"And the gatekeeper calls out your name ..."

"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck" he shouts, and the band snaps silent on the one.

A cheer goes up in the crowd. A tension releases and a connection sparks. This is what they'd hoped for. Not that they would say - but like a selfie with a passing comet this is the story they were hoping to be able to tell.

On stage, time stops and hands suspend. Fingers, picks and drumsticks poised, players watching and waiting in that open moment - the split-second shared acknowledgement of an imminent unknown. With a silent tempo still counting off they've all defaulted faithfully to rule number one: the singer is always right. They watch. 

His left arm churns an explosion of dust particles in the spotlit blackness around his silhouette. What had begun as choreography has sped up and broken time and is now the only movement of his otherwise motionless body. Sweat drips down the side of his neck, tracing the in-ear wire under his shirt and down his back. Is the arm slowing or is awareness simply heightening? This down beat could drop. Or not. No one onstage has taken a breath. 

Ten thousand people are now quiet. All but a very few at the far fringes are focused expectantly on one of two large screens. The face framed there is impossible to read, but most see what they need to see; a man lost in a powerful moment and deep in a reverie far beyond their understanding. He is in a place they would like to be. A place they are willing themselves to be with him. They watch.

The arm slows. The sound of an amplified breath. 

"And the gatekeeper calls out your name"

And on "name" the band drops hard. The crowd roars. The face on the screens flushes with release. A guitar screams.

Connor McGuire

Social media doesn’t usually work that well for Connor McGuire. He’s tried. If you look around online, you can find him on the obligatory Facebook and Twitter, and he has a Tumbler website - but there’s not much there. Social media is clearly low on his list of priorities. His focus has been elsewhere.

His friends report that he seems to disappear for large blocks of time, only to emerge sporadically with some new version of himself and his art. They imagine a cave - which is not too far from the mark. They imagine screens glowing in the dark late at night, knobs and buttons, piles of instruments, piles of unwashed dishes and empty bottles. They can hear this in his music.

When they hear it, they can also tell right away why he’s doing it. It’s clear he’s searching for something great but different. Different but not weird. OK, maybe even weird sometimes, but not stupid or abrasive - or weird for weird’s sake. The words sound like thoughts we’ve had, the tunes haunt from a place not easy to reach and the emotions revealed are tempered with a welcome intelligence.

A song is a fragile construction, with each piece dependent on the other and, initially, only supported in the air by the artist's sheer force of will. Some of Connor's songs don't get finished, but I sure love the ones that do ...

Today I'm doing some social media for him, since he's been mostly preoccupied with making music (and, in his spare time, his Boba Fett armour).

Here's a live recording of Connor's new song "Hand it Over":

My Summer - 2011 Edition

I've just returned home from the last Trooper show of the summer. There are a few more shows coming up in the fall and winter but the "Trooper 2011 Summer Tour of Canada" has officially concluded. It was, without question, the best, most successful and most fun tour I can remember. As he did last year, my brother-in-arms Gogo snapped photos from his vantage point at the keyboards. I'd like to thank him again for this. Just like last year, I'm blown away by seeing pictures of all the shows in one place. It was a helluva tour. There are 29 shows here - shown in chronological order. The Curacao show is missing (despite the fact it was the Carribean, and hot, it was technically pre-summer), as is the private birthday party in Ontario. Otherwise, though, I think they're all here.


My Summer

I haven't written here much this summer. I did manage to contribute a bit to the Twittersphere, but anything more that 140 characters seemed to be beyond me. I was pretty busy. Luckily, for the first time ever, Gogo took photographs at every show this summer from his place at the keyboards - so you can get an idea of what my life's been like for the past few months. Many of these shots necessarily involve the back of my head, but all of them show the party in front of us. Short of standing up there yourself and feeling the palpable love that overwhelms us every night - it's a stage-side look at what we did this summer. Three of the shows (Parksville, Olds and Cochrane) have two pictures each (Cochrane, so that the collection wouldn't end on an odd number) but the rest are individual shows and roughly in the order we played them. Every show we've done since Canada Day is represented here except for the private one we played for our multimillionaire buddy in Muskoka.

