If you’ve read the chapter entitled: The Sludge Boat you’ll know I did a very short, horrendous stint on a cruise ship during a weak moment about ten years ago. When I arrived back home to Toronto, I was perusing a Goodwill thrift shop and came across this poster entitled: AT SEA. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was a numbered lithograph by Chilean artist Sergio Gonzales Tornero (born 1927).It just reminded of the ship of fools Gonzales-Tornero-At_SeaI’d left behind in Barcelona so much that I had to buy it.The price tag was $50 – ridiculously expensive for a Goodwill.The girl at the counter informed me it was 50% off day, so with that, I shelled out $25 and bought it.I brought it back to my apartment and eventually put it into a nice new frame.Over these past seven years of being transitory, I’d totally forgotten that I’d left it in my sisters basement.I just found it today and realized it was a numbered (66 of 100) and signed lithograph. Here’s what I found out about Sergio online:”Sergio Gonzalez-Tornero was born in Santiago, Chile on May 27, 1927. He studied in Chile, Brazil, the United States, the Slade School in London and at Atelier 17 in Paris. Principally a printmaker, Gonzalez-Tornero has had more than forty solo exhibitions in Chile, Canada, Europe and the United States. Sergio discussed his printmaking technniques in an essay on page 325 of The Art of the Print by Fritz Eichenberg, ISBN 0-8109-0103-X.Gonzalez-Tornero was awarded a fellowship by the New York State Foundation for the Arts in 1987 and a grant from the Adolph and Ester Gottlieb Foundation in 1990. He is a member of the Society of American Graphic Artists, Boston Printmakers and the Philadelphia Print Club.His work is included in numerous international collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and the New York Public Library. Gonzalez-Tornero is married to printmaker Adrianne Colum whom he met at Atelier 17.”Now I’ve also just discovered that auction houses have it listed as high as $1500 US. Wow! Can this be real?


Happy Hallowhat (Revsited)

Many of you have read this chapter either online, or as part of the book, however, it’s worth posting once again as it’s that time of year again. Full disclosure: I’d never felt this story fit into the theme of the book and had no intention to include it alongside the other short stories of life on the road.
Then a strange thing happened. Some fans who’ve now become friends, Doug and Liz Champagne from Vancouver Island told me it was their favourite story.
“Jay, you have to include that story. I laughed so hard man. You HAVE to!”
“Ok Doug, since you’re The Dude….I will abide!”
So here’s the story with notable references to costumes, trick or treating, fear, high-school hijinx, and bad acting with a girl named Lois who is now living somewhere in the US Virgin Islands. Those five back and forth years with her are forged in my memory like beautiful dream. Thankfully we’re still friends.  In the book, Canadian folk artist Pearl Rachinsky has brilliantly illustrated Lois to complement the song I wrote for her entitled: Could it Be.
So to answer the question (finally) of what the references mean?
She had Picasso prints on the wall. A copy of On The Road on her coffee table. Knew “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”, all of Cohen’s records, a poster of Janis Joplin on her bedroom door, a May West spirit and the soul of Aphrodite. That’s all I’ll share for now.
I’ve included it all here for you today. Happy Hallowhat!


My fascination with Halloween started quite young. I remember the very first time I was allowed to go along with my older brother and sister who were leading the way, they brought me home in tears after thirty minutes, telling mom I was a ‘tag-a-long’ and I was unceremoniously dumped back at home to count my twenty-five kiss candies. After a few years I realized I would have done the exact same thing if I’d had a younger sibling. Such is life.
I remember there was a three-year run when my desire to dress up as something totally unique was squashed as I donned a scruffy jacket, work socks, green toque, plastic bottle sticking out of a paper bag and went out as a homeless man. What the hell? Who approved this? Oh, I almost forgot the burnt cork rubbed on my face to simulate dirt. Oh so, hobo-sheik. So, yes there I was, stumbling around my neighbourhood looking like a kid who simply couldn’t pull his act together before the big day. That said mom did rig up a big-time Batman costume a few years later for which I’m eternally grateful. I have shied away from costumes ever since.
Two of those years, nearing the end of my route, just as my pillow case was beginning to fill, some bad-ass kids jumped out of the bushes and ransacked us. The first time they got away with my loot and the following year I held on tight enough to retain it all.

Ahhhh the loot: 10 per cent chocolate bars, 10 per cent fruit which was hurled immediately onto the street to detect the razor blades, 30 per cent multi-coloured chalky candy in a roll, 40 per cent Kiss Candy’s (made by the Dental Association of America), 8 per cent variety paper bags, 1 per cent loose change, and 1 per cent tooth brushes (always from an absentee dentists house). We’d get home and spread it all out on newspapers and proceed to hoard our stash for the days to come. Inevitably the high profile chocolate bars would appear in my brother Bill’s stash as his sweet-tooth was beyond legendary. I can’t say I blame him – we all have our weaknesses. After all, I still owe my brother Phil the complete songbook of Bob Dylan. I lost it along the way.
The years passed and there we were eighteen-years-old meeting at the Bolan house to prepare for the big Halloween Bash at the Ramada Inn. Greg, Marc, Geoff, Andy, Bob, Dale, Paul – the whole gang. Some were really into it and some of us were not. We had to inform our buddy Greg that the wizards beard he was Crazy-gluing to his face was neither effective nor safe. He disregarded our comments and continued gluing on a cotton baton moustache and eye-brows. Amidst the heat of the party hours much later on, these artificial adhesions simply looked like strands of rope dangling off of his sweaty face. Wizard my ass. I quickly borrowed Mr. Bolan’s trench coat (see hobo) and deked into a Shoppers Drug Mart to buy a mask. They were sold out of my size (oversized noodle alert) and I was forced to buy a skin tight plastic mask of an old man with a big nose. I remember trying to cut a hole in the mouth to help me breath and to allow for the occasional cigarette but alas, I ripped it to the chin making my costume look beyond low rent. Comical I guess, but really low rent.
Naturally we were strobing on some different planet by 10 p.m. By 11 I was wobbling around the ballroom reuniting with high-school buddies and sneaking out to the parking lot for a puff or two. Suddenly I heard our local radio DJ (dressed as the Iron Sheik) hosting the ‘best costume’ award from the stage. I stumbled into a long line behind the Three Little Pigs who I’d met earlier and eventually made it up onto the stage. The Sheik held the mic up to my torn mouth and said ‘So what group are you?” I asked rhetorically “What group?” Two hundred people laughed.

I didn’t get it at the time, but it was GROUP judging, i.e. Three Little Pigs. I was a random solo with an awful costume. I thought he was asking me what my favourite group was, so I responded The Beatles. People began to boo and The Sheik leaned in close and said “Are you okay buddy?” I was far from okay. I was escorted off the stage like the loser I was. The only redeeming part to this story was seeing my buddies on the floor in laughter when I arrived back to our table. Watching Merlin laugh through the cotton and Crazy-glue was enough reward for me.

The costumes are just one part of this scene I avoid. What about the pagan rituals? What about the witchcraft and horror? I’ve often never been able to deal with scary movies the way some folks just seem to love them. I enjoy the intentionally bad B-movie genre that’s tongue in cheek but as for the rest? No thanks! I can handle amusing campy flicks with chainsaws and goalie masks but when fiction turns to the spirit world? No way.
It first started when a gang of us tried to watch The Exorcist. Halfway through the movie, some of the guys came up with excuses about how they have to ‘get home early’, ‘stuff to do’, etc… Suddenly everyone was gone. I was terrified. Not only did they bail on me, they proceeded to tap on my windows and phone the house and hang up. You know all the tricks your good buddies would pull on you back then. To this day, I have still not finished that movie.
Then many years later it was another movie: The Blair Witch Project. I was in Gananoque, Ontario and I stopped in for the night at an old resort. The girl at the front desk claimed they only had a few cabins out back available to rent. It was a cold November night and just the perfect backdrop for what was about to happen. When I checked into my room I noticed a sign on top of the TV which read ‘Free Movies at front desk’. I walked to the front lobby and inquired about their selections. She strongly advised a new movie called The Blair Witch Project which was her ‘favourite of all time!’ I bit.
When that movie was over, I looked out the window of the cabin and noticed a long thin tree branch creaking up against the eaves. Suddenly I heard noises in the closets. My imagination was running wild! Or was it? I immediately took the movie back to the front desk like it was possessed. “I can’t believe you suggested that movie!” I said with authority.

“Would you mind switching me to another room?” I asked.

“Oh wow. I’m very sorry about that. I guess that movie is not for everyone!”

“Not for everyone? Are you kidding me? That movie was terrifying. I really need you to change my room.”

“I’m so sorry but we’re totally filled. You’ll be ok. Just get some sleep!”

I drove to an all-night Tim Horton’s and drank decaf until 5 a.m.

So why did I share this story?

The other day my girlfriend asked me if I’d like to go out for Halloween.
I cleverly responded “Why don’t we just stay home and have a Halloween party for two?”
“Yeah right. But you won’t dress up for me?” she said.
“Well, yeah of course I will. I’ll go buy a pizza, come back and knock on the door and you can answer it dressed up in classic French maid attire! You’ll be the French maid and I’ll be the pizza boy! It’s perfect.”
“Works well for you lover boy but what do I get out of the deal?”
“Well, I’ll eat some pizza and watch you tidy up for a bit and when the time is right I’ll let you make your move!”
“Sounds like you should dress up a Martian and go join your imaginary friends back on planet dreamer! And once you’re done that, call the Ramada Inn to make those reservations like I asked.”
“Yes dear. Oh, have you seen my trench coat and that old plastic wine bottle?”

She has Picasso in her hands
Dylan Thomas on her breath
Kerouac in her plans
Cohen in her death
Living just this side of lonely
in a house she’s built of stone
 Her thoughts are always shared
although she shares them all alone
Could it be
she’s tearing down the walls that surround me
She’s opened up my door and found me
She’s got a pearl within her heart
Portia in your eyes
May West in her breast
Aphrodite in her thighs
She’s a rainbow in a hurricane
A queen inside a fool
She everything she’s anything
She’s her own golden rule
Could it be
She’s tearing down the walls that surround me
She’s opened up my door and found me
The future’s an illusion
When our past is left alone
Now is the confusion
It’s the understood unknown
There’s echoes in the distance getting closer every time
If you  can’t do the loving boy
then don’t commit the crime
Could it be
she’s tearing down the walls that surround me
she’s  opened up my door and thrown away the key
Could it be
you’re tearing down the walls that surround me
You’ve opened up my door and found me
Could it be

There’s nothing GOLDEN about these so-called GOLDEN years son!

It’s your 94th birthday today dad. And Mom you’re going to turn 90 in three short weeks! Amazing really.
I’m touring the Yukon and thinking about the party I’ll be missing. Wish I was home.
Tonight, I’ll be singing your song at the show:
The Bells of Retribution
I wish the world could thank you for your service in WW2. I know you question whether people care about your service or the veterans anymore, but I know most people do. I wish that whenever you went down to your mailbox you would find random thank you letters instead of generic bills and junk mail. Maybe a teacher will read this and inspire their students to write you some old fashioned letters? Stranger things have happened. I’ll post my address just in case.
J. Aymar
4716 Yonge St. #2220.
Toronto, ON.
M2N 6V1

Happy Birthday!
See you soon.

The following is a chapter about my parents from a collection of short stories I recently released entitled: The Chicken Came First (and other half-truths from my life as a touring songwriter).


And the Oscar goes to: Madeline Aymar

My mother has always been a realist and for her possession of that trait, I owe her a mountain of gratitude. On the other hand, there have been the occasional flashes of idealism where my mother, though a child of the Great Depression and the Second World War, offered glimpses into a heart that dared to dream. This is why our conversation last week was so incredible. I felt for the first time ever, she was beginning to understand my life as an artist. As I watched the Academy Awards celebration it brought me into my mother’s original dream world, a world she so clearly loved: The movies.

Madeline (Theriault) Aymar

Mom was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in 1925 to a French Acadian father and a Canadian born Irish mother. The Soo is a steel town known for its rugged beauty where Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron intersect in Northern Ontario. During the Great Depression her father owned a billiard hall which sustained them through the hard times, putting food on the table for their seven children. Of the five boys and two girls, mom was the second youngest and generally spent her days much like any other child of her era. Frequent visits to the neighbours would involve card games or book swapping. My mother and her ‘kindred spirit’, Jackie Wall, would walk side-by-side through the downtown streets quoting Lucy Maud Montgomery and dreaming of life beyond their three block radius.

Next to my grandfather Eli’s billiard hall, was the Princess movie theatre. My mother often recalled fondly of how she and Jackie learned that the local bakery would offer five cents to anyone who would return ten bread bags to the bakery for re-use. Naturally, this mission was to be executed with the objective of getting back into the theatre to re-watch screen idol Shirley Temple singing On the Good Ship Lollipop!

I am convinced that these movies helped shaped my mother’s world view. What passed for casual entertainment was pure escapism – imagination set loose – if only for a few hours. Imagine walking back out of the theatre into the streets of this northern town. It must have felt so mundane compared to the option of singing and tap dancing for the world! But time has a way of marching on and before you know it, mom was all grown up. She’d been prepping for nursing college in Detroit and big adventure was waiting. It was post-war and soon after commencing her studies she met Delbert John Aymar, aka Dad.

Dad was born in 1921 in a rural Acadian fishing village, Lower Saulnierville, on the south shore of Nova Scotia. His own father, Benjamin Aymar, died from tuberculosis when my father was only six months old. He spent the majority of his childhood in St. Anne’s College, a Catholic boarding school run by priests from France. He would only go home to visit his mother for the summer months then spend the rest of the year at the school. This went on until he was 18.

Dad served in the Canadian military for most of World War II. Upon completion of his basic training in Halifax, he applied to the air force. They ran him through the standard educational tests; balance and eye sight tests; then into a cockpit after which they passed him. The very day he was accepted into the air force he was told it was too late as they’d called him into action and he was needed as infantry. In retrospect he said, “I was lucky! The pilots didn’t have a very long life expectancy.”

During the latter part of the war the Canadian military sent a letter home to his mother saying her son John had been killed in action. This ‘clerical error’ was not resolved for two weeks, leaving his mother heart-broken, then obviously elated to hear he was alive. His mother Emily eventually remarried. She had four more children and as such, Dad had four new brothers and sisters.

Upon coming back to Nova Scotia, he attended The University of Halifax for a year but soon felt it was time to head for Toronto. Along with his friend Henri, they drove to Toronto and worked odd jobs for a while, eventually landing a position in sales with Imperial Tobacco, (back when smoking was hip). If you’ve not seen the early 1970’s Canadian cult classic movie ‘Goin’ Down the Road’ (written by playwright William Fruet) I strongly suggest you seek it out. It’s essentially the story of my dad and Henri twenty-five years earlier.

After working with Imperial Tobacco for a while they transferred him up to “this English city with a French sounding name!” – Sault Ste. Marie. Before too long he met my mother and the rest was history.

As of now, dad is 93 and mom is 89. They are alive and well and still together at home. Mom has become a bit forgetful in her advanced years, but dad has decided to take care of her on his own. Two more amazing people you’ll never meet.

During a recent visit home, my mom was recalling the days of her early childhood. The stories were so vivid I asked her if I could record them. She agreed.
After a while, the conversation turned toward my chosen profession. I thought I’d share this with you:

Mom: So where are you living these days?
Me: I got out of my place a few years ago. It didn’t make financial sense. I’m living wherever I hang my hat.
Mom: What does that mean?
Me: Well, I’m trying save money while living on the road.
Mom: How do you like that?
Me: It’s hard but it feels good for the most part.
Mom: So how are you making money my dear?
Me: I’m playing my music. Remember? I make music?
Mom: Yes but you can’t make a real living out of that can you?
Me: Well, I’m trying to Mom. It’s very tough. I’m living the life of an artist.
Mom: An artist? Do you paint too?
Me: No, sometimes they call musicians artists as well.
Mom: So you’re living as an artist? How is that?
Me: It’s great. Sometimes it’s tough. But what isn’t tough? I’m feeling better I ever have.
Mom: Don’t you want to settle down and have a family?
Me: I think there’s a better chance of that happening while living as an artist mom. She’s out there. Maybe she’ll be an artist too.
Mom: Oh god – then you’ll both be broke! Can’t you just do your music on the side?
Me: Yes mom, I’ve done that for many years but it just doesn’t work that way. It’s something I have to do full time. Sounds crazy I know.
Mom: What’s the point of it all?
Me: Hmmm…good question. Maybe deep down I’m hoping to make the world a better place.
Mom: How can you do that through your music?
Me: I don’t know. Maybe writing my own songs and singing them is a good for all of us. Hey I just had you singing ‘Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder!’ And you were smiling and laughing. That counts. Right?
Mom: (laughs) I guess you’re right. I’ve always liked to dance to music though. Don’t you do any toe-tappers?
Me: Yeah I’ve written a few of those.
Mom: So you’re doing this to make the world a better place?
Me: Well that’s a question for the age’s mom. I’m likely doing it for money and girls! Just kidding.
Mom: Seems to me every famous person I’ve ever read about had a miserable life. They always seemed unhappy. I DO wish you’d find a nice girl and settle down.
Me: Well, I’ve committed to this and yes it’s hard but I’ve never slept better. I’m living for my art.
Mom: But you don’t have a home to live in? You are not making any money? Don’t’ they call that being a bum?
Me: Ok mom, all I’ve ever known is that you raised us to believe in this guy named Jesus. Right? Now, no disrespect to my buddy Jesus, but he advocated giving up all of ones worldly possessions. Right? Ok. Well, I’ve done that. I’ve given up my worldly possessions and am travelling the countryside to spread the good word about living, dying and loving through my songs. They didn’t call Jesus a bum. Right?
Mom: Oh I’m sure they did at the time. Do you still go to church?
Me: I like the way Tom. T Hall responds to that one. He’s a Nashville songwriter. They call him The Storyteller.
Mom: What did he say about Jesus?
Me: In one of his songs he sings “Me and Jesus got our own thing going! Me and Jesus got it all worked out.” I guess I don’t know what to think about it all. I hope there’s something up there.
Mom: So you don’t go to church anymore?
Me: Well, not as much as you’d like I guess.
Mom: How long are you staying home for?
Me: Three more days.
Mom: Oh, don’t say that. I hate good-byes. Do you have a wife and family to get back to?
Me: I love you mom.
Mom: I love you too my dear.

It’s sad to see my mother go through this phase, but as she’s always said, “We only remember the good times as we get older.” I believe she’s right.

As I sat to watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think of my mom and her fond memories of the movies. They left such a big impression on her mind. She could imagine herself as Maureen O’Hara in The Miracle on 34th Street or Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She never did join the theatre or find herself involved in this creative process in any way, but she sure did love the movies.

Her love of plot reigned supreme. She has always said there is no replacing a good story. Then it dawned on me. That’s the subconscious insight she’s always imparted into my song writing. As I watched the Best Picture nominee’s I felt this strange reassurance that true story-telling in movies, literature and song will forever be at centre of things.

She’s also always reminded me that a good story never goes out of fashion.

“It’s all about how you tell it, son!”
I couldn’t agree more.
I wrote this story you mom.

Part 2 – Excerpt from The Chicken Came First. Chapter 12: The Rise and Fall of Jake Rivers

I made my pit stop back at the motel a quick one. I took another thirty minute power nap, changed my guitar strings, put on black jeans, black shirt, black boots, black belt (with silver belt buckle) and mentally morphed into Jake Rivers during the short drive over.
Upon pulling up the building, I noticed they’d taken the time to update the flashing marquis above the door.


When I walked in, Big Eddy immediately introduced me to the volunteers who were setting up the various items for auction around the hall. He had a crew of guy’s help me set up my PA and I had the sound check over with in twenty minutes. He then introduced to the main coordinator of the event from Ducks Unlimited who made immediate inquiries as to whether he could use my microphone throughout the night to announce auction winners and make the occasional speech about how we should protect our wetlands.

“You betchya sir. The microphone is at your disposal. You just tell me when and I’ll step back and let you speak!”
So pleased was he with this arrangement he responded “Jake, I’d like to offer you to spot at our head table to dine with us tonight. How does that sound?”
“That would be a true honour sir.”

