? Your employees? The second gig was cancelled less that two weeks before the event. This gig was for a beer festival and was on a Saturday. PRIME booking night. At less than two weeks to gig day it would be impossible to re-book the show. The reason for cancelling? The presenter decided to cancel then, rather than closer to the day of the event. It seems that the presenter booked seven bands, organized a one day event at their business, which would spin off into many other financial obligations, and the entire time, at the back of their mind they thought “well if it looks like I’ll take a loss, I’ll just cancel”. Grind? I think not. So, the business cancelled, saving their own asses yet at the full expense of everyone else involved. Not to mention I found out about the cancellation by seeing they had cancelled the event on facebook! This my friends, is the opposite of grind. I have booked many national tours, produced many shows. Very few have been what I would call profitable. Many have broken even but a handful cost me my shirt. I never ever thought it was ok to put my tail between my legs and screw my employees or other business associates over and pull the plug and go home. I always found a way to pay who needed to be paid and I always looked back and learned a lesson. Now, I know not every single human is ignorant of this. I know many people who have grind. In fact, when I look around, I see that I have in fact, surrounded myself with people who have grind. I don’t think this was intentional per se, but it sure does make me happy to see my peers busting ass and doing what needs to be done at their OWN expense.

I used to take every gig I could because I loved playing that much. Then I took every gig I could because I needed to pay my bills. That was a dangerous place to be and nearly ruined music for me. Now that I have a bar tending gig again I don’t have to take any gigs I don’t think will be emotionally or financially rewarding. This has been a real blessing. After Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival I will be taking the least amount of gigs I have done in a decade as I take the fall off. Oh, I know what you’re  thinking…”that doesn’t sound like grind”… fear not my friends. Grind takes place above and below the surface. Don’t think for a second that I don’t have a plan. I’m still working on music. There will be new music from me in 2016. I’m also, and most important, working on me. Searching deep. Asking the tough questions. Finding out who I really am. What it is I really need and want. Passing over the immediate, temporary satisfaction. I’m Grinding it out to get to the good stuff. The long lasting, satisfying stuff. How about you?

Stay good. Grind on,

Ross

 

PS…shout out to Kevy and Joe Paw for making me thing about Grind.

PPS. I know that things are rarely as they appear and sometimes there are things happening that leave people to make decisions  out of their control. This is not lost on me. I try to be seeing the big picture all the time. However, there is always a big picture on the other side of the coin too. This is MY side of the coin.

Genre-lize

Sunday morning is coming down. It’s freezing rain in The Hampton. It’s snowing in Fredtown. I’m depressed cause rehearsal has been cancelled. I thought about getting stressed because it’s one less chance to run the tunes that are so rusty but really, we’re going to be alright. It won’t take more than a few shows to knock the dust off the tunes and find our groove. I’m mostly bummed because i was looking forward to playing music today.

Instead I’m listening to some great stuff. Ever heard of KEXP out of Seattle? If you haven’t you want to check out their YOUTUBE page. It is FULL of killer live performances from just about everybody. Listening to Jason Isbell and Shovels & Rope this am has got me strolling the dark hallways of my brain. I’ve been thinking lately about my music career and what i’m doing over the next few years. I recently started working with an old friend who is going to attempt to help me “deal” with the business of music. This help couldn’t come at a better time as I’ve been burning out lately. I don’t mean with writing and performing music or touring. I LOVE doing those things. They are my whole raison d’etre so to speak. It’s the other side that has been wearing me down. Booking the tours, dealing with the alphabet societies, playing the game. It drains you if you’re not one of those people who gets off on it.

  Anyhow, something that has been on my mind lately is genre. You know…”what do they sound like?”…what pigeon hole do they go in? americana, blues, blues/rock, singer songwriter (what the fuck is that anyway?), pop, pop/rock, metal, death metal, black metal, jazz, bebop, funk, acid jazz, country, alt country, twang (what the fuck is that anyway?) etc etc etc. It’s overwhelming. I seem to live in the “blues and blues/rock” genres. I guess that’s ok but I also hate it. I’m told genres are necessary and helpful. It helps people know what kind of music you play and whether or not they will/should like you. That is ridiculous! You know how I know when i like a band or music? I LISTEN TO IT!!!! When did it become that you could only write or perform one kind of music? Why do people throw a fit when their fav artist “changes” their style? PEOPLE! a musician or songwriters STYLE is to MAKE MUSIC!!!!! Don’t ya think?