Gogo's full set of pictures from the tour, including autographed body parts and tour bus exposés are here and I encourage you to check them all out. I thank my rock and roll brother for documenting our experience every night. It's the first time anyone's ever done it, and seeing all of them together like this is quite moving for me. Hopefully you enjoy it too.

Pack Mentality

Connor performed his first Indie/Dance/Mash-Up set last night at a downtown hole-in-the-wall called the Soundlab. It was a guest-list only event featuring three DJs. Unlike the two turntablists, Connor did an Ableton Live set - a seat-of-the-pants high-wire act where all the musical pieces are prepped on the computer and then selected, beat-matched and spat out in real time – the all important groove totally dependant on split second jabs at a bewildering collection of knobs, buttons and faders. He's been creating mash-ups (digital re-mixes wherein one or more popular songs are mashed together) for fun for months, but started working on his set in earnest when he learned there might be an opportunity to try it out live on a room full of drunk and dancing twenty-somethings.

He's posted three early mash-ups and an original electro/club/pop track on his "Pack Mentality" MySpace page - where he has quietly but steadily been building his Nu Disco persona.

This is another musical left turn for Connor - but probably a welcome and rewarding antidote to the frustration of trying to assemble a band of great players and then keep them together for more than one or two cash-challenged shows. His MacBook Pro, Reason, ProTools and Ableton Live allow him to create and perform solo - not with an acoustic guitar like Rev. 1, but with the power and the glory (and the block-rockin' beats) that only an infinite collection of digital samples can deliver. Add to that the undeniable ear-candy of layered iconic pop slices and you can begin to see the appeal - both for him and the dance floor.

And all his gear fits in a backpack.

Stay tuned.


For a long time now, I’ve kept my camera, my flash drives and my noise-cancelling headphones in my backpack, which resides under my desk here at home, so it’s at hand for road trips. I use it as an auxilliary desk drawer. I also keep doubles of my computer power cables, adapters, USB, ethernet and audio cables in the backpack so I can ready my laptop for the drive to the airport in the time it takes to unplug it and pack it away. Since the camera, drives and headphones are stored in there already, I’m less likely to leave them behind.

Jumping up and leaving town is such an expected part of my everyday reality, this routine seems eminently logical …

Until this morning, in the early days of Trooper’s traditional winter break, when I paused for a confused moment wondering where to put my camera.

Artists That I Love - Episode 2 - Jonah Smith

I might never have known about Jonah Smith if we hadn't walked into that square behind the church in Barcelona in September 2007. We assumed, not unreasonably, that the band sound-checking on the large outdoor stage was from Spain, and it took some time to realize that the words being sung were in English. The band was tight and the singer, playing a groovin' Rhodes piano, was great. Before we left I asked the sound guy who it was. "Jonah Smith from Brooklyn New York" he said.

Jonah hits on pretty much all of the qualities that I think a great songwriter and singer needs. And his band is one of the most empathetic I've seen - leaving lots of space for the best parts.

Here's a live vid of Jonah playing my current favourite song, "Little Black Angels". This is not the original arrangement, which I also recommend. I couldn't find a vid of "Stay a While", which is another favourite, but your instructions for today are to go and buy both of these tracks, now, on iTunes.



Singers Are Important To Me

When I was young, I believed there was an agency that monitored TV commercials in order to ensure that all of the claims made were true. As time passed, I began to realize that advertising was simply an unregulated free-for-all battle of competing claims, at least one of which was not true.

In 1962 I went to see Little Stevie Wonder at the Gardens Auditorium in Vancouver. Stevie was 12 years old at the time, and so was I. He stood awkwardly at centre stage and sang along with his records. There was no pretense about it. You could hear the needle drop on each track, and Stevie was the only performer on the stage. Everyone knew that he was just singing along - you could hear both his voice and the recorded original - but the audience understood that he wrote the songs and sang them on the records. He was the heart and soul of the tunes we loved, and we were honored to be in his presence.