And so it was. One short hour later I was up at the long head table setup on risers overlooking the rest of the circular tables below. They sat me at the far left where I was treated to a great view of the Blue Jays game on the small TV perched behind the bar. I felt like misplaced Johnny Cash at the head table of a Dean Martin Roast. After dinner, I stood up at the bar with Big Eddy and my new friends of the dais and pretended to inhabit my Jake Rivers persona as the talk turned to moose hunting. We all mainly listened to Big Eddy hold court:

“Yeah, so there we were getting skunked after three days. I was hungover and standing in two feet of water when my young lad said he wanted to take the shot. There she was, right in our sights. He started shaking and then shaking some more. By Jesus he had some bad buck fever. He couldn’t pull the trigger!”

The conversation went around the circle until all eyes turned toward the man in black.
“Hey Jake, this ever happened to you?”

By that point I’d heard the word ‘buck’ and was already thinking about John Candy’s superb turn in the hilarious John Hugh’s film Uncle Buck. Just thinking about Candy’s laugh and face made me drift into a world far away from shooting animals.
“Oh hell, this one time up north, we had to quarter some road kill. Now that’s a story for another day!”
Although a true story, I was really hoping they would let me off the hook without further questioning.
Noticing a five second pause, I took a look at my fake skin watch and said “Well boys, I think it’s time for some music!”
“Knock’em dead Jake! Just tell us what you’re drinking and we’ll take care you from the bar!”
“Eddy I’ll take a cold pitcher of your finest swill. Let’s get this party started!”

The night rolled along as predicted. I offered a standard assortment of old time country cover songs with the occasional Rodney Dangerfield joke thrown in for good measure. The Ducks Unlimited spokesman came up at the end of the second set to finish his part with the auction. He thanked the volunteers and then said “I like to extend a very special thank you to our friend Jake Rivers for providing this top quality entertainment tonight. I think we can all say what a great surprise it’s been to have you grace our stage Jake.”

I walked back to the microphone and said “I’d like to thank all of you for being such a great audience. From the volunteers who cooked that amazing pork dinner to our server Linda behind the bar to Big Eddy who booked me tonight! We’re two sets down and the night is just getting started.”
With those words I announced that I’d be taking a thirty minute break.

I met the same guys circled around the bar for another discussion. I was definitely feeling like I’d already had a bit too much to drink, so without wasting any time, I ordered another pitcher to steady myself. I was holding court with the gang as the topic of conversation was now about music. We were finally in my wheelhouse. After five short minutes I realized I had these guys in stitches.

“One of the days I’m going to marry Loretta Lynn. Just don’t tell Dolly boys. I don’t want to break her heart.”
“If I had Johnny’s Cash and Charlie’s Pride I wouldn’t have a Buck Owen on my car.”
And on and on and on. Basically I was copping lines from the 1970’s American TV show Hee Haw.
“Well, I gotta go for a smoke. I’ll be back for set number three in fifteen minutes.”
“I didn’t know you smoked Jake?”
“Only when I’m drinking. I’m up the three packs a day!” (Another pilfered Dangerfield line).
And with that, I stepped out to the front of the Legion doors to hear the fading laughter and general good time noise of a fully packed Legion Hall at 11:45pm on a hot summer Saturday night in Nowhereville.

As is the case with the outdoor smoking set, it’s generally a scene unto itself. I met a wife pushing her husband in a wheelchair down the ramp to the sidewalk. Once they were settled, I offered them a light and we shared a brief quiet conversation about the starry night while slowly inhaling carcinogenic sticks sanctioned by the same government who issued the Surgeon General’s warning on the packaging.
“Hey look” I exclaimed “I got the one that says ’Smoking may harm unborn babies!’ Guess these ones won’t kill ME then!” They didn’t laugh.
They nodded, smiled and went back inside.

Standing there on my own, I realized it would be a good time for a two-smoke break. You know, collect my thoughts and catch some fresh air. Just as I fired up my second I heard some low mumbling from around the corner. It was a group of BC’s finest youth. They appeared like every other twenty-something in Canada. Wool toques, skateboard and ski logos plastered on every square inch of their clothes, long hair, short hair, nose rings, pierced eye balls, tattoos, ripped jeans. In other words, they were completely normal. They immediately noticed my black attire and pointed to the sign.
“Dude. You’re Jake Rivers! My aunt just texted us and told us to get down here to see you.”
“Yeah that’s me guys. Nice to meet you. Where you all from?”
The conversation meandered for a while and we all shared yet another cigarette. Then, I noticed one of the guys expertly rolling a cannon-sized joint with one hand while holding a lighter and bag full of pot in the other. He was obviously a trained professional.
“Hey Jake, you wanna try some BC bud? It’s the best in the world!”
“Funny you should say that. I was just thinking about weed today. I don’t smoke it really. It makes me paranoid. Besides I’ve had a few too many brews already and I’d better be careful.”
“Oh come on man. You can’t come to BC without trying a bit of our bud.”

I get that same come on everywhere I go:
“You can’t come to Memphis and NOT eat Gus’s Fried Chicken!”
“You can’t come to Quebec City and NOT eat poutine!”
“You can’t come to Rome and NOT see the Vatican!”
“You can’t come to Manitoba and NOT have perogies!”
“You can’t come to Nashville and NOT play at Tootsies!”
“You can’t come to Alma and NOT eat a sticky bun!”

So, with some perverse logic circling around my head I blurted out “What the hell. Fire it up!” And with that I proceed to smoke on this thing like I was Tommy Chong hiding out in his trailer on the set of Up in Smoke. It seemed to have lasted about ten solid minutes.

“Hey Jake, we’re gonna deek inside. Can’t wait to hear you man.”

Within about two minutes I felt a strange feeling come over me. It started with my heart. My heart was palpitating so fast it was draining the blood from my head. Then my eyes started to feel blurry and I was immediately dizzy. I looked over my shoulder to my name ‘Jake Rivers’ flashing on the marquis.

I was very stoned and immediately started questioning my authenticity as a human being.
“What are you doing Aymar? Where are you? A middle-age man in the mountains of BC pretending to be a guy named Jake Rivers? Get your shit together. Settle down and meet a nice girl! Get a job! Mom’s right! What have you become?”

And with that, I staggered to the side of the curb and put my head between my knees and closed my eyes. Suddenly I heard voices in my head. They started off very softly. Riiiiiiiveerrrssssss…..Riiiiveeerrrsssss….Jaaaaakke….Jaaaaakkke….” Then they grew louder and louder until I realized that someone was actually screaming out “JAKE RIVERS, where are you?”
Totally lost into a deep paranoid, panicked realm I thought to myself “Who is this Jake Rivers asshole and why does some guy keep screaming his name?”
“Rivers! Rivers! What’s going on man? It’s almost 12:30 and everyone’s waiting for your next set!”

It was Big Eddy who’d come out to find me. I’d forgotten who I was supposed to be. I’d forgotten just about everything. I looked up at Big Eddy and said, “Just give me another five, I need some air.”

Eddy left me to my own devices and I stood up and tried to walk around in circles to get some air and snap out of this awful state. It wasn’t working. I could barely stand. It was at that exact moment that I had an epiphany. If George (No Show) Jones could do it then so could I.

I stumbled back into the hall to cheers. As I wobbled toward the stage I heard uproarious laughter as I was assuredly pretending to play the town drunk. I staggered over to my guitar and strapped it on. I looked down at my guitar neck, placed my left hand on the fret board and totally blanked out. My guitar was melting. My hand look like it was made of plastic. I couldn’t move my fingers from the G chord position. I looked up to the crowd who were laughing less. I looked back down at my hand. I strummed one chord. I looked up at the crowd one last time to see Big Eddy walking toward the stage.
“Hey Jake, you’re putting us on right? You ok?”
“Eddy, call a cab. I’ll be back tomorrow to get my stuff!”
“What? You’re kidding right?”
“Eddy, can you please call a cab!”

I woke up the next morning to a knock on my door at 11:30 a.m. It was my friendly motel owner and her husband greeting me with a fresh coffee and asking me if I was planning on staying another day. It was a beautiful morning and as I stepped outside to join them I realized just how hungover I was. Ten minutes into our picnic table conversation, the events of the night came back to me. I ran back into my room to realize my guitar was not there. Where was my PA? Where was my gear?

“Oh MY GOD!” I realized what had happened. I didn’t have the heart to tell my new friends that my alter ego Jake Rivers had made a terrible ass of himself a mere twelve hours earlier. I jumped in the shower and did the long walk of shame back to the scene of the crime. Fortunately when I arrived, they were all new faces behind the bar. A younger server and an elderly woman were talking in the kitchen and prepping for the day ahead. The women came out.
“You must be Jake? You’ve come back to get your sound system I take it?”
“Yeah. Geez. Uh. Hmmm. Well. Uh. I’m sorry about last night. I don’t know what happened!” The two of them looked at each other and began to laugh. That one merciful laugh saved me. It was a gesture of pure kindness.
“Well, you wouldn’t believe it if we told you.”
“Please! Tell me what happened after I left.” The young girl took over the story.
“Well, my aunt Linda told Eddy that she’d texted some of the kids to come over to the show. Then after you left, Eddy and Linda brought a few of the boys outside to ask them what happened. They finally admitted to convincing you to smoke some weed. Eddy was really angry. He told them that they had stick around and pack up all of your gear and put it into the back store room. But before that, he used your microphone to apologize on your behalf to everyone. The old timers all know about this strong BC weed. Everyone was mad at the kids for ruining a great night.”
“Are you kidding me? I still take full responsibility for smoking it though. I made that choice.”
“Yeah,” she replied “but it seems to happen to everyone around here at one time or another. Eddy and everyone loved you. Oh, and here’s your money!”

I couldn’t believe it. I walked around the bar and gave both of them a big hug. To think that in a moment of complete fragility, I was offered mercy. I was relieved to find it was cash as I didn’t relish the notion of asking them to cut another cheque under my real name. I immediately pulled out $50 and said “Please buy Eddy and Linda, and everyone a round of drinks on me some night.” Oh, and if you see those kids again, tell them it wasn’t their fault.”

With that, I packed my gear into my car and drove back to the motel. My new friends awaited me with some more fresh coffee and a bowl of fruit.
“My husband would like to hear one of your songs.” It was perfect. I spent the next hour singing Jay Aymar originals and cleansed myself from the sins of my Jake Rivers past. What a great feeling.

“You know, if you like swimming there’s a nice lake about twenty minutes away. It’s where everyone goes on hot Sunday afternoons!” I took them up on their suggestion.

There must have been over two hundred cars in the vast gravel parking lot. People were barbequing, walking dogs, cycling, playing Frisbee and occasionally jumping off the rocks into the water. I walked down and claimed an open spot on the sandy beach, cracked open my half read copy of Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You and daydreamed my afternoon away.

The next morning, the owners of motel left me a note attached to a small bag on my door.
“It was a pleasure meeting you Jay. Thank you for the music. Here’s a little something for your drive.”
I opened up the bag to find a little box filled with some grapes, a banana, a yogurt cup, a raisin bran muffin and small juice. I dug into my computer bag to fish out one of my Thank You cards reserved for just such occasions and wrote “I’ll never forget you and hopefully our paths will cross again!”

I drove back to the main intersection in town and kept driving for ten hours in an easterly direction -destination unknown. Suddenly, I noticed a small roadside saloon up in the distance. I checked my clock and realized it was already 9 p.m. As I approached this country bar, I saw a vacancy sign blinking in above the door entrance. I pulled out $50 cash from my wallet and walked in with a confident yet humble swagger.

“Hi there, I’m a touring musician just looking to spend the night. I want something clean and quiet and l’ll be leaving early in the morning. I only have $50. YES or NO?”
The girl young girl behind the counter looked a bit panicked. “Well, I’m going to have to call Judy. She’s the owner. Our rooms are usually $45 plus tax!”
“Well, you drive a hard bargain. No need to call Judy. I’ll take it!”

After checking in I came back to the bar for a bite to eat. There’s nothing like a Monday night crowd in remote country saloon.

“What are you drinking buddy?”
“Uh, I’ll have a ginger ale and a look at your menu!”
“Sure. You gonna get up and sing some songs for the open mic?” I turned around to see a house band assembling their gear on stage.
“Well, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy it tonight!”
The bartender smiled “Yeah, I know how you feel. I can’t sing a lick either.”
I leaned in and asked him “I’m a little lost. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the last town I was in and I don’t even know where I am now. Where are we?”
He looked at me with a straight face and said “We call it Nowhereville.”
“Wow! Change that ginger ale to a Labatt 50.”
“Labatt 50? No one drinks that around here!”

Here we go again.

Excerpt from The Chicken Came First. Chapter 12: The Rise and Fall of Jake Rivers

The Rise and Fall of Jake Rivers

It was the perfect day to drive around the mountains.  A Saturday in July and I’d finished my show in Chilliwack the night before. Chilliwack! What a classic Canadian band! (Wish I had the same affinity for the town) “Whatchya gonna do when I’m gone”.  I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m getting out of here.

I’d left the comfort of my bass and fiddle accompaniment back in Vancouver and was riding solo again. It felt good to be on my own. Some time for reflection to collect my thoughts and with any luck, find a place to settle in for a few days to relax and work on the new songs I’d had floating around in Camry.

It was a rare weekend off without any shows booked. I was so exhausted I was simply content finding a quiet motel for a few days, preferably near the water and away from civilization. I was dreaming of this time alone to simply relax and read a few books; make some home cooked meals; call the girl I’d been trying to see and with any luck finish those new songs I’d been working on.

I finally rolled into a motel nestled into the mountains with a really cool Swiss vibe. “Where are the Vonn Trapp kids?” I thought to myself.
I was greeted at the front desk by and woman who’d obviously not modelled herself after the aesthetic of the property.  She had inked sleeves down both arms hanging out of ripped purple tank top. She’d just come in from the back of the office after obviously smoking a Cheech and Chong sized joint.
“Yeah, sorry about that, I had that god-dammed tom cat on the property again. It’s a sonofabitch trying to keep those bastards off the property! So you’re from Ontario. Long way from home. How can help you?”
Whenever I first meet someone who so nervously bursts into a long winded backstory about a subject unrelated to the surroundings, my first reaction is to give that person a lot of time and space.  I can feel their socially awkward pain I guess.  In this case, I couldn’t figure the source out her panicked breathing. Maybe she was just really, really stoned.

“Wow! Those pesky tom cats can sure mess up a perfectly good afternoon eh?” I responded, trying to bring her into a peaceful frame of mind before I begged for a cheap room rate.

“They sure as shit can! I have too many cats around here as it is and since my old man took off fishing for the week, I’m running around like some chicken with my head cut off. It’s too nice of a day for me to be wasting my time on this shit!”

Now I could tell with certainty that she was extremely high.

“Listen my friend, we’re all booked up for the next week few weeks here. I mean it’s tighter than a bulls ass! It’s busy season in these parts and you’re shit outta luck for a room. Where you have to be tonight?” she asked.

“Well, I’m a musician with about five days off and I’m just looking for a cheap place to crash out and relax.  Any ideas?”

“Well, I’d just point my car THAT way and keep drivin’ and askin’ around. If you hit the town of Hope, you’ve gone too far.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Oh you know what they say about Hope! It’s the meth capital of Canada!”

In the past five years I’ve heard so many small towns take claim to this dubious distinction.  It’s like I expected to read it on the sign entering town “Welcome to Hope. Meth Capital of Canada.”
Or better yet “Welcome to No Hope.  Ride the Roller Coaster over on Meth Mouth Mountain!”

After she mentioned this, I gazed around the property and realized the quaint ‘Sound of Music’ mirage I’d conjured up was just that – a mirage. The dusty Folgers instant crystals bottle and open container of Coffeemate on the rickety TV table near the brochure rack was my first clue. This led me to quickly scanning the property noticing the cat colony and one too many bikers hanging out by the ice machine. I affixed my gaze back toward my nervous hostess and now all I could see were the remnants of what once would have been a pretty smile, now the obvious victim of smoking methamphetamine.

“Thanks for the advice! I’ll keep looking around.” A part of me wanted to offer her a bar of Dial to rinse her mouth out from the prolific amount of swearing she was spewing out to random customers, but the rebel in me loved the fact that she made it sound so natural – almost elegant.
So long, farewell, adieu, adieu, adieu!!!!

I’ll never forget the drive that day. Cruising through the mountains is an amazing experience.  One minute you’re overlooking a cliff onto a great body of water and the next you’re witnessing a mountain climb up over the horizon. It truly is a spectacular experience.
My thoughts turned toward my recent encounter with the woman. Maybe she was right? Maybe I should stay out of Hope BC? I wonder how many cats she had on the property. I wonder if her husband was leaving her because of her addiction. Maybe they were both bikers. I wonder if her weed was home grown BC bud.  Is BC Bud strong? I wondered how much stronger weed is these days versus the days I tried it back in high school?

I meandered my way through a few more motel properties only to find they were all booked up. It was now getting late into the afternoon and I was ready to find any place to chill out.
Without warning, I came over up over the hill and notice a small county road veering off to my right. As Yogi Berra once famously quipped “when you come to the fork in the road – take it!”
So I veered right and kept on daydreaming. Suddenly I realized I had accidentally taken a service road into the heart of a small unknown town. To this day I still don’t know what town I was in. I’ve forever dubbed it ‘Nowhereville’ in my mind.

I meandered through the town and noticed a quaint little motel right in the heart of the action.
The grounds were immaculate. Every flower was accounted for. Every window shutter bursting with bright white paint and red picnic tables held perfect umbrellas with Canadian flags on them.

As I approached the front desk, I heard an aggressive vacuum cleaner humming out of Room #4.
I made my way toward the room to find a tiny woman smiling away while completing her task.
Upon noticing me, she turned it off and approached me with a big grin “Hello, are you looking for a room?”
“Yes I am! I’m just wondering what your rates are?”
“Well, how many are in your party?”
“It’s just me,” I replied. “I’m a musician looking for a quiet place to take a few days off to relax.”
And as if she couldn’t possibly radiate any more joy, her grin grew even wider.
“Oh my dear God! My husband and I love music. We love everything about music. It ran in our family you know. Do you do this for a living?”
“Yes I do. I’m a touring songwriter.”
“A touring songwriter! Oh my, that sounds so exotic. What does that mean?”
“I write and sing my own songs, play them on my acoustic guitar and usually perform them with a band consisting of a fiddle, bass, and guitar!”
“Ahhhh what a beautiful gift. My husband will be back tomorrow. I want you to stay for the weekend to meet him. This is amazing.”

Every once in a while, the musician will encounter this type of enthusiastic soul. Someone who is so connected to the lifestyle of an artist that they’re simply contagious. These little cherished moments become the important ones. They are never to be understated. This woman was all heart and I was all ears.

She brought out some homemade lemonade and we shared a great conversation at the round picnic for about thirty minutes. Her and her husband moved to Canada in the early 60’s from Poland.  It was a familiar immigrant story but one with so many highlights. After their children were raised they purchased the motel and put down new roots. The motel was completely spotless. Every ounce of their love and attention blanketed the grounds.  From the trimmed hedges to the flower gardens to the freshly painted lines on the new paved parking lot.

She continued “So let me ask you? What is your favourite place in Canada?”
(This question is asked of me daily and I’m so often used to giving a pat response.)
“Well they all have their unique charm. I’m not really sure if we’re all totally the same or if geography dictates differences between us?”
She immediately stopped me “I think the mountains make us who we are here. We are mountain people. Island people are island people. Bush people are bush people. Ocean people are ocean people. City people are city people! I could never live in the city!”
I went on to tell her about a thesis I wrote in University comparing and contrasting the difference between two historians who discussed this exact point.
Knowing I was going to sound pretentious I just committed to sharing this story and began, “Harold Innis and Donald Creighton discussed the effect of geography and communications on the development of the Canadian identity.  From what I can remember we Canadians had an easy go of it getting to the centre of our country down the St. Lawrence. Then the railroad out west made it easy for us to get people out here and information back to Ottawa. We didn’t have that lawless west – that pioneering spirit of the US! So maybe that’s why we don’t subscribe to gun culture (outside of hunting) like our friends to the south. We didn’t need them as much. ”

I remember rambling on for another few minutes until she stopped me again “Like I said, our geography makes us who we are! Mountain people are mountain people. Island people are island people!”

We both paused to laugh for good while. Then she continued. “Well, you’ve told me some helpful things my son, now I want to help you!”