There are many artists I’ve listened to for their entire careers. Take Neil Young for example. I freaking LOVE Neil Young. There is much of his music that is as important to me as air, food and water. However, there is also music he has made at points in his career that I would rather never hear again. For example, the TRANS album. Not my fav album in Neils cannon. However, when you hear transformer man on the MTV Unplugged album, it’s killer. a GOOD SONG. It’s just the way it goes. Some artists have a constant theme or style in their entire career (nothing wrong with that either) but some artists like to do whatever they feel moved to do at that time. Two examples: Colin James and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Say what you want about Colin James. Like him or hate him. Doesn’t matter. What I LOVE about Colin is this: He has seemingly done whatever he likes at the time. Be it a pop album, an acoustic blues album, a SWING album (or three). Alvin Hart is the same thing. Alvin came on the scene as a savior of acoustic blues. MAN can he kill the straight natural blues. You know what though? Alvin is also a rocker at heart. He nails any classic rock tune from the 70’s, or his own rocknroll originals with his band Muscle Theory, right on the money and with as much conviction as the delta blues he plays.

I love to write songs. It’s such a mystery to me. I don’t know “how” to do it or where they come from. I’m always grateful when one comes to me. Working a song up with my band is one of the most amazing, gratifying experiences in life for me. It is the best feeling. I go home and listen to our shitty demos over and over again. And you know what? I never think when writing or working up  a tune with the band “oh my god, this isn’t a blues tune”. You know why? Because I’m more concerned about writing a good song. I don’t give a shit what “genre” it fits into. That’s for other people to decide. I would never NOT want to perform a song I wrote because it doesn’t fit the genre I’ve been put into. I certainly wouldn’t want to NOT write a song because it didn’t fit into what people expect of me musically. I just want to write good songs. That’s all. You don’t have to like them all. That’s ok. Hell it’s not even expected. As I mentioned, it’s rare I love every bit of output from an artists career.

Recently I had a conversation with someone about music. Theirs and mine. They gave me the impression that I wouldn’t like their music because it wasn’t rocknroll or blues. This made me angry. All they seemed to think that I wanted to discuss was blues music. No. I like to talk about MUSIC. Or when I say to my peers I’d be happy to record on their album and they say “oh well it’s not really a blues song”, as though that’s all I’m capable of. I grew up on Neil Diamond, Michael Jackson, Bryan Adams, Twisted Sister, Platinum Blonde, Poison, Cory Hart, Cinderella, Guns N Roses, The Cult, Howlin Wolf, Albert King, Stevie Ray, Metallica, Megadeth, KISS, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, The Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash, Muddy Waters, The Allman Brothers Band, U2, Bon Jovi, The Doors, Deep Purple, Pantera, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, John denver and so much more. Every single one of these and more have had influence on me as a person and musician. How I play and write songs is a result of listening to ALL of these styles. I love all kinds of music and only want to serve the song I’m playing at the time in the best, most suitable way possible.

I see a lot of grumblings on the internet about who is and isn’t getting gigs or what is and isn’t “real”. It really breaks my heart. I know I have been and will be guilty of falling into that trap too like everyone else but I’m making efforts NOT TO DO THAT ANYMORE. We all like what we like. If you don’t like something then that’s cool. Don’t like it. Do you need to publicly bash or make fun of it though? I don’t think so. No one is perfect. People all do their own things. And as I’ve said before, we’re ALL hypocrites. So lets get over hating on shit and judging and pigeon holing and saying “they don’t deserve this or that” and get back to loving music. Not Hating it.

As Dave Grohl once said, “NO GUILTY PLEASURES”. Get out there and listen to stuff you haven’t heard before. Find new bands to get excited about. Love it whether your friends do or don’t. Get out of your comfort zone!

This Spring Tour I’m about to embark on, with my trusty rhythm section, you can expect to hear some blues, some rock, some country, some pop, some classic rock, some folk and who knows what else. We might play some blues in the style of rocknroll. we might play some rocknroll in a blues style. perhaps we’ll rock up some folk? perhaps we’ll folk up some rock. All I know is we’re going to play our songs and songs we love, from our hearts each night, as we always have. You’re going to like or you’re not. Either is ok by me. See ya at the Music show.

Ross

Are You Any Good? Social Media Vs. The Woodshed

Well? Are you? Oh, you are, you say? Well, prove it to me. Go ahead. I’m waiting. We’re ALL waiting.

       VS