Last week we opened for CCR. The week before we did the same for The Sweet. Both bands were paid very large sums of money to headline these shows. Neither of them featured the singer who sang (and in the case of CCR, wrote) their hits.

“The Sweet” was a British “Glam-Rock” band that had hit records in the 1970’s. We played with one of the *two* currently touring versions of the band. One version contains only the original bass player, the other, the original guitar player. The Wikipedia page for The Sweet lists a total of 12 singers over the years - not counting the one who actually sang “Little Willy” and “Ballroom Blitz”.

“CCR” (”Creedence Clearwater Revival”) was an iconic American band fronted by the amazing one-of-a-kind talent; John Fogerty, who wrote, sang and played guitar on the CCR hit records. After going solo, Fogerty tried to stop the drummer and bass player from Creedence Clearwater Revival from advertising themselves as “CCR” (”Creedence Clearwater *Revisited*”) and touring all over North America with a singer who mimicked him - but he was unsuccessful. This was the band that we opened for in Waterloo Ontario last week.

This has happened before. Canada’s “Guess Who” toured successfully in America for years without Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. “BTO” did the same without either the “B” (Randy Bachman) or the “T” (Fred Turner). To be fair, Randy’s brother, Robbie Bachman, BTO’s original drummer, was in attendance.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to imitate famous front men and women. Singers for cover bands all over the world do it every night and some do it shockingly well. I did it for years. (In fact, back in the day I did a pretty convincing John Fogerty!) “Tribute” bands do note-for-note emulations of the groups they are paying tribute to. Some singers, like Shania *Twin* and *Nearly* Neil, make a living pretending to be their similarly-named heroes.

None of these singers, though, pretend for a moment that they are the *actual* singers featured on the hits they are singing. If, however, one of them were drafted to be the next singer for “CCR” or “The Sweet”, they would, at the expense of what I believe is a sizable portion of their ticket-buying audience, be doing exactly that.

And I don’t think that’s right.

People who buy tickets to see Shania *Twin* do not expect to see, nor do they pay the premium ticket price commanded by, Canada’s best looking country singer. I have to believe that many, if not most, of the people buying tickets to see, say, “CCR” headlining a big-ticket concert are expecting to see … well … CCR! And I don’t think they’re stupid because they didn’t know otherwise. The band should be billed as: “WHOEVER, featuring Stu Cook & Doug Clifford, formerly of CCR” - so there’s no possible confusion for the public.

I saw a poster the other day that stopped me in my tracks. It was promoting an upcoming show for “Doug and the Slugs”. Doug Bennett’s distinctive voice and inimitable stage presence were always the heart and soul of the tunes he wrote and recorded with his band and the shows they performed. Doug died a tragic death only a few short years ago. I’d like to humbly suggest that the band do as they once did when they released a single that Doug played no part in. They called themselves: “The Slugs Without Doug”. I think that would be a much more appropriate name for their current project.

Artists That I Love - Episode 1 - John Gorka

When I started posting on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I blatantly stole Bob Cesca's routine of posting an interesting video as the first post of the day. He calls it "Morning Awesome" and I chose to call it that too. Hopefully, the fact that I'm hipping you to Bob's excellent political commentary site; "Bob Cesca's Goddamn Awesome Blog" will go some way towards earning his forgiveness - and help to avoid an ugly internets lawsuit. As if Bob knows I exist. Bob posts the vids right there on his site but, because of Twitter's 140 character limit, I can only supply a link and hope that my fellow twitterers will click through to what I want them to see. In my case, these are songs by favourite artists whose careers, for one reason or another, have played out somewhere slightly below the popular music radar. I've kept a list of all the links with the intention of sharing them here on my site, where an unlimited spew of characters is possible (and often, in my case, probable).

I've been experiencing an overabundance of mental disarray this week - with both taxes and an out-of-date contract rider calling for my undivided attention - so it took until last night to realize that I could probably embed the youtube videos the same way my good friend Bob does.

Once I learned how, I couldn't decide what song to post first, so I experimented with a random (but very sweet) video of two teenagers singing the first verse of a song I wrote forty years ago. Sarah and Kayla are the least well-exposed artists on my list, so they've turned out to be a very good place to start.