“The next time you’re hoping to find a good rate at a motel I want you do use these tips!”
“Walk in with $50 cash and say,” I am a musician on the road across Canada and just want a bed for the night. I want something quiet where I can sleep. I won’t require room service. I won’t need a thing. I just want a clean and quiet room.” Then hold out the $50 and ask YES or NO. What’s the worst that can happen? You have to drive to the next motel to do the same thing? Easy right? That’s how you do it! This will surely save you some money.”
Her words of wisdom have been forever etched into my brain. I’ve been using this tactic ever since and can assure you it still works better than Expedia!  So with that, she showed me my room and I agreed to stay for the weekend. I gave her a few CD’s and stepped into my digs for a quick siesta.

I woke up  after dinner and thought it would be a nice time for a stroll around town.  After a twenty minute walk toward the edge of town I saw a blinking arrow below a bright yellow sign which read “Ducks Unlimited Meat Draw – Tonight!” The arrow pointed to a Legion Hall just around the corner.
“Maybe it’s a perfect time for an ice cold draft” I thought to myself.

I walked into the Legion and sat up at the bar.
A man resembling the character actor Wilfred Brimley walked out with his green work shirt on, black suspenders , wildly overgrown handlebar moustache and said “What can I get you buddy?”
“How about a Labbatt 50!”
“Labatt 50? No one orders that one around here anymore. Where you from?”
“Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Don’t hold it against me. I decided to take a few days off and relax in town here. Anyway, I’ll just take a cold draft.”
“Here you go. So you’re on vacation?”
“No. I wish. I’m a touring musician and the band has headed off in different directions and I’m just working my way home to Ontario now.”
“You don’t say! What kind of stuff do you play?”
This is when I noticed he might have been interested in something.
I was wary of going down this path. I really just wanted a few days off from the crazy schedule I’d been keeping. I really wasn’t into strapping the guitar back on for at least another four days.
“Well, I play just about anything. My own stuff mainly.”
“Oh really? What kind of stuff is that?”
(This is when I offer up a stock line for my own amusement summoning the curse of The Boss.) “They say I’m the next Bob Dylan!”
“You know, you got me thinking. We have a big fundraiser here tonight and you’d think I could have found a band? Everyone was booked up and I was kind of stuck. Do you do any old time country?”
At this exact moment I had a decision to make. Would I? Should I? If I go with this, how should I proceed?
“Well, yeah I can do some old country. Cash , Willie and Haggard type of stuff if it’s requested.”
His grin rivalled that of my new friend back at the motel.
“Ok, sit tight right there. I have to make a call and see what we have in the budget!”
This was the tipping point. I either stop him now or let him make the call. I decided I’d let it play out.

I already knew what the offer was going to be. A standard pub rate with all of the food and drinks a glutton could ask for. I had already accepted the offer in my mind but tonight I would allow my alter ego, Jake Rivers, a chance to take the stage.  Besides, Jake was itching to get back into the limelight after his long hiatus.

Jake Rivers was an invention born out of necessity. Rivers was invented one weekend near Simcoe Ontario when I had a ticketed show for $10 in town, yet another nearby venue wanted to book me to play cover songs the following night. The financial offer to perform the covers show was great so I agreed to it. I then realized that it could backfire if some people paid to see my serious ‘artiste’ show one night then could catch my pandering sing-along shtick the following night for free.  I asked them to put the name Jake Rivers on the marquis. It made perfect sense in a nonsensical kind of way.

It was nickname given to me from my family after working up in the northern bush camps for a few summers. Jake Two Rivers to be exact was pulled from a character from a 1960’s CBC show called The Forest Rangers. It ran well into the 90’s in syndication and it had that true Canadiana feel. Without the Forest Rangers, there would have been no Beachcombers. What Canadian kid without cable didn’t love those shows? One of the main characters on the show was Joe Two Rivers, a wise First Nation’s man who consistently imparted traditional aboriginal wisdom to those around him. When I arrived home from my first summer of working up north, my family was calling me Joe Two Rivers. That soon changed to Jay Two Rivers.  It stuck. Finally, that fateful night in Simcoe, Ontario when the venue owner asked for my name, I quickly blurted out Jake Rivers. Jake was close enough to Jay so I wouldn’t feel totally fraudulent. I had to drop the “Two” to tighten things up. I even had my cover story about how I was in the studio working on my first full length album entitled: Rivers Runs Wild.

So, as I sat up the Legion Bar nursing my 8oz draft, Brimley sauntered back behind the bar and made me the offer.
“We’ll even throw in meal and drinks?”
“Ok let’s go for it. What time?”
“Let’s say around 8:00pm till whenever? How many sets do you normally play?”
“Oh let’s just play that one by feel. If it’s rockin, I’ll keep going. If it’s dying out, I’ll wind it down. When’s last call?”
“We can’t go any later than 2:00am. Hey what did you say your name was?”
“Jake Rivers. And yours?”
“The call me Big Eddy”.
“Alright Eddy, I’ll go grab my stuff and be back in a few hours!”
“Looking forward to it Jake.  I’ll put the word out!”

I walked back to the motel quite excited about the night the awaited me. I instinctively knew the crowd that would be attending. They would mainly consist of friendly seniors from the area. There would be a few war vets sprinkled into the mix along with a high percentage of hunters, some conservationists, the women of the local crafting, quilting and crocheting auxiliary, and the usual assortment of Legion volunteers and members who come out every weekend to have some fun and visit old friends.  They’d all be primarily of Scot and Irish descent with names like Smith, Campbell and MacDonald. They’d request songs like Okie from Muskogee, It’s Hard to Be Humble even the occasional Stompin’ Tom song. In short, they were going to love Jake Rivers.

I made my pit stop back at the motel a quick one. I took another thirty minute power nap, changed my guitar strings, put on black jeans, black shirt, black boots, black belt (with silver belt buckle) and mentally morphed into Jake Rivers during the short drive over.
Upon pulling up the building, I noticed they’d taken the time to update the flashing marquis above the door.
to be continued….

The Chicken Came First – Preface

Book cover front and back

Hello friends,
If it feels like I’ve been a bit stingy on the ramblings lately well that’s just because I’ve been hoarding my words for this book.
With some cajoling by many of you and a fierce internal battle about it all, I’ve decided that the world needs another book much like I need a hole in the head. I’ve dissected many of my previous tall tales and tightened them up a bit with the help of a great editor who worked closely with me to help ‘keep my voice’ throughout these pages.
The stories selected were the ones which had the most traction as evidenced by the hit counts online.
I’ve even added a few new ones for you. Below is the preface of the book as it will appear.

We’re going to be touring across Canada again this year starting in a few weeks. (Find the Western Tour dates at the bottom of this page). We still have a few open dates so if you are willing to host us, we’re willing to discuss the opportunity. I’ve been in discussions with several book stores for readings and concerts as well so if you’re connected to a book store, please pass this along.

Pre-orders can be made directly to me where I’ll sign one and put it aside for you. (



Some days I don’t even know where I’m from anymore. Most days I can’t remember what town I’ve left or where I’m off heading to. I might forget the names and the faces but it’s the stories I remember. They find their way into my songs. These are your stories.

Why do I continue to write songs and release music and tour? Perhaps I do it for my own selfish reasons: ego; acceptance; freedom; internal rewards. It appears to have nothing to do with money and everything to do with that which money cannot buy. It’s a mystery. It’s illusive. It is magic and mayhem. It’s often a lie, but it feels closer to the truth than anything I’ve ever known. For the time being, it’s a living.

Depending on the venue and where I’m touring, I’ll often perform with regional players. This has allowed me to meet so many amazingly artistic souls out there. For example, how else could I meet a man like Donnie Zueff from Beausejour, Manitoba? Who’s Donnie you might ask?

Donnie is not only a great fiddle player, he’s a walking, talking encyclopaedia of Canadian music. By the time we hooked up, he had learned my catalogue of songs and we were off for a two-week tour together. I couldn’t have been more satisfied with my new road companion. I was not only treated to fiddle virtuosity during our live performances, but classic Canadian road stories from a guy who’d played through every decade from the 60’s onward. Among the highlights were stories of his childhood friend Burton Cummings to his time spent in the Canadian music scene from then until now.

Our discussions often shifted toward his main gig for many years touring with a Canadian songwriter Rick Neufeld, a folk singer who played at coffeehouses throughout North America and who also wrote the beautiful, iconic song entitled ‘Moody Manitoba Morning’. It’s such a great song and it seemed that wherever Donnie and I performed across Manitoba, people of certain generation knew that song as it if were part of their DNA.

“Hey Donnie, did you ever ask Rick how he wrote that one? It sounds like it came to him quickly?”
“Well, I think it did. The good ones always do, eh?” he replied.
“That song really captures the essence of this landscape if you know what I’m saying?“ I said.
“Do I know what you’re saying? I’ve only played that song thousands of times with Neuf and it gives me shivers every time. You’re lucky if you can write one of those songs in your career Jay!“

This is how our conversation went during our long drives between shows. Donnie enjoyed driving as much as I did. He held the same Zen-like philosophy on how it helped him meditate and fuel his creativity. I agreed with Donnie, telling him I did most of my best song-writing when I had the car on cruise and could just let the highway drift by.

At one point, our conversation shifted from music to food and how to live with a champagne appetite on a beer income.

“Yeah, well once you get to the point where you can cook a full roast beef dinner with aluminum foil and chicken wire on the engine block, then you’ll know you’ve arrived,” Donnie said with a smile.
“Oh that old standby,” I replied. “Heard of it but never tried it! So let me guess, you fed your band mates seven-course meals five nights a week with that trick?”
“It’s hard to believe buddy but happiness really IS only a cheap cut of beef, some tin foil and eight hours of open road.”

We were about two weeks on the road during that segment of the tour when Donnie suggested that I consider recording a live show.

“You should capture this part of your musical journey with a live recording. It’s a great experience and you’ll always have it as a testament to where you were this point in your career and life. It’s all coming back to this anyway,” he added with conviction.

“What do you mean” I replied?

“Well, music has always been a community thing. It’s always been about people playing songs for their friends and family. You know the way it was around the around the campfires and in the kitchens and back porches and barns and dance halls. It’s all coming back. If you ever take it more seriously than what it is, then the fun is gone.”

Profoundly he added, “Why do they call it playing music? They call it playing music because it’s meant to be fun. It brings me down when musicians take it for more than that. You know what I mean?
Anyway, I think you should just get your band together and make a live CD. Record the songs you’ve written that mean the most to you!”

“I can’t disagree with that logic Donnie,’ I responded. I agree with you. Everything is coming around full circle.”

After a few great weeks of shows the Manitoba portion of my tour was complete. I’d come away learning more about Manitoba socials, the Pierogi line, Ukranians and Mennonites, fiddles, accordions, rock’n rollers, farmers, hippies and best of all, how to cook a pot roast on an engine block. Hell, it beats working for a living.

Before Donnie and I went our separate ways, I had to ask him one last time. “What did your dad say when you told him you wanted to learn to play the violin?”
“Well, when I told him I wanted to play the violin, he responded in his thick Russian accent: ‘Vy do you vant to learn the wyolin? Vy don’t you learn something that vill make you money, like the accordion?’”

“Oh man I love that one. Thanks again for the laugh’s man. Good luck with the D. Rangers reunion next year!”
“For sure Jay. See you on the trail. Make a live recording! It’s important. ”

I was drove westward to meet Sahra Featherstone who had been accompanying me on violin and harp during many of my Toronto shows during that past year. Sahra’s command over both instruments is astounding. For over twenty years she has toured the world with a who’s who of musicians. When I ask her about the essence of her musical journey she inevitably grins and says, “It’s who I am.”

She was flying into Calgary in a few days where we’d meet up and perform three weeks of shows throughout Alberta and into the beautiful islands of British Columbia.

When we finally met I immediately discussed Donnie’s idea of capturing a live recording.

We talked about it at length for another two weeks. Our talks ventured into the current realities of music industry. The amazing shows, the soul-destroying shows, and the toll it can take on the psyche and body.

It was during one of these long conversations that I revealed my darkest musical secret. I disclosed how I was once so spiritually and financially bankrupt I threw artistic caution to the wind and jumped onto a cruise ship for a few months to perform the North American songbook as though I was a poor man’s Wayne Newton.

“Aymar, if you don’t write a book and put that story in it, I’ll disown you!” Sahra warned.
“Ok Featherstone, as long as you allow me to share your bad artistic decisions too!”
“No way man. I don’t sell out and tell!”

We meandered our way through the BC islands playing to appreciative audiences and taking in the spectacular scenery. There’s nothing quite like an outdoor concert with mountains painting the distant sky against a full moon. We eventually found ourselves in Squamish, BC, staring at Big Chief, the Canadian mountain climber’s mecca. Sahra would stay here for a while to climb the mountain while I ventured eastward to continue on with my tour.

I returned home a month later to decompress and get back to some much need bookwork. Soon afterward I received a call from David and Janet Tangness a couple who’d seen my show at The Apollo in Thunder Bay, Ontario earlier that summer. They were interested in booking me for a series they ran.
“Jay, we might be able to have you record this in Janet’s small church in Scarborough, ON. She’s part of the choir and we’ve successfully put on shows there in the past!”
“Wow David. The acoustics would be amazing. I think we should do it!”

The next morning I contacted my band and we pulled it together: Vivienne Wilder, double bass; Joe Ernewein, guitar and piano; Sahra Featherstone, violin and harp; and yours truly, guitar and vocals. I was even lucky enough to have my friend Jadea Kelly join me on a few songs. The next call was to my faithful studio engineer, Chris Hess who was more than willing to help capture the live recording.

The song selections were deliberate. They were mostly songs I’d written about questioning spirituality. They were songs about the bigger questions. Even the fun songs and the love songs would have a spiritual component. I would call it “The Chicken Came First”, culled from the line of a brand new song I’d just finished.

While ruminating on how the live show should play out, a number of ideas ran through my head. Should I add a long accompanying booklet? Maybe I should offer some short stories? Maybe Featherstone is right? Maybe I should turn this into a book? Maybe I could add some illustrations to compliment some song scores?

I wondered if Pearl Rachinsky, a Canadian artist and illustrator I’ve long admired, would be interested in illustrating the book for me. One phone call later and a lengthy discussion about chickens and Pearl agreed.

So, on February 7, 2015 we assembled into the small Trinity Church in Scarbourgh, Ontario and made the live recording. It was the perfect choice.

Soon afterwards, I tidied up a few of my short stories and prepared them for the accompanying book.

The Chicken Came First (and other half-truths from my life as a touring songwriter)

I hope you like it.



Tuesday, June 16 Serendipity Concerts – Rossport ON
Wednesday, June 17 The Appolo, Thunder Bay, ON
Thursday, June 18 The Bijou House. Kenora, ON.
Friday, June 19 / Saturday, June 20 Sandy Lake Concerts. Sandy Lake, MB.
Sunday, June 28 Railway Club, Vancouver, BC
Tuesday, June 30 Studio Live Cumberland Concert Series – Cumberland, BC
Wednesday, July 1 Champagne Wine and Song Series – Bowser, BC
Thursday, July 2 39 Days of Summer Festival – Duncan, BC / 2nd show Garage Showroom Saturday, July 4 Gorges Hall, Cortes Island, Cortes, BC
Sunday, July 5 Chars Landing, Port Alberni, BC
Tuesday, July 7 LZ’s Concert Series, Kelowna, BC
Wednesday, July 8 Rockwater Grill Mainstage, Golden, BC
Thursday, July 9 Wine-Ohs, (with Jeni Thai Nolan) Calgary, AB
Friday, July 10 JD’S Concert Series (with Jeni Thai Nolan) Panoko, AB
Saturday, July 11 Halo Farm Fest (with Jeni Thai Nolan) Red Deer, AB
Monday, July 13 Fairveiw Concert Series, Fairview, AB
Tuesday, July 14 Wembley Concert Series, Wembley, Alberta
Thursday, July 16 Ridgevalley Concerts, Ridgevalley, Alberta
Friday, July 17 / Saturday, July 18 The Legendary Rolla Pub, Rolla AB
Friday, July 24 The Owl Acoustic Lounge, Lethbridge, AB
Saturday, July 25 Cosmic Clint’s Music Series – Medicine Hat, AB
Sunday, July 26 The Nanton Auditorium, Nanton, AB
Wednesday, July 29 – Hammiota Hall & Arts Council Presents: Hammiota, MB
Friday, July 31, Sat. Aug. 1st. Sun. Aug 2nd – Sandy Lake Festival, Sandy Lake, MB
Fri. Aug. 7, Sat. Aug 8, Sun. Aug. 9 – Trout Forest Music Festival.


Just a very quick update to those of you across Canada who read my occasional musings. Something is happening here and you should know what it is – isn’t that right Mr. and Mrs. Jones? I’m recording my first live record. I realize you may not be in Toronto but I’m sure you may have friends who’d like to contribute a random whistle or ill timed clap? Forward them them the details. They’d love you for it.

The album will be Jay Aymar Concertaccompanied by an extensive lyric book and many stories of how the songs were inspired along with a sampling of my road stories. The booklet design and artwork will be created by the incredible illustrator Pearl Rachinksy. We’ve worked together in the past and she’s simply amazing.
Vivienne Wilder will be charting the songs as well.

On February 7th at The Church of the Holy Trinity, Guildwood (East Toronto) I’m performing with my band The Abercrombie Zombies (Sahra Featherstone (violin / harp), Joe Ernewein (guitar), Vivienne Wilder (upright bass) and special guest Jadea Kelly to assist with some guest vocals)

Book: The Chicken Came First: And other Half-Truths from my Life on the Road.
CD to accompany book: Jay Aymar and The Abercrombie Zombies – LIVE

ADDRESS on MAP for the Live Show:,-79.199016,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x48bb109baf1f4


I’m not sure why I’m thinking about fashion and music this morning but “I think it has something to do with the way that I fill out my skin-tight blue jeans! Oh….Lord it’s hard to be humble!” No, that’s not what I’m really thinking. I’m thinking about the show I had at home over the holidays where a random guy from my old high-school caught me during the break and said “Aymar, why do I see pictures of you on stage wearing black cowboy boots, a black shirt, and black jeans? I’ve seen you wearing a collared shirt, a suit jacket and tie on stage? What’s that all about man? There’s already one Kristofferson and why would you want to wear a f’n collared shirt if you’re a folk singer? I would have thought then that the freedom of being a folk singer was so that you never had to wear a tie or fancy boots ever again? I only remember you with a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers! Why not just dress the way you dress. You’re a folk singer. Who gives a shit?”
As God is my witness, I couldn’t remember who this guy was. Really. He was from my high-school and either looked so much different that I didn’t recognize him OR he was never really on my radar to begin with. I was obviously on his. (Come to think of it, I wonder how many people’s radar’s I’m not on?). But as these situations call for thinking on the fly I responded with “Huh…you’re right!” Nice. Quick thinking Aymar.
And he WAS right! I’ve been asking myself his question ever since. I only ever wore t-shirts, blue jeans and sneakers. Usually t-shirts that were given to me from my older brothers or ones that mom brought home from parts unknown. My favourite one read “Life’s a beach, then you die!” Wow…so heavy. The shoes were always white Adidas. As my Uncle Brendy told me (and I trusted him because he ran the best sporting goods store in the country – The Duke of Windsor – still going) that ADIDAS stands for “All day I dream about sex!” I was ten when he told me that and he was forever my God. Then his wife, Aunt Dot chimed in “Brendy – that’s not true. It stands for ‘All day I dream about sports!” Years later I came to realize they were both lying. I bought my runners there every year until Brendy convinced me to buy Tennis shoes called Stan Smith’s. They were great. Then they disappeared. It was back to ADIDAS.
The blue jeans were always Levis. For a while it was Howwick Painter Pants and Jordache Jeans but they were always for the ‘too cool’ rich kids (or smart, hard working kids who held down two paper routes at once). I remember the year I didn’t get any cool Levi’s handed down to me and I had to walk around grade 9 with Brand-X jeans. Yeah…that’s what they were called “BRAND-X” right there on the label above my boney ass. Dark blue denim…they came with a sticker that you slapped on your forehead that read “Hi girls…don’t ever give me a chance.” I’d walk down the hallway muttering: “All day I dream about sex” and then go play some sports.
Funny that this random guy remembered the jean jacket. It was a hand-me-down and this girl from St. Joe’s Island painted Neil Yonge’s Harvest album cover on the back of it. That was my favourite album in grade 9 and I loved that jacket. My mom thought it looked ratty and donated it to the Sally Ann. I’m still waiting to see some random sixty year old wearing that jacket in Moncton, or Vancouver someday.
So, thanks random guy from high school for reminding me that I never used to care about what I wore. My favourite line about fashion is from that song from Midnight Cowboy – “I’m going down to where the weather suits my clothes!”

So today I’ll take that money I made the other night and buy some white Adidas sneakers instead of that painting. I’m going to wear them everywhere from now on. I’m washing my old Levi’s and t-shirts. I’m never wearing anything else ever again.
I hope she’s cool with my hard lined fashion stance at that wedding next weekend.

PT 3: CHEERS! Where everybody knows your shame!

(from Part 2) I knew something was up because Zoran was always much too busy to actually sit and break the bread during a Saturday dinner rush. “Jay, tonight’s a special night as my parents are visiting. They have friends and relatives coming in from the old country. We’re going to reserve these tables in the back and have a traditional meal prepared for them. It’s my mother’s birthday! I know it’s going to get busy in here in a few hours and the Newfies…well you know what I mean…the Newfies will get a little crazy. They’re going to want you to drink on stage and play those dirty songs. Now you know I like that normally uh? Right? You know I like what you do, but just for tonight I need you to calm down. Just take it easy. You can still have some drinks but don’t play those songs. Especially that’a song about “It’s forty below and I don’t giva fuck! OK? Just wanted you to know!”
“You got it Zoran. Gonna be a fun night man.”
Famous last words.

Flash forward to 9pm.

I find myself on stage with the usual Saturday night glow. The joint was jumping. Suddenly, in walks Zoran in a white suit accompanied by his wife in a long sequined black dress and an entourage of Euro-chic relatives and friends adorned in silk and fur. It was like a NOLA  Mardi Gras procession, only the revelers weren’t jazz fans – they were Stompin Tom fans – and I wasn’t Dr. John,  I was “Dr. J ” master of disguises. As they made their way to the reserved table, the place was overcome with an audible hush. There became the implicit understanding that Zoran had special guests in the house, and even the Newfies were obliged to calm down (a feat akin to the Apollo landing).

Midnight. The hour in any bar when “ALL BETS ARE OFF AND NO ONE IS FAITHFUL”. (I want to credit this line and philosophy to an Irish Public House owner from Dublin who I met while in Athens Greece. He’d just retired from inheriting the business from his family after having started in the bar at the age of twelve. “Fifty five fucking years later son and I finally sold it! There isn’t a story I haven’t heard or thing about human nature I haven’t observed! I know one thing for sure ” Give people a few drinks and by the time it hits midnight ALL BETS ARE OFF AND NO IS FAITHFUL!” I never forgot that.)

Midnight. The crowd had become seemingly restless with my lack of antics they’d come to know and love. They slowly started demanding pure nonsense:  “Bud the Spud! I’ve Seen Pubic Hair!” The tension grew palpable and suddenly the rising din of beer bottles being slammed on the table to the tune of RODEO SONG – RO – DE – O – SONG….clang clang clang. It was medieval. It was enticing. It was something I just couldn’t do.
Suddenly Zoran, as if in slow motion, stood up from the back of the room, glowing in his white suit, made a gesture with his hand across his throat as if to say “DO NOT PLAY THAT SONG – PLEASE? AS WE DISCUSSED EARLIER” and stared directly into my blood-shot soul.

That split second felt as though it was an eternity. If I’d have played the song, who knows what Zoran would have done? Would he throw me out on the spot for this amazing betrayal? If I didn’t play the song, my legions of lowest common denominator fans would have surely staged a mutiny.  How could I live with devalued street cred (at least until the after party kicked in).
Then I had a thought. It’s the kind of boozed soaked thought that can only come when you get off on walking the tight rope of social decorum.  Zoran and his family represented about ten people. The revelers represented ten times that. Simple math? Besides, it was not like Zoran and myself had ever shared more than a five minute conversation in the two years I’d been there. But the fans…MAN. The fans! They’d become my friends. I thought, if I appease them I can’t go wrong.  Zoran will forgive me once he sees the bar receipts and I’ll retain all street cred.  So, without further adieu I took the soldiers stance…I put my hands in the G chord position, slowly raised my fresh pint of draft and toasted the bar, toasted Zoran’s mother – sang happy birthday and spoke into the mic.  “Zoran, please forgive me, but it’s cold outside and I have to go start my truck because we’re heading to the rodeo tonight.”
“Well it’s forty below
And I don’t give a fuck
Got a heater in my truck
And I’m off to the rodeo
It’s an allamande left
And allamande right
C’mon you fuckin’ dummy
Get your right step right
Get offstage you goddamn goof
Y’know you piss me off
You fucking jerk
Get on my nerves”….

The place erupted like Manchester United scoring the go ahead goal with a second to go. It felt like an over-reaction. It seemed too obvious – as though the bar levied an insult directly to Zoran and his unsuspecting family.  I saw the white flash of  his suit crumble into his chair. Disgraced and humiliated in his own bar. A man too gracious to make a scene in front of his family he let the show go on and rode out the night. I continued to play well past 1am and as they paraded out of the bar Zoran leaned in to me and quietly whispered “It was a good run! Come by for breakfast tomorrow.”

The morning after hangover depression only heightened how bad I felt for my behaviour the night before. But then again, I was used to that feeling. Nothing a few days of sobriety and hard work wouldn’t cure. That filthy need to be loved – the great ego stroke –  fucking hubris  – booze – weed – it all took over and in one moment I’d betrayed Caesar when he was at his most vulnerable. A guy who’d been nothing other than fair to me. Maybe that girl who’d left that message on my phone a few hours earlier was right. I truly WAS an asshole. I could only hope Zoran would understand that it was all just a blur of good times with some poor choices made along the way.

“Jay, I don’t know what to say about what happened here last night man. I know things get out of control and I guess I am partially to blame for letting it happen. It’s not all your fault!” (Are you kidding me? What a guy!)
“Well, Zoran, I was caught up in the moment and really didn’t want to offend YOU, I was just playing into the crowd. I’m really sorry man!”

It was during breakfast that we had our longest conversation. I learned even more about his family back home and his current family in Canada.  He told the story of why he bought the bar and all of his future plans. He couldn’t believe I had a university degree and that I’d been playing other shows as a songwriter. It was a great way to end things. He was ready for a change and so was I. It was meant to happen. But before I left, he told me a story that really taught me a lesson.
“Jay, do you remember six months ago you were playing Saturday afternoon matinees? Performing your own songs?”
“Yeah for sure. It was OK but it wasn’t too profitable for either of us as I recall.”
“Well, there was that elderly Jewish man sitting at the bar with a friend who was paying a lot of attention to your songs. Remember him?”
“Yes I do. He wrote down his first name and phone number on a piece of paper beside the word DIRECTOR but I just thought it all seemed too weird. I remember him saying he worked in film and really liked the song I wrote about my mom. Why?”
“Well, he really is a highly respected Canadian director you know. He came back in here a few months ago and told me how disappointed he was that you didn’t follow up with a phone call. He was going to give you a break. You didn’t take it seriously man. He really was upset!”
“Oh wow, Zoran. You’re killing me. I guess my cynicism is my worst trait.”
“No, Jay….you just have to start believing in yourself a bit more.’
I’ll never forget that conversation with Zoran. He was setting me straight.
(Having saved the number I actually called the director the following week – who must remain nameless – and apologized for not following up right away. He scolded me and talked about missed opportunities and professionalism and kindly asked that I not contact him again. Ouch.)

I would walk by the bar a few more times over the next couple of years and it seemed awfully quiet. It always filled me with mixed emotions. Finally, one night I was out on a first date and she said “Hey, that bar has Karaoke! Let’s go try it out!”
Without even getting into it, I let her lead me back into Cheers. I couldn’t believe what was going on. It was the first time I’d ever seen my replacement. The stage had been moved to the right. There was a new sound system with some random dude inviting everyone to come up  to sing and dance while they read the words on a TV screen. After watching a steady stream of folks hit the stage to butcher Patsy Cline’s Crazy, I decided to kick it old school and give them an ironic version of American Pie. For eight glorious minutes I sang about The Big Bopper, Elvis, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly and Chevrolet’s and some good old boys drinking whiskey and rye. Karaoke. The day the music died – INDEED!

I didn’t recognize a single person in the place. I walked up to the bar and asked “Hey is Zoran here tonight?”
“Zoran? Oh god no. He sold this place over a year ago. Who are you?”
“Oh I used to play here on weekends a while ago!”
“YOU’RE JAY? People come in here and ask about you all the time. They want to know where you’re playing these days?”
“Oh that’s nice…mostly just taking a break.”
“Cool. Hey are you the guy that played that Rodeo song one night?”

I smirked and walked away knowing that the story and the legendary night had lived on. If you’re gonna go out…you may as well go out in a great ball of fire like Jerry Lee Lewis. (Mind you – it’s not like I married my thirteen year old cousin or anything.)

Oh and the Buick LeSabre Estate Station Wagon with wood grained paneling? It caught fire in my driveway. The neighbour saved our house by putting it out with a fire extinguisher. I sold it for parts for $200.

“Well it’s forty below and I really give a fuck cuz I don’t have a truck and I’m off to the rodeo!”


PT 2 – CHEERS! Where everybody knows your shame.

(from Part 1) I was playing my guitar regularly by then and had written a bunch of self-indulgent songs about hitch-hiking, kings and castles, fish in the ocean. They were all shit. A few of them found their way into a CBC contest and they made a little demo of my stuff. I was even playing a few folk festivals on weekends and opening for established artists like Fred Eaglesmith and Willie P. Bennett. I didn’t take it seriously at all.
Why would I? I had a great job selling water door to door. A pimped out station wagon and a Hondo Flying V electric guitar, fender amp, and a Samick acoustic for late night hangs. All I really wanted was a place to drink for free on weekends. I had a master plan….

I figured if I could learn another fifty of the standard sing-along songs (Brown Eye Girl, American Pie) I could cold call my way into a deal with some local bar owner and see what we could work out. I’d already had several hundred of them blazed into my memory. How? I don’t quite know how. That little miracle just happens to me. A strange memory for songs I like.
My roommates were more than happy to be rolling with the liberal arts dude now. They could make real money during the week, but the true currency would be with the party happening back at our house after the gig when the bar was invited over.

So, I did my walkabout and after several unsuccessful attempts I stumbled into a bar called Cheers. (Back when the sitcom CHEERS was a mainstay in North American culture, every uncreative, copyright infringing trust fund baby from the Greatest Generation decided he would invent his own version of the bar ‘as seen on TV’!) Now in my quest to find a suitable partner for my pending venture, I thought, ‘hmmmm – anyone who’d be willing to stake their life savings on ripping off a TV sitcom theme for their bar is likely going to an easy sell!”
Cheers, was just as you’d think it should be. A typical wood and brass interior with a pool table in the back, a long narrow bar along one side, a stage in front of the window. Patrons were greeted with that familiar odour of fried chicken wing – meets carpet freshener – meets stale draft and cigarette smoke. A notch above the basement lounge of the Waverly.

“Hi I’m looking for the owner!”
“I’m the owner. How can I help you?”
“Hey…my name is Jay Aymar a singer songwriter guy who just moved into the neighbourhood. I’m looking to find a place to play my guitar and sing songs every weekend. I’m just making some cold calls as I live around the corner.”
“My name is Zoran. Nice to meet you. Interesting you say that. We were JUST talking about mixing things up in here and recently bought a new PA. What did you have in mind?”
“Well, I don’t know really. Make me an offer?”
“Well, how about you come in this Saturday night and we’ll see how it goes. I’ll offer you $300 and all you can drink!” (Ahh the good old days – try to find a place in TO that’ll give an upstart solo sing-along ACT more than $100. Wait a minute! The solo singalong thing barely exists anymore (outside of el tourista patios down in Margaritaville . Guess they pay DJ’s a lot more than that now).
“Sounds good to me Zoran! See you Saturday.”

With that, I raced home and told the gang the great news. We were  now hooked up to a three second stumble from our home at the place where ‘everybody should at least know our names’ in short order!
It was going to be epic.

The first gig was quiet save for one group of Northern Secondary High grads in the back room playing pool. They were seemingly on the boarder of being of age but it struck me very quickly that Cheers was not looking too closely at the fake ID’s. The two servers had been working with Zoran since it opened a few years prior, and they were not only TO beauties, they loved to have fun and encouraged rowdy behaviour at every step. We got to know them all so well as they would come back to the after party ritual every weekend. So during my first break, I met Jim, the kid who was the biggest music fan of them all. “Hey buddy, that was great stuff. Are you going to play here every weekend? If so, we’ll get everyone form the neighbourhood to come out!”
“Yeah, it’s a test run tonight but if it goes we’ll we’re going to keep going every weekend.”

Oh so it was. Jim and his crew told everyone in the hood and before too long the tables started filling up. Let me state again – this was in no way a professional gig. I would stand on the stage and play for four hours straight – singing, drinking, smoking, telling jokes, bringing up people for some stupid human tricks. You name it.

One time a bra-less peroxided blonde with huge 90’s hair jumped up on stage, took her top off and began to grind me and the mic stand! Mid song! (I’m sure I protested loudly! lol). Now you’d think someone would have found this inappropriate behaviour? Not so. Everyone laughed and cheered until finally Jim ran up onto the stage and raised both of our arms like we’d just finished a prize fight and battled it to a draw! I can’t make this shit up! She fumbled around for her Iggy Pop t-shirt, put it back on and resumed drinking. I recall seeing her at our party later on that night.

One night, Jim brought in about five tables of his friends and some relatives who must have been from the east coast. These guys kept requesting Stompin Tom Connors and McLean and McLean! I knew about two Stompin Tom songs but hadn’t really learned any McLean and McLean. For those of you who don’t know the difference between the two? Well, it’s very slim. One sings funny songs about Canada and the others sings funny songs about Canada – only one is peppered with filthy words. McLean and McLean’s biggest hit was a cover called The Rodeo Song “It’s forty below and I don’t give a fuck gotta heater in my truck and I’m off to the rodeo!”

Things got so ridiculous that these guys were walking up on to the stage with weed crammed into their cigarettes (cleverly disguised – NOT) and placing it LIT – into the ashtray next to me, while the crowd challenged me to a chugging contest. Yes this all happened. The strange thing was, it didn’t matter how many pints I downed, I could always remember the words to every song and many said they enjoyed my really intoxicated show better than my semi-intoxicated show.  I believe they were right.

Jim’s east coast relatives who showed up must have felt right at home when I started singing Stompin Tom and The Rodeo Song. The place erupted. I mean ERUPTED. That night about forty of us piled into our house for the after party and played as many songs as I could. That week I immediately learned ten more Stompin Tom songs and a few more McLean and Mcleans with the promise to see them all again the following Saturday for round two.

The one thing you have to know about Maritimers  (especially Newfoundlanders) , when they find something they like, they’re loyal as hell. I swear the have their version of an underground railroad and secret telegraph and when they want to show their support – the ‘put the word out’ and BOY do they come out of the woodwork.

The next week I showed up and the place was filled. Suddenly, I was the draw. The main event. I was barely ready for this. I mean emotionally. It meant continuing this charade of playing the big drinker, loud , obnoxious, pot smoking humourist with a guitar singing bawdy songs for drunks. How would my liver manage? How could my psyche manage? I was still trying to be a respected songwriter in completely different circles? I don’t quite know how I embraced it all …but somehow I managed.

I stood up that night and drank my way through the proceedings.  The server told me she’d served more draft that night then any night previous. “Jay, I think you should renegotiate your deal with Zoran! You should go for a higher percentage of the bar sales!”
“No Joanne, a deals a deal. Zoran’s been good to me and he lets me drink and eat for free. I’m good with this arrangement (if I only knew then what I know now! Geeeshhh).
The weekly Saturday engagement turned into a lot of doubled up dates. (Fridays and Saturdays) .Saturday’s often had capacity line-ups and suddenly I was the one responsible for drawing every Newfie from parts unknown into the Yonge and Eglinton area . It was bound to blow up. it had to! Nothing this crazy can last forever. Right? It carried on for 20 months like this and there was no end in sight. I’d dated every girl who worked at the place and my liver was now about as efficient as a colander.

One Saturday I arrived a few hours early in the dead of winter for some pre-show dinner and drinks. I used to eat, read and drink on my own in the back booth by the pool table with occasional interruptions from the staff. It was my happy place. It was always the same questions “Do we need someone to pick up beer for your party afterwards? Is there a party afterwards? I have hash. Do you have vodka?”
Suddenly, that night, Zoran decided to pull up a seat and have a beer and talk about life. I learned a lot about him and his family that night. The heir to a Yogurt fortune from a wealthy European family.
“Jay my friend. How’s the beer and food? Zoran’s treating you right – right? You’re happy here?”
“Oh yeah man. It’s been great. What’s up?”
I knew something was up because Zoran was always much too busy to actually sit and break the bread during a Saturday dinner rush. “Jay, tonight’s a special night as my parents are visiting. They have friends and relatives coming in from the old country. We’re going to reserve these tables in the back and have a traditional meal prepared for them. It’s my mother’s birthday! I know it’s going to get busy in here in a few hours and those crazy fans of yours…well you know what I mean…the Newfies will get a little crazy. They’re going to want you to drink on stage and play those funny songs. Now you know I like that normally? Right? You know I like what you do, but just for tonight I need you to calm down. Just take it easy. You can still have some drinks but don’t play those songs. Especially that one about “It’s forty below and I don’t giva fuck! OK? Just wanted you to know!”
“You got it Zoran. I’ve got you covered.”
Famous last words….
(to be continued)…

Cheers…Where everybody knows your shame

A few days ago I wrote a letter to my friends, fans and family across Canada with the hopes of cheering a few folks up, appeasing my conscience and basically offering some holiday goodwill. I even mentioned three times throughout the diatribe that I was very sorry for anyone I’d left out as it would be impossible to remember everyone (obviously) and that it was all written quickly over a few pints of Guinness. So, as good fortune would have it, many of you wrote to me personal emails wishing me the best of the season! That’s the spirit! Thank you. And as human nature would dictate, a few of you decided that no good deed would go unpunished and you’d rain on my Christmas tree with choice comments of “Thanks for the mention pal!” or “Are you for real?”
But hey…I expected that.
Rock n’ Roll’s a dangerous game kids.
You gotta have skin like leather if you want to survive in this business
(enter you’re own cliche here:)

Which brings me to this last email from: justin201@—–“
“Hey Jay, thanks for the vid and the letter. I remember we used to go to a bar called Cheers in North Toronto at Yonge and Eglinton. I think the guy that played every weekend was you? I really do! You mentioned McLean and McLean in your email and I remember a guy on the guitar singing the Rodeo song. Was that you or am I making this up?”

Wow! The internet. Full circle. “Justin, you’re not dreaming buddy. it WAS me.”

It was the mid-nineties and I was indeed playing McLean and Mclean’s Rodeo song (written by Gaye Delorme of Cheech and Chong fame – and one of Canada’s finest guitar players) – at bar called Cheers at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. The crazy part is, I think Justin is referring to the night I sang that song and all hell broke loose. I’ll get  to that later. Let’s start at the beginning.

I’d just graduated from Carleton bluffing my way through a BA (and I truly mean bluffing!)  How I managed to fumble my way through that WAS and still IS a mystery. I loved a few things about it though. I could write essays. I loved writing essays. I was good at it. I love reading the assigned texts. From the Romantics to Canadian lit, American lit , Shakespeare, Absurdist Theatre and Modern Poetry et al. It was really great. The only problem is, I have a memory like a sieve for most things and by the time it was all done, I was qualified for teaching, songwriting or Jeopardy. I wasn’t accepted into teachers college as my marks were too low and my experience was zilch. I obviously hadn’t made strides to move into that direction. Jeopardy? I’d already made my mind up I was a Wheel of Fortune kind of guy. Songwriting? Well….that sounds interesting.

I moved to Toronto with my flashy new B.A. and a $27,000 student loan debt ready to tackle the world. My sister knew a family friend who was the sales manager of a spring water company. They offered me a job in sales. As the sales manager said, “We stick a mirror under your nose and if it fogs up…you’re hired!” I was hired to sell water cooler units and bottles of water – door to door to businesses around the GTA. Most reps lasted a week. I last two years. Hunger and debt does strange things to a psyche.

After I was hired, the manager said “Well, what are you driving?” I said “ I just got my license last week and I don’t have a car!” “Well, you’d better get on that. You’re going to need to load up water coolers and bottles everyday so you should likely go for a small van!”