Today I'd like to present John Gorka, singing "Love is Our Cross to Bear" in what looks like someone's basement, but is probably a small club. Please notice his amazing songwriting and captivating voice.

If you like this one, check "Armed With a Broken Heart" and "Gypsy Life" - which contains one of my favourite observations on life as a gypsy: "People love you when they know you're leaving soon".

Spring Forward

I seem to be coming out of my ... I seem to be coming out of my winter!

Thanks, in part, to Twyla Tharp, who I hopefully will discuss in a later post.

Connor has posted two amazing new demos ("Be the One" - with his amazing new band, and "Brother's and Sisters" - on his own in the studio) here at his MySpace page. He's finishing up a third demo, "Give it a Name", right now. I can hear him mixing it upstairs. I went to see him at the Media Club in Vancouver last night *playing drums!!* with his good buddy Dylan Hossack. Turns out he's a great drummer too!

I'm now a Twitterer.

For adventurous movie fans I recommend the totally ridiculous, over the top, goofily romantic and completely unforgettable Pola X.

Touring with Trooper, These Days

I miss meeting at the van every morning in some gravel parking lot and waiting my turn to hoist my big Tumi suitcase into the back. I miss making the passenger seat my home for hour after mindless hour. I miss the quiet van talk and the willfully obscure in-jokes that get funnier and funnier from repetition, week after week. I miss the casual camaraderie that comes from spending so much time together. I’m not crazy about taking planes to every gig. Airports are boring. The drivers who meet us in each new city are nice, but it’s not ‘our’ van, it’s not one of us driving. And we only go a few miles to the hotel.

I miss rowdy bars and small town shows where the haying schedule could easily blow out the Trooper gig. I like walking around in new places. I don’t seem to have time for that anymore. I miss it.

Connor McGuire @ The Wired Monk

Connor’s band, Anger and After, started to break up when their twenty-one year old drummer began devoting more time and attention to a twenty-something band with connections to a local recording studio. Just at the point where A&A had gig offers, he became double-booked - and chose the more mature band over his two seventeen-year-old Anger and After band mates.

Disheartened, Connor and Simon struggled through auditions. One young drummer brought his girlfriend and asked for a mid-audition break so he could smoke some pot. Another played, unaccompanied, the complete and extremely complex drum part from a Dillinger Escape Plan song.

With a new drummer failing to materialize, Simon became less and less committed to the idea of the band. He explained that his musical tastes were shifting toward more artistic and experimental music. One night he called Connor to say that he would be unable to attend the drummer audition planned for that evening because he was going to a concert by one of those artistic and experimental bands. Although the two of them had been best friends since grade six, their musical partnership ended that night.

Two years later, last Friday night, at a coffee shop in Crescent Beach, a standing-room-only crowd listened intently as Connor, acoustic guitar balanced on his lap, described one of the first songs he had ever written.

“I’ve revamped the chords a bit, but the words still suck.” he said, grinning.

Then he called his friend Simon to the stage to sing the song with him.

From the moment he said; “Hi, I’m Connor McGuire, I write my own songs”, he had the young, and usually fidgety, audience in complete pin-drop-quiet control. He played for an hour - just him and his guitar - interspersing his amazing songs with charming and engaging banter. The crowd cheered, whooped, whistled and hollered after every tune. He completely owned.

Just two years after the collapse of his first rock band, Connor has returned to the stage with a completely new, and improved, version of himself. He’s written a collection of heartbreakingly powerful songs - each new one better than the last. He’s taught himself finger picking and has profited from the classical guitar lessons he took. His singing has become natural and unaffected and his vocal phrasing amazes me.

Connor’s show at the Wired Monk on Friday was a watershed in his music career. He’s proven to himself that he can do this by himself. What he did on Friday can be replicated successfully on any stage anywhere.