The next morning I perused the back of the Toronto Star and found an ad for a station wagon in Markham, ON. The woman who answered the phone assured me the station wagon was ‘top notch’ as it was her husband’s corporate ride for many years. Recently retired they only need two cars, not three! (Must be nice)
As I took the bus over to the address, I noticed the houses getting larger and larger. Two car garages, wide streets, yet postage stamp backyards where the houses all looked somewhat the same. Just add water subdivisions – I once heard some refer to them as. I knocked on the door and the nice woman invited me into her completely white kitchen, with white walls, white furniture and a small white poodle. She showed me her backyard pool and bemoaned the fact that they could only use it three months out of the year.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“We live in Florida for six months and travel the rest of the time.”
A part me cringed for every living soul struggling in the ghetto. (Then again, something tells me those struggling souls were  having more fun – in an unknowing kind of way).

As we kept talking I really connected with this woman. I could tell she loved my story about coming from Northern Ontario, and how I’d recently moved to Toronto trying to get into sales.
“My husband was in sales his entire life. He did very well. Insurance. Have you ever thought about insurance?”
I’d only ever heard from others that insurance, although lucrative, would be one of those things that would leave you friendless after about five years. You find yourself showing up to the mens rec hockey league and guys are leap-frogging for the exits “Oh shit, here comes Aymar…gonna hit me up for some life insurance again!” And that’s no disrespect to life insurance sales reps! In fact, my father bought some for me when I as a baby (to help out a friend) and lo and behoild…I’m now worth more DEAD than alive!

So when she found out I was a Carleton U alumni with a B.A. she really opened up. “My god, that’s where my daughter went and she’s likely close to your age.”
When she told me her name, I was relieved to not know her. Who knows how we may have met in that blur of a party they call higher education? (If you know what I’m saying).
She called her husband and immediately asked if he could offer a better deal on the vehicle.
We eventually made it out to the garage and there it was.
A 1985 Buick Estate Station Wagon – fully loaded – complete with faux wood grain paneling ala Plains,Trains and Automobiles / Uncle Buck. In fact my nieces and nephews (who were quite young then) dubbed me Uncle Buck or UB for short – because of this ride. It was purely ridiculous. A tank. People got out of the way when I barreled down the highway.
Anyway, her husband agreed to a better deal and the next day I showed up with a cheque for $1500 and drove away in my new ride. Nothing says “Single styling salesman in his mid-twenties, like a wood grain paneled station wagon!”

For the next two years it was so grossly mishandled and weighed down with water coolers and bottles, the shocks gave way….the rust set in…and eventually it was spewing out blue exhaust enough to make David Suzuki put me on the fucking green party hit list.

It was during these years that I was sharing a house at near Yonge and Eglinton with some university buddies who’d also come to Toronto. (Albeit business grads where were much more interested in starting real careers at Bay and King).

I was playing my guitar regularly by then and had written a bunch of self-indulgent songs about hitch-hiking, kings and queens and fish in the ocean. They were all shit. A few of them found their way into a CBC contest and they made a little demo of my stuff. I was even playing a few folk festivals on weekends and opening for established artists like Fred Eaglesmith and Willie P. Bennett. I didn’t take it seriously at all.

Why would I? I had a great job selling water door to door. A pimped out station wagon and a Hondo Flying V electric guitar, fender amp, and a Samick acoustic for late night hangs. All I really wanted was a place to drink for free on weekends. I had a master plan. What happened next is something you really won’t believe (unless you happened to be there!)
…to be continued

One of These Days, I’m Gonna Sit Down and Write a Long Letter

I suggest you watch this video first. It’s my postcard to Canada and ALL OF YOU! THANK YOU!
I sincerely wish you all a HAPPY HOLIDAYS. For the million people I simply didn’t mention in this letter – please forgive me – it was all stream of conscious writing and I couldn’t deal with revising it over and over. It would never end. You’re in there – even if you’re not in there.
Watch it then come back read on…

“The Beaufort Sea (French: mer de Beaufort) is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada’s Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort. The major Mackenzie River empties into the Canadian part of the sea, west of Tuktoyaktuk, which is one of the few permanent settlements on the sea shores.
The sea, characterized by severe climate, is frozen over most of the year. Historically, only a narrow pass up to 100 km (62 mi) opened in August–September near its shores, but recently due to climate change in the Arctic the ice-free area in late summer has greatly enlarged.” Wikipedia

Seba holding number 19
So what do the Beaufort Sea and this kid – Sebastian have to do with anything? Well, on my tour last year a lot of people tracked me down to perform house concerts and quite often, I’d oblige once we figure out our route and schedules etc… “Set it up like a theatre, tell everyone it’s a concert – not a party – try to get 60 people at $20 each and we’ll do it during the week!” (Kind of response). They represented about 20% of my touring shows last year (during weekdays) and they’re all artistically rewarding. A big part of the scene was that there were always kids at the concerts. Whether it be the hosts children or just people who wanted to expose their kids to this antiquated art form known as ‘trad music?” lol
So I decided I’d better have some Dollarama gifts in my trunk for the kids I was meeting and singing “Apple Pickin” to.

There I was, in Beausejour Manitoba, fresh off touring with Burton Cummings old pal, Donnie Zueff. Donnie, god bless him is a saint. Not only a premiere fiddle player but a guy that’ll pick you up the train station (after waiting four hours) then drive you to his home where his wife has prepared an amazing home cooked meal. That’s Donne. He lives in Beausejour (about 40 minutes north of Manitoba) with his family. I had a free day to wander the streets of this small town and hit their local Dollar Tree. (Which is misleading because most of the imported plastic junk was $1.25 or more). It took no more than two minutes for me to get that plastic resin headache that’s become all too familiar when shopping at these junk stores. “Excuse me miss, do you sell gas masks for a buck? No? Oh ok…I’ll try the lemon fresh spray in aisle 143!” As I wandered lonely as a cloud – through the card section I came across the toy isle. That’s when I saw it. A small cartoon-like puzzle of Canada with pictures of Cowgirls and Mounties and Whales. I knew within a split second that this would be the only gift I’d give to kids across Canada. The one that would have them looking at the places I’ve been to. Sharing with them the amazing greatness that is our country. It really IS that great – and yes – I’ve been around this globe.
So I loaded up on the same puzzle. I think they only had about twenty in stock but that would be perfect.
I came back to Donnie’s place and showed him my amazing score while we rehearsed my song Tune Out, Turn Off, Drop By on banjo.
Just before I crashed out that night I had a eureka moment. I’d make a game out of the puzzle for all the kids in Canada to play. I’d number the back of every single puzzle piece in order. Every kid got a puzzle with numbers on the back. I would take two puzzles and write the identical number on the backs of the same piece – while the others were random. I would not know who had the corresponding puzzle. As the tour wound down, I informed the parents that I was going to draw my puzzle piece. I pulled out from my hat, The Beaufort Sea – #19. The kid in the pic – Sebastion (they call him Seba) WON. What did he win? Well, I guess he’s been made the distinct guest of honour of this major annual Christmas card. (oh and he already has a Dollar Tree puzzle of Canada from Beausejour Manitoba. Not a bad haul Seba!

You see, that’s the kind of life it turns into when you’re playing this much. A million and one stories all crammed into a week. Too many fall by the wayside (into the potholes on memory lane – as Randy Newman so eloquently puts it). Seba’s parents have been hosting my dog and pony show in their home for four years now. Every single year it’s an honour, a laugh, a swim, a feast – all of that. And to think I met Seba’s mother in another lifetime while at Carleton University. She was a gem then and is only getting more polished and precious over the years. Her husband Steve just happens to be a volleyball coach for the Kelowna Heat (and a national champ!). He’s likely one of the best volleyball coaches in the country! Imagine that…a coaster makes good. Anyway, Sebastian buddy, I hope you have a great Christmas, and I just wanted to take this time to thank everyone across the country with this little video tribute to Canada.

We recorded my song Overtime in my brother-in-laws amazing basement bar (how Canadian is the basement bar?) and this goes out to everyone who’s helped keep that Voyageur trail tended. The organizers of the shows, the roots radio folks, the musicians, the AD’s, the reviewers, the volunteers, the cooks, sound crew, the friends we made. By the time I’d hit Calgary, I’d had reunited with my Toronto-based fiddle player Sahra Featherstone. She flew out to tour with me for three weeks and was then going to meet her boyfriend Dale Sood (amazing videographer Arts and Rec) to rock clime Big Chief in Squamish, BC,  She would play the harp and violin with me for the rest of the tour which brought us all the way to Cortes Island. And when I thought I couldn’t possibly laugh any harder than I had with Zueff, Sahra came along and had my stomach muscles in need of therapy after the first 48 hours. Another story for another day. The day we left Cortes I started this song based on a couple we’d met who just moved there to reinvent themselves:
“Oh my love, all we need
is a little bit of dirt and a single seed
Natural light, H2O we’ll plant our love and watch it grow – oh –oh……..
There’s evidence of life here”
but again…I digress.

So to compliment this video here is my long (stamp saving) Christmas card to all of you amazing souls out there who’ve supported my live music over these past years and I want you to know that there’s never possibly enough gratitude in the world to show you for this. Let’s just say, you keep the tending the trail, and we’ll keep walking it – portaging it with our canoe full of songs.

So in no particular order:
Mom and Dad in the Soo. 88 and 93. Still going strong. I’ll be home for Boxing Day. The first year I’ve ever missed Christmas Day. The countdown begins. I love you more than life itself.

My brother Bob, Nicolene, Steve and Sarah (Liv), Matt, Phil, I want you to know I found Chuck Norris’s MIA 3 and we’ll be having a marathon in 2015. Count on it. Thank you for the critical insights on my work Bob. That’s all a brother could ever ask for. Honesty. You’re the best in the business.
Jeanne and Tom, Steph, Kato, Ali , Mary and Tom, Beck , Kel and Jack (charity starts at home and wow aint’ that the truth – my home away from home off the road and so close there’s nothing I can really say here), My brother Dave (only Dave and I know this – but we are the unheralded Canadian comic duo. No one can make the other person laugh harder! Period. McLean and Mclean? Maybe! Close. Bowser and Blue? Lightweight. Cheech and Chong? Beyond our reach. The Smothers Brothers? Mom always liked you best man.) Tom and Sharon, Jamie, Brendan, Mark and John (strength and wisdom and pure kindness and a lot of fried chicken – that is the answer. And Tom, you’re Colonel Parker and Saunders rolled into one. The best motivator, critic and coach a songwriter could have. I wish every songwriter had you in their corner man!) , Bill Aymar (work hard, party hard, a great Toronto host to out of towners, a great friend and best chef I know – your herbs are mind blowing), Phil Aymar (we’re one in the same – except you’re just better– my conscience, my confidant and proof that being humble is a virtue), all of my cousins (Theriaultville) who are the biggest best family I know. To Tom and Mary-Lou the wedding of Mary-Anne and the Professor and my first myspace friend. To my cousin Jeff – for the brightness you brought to the world. To Lynne and Kip for the spare room and Jeff and Hannah for the late night hangs…to Lorrie and Joe and Matt and Steve for the concerts and laughs. To Mike – thanks for cleaning my teeth after losing my dentist…Oh shit… to Leo’s Auto on Doncaster in Thorhill (Leo is the best, most honest mechanic in the universe – he doesn’t’ need your business but go there anyway!) To Dr. Sam Leitenberg you are going to be missed! You were more than a doctor. You were a friend. (Anyone know of a good doctor in the GTA theriaulvilleout there?) I can’t begin to go down this rabbit hole – we’d be here until New Year’s Eve. lol

To my original buddies and all of the crew of Monterey Gardens. The long lasting friendship that’s about a tight and good as any guys have ever had it. It’s unbreakable. To Mel, Andy, Ters, Humphry, Greengras, Burnsy, Deli 1 and 2, Saints..the memory of our buddy Bo and the Bolan family….oh hell the list goes on and on. See you in a few weeks.
Here’s a few of us “Catching Rainbows in the Falls” before the Batchewana sauna.
The crew

My musical acquaintances in Toronto over the years. Those I’ve played with and toured with and as a friend once said “They’re all the most creative, honest and talented people you’ll ever meet.” That’s true!
Some know this story – some don’t. I was contacted by Ian Tyson six years ago. He wanted to record my song. Great honour indeed. I was selling wine and grossly unhappy. I was a ‘lazy bastard living in a suit” to quote Cohen. I left the girl. The apartment. My belongings.
The first call I received after meeting Tyson was from SOCAN. “Jay, Richard Flohil wants to know if he can contact you?” “Who’s that?” I said.
“You’re in the Toronto music scene and you don’t know who Richard Flohil is?”
“Well I said, I’m not IN the Toronto music scene. I’ve been out of music for fifteen years. I’m quitting real life and getting back into the music scene!”
“Well, can we give Richard your number and have him call you?”
“Of course” I responded with great anticipation.

One day later a superb British accent snuck through my phone “Hello, is this Jay Aymar?”
“Yes…this must be Richard!”
“Yes mate. Listen, I’ve just heard a song you’ve written about Don Cherry covered by Ian Tyson. I’m just wondering – WHO ARE YOU?”
Flash forward six years later and FLO (as we all referred to him) has graciously introduced me to many of the great souls inhabiting this list. There’s not enough hours in a day to cover his story, but if you’re at all interested, just head out to any roots music haunt on any given night in TO and look for the guy with a bevy of beauties flanking him. He’ll be wearing a long white scarf and sometimes closing his eyes to get a cat-nap mid rock n roll show. Don’t take offense. It’s just how he rolls.

So who are you? Well, you range from all of the musicians who’ve played in my CD’s over the years to the engineers and creative designers. Like my first and most loyal engineer Chris Hess. He worked for so many years without asking for a dime. I don’t even know how one could start to thank someone for that. He’s the biggest Kris Kringle of them all folks.
David Baxter for consistently offering up warm, rootsy gems for this world to hear. (He’s a helluva writer and performer in his own right – and you should RUN to the Cameron House in Toronto if you ever have the chance to catch him.) He plays often with another songwriter named Corin Raymond who is also a cool talent on the scene. Oh and the Cameron House gang of constants – like Peter Barnard. Thanks for always promoting my blogs. Thanks to Heather Hase, Dave Reigate and his dad and the Antonacci’s for coming to so many shows this year too.
There’s no way to thank the insanely talented girls on the scene that I’ve been privileged to meet. The easiest way to is have you look up the collective known as the Ladies in Waiting and you’ll see them all right there (Oh and if you live in Toronto or know of anyone in Toronto they should go to their Christmas show Thursday Dec. 18th at the Hugh’s Room.
Google these names and check them out. All of this outstanding creative energy will be in one room. Andrea Ramolo, Faye Blaise (sounds so nice you want to say it twice), Melanie Brulee, Sarah Burton, Cindy Doire (all the way in from the Maple Leaf Tavern!), Sahra Featherstone (my trusty sidekick from this year’s tour and an inspiring human being!), Kristin Sweetland (check out her photography), Tricia Foster (check out her pipes) , Anique Granger, Treasa Levasseur (find her song “Let Me Sleep on It”), Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (opening for the Blind Boys of Alabama at Massey – yes that’s happening) , Sophia Perlman, PerlHaze, Karyn Ellis (amazingly, off-beat funky folk songs and one who’s gonna help me organize the annual Roots Music Bowlerama for charity) and Marina Marina. Oh and Jen Squires (photographer) for these pics and my last album cover. You’re incredible. And Chung Wong – for being the biggest music fan this scene has ever met (minus Flohil).
While we’re speaking of female artists this year: To Roxanne Potvin for being a brave, beautiful artist (and gracing my Hugh’s Room show with her presence and amazing band!) Alejandra Ribera for knocking me out with La Boca (wow), Shakura S’Aida for bidding on my sorry ass at a charity auction a few years ago and to our pending coffee date at Targette (and for your earth shattering performances), to Jadea Kelly for answering the call to lend your vocals to my old timey duets and for creating Clover. To Allen Wells who’s brilliantly executed your vision. To Laura, Bonita, Patricia, Joe and Paula, Dave and Kerry for keeping the eastern Ontario fires burning, to John and Lia and Jennifer – may we party soon and have a Cuban feast! And to the great Cullen crew who’ve thrown us some amazing concerts and keeping the London fires burning bright. And of course Frank Loreto for his amazing site “Ears to the Ground” and his great house concert hosting skills!
To David Farrell, Kerry Doole, Bob Mersereau, Eric Thom, Mike Regenstrief (to name a very small few) for writing about it all. And to Gail Comfort, Steve Fruitman, Julie Miller, Jan Vanderhorst, Allison Brock, Tom Power, Jim Marino, Brenda Tacik, Fish Grikowski, Peter North, Gerry Goodfriend (I wish I was born with that handle) Andy Frank, Jeff Robson, Jan Hall, Daryl Sterdan, Jeanna Khan, Marc Campbell, Eden Monro, Roddy Campbell of Penguin Eggs (top notch magazine!), Barry Hammond, Shelagh Rogers, Danny Gaisin, Brian Kelly,Tom Murray, Heath McCoy, Stuart McLean, Jerome Clarke (Rambles Magazine – You want to read in depth reviews – check out Jerome Clarke – he goes deep!) Brian Johnson, Doug Swanson, John Apice of No Depression, Larry Leblanc, Tom Coxworth, and Steve Clark (rest his perfect soul)  Oh hell….I’m leaving out a million more. It’s gonna get ugly by the omissions. That’s it. Well save, Twisty, Shelley Marshall, John Scoles and your door crasher specials, to Mitch, Tim, Ava, Selena for keeping Pete’s dream intact, JD Edwards (finally caught a full show in Brandon) and band, Sean Burns, Tim Hus, Dave Gunning, Tamara Kater (introducing me to super writers: Sam Baker, Jordie Lane, and Del Barber) To the Canada Gold suite in Kansas for introducing me to Stephanie Nilles. I want to say that again – thank you for introducing me to Stephanie Nilles. Singularly the very best performance that has resonated with me – maybe ever. To the heirs of her throne, Arianna Gillis, Jenie Thai, David Newberry, and Ann Vriend. To Jodie Peck for being a badass butcher, northern girl and stone cold rock and roll! To Peterbuilt Pete for settling down and having a baby (and loving Hogans Heroes). To Kaia Kater, Craig (just say Currie) Cairns, Emma Jane, Sarah Erickson and your awesome parents for pointing out Steak and Lube (an actual restaurant in bumble-fuck USA) , to Chip Taylor for imparting so much wisdom into my songwriter soul and a big thank you for singing FUCK ALL THE PERFECT PEOPLE to me at ten paces away, Newland and Frank (the comedy team behind RMC), The Folk Music Ontario crew perfect cultivation , to Alex Sinclair and the Borealis crew for so much of the fabric – Fiddlers Green, Grit Laskin, Paul Mills, Bill Garrett, every living soul connected to Stan Rogers, Linda Truro, Derek Andrews, Jennifer Drysdale (amazing artist) Joanne Crabtree, Laura Smith and Tannis Slimmon for bringing such pure beauty into this world, Nicole Colbeck, Jennifer Ellis, Scott Merrifield, The CFMA’s…oh gosh… and Gadke for teaching me about centre earth, Thor, metal and general merriment. To Steve and Sue Tenant for just about everything Folk and goodwill. To their awesome ‘sound-guy’ son! To Aengus Finnan and Dayna Manning (who I met through my part-time fiddler Laura – laugh-a minute-Bates) as people I barely know you given me hope that true love is always just around the corner – amazing really. To Fitzy and Scott for having a baby. To Greg Cockerill and Kurt Nielson for learning my stuff on the fly and nailing the Hugh’s show (go Blue Jays) , to Jane Harbury, Suzie Vinnick, Emily Mitchell, The Mills, The Tivoli and Auerbach Houses, to Taylor Mitchell for remaining my guardian angel (I know this to be true), to the guy who fixed my Camry and the eagle that followed me on the highway, to the deceased deer, to Rocky the native artist who made me the Buffalo tooth after hearing the song Crow. To my buddy Chief and the loss of his old man Simon this year. To all of the folks at the Happy Horsheshoe Campground, The family of Gordie (who passed away too young and taught me about truck driving, being High and Lonesome with Bill Munroe and just how big Bluegrass is in Japan), to the original boys from the Cashing in on Peace CD years – Kevin Quain, Tom Parker, Tony Benattar and your amazing Liberty Boots ( I still remember that one day recording session). The Folks at the Sandy Lake Hotel – Judy and the gang “Al MacDonald had a farm…ei ei o”) To finally hearing Kim Begg’s stuff and realizing how awesome she is. To Meg Lederrer for being a cool camper and booking me every year. To Shawna Caspi for writing great tunes and slaying them in Richard Landing; Sarah Jane Scouten for making me howl two weeks ago; Alanna Martineau for finally making the pilgrimage to TO (good on ya!) to Kev Corbett for always telling me the most interesting stories at every conference then slaying me with his sweet sounds, to Jon Brooks for doing the hard honest work, to Longevity John for inviting us to your festival and kind words and unique form of payment, to Diggin Roots – what a great show!, to Sue and Dwight constantly making me laugh every morning with your street level insights, Paul Corby and your excellent Orbital sounds. To Sheila in Thunder Bay (get well soon), to Hanna Hunzinger at Fables (we’re all missing Chuck and feeling for ya!) To my east coast relatives Marie, Neil, Gus and Rose, Ruth and Harold and all the kids…to James and George Aymar and the Acadian village of Saulnierville (the documentary they’re making of James!) to his son Marcel Aymar (my cousin) of the incredible band CANO – to the south shore and the Twins, and all my friends at the Sea Dog Saloon: Allen and Tim and the kitchen kaleigh crew that mind scarred me and Manitoba Hal who imparted sober wisdom to me one night, and to Dave and Dianne from Burlington who have become friends – not fans – and true believers. Merry Christmas to you too!
Wrycraft and Bronwin Parks for creating amazing designs for everyone, Fancy Pants Lance Lorree and The Alien Rebels, Carolyn Marks and NQ and your gang of misfits, for Jeni and Phil and all of the folks at the Theatre in the park and of South Country Fair – , Scott Cook (the reincarnation of Woody) and on and on and on.

If I read this list and realized I was not on it – I’d feel hurt, then pissed off then likely laugh because there’d be no way the dude could remember everyone! Forgive me – but thank me for trying. Oh and Ian Tyson and his daughter for hosting Sahra and I on his ranch and then mailing me money! I love ya man and NO I don’t ride fucking horses. Only once when I was drunk – and I fell off immediately.
Ina and Piet and Ye Old Jar Bar. Jay and Tracey – two great individual Medicine Hat artists who put me up for four days (you rock) for Clint and crew who continue to support me and teach me things about the Law I just never new, to CKUA, the CBC, PBS, Vinyl Café. Ewen and Jane MacKenxzie and kids (for housing 5000 albums, getting married, introducing me to scotch!)  For Stew Crookes and Michael Timmins and Josh Finlayson for dissecting my songs and advising me on production. For Joe Ernewein for finding my songs and wanting to produce them. To my Cameron family residents of this past while – Vivienne Wilder who continues to amaze me with her prodigiousness and Kesley McNulty for your tasteful playing every time I see and hear you, to Justin for stealing my records (lol) and all of the Boxcar Boys, Ozere, Slocan Ramblers….oh man….I’m rambling again. I guess you’re the next generation. I explode with happiness when I hear your talent.
Michael Louderoute for holding that umbrella over my head during the downpour and offering me some shelter from the storm. To Todd Snider, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Carol King, Dylan, Guthrie, Sachmo, Beethoven , Shel Silverstein, Cash, Kinky Friedman, and Lucille Ball, and anything that Neil Simon ever created. And I’ll even give a Merry Christmas shout out to the not one Artistic Director of any folk festival who’s never come out to see any of my shows after being apprised of their whereabouts well in advance – that’s over 700 shows in six years and counting – I’ll even wish YOU a Merry Christmas because that’s the kind of guy I am.
And speaking of “That’s the kind of guy I am” I’ll wish Pat, and Donna and Andy Garreau a happy holidays. And in the memory of Mikey and Wes and all that’s holy and good in this world. And to Donald P. Bertrand where you may roam. To the entire town of Bruno! (Can you start my tomato for me?)  And to Jess (a beautiful muse and artist) and Nikky and Frank and new friends and old friends and all that’s to come and everything under the sun isn’t real…but the sun is eclipsed by the Super Moon in Revelstoke.
To Up North Terry and Val and your old pal Tom Wilson who told me your nickname – who also told me Paul Reddick’s nickname (The High Priest – another one of my complete favourites. A full-fledged artist in his prime!) Thank you Terry and Val for the place to crash and write last winter. Thanks to Bob and Cathy Hodgeson for buying a bunch of my merch and bringing huge crews to my shows! Thanks to Shawn McGuire for supporting me with buying t-shirts and mailing an old fashioned letter, thanks to Andrew Charles for shoveling me out of the snow last year and filming so many of my shows without asking for anything, (humbling man), for Nick the Greek and your awesome family, and Nathalie the super cool sales dynamo, and the other Nathalie, the super cool sales dynamo aka Daisy wherever the hell you are; to Nathalie in BC for traveling to Europe and inspiring Rock On (a song that’s requested all the time), for Chloe Charles who is going to win a Polaris Prize someday – for being my friend, an inspiration, using a bit of my song ‘Rock On’ in her song ‘Business’ and opening for Sixto Rodriguez! Are you kidding me? To Donna Callison who’s bar got wiped out in the rising tides two years ago: I hope you live to rebuild your High River dreams.
To Spider for introducing me to a great bar with Lance in Cowtown. To the Dummer in Red Rear. Thanks for hosting us a great party. To Doug and Liz Champagne and friends for one of my favourite concerts of the entire year! You guys amaze me – you’re now family along with Gary and Anne Holmes and the entire set of Vancouver Islands. To Valdy for having me open for you (something I’ll never do again! Talk about a master of the solo set).

Finally to the late great John Lennon who taught me to NEVER EVER IDOLIZE people. He said so in his song GOD. That’s why I idolize him. He also said in that song “I just believe in me…Yoko and me….and that’s reality!” So I thought, hmmm….he at least believes in one other person outside of himself – YOKO! That’s quite a revelation. I’ve steadfastly refused to settle for anything less than my version of YOKO ONO. (For whatever that’s worth). The real deal. So I’ve been close a few times. Recently, I believe I held her but I screwed it up. Sometimes that happens. There’s an entire new batch of songs written and inspired by her though. That’s the cool thing. Guess it’s back to eating Swanson’s TV Turkey Dinners in front of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special again. Can you give me a collective ‘awwwww’…..thank you! It really does help!

What else can I say? You may think this crazy letter to you was a gigantic ass-kiss of tremendous proportions and some of that might just be true. It’s also been a letter I’ve been meaning to write for a few years. It came back to me after watching Neil Young’s Prairie Wind concert and he sings the song ‘One of These Days”. “One of these days, I’m gonna sit down a write a long letter to all the good friends I’ve known!” I thought, yeah….me too. Then I went to buy stamps and cards and thought I’d buy few pints of Guinness and do this instead.
Feliz Navidad! Happy Hannukah! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays? Happy Festivus!
See you on the trail amigos.

Shuffle those sticks, assemble your lines

In Memory of Jean Beliveau
For those of you who’ve been my shows you’ll already know about my parents Madeline and John who are still going strong at 88 and 93 up in the Soo. You’ll also know that they had 8 children who are all in some way or another ‘a bunch of hams’ who really like to party and have fun (that goes for our extended Theriault family of course.) So you’d know from my shows that they had me much later in life – mid-to-late 40’s and so I was ‘taught and brought up to – the laws to abide – and that the country I come from had Jean Beliveau on it’s side!’. Yeah that’s right – see the puck my dad is holding in this picture? It almost didn’t survive as the family heirloom it surely is.
One random snowy night in Monterey, we shuffled the sticks and assembled our lines at the outdoor rink across the street at Clergue school. A few slapshots later and our random Canadian Tire puck was tipped over the boards and buried in the snow – LOST.
cropped pic of dad mom and me puck

I raced home and begged dad to borrow the family heirloom puck as “we were in a real pinch!”
“Ok son, but you know the story of this puck! I was with your mother at the Forum in 1953 on our honeymoon and I caught that puck after it was tipped off of Jean Beliveau’s stick! Don’t lose it – whatever you do!”
“You got it dad!”
Upon returning to the rink a few new neighbourhood kids had shown up to play. Well…truth be told they were the neighbourhood bad-asses. A few of them fresh out of juvy and likely already selling weed to their grade seven cohorts.
It took a nano-second for one of them to realize it was an official Montreal Canadians puck. He bent down – picked it up and said “Hey guys…this is real NHL puck. Thanks for the gift man!”
“Hey give that back! That’s my dads puck!” I said, shaking in my Bauer Supremes.
“What’re you gonna do about it kid!”
Normally I would have hung around a bit longer to attempt rink-rat diplomacy ultimately leading to getting the shit kicked out of my skinny ass – but I decided to race home immediately as desperate times called for extremely desperate measures. “Hey dad, these crazy bully guys saw your puck and took it! They won’t give it back! Dad? Dad!”
Road-runner cloud!! Poof!!  He appeared at the rink in front of the thieving bullies.
“You guys don’t want to know the story behind the puck in your pocket and why you’re gonna give it back to me right now!”
“Uh…yes sir. Sorry sir. We were just joking around.”
BAM. They left the rink in great shame and we finished the game with the standard frozen orange plastic ball. A real downgrade if there ever was one. Some poor bastard always took one in the crown jewels and we inevitably had to scrape him off the ice and into the rink shack to curl up for twenty minutes.
So god bless Jean Beliveau! The guy they said was the best ambassador our national sport ever saw (not it’s not Lacrosse).
As fate would have it, I wound up a long suffering Leaf fan. And ironically, the Aymar name was traced back to being French Huguenots in France – kicked out – made their way to NYC in the late 1700’s, came up to southern Nova Scotia and became Catholics…kicked out…some went to New Orleans…some stayed…some moved to Sault Ste. Marie and married, had eight kids and forever coveted the puck caught off the stick of Jean Beliveau. Why? Easy. It had to have been the very best week of his life. Celebrating his honeymoon in Montreal. His time served overseas must have seemed like a long gone memory….
RIP Mr Beliveau. Or as you would have said “Just call me Jean!”

The Bells of Retribution (A story and video/song for my father)

I wrote this song for my father – John Aymar who served the entirety of WW2. We spoke this afternoon and he told me a few things about those years overseas.
He did his basic training in Halifax and then applied to be in the air force. They put him through the educational tests, the balance and eye sight test then into a cockpit and passed him. The day he was accepted into the air force he was told it was too late – they’d called him into action and he went as infantry. In retrospect he said “I was lucky! The pilots didn’t have a long life expectancy.”
During the latter part of the war they sent a letter home to his mother saying he’d been killed in action. This ‘clerical error’ was not resolved for two weeks, leaving his mother heart-broken, then obviously elated to hear he was alive.
Upon coming back to Nova Scotia he attended University for a year but soon felt it was time to head for Toronto. Along with his cousin, they drove to Toronto and worked odd jobs here for a while, eventually landing a position in sales with Imperial Tobacco (back when smoking was cool). They soon transferred him up to “this English city with a French sounding name!” Sault Ste. Marie, ON.

Before too long he met my mother fresh out of nursing college (Madeline Theriault – who BTW has just turned 89 ) and they soon married.
Eight kids later (I was the bonus baby #8 – THANK YOU POPE PAUL VI) and I’m happy to report they’re still going strong.

Here’s a song I wrote for my dad and for all of the veterans. The most memorable time performing this was a few years ago in front of approximately one hundred and fifty vets at a Legion Hall in Kingston ON. They gave it a standing O and I certainly shed a tear afterwards. I stayed for the stories and few beers and never forgot that day with those men. The power of stories – the power of songs!

So here you go dad, a song I wrote just for you.

Love ya man!

Prostitutes and Politicians

A musical acquaintance of nearly twenty years ago friend requested me today. It was the strangest thing as for some reason, only a few days ago I was reminiscing about a studio session he’d helped me with. I’m glad he’s survived the battle – that raging battle to live clean. He was (and thankfully still is) a brilliant harmonica player and I’m glad to know he’s still traversing the planet making music somewhere.
So here’s one from the 1996 release “Howling at the Moon” written in Ottawa / recorded in Toronto.
A long forgotten CD that I recorded with my long time engineer/producer friend, sax player extraordinaire Chris Hess.
We recorded fifteen songs on this CD on a digital 8 track mixer in his apartment above a pizzeria at Yonge and Steeles in Toronto. He was a full time Long and McQuade employee then and they allowed us to set up shop in the retail outlet at night to utilize a vast array of instruments to record whatever-whenever-however we wanted. We were just rookies.
I was going through my Astral Weeks phase and Chris was exploring world music sounds well beyond my comprehension.
In fact, shortly after recording this record he would find himself as a founding member of Punjabi by Nature – soon to be playing festivals of 60,000 people grooving along to the blend of Ska, hip hop and Punjabi music. Bruce Cockburn famously sat in the wings watching the show, only to tell Chris that his band “F’n rocked!”
It was only a short period of time before this, we were meddling around with sounds and exploring ways to put my lyrics to folk music. It always amazes me how things go.
Chris and myself went on to produce four more albums together and I don’t think we’re done yet.

Over the years, I toured with several bands and played many folk festivals and opened for quite a few notable artists. I never quite got the memo about taking it all too seriously. If I only knew then what I know now. These days, I feel much more artistically alive and stronger yet my cache for festival appearances seems all too diminished. I guess that’s the way it goes. I was once the youngen given a break too.

PROSTITUES AND POLITICIANS is the song most requested and played from the album Howling at the Moon. An album which I’ve pressed to the tune of 5000 units. I was reluctant to start posting these songs for some reason. I guess I wanted them to fade into the distance…but this old harmonica blowing buddy reminded me of a time when I was creating – uninhibited – exploring – leaving in the rough spots and often overproducing. So I thought “What the hell?”

The song was inspired by some stellar street scenes from my Byward Market apartment window in the nations capital. To the southern skyline were the green tinged peaks of the Parliament buildings, while directly below me, ladies of the night worked their magic, soliciting the suit brigade of government workers stumbling home from a night of lonely revelry.
Yeah, it all played out like that.

I remember starting this song in the apartment then walking down to one of the many seedy bars below me for a libation. I eventually made it home (safely alone) with the words scribbled onto my pocket notepad. (Pocket notepads? Those were the days.)
I haven’t heard this song in literally fifteen years. I can’t tell if it’s too long gone, overdrawn, right-on or still lost in the 90’s. Ain’t it funny how time slips away…

“Prostitutes and politicians
I guess I’m somewhere in between
Dollar bills and places offering cheap thrills
And countless pictures of Jimmy Dean
Countless pictures of James Dean”

Hey Dick Clark er Casey Kasum,er Ryan Seacrest…I dedicate this one to ELIOT SPITZER.

I’m over the Super Moon

I stared out my window last night to see the super moon. There it was, climbing above Big Chief –  the mountain face looming over us in this quiet little neighbourhood in Squamish BC.
The air is very still here. There are no bugs. There is great party happening two houses down.
I can hear Amy Winehouse blaring out of the speakers and young revelers laughing and dancing.
The last time I witnessed a super moon I was in Golden BC around a campfire at 1am  two years ago.
Our little patio holds a small Mac with external speakers playing the same song over and over again. It’s a song with Caribbean flavour I’ve never heard before. I’ve counted sixteen repeat plays and have not mentioned anything as I’ve been dissecting the rhythm and structure of the song. Twenty people surround me – mostly rock climbers – discussing the routes on Big Chief in the distance.
Someone points out the super moon and then we notice a few flickers of light from the side of the mountain face.
“Those are some dedicated climbers up there. They’ll sleep on the mountain tonight!”
“That’s unbelievable” I respond. “That’s dedication!”

I realize that this endeavour is unlike many others in this world. Scaling a mountain. Dangling by by a rope. My vertigo would not allow for this. My fear of heights would cripple me.

All conversation moves toward The Legend: Fred Beckey (google him please) . The 93 year old they met on the mountain earlier in the day.
“He has more routes named after him then anyone in the world. He was the first up most of the routes.”
They passed around the iphone and showed us a picture of the legend. Ninety-three and still willing himself up Big Chief. It’s ludicrous and beautiful.

Sahra Featherstone (violin and harp) has been accompanying me on this tour and has recently taken up this noble pursuit under the tutelage of her boyfriend Dale Sood who is an advanced climber. We were offered the opportunity to hang in Squamish for a few days and I thought it would be a great break from this relentless tour. I worry about her fingers but she assures me it’s therapeutic and safe.

This is the perfect day. It’s sunny and comfortable. I feel songs coming on. I just received a nice email from Ian Tyson. Sometimes life feels like a super moon.

I’m thinking about so many things today. My publicist is backing away from the workaday grind of his duties. Mom and dad are at home waiting for the family to arrive en masse for the big reunion.
I need to finish this book. Five songs are totally complete and seven more are showing signs of life. My calendar after October looks empty. That scares me. I’ve been contacted by someone in the UK about a min-tour and that encourages me.
I have four distinct producers to choose from for this project. I still can’t decide which one to choose.  Both Sahra and Tamara are convinced I should seek out Chris Bartos. I love it when people feel strongly about things.

So now we have to pack up and hit the trail. Vancouver tonight. The islands this week. Homeward bound next week. Well…it will take two more weeks to arrive safely home. Just fifteen more gigs to go and I’ll be home again. Still overtime. Not out of tune. You gave me a sign….
I’m over the super moon.


Hi friends,
this is a few weeks late in coming but I’ve attached our Western Canada Summer Tour dates.

The TUNE OUT, TURN OFF, DROP BY tour (we have t-shirts to prove it!) will be rolling through Alberta and BC over the next four weeks. Please pass this along to your friends. It helps.

I’ll be accompanied by Sahra Featherston on fiddle and harp.  Check her out here: Cool eh?

We still have a few dates open (not many) but if you or a friend would like to host a house concert we might be into it. It requires gathering about 50 of your friends and folk music enthusiasts, have them throw $20 in the hat (or pwyc) etc…and we come in and give you concert right in your home. It’s generally great for us and I must admit – I beginning to like them a lot.

Hope your summer is amazing. Our has started with great concert attendances a lot of singing and merriment. (I’ll blog about it all soon when I have some proper time).

Here you go. Please spread the word.
Jay Aymar Western Canada Tour  2014

YOU TELL ME: Episode 3 w/ Paul Mills (20/04/14)

I sat down with Paul Mills ‘The man on the other side of  the glass’.

We discussed his engineering days, his lifelong commitment to music as an accomplished ‘Travis Style’ guitar picker,  producer, engineer and overall champion of the Canadian folk music scene. Beneath his humble nature and soft-spoken demenour lies a fierce passion for his craft and personal relationships.

The conversation covers such varying topics as:
Lemon Fresh Joy, Ian Thomas, CBC Toronto, Jazz Canadiana, Moe Kaufman, Oscar Peterson, Phil Nimmons, Guido Basso,
Stan Rogers, Fraser and Debolt, Laura Smith, CBC Radio program: Touch the Earth with Sylvia Tyson, Leon Redbone, Pete Seeger, Valdy, CBC show: Scales of Justice, Peter Paul and Mary (Take Me in Your Car Car), Stan Rogers, Willie P. Bennett, Danny Lanois, Mitch Podolak, Garnet Rogers, Grit Laskin, Ron Hynes, Sharon Lois and Bram, Eric Nagler, Bill Garret, The Mama’s and Papa’s, Commander Chris Hadfield, Jowi Taylor, (The Wire, The Nerve), ISS, Music Mondays, Ed Robertson, BNL, The Coalition for Music Education (Music Monday) and even the Wexford Collegiate Choir!

Unfortunately, we were out of time before I was able to discuss his latest project with Joanne Crabtree entitled Crabtree and Mills.
You can often find them playing live around Ontario and I strongly suggest you check them out.

Paul shows no sign of slowing down and I’m sure we can expect many more years of creative output from his soon to be home studio in London, ON.

As for my fledgling podcasting career, I have to stop saying “RIGHT” “UH HUH” “WOW” “THAT’S INTERESTING” after every interesting line. There’s got to be a better way!