Little Ramon and the Enduros

On November 22nd, 1963, US President John F. Kennedy was shot dead as his motorcade slowed round a bend in Dallas’s Deeley Plaza. A short month later, a British group called the Beatles released their double-sided single “I Saw Her Standing There/I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, initiating what would soon be called Beatlemania. Six months earlier on June 13th, at the onset of a seemingly endless Fraserview summer, I turned 13 years old.

Every man in the sprawling Fraserview housing project was a Second War veteran, the father of three or more children and the unwilling but not ungrateful recipient of a lower than average income. These were contracted conditions of the rental agreement. The houses in the project shared four identical floor plans. There were kids everywhere.

At the time, I was the singer for the Epics. The group’s guitarist, Brian Graham was my best friend. Derek Solby, a Killarney High School wunderkind, played the drums and Ken (Tarpaper) Hynds was the sax player. Gerry Andrews played a Fender Jazzmaster, and, with his guitar swung out of the way, the electric organ. It was Gerry who hooked me up with another group - a Fraserview soul band that would soon be called “Little Ramon and the Enduros”.

Gerry had signed on with the nine-piece horn band and had recommended me to replace their diminutive but muscular singer Fuji Forchuk. The remaining musicians were a hard-core crew of soul music fanatics in their mid to late twenties. The singer that preceded Fuji, and who had remained attached, talisman-like, to the band, was Rick Cameron - a quintessential James Dean greaser and a member of the notorious Bobolink Gang. I met with Cameron alone in his kitchen one afternoon to discuss my role in the band - tempering my adolescent admiration of his rebellious cool and juvenile delinquent fashion sense with wary respect and an abject fear that he was probably well accustomed to. It was hard for me to believe that these guys were giving me the time of day - let alone a spot-lit place at the front of their soul revue.

Brian Henderson, the lead guitar player was the fastest, coolest and funkiest player I’d ever known. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, sported a blonde pompadour and played a Fender Telecaster. He was Fraserview’s Steve Cropper. The band’s manager, a burly, hard-assed, unpolished lout, was the drummer’s father. He would occasionally visit us in his dungeon-like basement - where we practiced - and deliver what he thought were inspirational pep talks, in the manner of the Commitments’ Jimmy Rabbit - but lacking the conviction, passion and intelligence. It was this man who announced dramatically, when Gerry and I had finally tired of his two-bit tyranny and given our notice;

“Singers and Guitar players are a dime a dozen.”

Paul, the sax playing Sal Mineo look-alike, taught me ‘the Continental’ - the cool and casual step with which all the players shifted, in perfect rhythmic synch, from side to side - the pivot executed at the drop of the left foot, and then the right.

Fuji Forchuk stayed on to deliver a final unforgettable basement command performance, so that I would be clear about what was expected of me. Wearing a tight white wife-beater over his dark muscular torso, he moved with animal grace and sang ferociously. In the musty basement darkness, lit by a single bare light bulb, he jumped, shook, gyrated and, at one point, rolled on the floor. The band’s manager nodded in told-you-so approval. Fuji was the best.

I watched in hopeless appreciation and dismay, knowing that my thirteen-year-old feet could never fill Fuji’s shiny, black, and lightening-fast shoes. I was convinced I lacked the cool, the charisma and the menacing command of the stage that characterized Fuji and his band-mates, and I was probably right. I was thirteen, five-foot-eight, weighed 110 pounds and could not, for the life of me, get my mother-cut curly hair to stay molded into the essential pompadour position - despite liberal applications of my Dad’s Brylcream. Worse yet, I was a nerdy smart kid at school - I had skipped a grade only two years prior - introverted, socially awkward and nearly always afraid that guys like Rick Cameron were going to beat me up for sport. But for all that, no one in this new band seemed to notice, or care.

At home, alone in my room, I nervously dropped the needle onto a borrowed James Brown LP, ready to begin transposing lyrics and fleshing out melodies. The music filled the room and I was transported to a dark, wild and erotic alternate universe. This was not the clean-cut radio music I knew and loved. This music was dangerous and dirty - too passionate and overt for Fraserview. Songs like “Please, Please, Please” and “Try Me” - unashamedly over-the-top soul ballads - were unlike anything I’d ever heard. A week went by and I was emulating every note and emotional vocal scratch that came from the throat of the man soon to become the ‘Godfather of Soul’.