Check it out:



YOU TELL ME: EPISODE #2 w/ Richard Flohil (02/04/2014)

Welcome to the second installment of “YOU TELL ME”. I assured you some interesting stories and this one really delivers.
My friend and publicist Richard Flohil graciously agreed to discuss his life in the Canadian music industry. We sat down for a few hours in his Toronto home and discussed everything from early trad jazz to the power of folk festivals to the current state of the music industry.
If you’re interested in any of the following topics you should really free up some time and give this a listen.
Topics covered include:
Muddy Waters, Chicago, Howlin Wolf, English boarding schools, Peter Sellers, The International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo (yeah…that’s right!), Buddy Guy, BB King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (and how to quit smoking), Sleepy John Estes, Bobo Jenkins, Jimmy Reed, Phil Ochs (Changes), Guy Clark (Driskill Hotel), John Prine (The Missing Years), Leon Redbone (card shark), Townes Van Zandt (miserable), Murray Mclauchlan, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Solomon Burke (The King of Rock and Soul), Amos Garrett, Mitch Podolak, Koko Taylor, The Rolling Stones, Downchild Blues Band, Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers, KD Lang, Loreena Mckennitt, The Matador…
and a few stories left on the cutting room floor. Why leave those stories out? Well, there’s a forthcoming book and I wouldn’t want to be accused of spoiling you! You’ll just have to wait for it’s arrival. (For some of you that will mean buying it directly from my merch table in a year or so).
The tentative title:
“Louis Armstrong’s Laxative and A Hundred Other (Mostly) True Stories from a Life in the Music Business.”What can I say about a guy who’s still rocking after all these years. When I asked him what he thought about this years Juno Awards show he replied “I was at the Dakota watching a band. I missed them!”
I should have known.
Rock On Flo.

YOU TELL ME – Podcast #1: Jay Aymar interviewed by Andy Frank

Hello friends,
last year I had a wave of inspiration as I did the twelve hour drive eastbound along the north shore of Lake Superior, likely humming Homeward Bound. I realized that we were in danger of losing so many stories I’d heard on my recent tour. Your stories. You: the artist, musician, venue owner, author, bricklayer, lawyer, athlete, singer…whatever! So, I decided I would someday get you to tell your stories to me and put them up as a podcast.
A group of musical colleagues have agreed to share their stories to help me get started.  Who knows where this will go? Who cares. I find it interesting. I’m hoping you will too.

For the first podcast, Andy Frank of Roots Music Canada suggested he interview me to let some of you know who I am and why I’m doing this.
I grappled with whether this would all sound too pretentious…too self-absorbed. I’m still grappling with it. Regardless, I’ve jumped in and with Andy’s help, we’ve put together the first one hour episode

Here’s the first episode:

YOU TELL ME: Jay Aymar and Friends
Episode #1: Andy Frank interviews Jay Aymar
(Live at the Painted Lady in Toronto, ON. March 26, 2014)


Rabbits are Sexy

I was in the middle of my great Walden Pond experiment when I looked out the cabin window and saw a rabbit bouncing around in the snow.  I could see my reflection in the frost covered window while the pot belly stove crackled away in the background. My mind wandered into the great unknown areas as it often does. I started thinking about building rabbit snares, making rabbit stew, using a rabbit foot for a key chain and the fur to fashion mittens. These things, of course, I cannot do as I have no knowledge of living this way.  My Jeremiah Johnson experiment was only a week in and I was already jonesing for some concrete jungle activity.  Wine, women, song, neon, noise, art, exhaust, frenzied energy….
My mind burrowed further down the rabbit hole as I watched it hop around on the hard packed snow.
The rabbit. Bugs Bunny so informed my comic timing. My friend drove a Rabbit automobile – the exact same car where I’d first heard Black Oak Arkansas – a group I’m sure would have a history of snaring and preparing rabbits. Then I began thinking about the group of us kids hanging around the incinerator in Poplar Park where we found our first weather beaten Playboy Magazine lying amidst the ashes.  The front cover proudly displaying the insignia of a rabbit’s ears and  naked women dressed up as bunnies. As we huddled around the magazine, just eight year old boys, everyone leafed through those pictures as though they’d discovered PLUTONIUM.  I felt I’d better not look for some deep seeded fear of going blind. Yep. That’s the Catholic church for you. I decided it would be too impure and that it could mean eternal damnation for a glimpse a Betty’s perfectly shaped Oklahoma breasts. Someone blurted out…”You’re a virgin!” Of course, no one knew what that meant but it seemed to sting. For that entire summer I believed a virgin was someone who wouldn’t look at dirty magazines.
By the end of the summer I walked back over to the incinerator where the magazine was perfectly restored and hidden, and leafed through it on my own. I was amazed to find that after three minutes, my vision was perfectly intact and the incinerator did not mysteriously fire up and engulf me in satanic flames. No, I was simply enjoying meeting Betty in all of her perfect beauty. It seems that my southern hemisphere was too! From that day on, the significance of the rabbit has been deep seeded.

So, while watching this furry creature take my imagination on a two minute diversion from reality, I suddenly found myself talking aloud. “Rabbits are sexy!” I said.
The scary part about being in seclusion is when you NOTICE yourself talking out loud. It’s ‘one flew over’ type of stuff.
“Geez Aymar, you just said RABBITS are SEXY out loud to your own image in the frost covered window. It might be time to get out of here.” And so I did. I was moderately happy with my creative output but to be honest, I wouldn’t make a habit of running off to seclusion again. Maybe a nice small apartment above a shop in Chinatown will do the trick. We’ll see.

I arrived back in Toronto to prepare for a trip to Kansas City. Every year we have the International Folk Alliance Conference in which folkies, industry, legends, upstarts, etc…meet and play for each other, find work, give a group hug etc… So it’s shine up your Birkenstocks and pack up the granola we’re heading to the conference to hug a few trees. Well not really. In fact, for group of forward thinking environmentalists  I was shocked to see how many trees we all used to paper the walls of the hotel to aggrandize our ego’s. (Al Gore was on hand to offer up more inconvenient truths about our savagery to this big blue marble – using a large screen and images culled from the internet which he…er….helped usher in).  So, fresh out of isolation mode of the woods, I went directly into a van with my friends and hit the trail for the two day drive to Kansas City. We didn’t sing Kansas City here we come. We didn’t make any OZ references. We certainly didn’t play any TOTO. We did however laugh ourselves silly.

The cast of this travelling caravan included my publicist and friend Richard Flohil. His assistant Melanie (friend and artist), Sarah (new friend – assistant) and Craig (new friend – crazy Scotsman going down to see his banjo playing girlfriend).  As road trips go this assortment of sensibilities created the perfect match of wit, cynicism, intelligence, self-deprecation, eating habits, laid back demeanours etc…

The satellite radio station gave us an nice assortment of playlists as did the random iPhone selections. As we rolled into our first border crossing, we did the quick change, whereby I let Melanie bat her eyelashes at the border patrol and explain that we were simply ‘folkies’ going to a conference in Kansas City. Even the charms of Aphrodite couldn’t melt this guys starred and striped coal of a soul.
We were brought in, questioned and told to sit in the principal’s office for twenty minutes while the swat team descended on the van to unleash Snots the Drug Sniffing Dog to work on ‘The Case of the Missing Roach’. Of course all they could come up with was a case of CD’s of Appalachian banjo ditties – the Scotsman’s pride and joy.  While Richard begged with the stone faced border guard to stamp his newly minted passport (to no avail) we made it back into the van, now covered with muddy dog prints, and drove toward our Red Roof Inn destination in Joliet.

Somehow in the morning as we rolled along toward Kansas City, someone pointed out a restaurant in distance – Steak and Lube!
“Fuck-off! That did not just say that!”
We googled it. It truly existed as a auto body shop prior to becoming a steak house. Only in AMERICA.
” I’ll have the fillet minion, rare, with a side order of mashed potatoes and biscuits with white gravy. Oh and give me a side order of deep fried cheese and a cup of Crisco to wash it down with! And as for the lube..what are we talking about here? KY or an oil change? Is that on a separate menu?” What the fuck!

Finally we rolled into the conference. Picture entering a cruise ship where every passenger looks ats though they are on the Magical Mystery Tour. “Roll up…..roll up to the Mystery Tour!”
The only time I left the compound was to hit the front lobby for some fresh air (and that was usually tarnished by inhaling anything but fresh air. Smokin’ OP’s. Smok’em if you gottem. Don’t Bogart that joint my friend…pass it over to me! – Not me for doobies….paranoia self-destroya!)

Here’s how it went down:
There’s a main lobby where everyone converges. The next level up is where you register. There are gigantic ballrooms which host the large showcases.  The chosen ones play in these large showcase rooms to the buyers, other musicians, radio folks, house concerts hosts, mothers, sons and daughters. There are volunteers stations. Wet bars. People with hats, long coats and striped pants holding fiddles, banjos, guitars, bass’s, flutes, noise makers. There is a constant hum of perpetual crowd noise and bit of music playing the background. Random applauses coming from distant corridors. Its swirls and drifts and people are waving, hugging, stopping to chat, leaving to find another familiar face. Over the four days I had three separate people look at me and burst out into tears. It was a song they heard. It was the overwhelming nature of it all. The limitless talent creating self-doubt. The showcase they ROCKED in. The lack of sleep. The love found and love lost. All crammed into this floating spacecraft for a weekend of folk music. The brightest, most sensitive, creative, caring people on the planet  – here for one reason or another to collectively huddle around this gigantic tribal fire we call Roots music. To say “We believe in social justice, we believe in bringing you a better world through music, we believe in each other.
The group hug shifted smaller tighter rooms upstairs as the night descended.

Three floors of the hotel were used for private showcases. Beds used as stages and seating and creatively designed rooms made to feel  like mini-concert halls. The walls (unfortunately) plastered with random images of artists (mine included) in what looked like a spectacular art installation. Dionysius hovered above the masses as songs poured out of every room and the love train circled throughout the hallways.

On my second night, I found myself in front of the elevator doors with approximately one hundred other artists singing “Oh darling….if you leave me…I’ll never make it alone…believe me when I tell you…I’ll never make it alone!”
Until that point I hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol since New Year’s Eve.  Suddenly, after thinking about a girl I missed, I loved…I sang the lyrics in unison and reached for a glass of rum. I turned to a new friend (a brilliant writer from OZ – Jordie Lane) and said “I think this is something!”
“Yep…this floats mate!” We laughed and continued to chat.
Winds up I was to do a writers round in a few days with him and Sam Baker from Austin and Del Barber from Canada. It was a great casual meeting.  It was a singular pleasure of the week for me to hear such great songwriters from the same stage. I could tell you about every song but alas there is not enough time.
So Jordie introduced me to his girl and we snuck away from the happening to play each other some newly minted songs. It was a highlight. Two days later I found myself at 3:00a.m. telling them both about the ways of love. Naturally, my drunken verbosity was at its loudest, most fiendish and embarrassing height! It couldn’t have been all that bad as they attempted to have me meet Steve Poltz, another terrific writer I’d met last year at the Halifax Urban Folk Festival we were a part of.  It went on like this for days. Fun, tiredness, catching this artist here and that artist there.
I won’t begin to tell you who I loved and who inspired. The list is too long and the quality was too spectacular.  I will tell you that Chip Taylor (please Google him)  was the pinnacle of all pinnacles. It’s another story entirely. “Fuck all the perfect people!”  Indeed Chip.

So, on occasion I would run into my travelling companions who were running another room and sleeping in another room. I had my own room which was a beautiful break. On the last night, I was just navigating my way back to my room when I ran into a guy I’ve been meaning to meet for a long while. Dave Gunning. An east-coaster who’s a terrific writer. We talked about these crazy things we have in common and then all roads led to his Stompin Tom stories. He was on the road with Stompin for a long time I kept asking questions and he kept delivering.
By the time it was done, I’d learned how to impersonate Stompin Tom via Dave – “Squint one eye, fake a drag off of a cigarette, pretend to pull down your cowboy hat, lean in and speak with a nasally accent and say – YOU AIN’T ONE OF THEM FALSY DOWNSY DRINKERS ARE YA?”
(which by the way is the title of Kev Corbett’s wife’s book which I intend to buy pronto).
So we talked about a million things and somehow we drifted and before you know it I was stumbling down the hallway, a self-proclaimed victim of the rum, Stompin Tom and my alter ego. Somehow I found my  way to bed to sleep it off and prepare for the journey home.

We left the hotel in the distance and our new driver Sarah graciously agreed to  navigate us toward the Paris of the north – Decatur Illinois. Words cannot describe my gratitude for this amazing gesture. My vertigo at an all time high, she was perfect. I fretted when we started hitting enormous potholes in Decatur as I was primarily insured but alas, she pulled through.  I won’t sully the story with the Wasteland that was Decatur.  A soy plant provided the employment for the city. Vast empty fields dotted with torn down factories and billowing smoke and one way streets and rampant nothingness. We settled on a Blob Evans to dine but 9pm on a Sunday found it well closed.  We would find our beer and grease elsewhere. I would have settled for a Steak and Lube by then.

We made it back to the absurdly run down motel. I love the smell of carpet freshener in the morning! (Not to mention that one of the male contingents snuck into the room to destroy the can prior to our arrival – my god – I’ve seen the smell of death). The night finally winding down we flicked on the TV for our last taste of Americana and laughed ourselves to sleep watching the new Jim and Tammy Faye Baker sell their bullshit version of God.

It had something to do with miracle water sold by a guy who looked like he’d fallen asleep in tanning bed for an extra day and had to have some plastic grafted on to his melted chin. His capped teeth beamed as he spoke in that loud whisper (as most TV evangelistic con artists do) suggesting to the poor unemployed soy factory workers from Decatur that they should buy their way into heaven with a ‘simple tithe’ for ‘miracle water’ and the chance to meet Jebus at end times. Now here’s the kicker (you can’t make this shit up) his name?  PETER POPPOFF….I’m just going to leave it at that.

The shenanigans just kept rolling along until we made it back to TO. The music, the happy tired, the new friendships, the craziness of it all.

I found myself on a subway two days later reading a hilarious book of fiction about the music industry.  It was the perfect end to a week that saw me laughing out loud too many times.
I looked up as though I’d just said “Rabbits are sexy!” on the northbound subway to Finch. A woman was smiling at me. I realize what I had done. I had just laughed out loud after reading the first chapter of this book…I believe I startled everyone on that particular car.

She looked at me asked “It must be a good book?”
Resisting the urge to blurt out “Rabbits are sexy!” I quietly whispered, “Oh wow…you have no idea.”

I put down my book and pulled out my pen and paper and wrote:


…..I was home.

Sunshine Go Away Today, I Don’t Feel Much Like Dancing

It never ceases to amaze me where we can find time to squeeze in our little creative ramblings. I’m writing to you from my dermatologists waiting room in the heart of Scarborough, ON.  Just to reinforce the Rob Ford stereotypes of our great city, upon arriving at Dr. Adams office I was greeted by six police cars taping off the main entrance into the building. All in a day’s work for the GTA’s finest. This was so far removed from the Pogues song I had blasting on the drive in: “And the boys from the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay…and the bells were ringing out on Christmas Day.” No, unfortunately the boys were busy sharing a Timmies lunch and directing traffic away from the action. A quick hike up the side door entrance stairwell and into room #310 and voila…I’m visiting the doc.

“Hello I’m Jay Aymar, here to see Dr. Adams.”
“Do you have your health card? What’s your address? Phone number? Year of birth?”
“Do you want my mother’s maiden name too?” I said with a half-cocked smile.
“I beg your pardon? You mother’s maiden name? We don’t need that! Wait time one to two hours! We’re not that busy today.”

The joys of universal healthcare. In Canada time isn’t money. Still, I’m proudly socialist at heart.
I write this as a poster peeks over my shoulder reading “Government cuts put Health Care at RISK!”
I don’t know anymore. Too many messages not enough brain capacity to decipher the truth of it all.

I’m just hoping my second most precious organ (my skin) is going to withstand the three times I’ve suffered heat stroke.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.  The first time was unlike anything you could ever imagine. Let’s a take quick detour shall we? Consider this a PSA on what not to do in the sun – ever! First you’re going to have to sit through the back story. It’s worth it.

— The Year: 1992 — Location: Wheeling West Virginia – Jamboree in the Hills —

That summer I was one year away from finishing my B.A. at Carleton. Let’s just say I took the long way home on that one. My childhood buddy, Andy was finishing his Masters at The University of Toronto in Entymology. His thesis was on the white pine weevil and its effect on jack pine plantations in Northern On. (You know – that old chestnut!)  Specifically, something called an ’emergence’ study. The weevil would fly around at about six feet and plant its larva into the top node of a young pine tree then fall onto the ground, burrow it’s way under the earth for one full winter. The effect of those larva in the trees would eventually (30+ years down the road) devalue the timber when it came time to harvesting the trees. At the time EB Eddy (match sticks and toilet paper) had purchased the massive amounts of land off of KVP (all north of Sudbury ON and south of Timmins – near HWY 144/560.) EB Eddy had some semi-operational logging camps still going and they contacted the University of Toronto Forestry program to see if they could run a study on this pesky white pine weevil that was devaluing their crops. If some students could come up and find out exactly when the weevil would re-emerge from the frozen tundra then they would know the exact time to aerial spray, killing them dead while they were in their most susceptible state. (That’s my best interpretation of the science behind it all – Bill Nye I ain’t). Andy was naturally selective of who he had to work with for two full summers and convinced his professor that I was a good fit with a science background (Political Science was indeed my minor! lol).

So there we were, building weevil traps, tracking them, dissecting nodes, partying with tree planters, meeting mad-trappers and basically having more fun than two-humans ever should. All the while I was playing songs and writing new ones feverishly.

Of the locals we met, one of them owned the Watershed Restaurant. Jim had bought the truck-stop along with his father-in-law after winning 100K from a dream house lottery ticket he bought at a Legion dinner one night. He and his father-in-law chipped in and as he claims “I was so pissed, I totally forgot I had bought the ticket. Three months later, someone calls me to say they that my name was pulled and I need my half of the ticket to claim the prize. I had one month. I turned my house upside down. I couldn’t find it. Didn’t remember buying it. I gave up. With only two days to spare, I found the ticket behind my dresser in the baseboards! We sold the house and with the money we made bought this truck-stop!”

Jim, noticing my passion for playing the guitar with the old-timers every weekend invited me to a yearly ritual of driving down to Wheeling West Virginia to The Jamboree in the Hills. Essentially a Woodstock for country music fans. Wheeling WV boasting the first country music station, now hosted this four day extravaganza of country music from traditional to modern. The year I went it was everyone from Tanya Tucker, Pam Tillis, Marty Stuart, Callme Twitty, Brooks and Dunn and about forty other artists I despised. (With the exception of Willie Nelson.)

“Jay, you gotta come along to this. We have a friend in Orillia, Gary, who owns a big bus with a gigantic loon painted on the side of it and we pack in about thirty of us and head down as the Crazy Canucks. We stay in a Super 8 near the jamboree. It’s four days of hot sun, hot country girls, great music, tons of party supplies. You have to come!”  Jim looked up only to find a Road Runner cloud where I was standing. I was already on the bus.

As we drove down,  I was seated next to guy named Dale Rolfe. He was the brother-in-law to Gary who owned the bus. Dale was now a plumber living in the Muskokas (originally from Timmins, ON), who’d once played in the NHL for about seven years as an Original 6 defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings then the New York Rangers. He was big man who by his own admission had more penalty minutes than points. (A lot more). In fact, it was the era of these underground hockey fight tapes (long before the internet) and Dale had made a few of the ‘classic fights!’ I said, “Hey Dale I believe I saw you on this fight tape going up against Dave Shultz?  Did you ever see that?”
“Well kid, I saw it once…once was enough!”
What an answer! That’s when I knew this guy was going to be the best road companion an inquisitive songwriter could ever ask for.
Our discussion let to my passion for folk music. Much to my surprise, an old ex-warrior original six  NHL’er shared the same passion. Not only the same love of folk music, but the same artists.
“Aymar, I’m not big on this new country stuff, I’m just going along because my brother-in-law likes it. It’s a great party! I like guys like John Prine.”
“What You Talking Bout Willis? He’s one of my favourites!”
This was right when Prine had released his comeback album The Missing Years and suddenly Dale Rolfe and I could be heard at the back of the bus screaming “Jesus was a good guy, he didn’t need this shit, so he took a pill with some Coca Cola and he swallowed it!” Just one of many classic lines pilfered from the latest Prine collection. We hung together for the rest of the trip.

I learned more about the original six hockey teams over the course of the next four days simply through sitting at the Super 8 drinking weird vodka drinks talking until the wee hours. I’ll put it to you this way – he dedicated his life to making the bigs and he was one of the very fortunate and talented few who actually did! When I met him, he had just retired from being a plumber. You get what I’m saying? These days a kid signs a one year contract and is set for life. He was big on the topic of Eddy Shack going after the pension money. I believe that was finally resolved – hopefully to Dale’s benefit.