Singing with a full horn section blowing thick, sweet and menacing chords behind me was thrilling. Jumping on to, and riding, the careening guitar hook of “I’ll Go Crazy” was an exhilarating vocal adventure that was different every night. The tight, staccato horn shots punctuated the funky groove like syncopated rifle shots and kicked into my back as I sang.

I learned to dance - in a fashion. I did the Continental with the band at the appropriate moments. I lost myself in the deep soul groove. I may not have mastered Fuji Forchuk’s moves, and no one ever invited me to throw in with the Bobolink gang - but for a brief groovin’ moment in the long summer of 1963 I was Little Ramon, a soul singer unaffected by the cruel and clumsy teenage reality of his otherwise un-soulful world.

The Edmonton Show

It was raining and dark at the Edmonton airport. The ground transportation was late arriving, and the van sent for the gear was too small. Dave and Mikey waited another hour for a larger one to arrive. Everyone was in great spirits - undaunted.

My 3:00 PM TV interview, conducted in the lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel with Edmonton’s Graham Neil, went well, and as a surprise bonus, Graham informed me that it would also be aired on ‘E-Talk Daily’ - nationally.

Our show was scheduled for 6:30. All of us knew that this was way too early. It continued to rain heavily. Everyone remained in great spirits - undaunted.

In the dressing room, Dave reminded us to wipe our feet on the pile of towels at the top of the stage stairs to minimize the risk of electrocution. When we arrived on the stage - set up facing the night club’s parking lot - we were greeted by no more than fifty people, huddled under beer-branded umbrellas intended to shade the sun. Two brave, jacket-less girls danced enthusiastically, in the pelting rain, in the open space in front of us.

Everyone was in great spirits - undaunted. It was our best show in months.

Leaving Ottawa

Two Marshall amps sit on the sand. Waves crash in the distance as an orange west coast sunset burns through it’s final minutes of glory. A young man approaches, straps on a waiting Stratocaster and begins to play. Thunderous Jimmy Page power chords echo across the beach.


The short film ends and I sit, transfixed, in the darkness - the only person in the small theatre. I was waiting at the entrance to the National Gallery of Canada when they opened the doors this morning.

I had wandered slowly through the lower gallery taking, as always, extra time with the Group of Seven, soaking up the power and tenderness of Tom Thompson and the majesty of Lawren Harris and J. E. H. MacDonald. I sensed my Dad’s presence beside me as I admired a Cornelius Kreighoff, one of his favourites. I stood with my nose nearly touching Alex Colville’s “To Prince Edward Island” and examined the thousands of tiny brush strokes that create the high-surrealism of his eerie and evocative paintings. In the Contemporary Gallery, I mounted a motorized office chair in a large interactive installation and, pedaling hard, failed to elicit the promised spinning. As I exited down the Gallery’s long staircase/ramp I could feel my creative batteries topping off.

Our return to the Ottawa Tulip Festival last night was a triumph over the elements and an excellent party, despite intermittent rain and a cold, biting wind that whistled past the Parliament buildings and across the large outdoor stage. As the crowd-lights came up in “Raise a Little Hell”, I could see the faces of thousands of brave concert-goers standing in the rain - arms in the air - shouting the words.

Lance Chalmers has returned for our summer tour - still the brother he became during his eight years with the band. He walked onto the stage in Sarnia, Ontario - after three years and no rehearsal - and dropped back into the slot without missing a proverbial beat. Ottawa is Lance’s home town and last night his parents, brothers, sisters in-law and their kids all partied happily backstage with us. Gogo invited two random teens in for orange juice and full deli-tray priviledges. They were visibly chuffed to be part of the action. Kids, parents and grandparents swarmed the t-shirt booth after the show. An eighteen year old girl told me I was “hot”.

A 9:30 show time put us back at the ‘Les Suites’ Hotel by 12:30AM. By 12:35 I was sleeping like a baby.