We hit the jamboree for three solid days of music in the sun. It would start at noon and go until about 11pm at night. It was literally a bowl shaped grass stadium with people everywhere. At least 30,000 people were there each day. It was crazy. I simply remember staying up till 3:00am every morning partying in the Super 8, completely overrun with revelers coming back from the jamboree. The hotel was encouraging the party. Then, it was up at noon to hit the scorching hot West Virginia heat to listen to the midday sounds of The Oak Ridge Boys cajoling thousands of rednecks into singing “Giddy-up Giddy-up Giddy-up a mow-wow.high-ho Silver heart’s on fire – ELVIRA!” Ouch! Just pretend I’m Old Yeller and bring me behind the barn and pump lead into my hungover carcass. Elvira and hangovers don’t mesh.

Now on the second night, I’d busted out my favourite t-shirt of the summer. A shirt that was given to me for my birthday from my good buddy BO (who tragically passed away last year). It was a play on the Nike advertisement: Just Do It. The shirt read “JUST DO ME” in big block letters.
Well, some random American beauty met me stumbling in the hallways of the Super 8 at 3am, and with a move I’ll never forget she pulled out a bottle of tequila, took a shot, gave me a shot and pointing at my shirt said “OK!”
I woke up the next morning to Dale Rolfe hauling me out her room. He was there to get me on the morning bus to catch DAY 3. A day of musical acts I didn’t care about. I really should have just stayed in bed.

As we did every day at the jamboree site, we slowly made our way off of the bus to the back of the hills atop the bowl. Our area offered great site lines, close to the outdoor speakers. On this particular day, I knew I would find a big shady spot and keep my ball cap on and find a place to sleep off the hangover that had produced a cotton plantation in my mouth and the Sahara in my bones. As we settled in, the heat warning came across the loud speakers: “Get your free  sunscreen and water over at the medic tent! It’s going to be dangerously hot today. Please visit the medic tent for free SUNSCREEN AND WATER!”

I decided to make my way over the tent for the water. It was to be a  long journey for sure, and as I disembarked for my life changing voyage one of the sensible women of our party offered me her umbrella for safety.  I staggered my way through the masses, through the heat, when suddenly I noticed a throng of Harley Davidson’s  blocking off a quadrant of land. Patched bikers had staked their claim in an area not far from the medic tent. They had erected a large sign which read `Show us your hooters for a free beer!’ Well, that’s one way to get a girls attention! WTF? What is this? In my haze of my mid-day heat-induced water run, I found myself defenseless to this carnival sideshow pleasantly unfolding. A long haired grizzly looking redneck biker sitting next to a black coffin (yes a real coffin) filled with ice-cold Budweiser. Fifty or so bikers (men and women) were cheering every country girl  who came by and flashed them for a free beer. It was, for lack of a better term: hillbilly paradise. So ludicrous were these events, I made sure I analyzed them in great detail. The circus only wasted an hour of my limitless time.
Suddenly a woman who resembled a 1985 version of Joan Jett tapped me on the shoulder “Hey man, that’s one fucking great t-shirt! Just Do Me! I’d say that’s worth a free Bud! Hey Rocky, throw this dude a beer!  Hey…nice catch!”
“Absolutely, I’m Canadian. Wouldn’t miss that catch for the world.”
And so the magic of the shirt worked again.
I downed the beer and then Rocky threw me another one. As they laughed at the skinny Canadian kid with the tacky t-shirt shot-gunning beers, I suddenly realized I had somehow infiltrated the inner circle of the biker gang.
Then without warning, the hangover had disappeared and I felt as though I was on top of the world. In the background some low rent country newbie was on stage singing about pickup trucks while country girls were baring their breasts for fun, and there I was… slowly drifting into an alcoholic haze amidst the safety and creepy comfort of a patched biker gang.
Just then, all hell broke loose and two bikers got into a serious tussle. Joan Jett tapped me on the shoulder and said “You should split man!” “You don’t have to tell me twice. Thanks for the beers!”

By now I’d forgotten that my original mission was to hit the medic tent for water. I walked ten minutes back up the hill to the middle of nowhere, stuck my umbrella into the ground and proceeded to pass out amongst the thousands of people obliviously walking around me.

In a scene which would have called for an Ennio Morricone score, I awoke to strange sounds, blurred vision and a young girl with her mother standing over me.
“Hey, wake up. Wake up. You don’t look well. Your face is badly burned. You need medical attention.”
“What? Where am I? Who are you? Whaaaaa?”
I proceeded to wipe the sweat off of my forehead and let go a howl as I wiped off the burnt skin.
“What happened to you? How long have you been here they said?”
“I don’t know. I laid down here with my umbrella for shade at 1pm. Where’s my umbrella and hat?”
“Oh my GOD, it’s 4pm and no one stopped to wake you up? Your umbrella must have blown away!”

So, they walked me to the medic tent, to put gauze on my forehead. They found my concerned friends who’d put out an APB for me and my friend Jim took me to the bus and delivered my burnt noodle back to the Super 8. Here I laid with severe burns and heat stroke until the following day when the bus headed home for Canada. Somehow in all of that, I lost my Billy-Bobs Subs (Home of the Belly-Buster) Trucker hat, my new sandals, an umbrella, my JUST DO ME t-shirt and every ounce of my dignity. I arrived back to the white pine weevil study with quite the story to tell and heaps of new found respect for the sun. That became my first of three heat stroke episodes and soon afterwards my first meeting with the dermatologist Dr. Adams.

—- How was that for a diversion? —-

 The best part of these visits is Dr. Adams himself, who could be the younger brother of Mel Brooks. I imagine if Mel had gone the route of using his brother as a comic foil in the great tradition of brother-comics (i.e. The Smothers Brothers, McLean and McLean, Bob and Doug MacKenzie/Bob and Doug Ford) he would have surely resembled Dr. Adams. His dry, quick witted delivery and intense interest in my mini-show business life always equals a great visit.

“So you married yet  Jay?”
“No not yet!”
“Geez you must be having a lot of fun out there!”
“Oh yeah, it’s BabesRus 24/7. You gotta see the folk trail, it’s insane!” lol
“Well remember, be careful out there. It’s a crazy these day.”
“Roger that. That goes for roger too!”

And these quick interchanges have been going back and forth for many, many years now all in the name of monitoring the scarring and potential damage done by my lackadaisical summer outings. Left untreated, I would certainly go the route of looking even more ruggedly handsome than I currently do. So these visits have become the norm in my life as I fear my weathered skin will soon be resembling a Rawling’s catcher’s mitt in the not too distant future. Here I sit, waiting for my next round of treatments. I thought, what a great place to bring my laptop and write my end-of-year Road Stories blog….and what a year it’s been.

(Dr. Adams told me to stay out of the sun. It’s a contributing factor to my vertigo – a severe loss of balance that I’ve lived with for over ten years. He said, my skin is ok for now. “You need vitamin D? Just stick your hand in the sun for 10 minutes – it’ll pour in through your hand and that’s all you need!” That’s really what he said. A quick tip for all of you sun worshipers out there.)

— I’m home now. Well if you want to call it home. I’m back at my sisters and brother-in-laws house where they’ve been graciously allowing me to hang my hat when not on tour. I don’t even know where to start with that conversation. A million thanks wouldn’t cover it. It’s deeper than that. —-

The Year That Was:

I toured for well over seven months of the year and found myself meeting new friends, artists, fans, luthiers, artistic directors, music industry folks, pot-smoking-crack-head-junkies (unelected officials at least) , white-collared criminals, the criminally insane and the lowest of the low: concert promoters .
I had so many kind letters about my latest creation “OVERTIME”. I put my heart and soul into every word and note on that record. I wonder at times if it was too heavy on the thought provocation and too light on the toe tapping. (Artistic insecurity alert!) The reviews were all stellar. I really was humbled. My closest friends and family reserved their praise. Family will always (rightfully) cut to the bone. “It needs a beat. It sounds too country. You should have rewritten that part. You didn’t take enough time with the cover art or the packaging. Why didn’t you make it sound contemporary?” I find it much more reassuring  when the false praise comes from fellow musicians.

So that’s it. Thanks for reading the ramblings. I love you all. Have a great Festivus with family and friends and I’ll do the same. As for Facebook and social media etc…I will officially be Tuned Out and Turned Off. If you absolutely need to get in touch with me you can  drop me an email  to and I’ll get back to you within the week.

Roger that? You copy?

How you gonna miss me if I won’t go away?   Stay thirsty my friends.

I’ll See You Soon at Christmas…A Happy Holiday

Hi friends,
this is not your typical ROAD STORIES BLOG. This is my first sales come-on out of 65+ blogs (so please forgive me – lol)

Just a quick reminder that if you’re planning on giving the gift of music over the holidays, why not support an independent musician? Aymar could use the love, and hell it’s better than a Slap Chop or a Chia Pet.

A few folks have already sent me email orders which have become the impetus for this idea. Australia, Spain, Alaska, UK….you name it! ROAD STORIES readers from afar! Amazing eh? I thought, why not ASK people if they are interested? You know, folks who’ve actually seen me perform?

So I’ve just mailed out the CD’s and accepted e-transfers (very easy) and cheques.

That means that if you’re on this list you are one of the following: a fan / a friend / (both) / a retail establishment (cafe / winery / book store etc…)

Here’s the deal. Just email me what you want and I’ll get them in the mail ASAP!

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Buy all three for $40

T-shirts – $20
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That’s it. Welcome to your new home shopping network!


4716 Yonge St. #2220

Toronto, ON.
M2N 6V1


Where do Crows fly?
I don’t know, go ask Crow.

I’m always flummoxed at how the songs that took the least time to write have become the most requested and popular ones in my catalogue.
After writing the song ‘Crow’ in approximately thirty minutes, I quickly performed it live and it made its way onto a long lost live compilation of songs from Dean Verger’s now defunct Rasputin’s folk club in Ottawa. It was a cool place where I beat the Carleton U blues to get my folk fix back in the day.
Inspired by a father and son I’d met from a first nations reservation in Northern ON.
Crow, in this song, is the son. His hard living took him down. It’s the story of his life which leaves us with the question of where our spirits go (if anywhere) in the afterlife.

So, you may or may not have read my previous two-part story here called “Oh Deer Me” about hitting the deer this summer. It was the one close shave with mortality that still revisits me in my dreams. It really was terrifying and I still can’t believe I walked away unscathed.   Today (for some strange reason) I realized that I’d left a small part of that story untold.

You see, my song CROW made it onto my CD Halfway Home as a complete afterthought. I needed one more track and it was down to the witching hour. It was suggested I add this song. I sang it quickly in one take and it made it onto the final work: unvarnished .
It slowly and steadily flew higher and higher until it was my #1 most downloaded song on Itunes.  Always strange how this happens.
The song seemed to be connecting with a few First Nations folks across the country. It created an entirely new discovery for me. I began seeking out discussions and learning and reading about the good the bad and ugly of this very complex history. My knowledge and understanding came from amazing in depth conversations after shows from aboriginal artists  with whom I’ve come to admire.
Soon afterwards I wrote another song entitled “I Really Don’t Remember”. The title suggests the collective amnesia of ‘THE WHITE MAN’ as relating to the indiscretions of our past.

I can hoImagenestly say I began writing that song at the age of ten, when I first drove past the train bridge on the Garden River reservation on Hwy 17 – that read “THIS IS INDIAN LAND”.
So intrigued by that defiance I found myself drawn to the story.  Some thirty years later I found myself struggling over some of the terminology used in the song which in turn initiated a great dialogue with some of the band leaders and they helped structure a few of the words. (Many thanks for this Phil)
These two songs,  Crow and I Really Don’t Remember have become staples in my shows and have led to an entire new understanding of Aboriginal Affairs.

A few years ago Rocky Barstad, an aboriginal artist in High River Alberta, offered me a Buffalo tooth designed by him. A great guy who’d spent his entire life supporting his art through other means, only to dive in full time later in life – then to find out he had a Parkinson’s in his mid-fifties. It was a complete shocker to him. We quickly bonded over our shared experiences ( me arriving late to the full time artistic arena) and his amazing story. We talked about Crow, the significance of the buffalo tooth (safe passage for my travels) and Rocky set me up with some amazing prints of his art work. As I have been living on the road I thought those prints would find a great home in my nieces new place – which is where they are. I traded him back a copy of Halfway Home and retold the story of the Crow. I’ve since heard his gallery “Two Feathers” has been closed. I made a t-shirt to honour an artistic soul I briefly met who gave me encouragement without even knowing it.

Tune Out Turn Off Drop By

Tune Out Turn Off Drop By

I wore that buffalo tooth with great pride to the point of feeling superstitious about it all. The necklace portion eventually became worn out and I removed it from my jacket to rework another piece of leather into it. I had it off for only ONE DAY- and yeah – that’s when I hit the deer. Safe passage no more.  But as stated, I survived.  So will Rockies art. So will the memory of Crow. So will the words on the bridge. As will Anishnaabe Chief Shingwauk’s spirit live on. I was thinking about all of this today as I saw the leaves fall on the crisp autumn ground. How beautiful  and cruel mother nature can be. It’s an amazing mystery.

I once heard it best from Simon, my friends aboriginal father:

‘Seems like the white man is only trying to get to where we once were.’

I get it. I really do.

Rocky Barstad video:

And I’ll let that big old whistle blow my blues away

“I was conceived in the summer of love
a little bundle of joy sent down from above
and while a half a million hippies left Yasgur with some trash
I was rockin’ in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash”

This is from my song ‘Seriously Delirious’ which I put out in 2011 on the CD ‘Passing Through’.
It’s 100% autobiographical and was written as a result of meeting the legendary John Prine.
My girlfriend at the time bought some tickets to Massey Hall to see John perform and somehow managed to get us backstage to meet him. Was it George Bernard Shaw who suggested being wary of meeting ones idols for fear that it will only lead to future disappointment for the fan? I believe it was.

We lined up backstage to acquire autographs, one by one. He signed my copy of Fair and Square – ‘All the best  Jay’ … John Prine.  All the Best – being a song from his comeback album The Missing Years. Still one of my favourite CD’s of all time. I rank it next to Graceland for the surprise comeback and enjoyment factor.
(well maybe that’s a stretch but it’s one hell of a piece of work).
While we posed for photos with him and the band we were encouraged to stick around for some food and to simply hang out. Wow! What a nice gesture. I believe my level of knowledge about his catalogue and back story was enough to ingratiate ourselves into this party for an extended hang.
Then I was afforded some time to just sit and talk with John himself.  After our conversation (during which he had learned that he was a major influence on me as a writer) he shouted out to the band “Bring these two out for a few drinks tonight and tell them some lies about us!”
“I can’t go out drinking right now but these guys could be into it Jay.”
At which point, his guitar player Jason Wilbur said he was obligated to call his wife for a long chat and couldn’t go out, however, Dave – his double bass player said “Sure…sounds like fun!”
So we went out to a local martini bar and discussed the Nashville music scene with Dave for about three hours.

So much of what happens to us in life is by sheer coincidence or luck. Dave mentioned that the go-to bass player for a few shows in Nashville (where Prine lives) was unavailable and he ran into a guy on the street that same night who tipped him off and suggested he might be able to get him in as a filler. Long story short, he’s been touring with John ever since. That’s going back about ten years now. I believe Dave’s married with children and finally taking deep breaths knowing the financial ‘wolf is finally from the door’.
At the end of the evening, he’d likely heard my girlfriend going on about my songwriting and John’s influence to the point where he took some pity on us and offered us to come along for the next show in London. Wow! What a guy.
“Just show up at the theatre tomorrow and pick up your backstage passes at the window and come join us after the show!”

We arrived in London (ON) the following day and were escorted to the fifth row from the front of the stage. Remarkable seats. I took it all in and sat transfixed like a kid in a candy store drooling over the embarrassment of riches. From ‘Hello in There’ to ‘Lake Marie’ (Dylan’s favourite Prine song) to ‘Grandpa was a Carpenter’ and on and on.

We reconnected again after the show and another great visit. It was during this conversation where the discussion of autobiographical writing came up. Writing a song specifically about oneself. The idea being that if you write a few of those songs ‘specifically’ about yourself, then you won’t have to waste precious time explaining to folks after the show exactly who you are – what your purpose is – what you’re all about…essentially.

I went home and started the song Seriously Delirious.

Verse 2
“My old man engineered that train
Like a streak bolt of lightning right through the rain
He said keep your head steady son and don’t look back
and that’s how you keep the train on the track”

After my dad (John Delbert Aymar) returned home from serving the entirety of WW2, he wanted to explore the world away from his village near Saulnierville, NS.  Still in his early twenties, he decided to head into Toronto with his cousin. The point being, whenever anyone of us has leaned on him for advice or felt down about things, he’s always said “The past is the past. Look forward. You can’t change the past. If I were to have dwelled upon the events of that war then how could have I managed to move on?”

It always seemed like such a dial-in answer for many years, but as always, these types of sentiments as simple as they appear, hold powerful truths for a reason.  I often saw my dad as the engineer of his train. He was pulling eight box cars and mom holding down the Caboose and keeping it all together. (Perhaps it’s the female spirit that looks back and keeps our history into perspective – I’m not sure, but I do know my mom was amazing at grounding us in family tradition.) So, I wrote those words about my Dad as a train engineer and made the “rockin in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash” reference quite deliberately – as a bit of an inside joke within the family .

You see, my dad has this old Hawaiian guitar he picked up from a guy he visited in prison. As the story goes, he visited an old acquaintance in the Comeauville jail.  During the visit, the guy wanted five bucks for his cheap guitar (evidently for a carton of cigarettes). The transaction went down and this was ultimately become the first guitar I would see in my life.
It had painted palm trees and various birds and a Hawaiian sunset on the front of it. It was a Spanish guitar with nylon strings. It seemed more of a prop or a toy then a real guitar. My earliest childhood memories are of my dad popping his collar, pretending to play that guitar while gyrating his hips like Elvis – screaming ‘YOU AIN’T NOTHING BUT A HOUND DOG’  in front of all of us. I was transfixed. 

I remember the very, very first record player was a small stand alone player with just a few records in the rack below it.
Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits sat amongst the few gems. I believe it was of his early Sun recordings and it was incredible.

For the longest time, it all just made sense to me. The cheap guitar from a guy in prison – was that Folsom Prison? The train songs the rockabilly beat. The joy it brought. It taught me so much.
That said, our family was not even remotely into country music.
My dad’s true passion was swing jazz and crooners. At 92 he can still sing Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa and send the shiver up the spine of anyone who’d care to listen. The only reason that album ever made it into our house was through my brother Dave (likely) or Bob (also likely).

So as time marched on, I learned that it was all connected. Everything. Prine was influenced by Cash. Cash didn’t really do time in prison other than for a few public intoxication’s. Our family guitar was from a guy in prison. I eventually discovered the epic “Live from Folsom’ and ‘ Live from San Quinton’ Cash albums. I eventually discovered the entire world of fiction based on these themes – from Voltaire’s Candide to  Crime and Punishment …oh hell…it goes on and on. From learning about Mandela to watching movies like Cool Hand Luke. 
It can seem like a romantic notion in some ways to think that Johnny Cash performed for the incarcerated. A selfless gesture indeed. Those live recordings capture the palpable energy of a man in his prime, singing to those without a lot of hope.  What could that be like? Wow…only Cash could have pulled that off.  Until it was asked of me. I said ‘ABSOLUTELY YES!’
Wait…what? Really? What just happened?

Early last week I received an email from Jill Zmud, a talented folk songwriter, community activist and all around cool girl from Ottawa, ON. She coordinates a program called Art Beat which connects folk musicians with local schools and hospitals (for starters). During a previous conference, for example, I volunteered to discuss ‘FOLK MUSIC’ and ‘SONGWRITING’ and ‘LIFE ON THE ROAD’ to about 60 grade 7-8 students at a southern Ontario elementary school. It was amazing! As always, these gestures always pay us back ten-fold. The discussion with the kids slowly turned into me talking about how folk music has always represented the underdog.
“You kids want change? How we gonna do that? Folk music?”
and the kids screamed out “YEAH!”
“OK… I propose we have big speakers playing music during lunch break in the cafeteria! Why don’t we have music playing during lunch?” Who wants music?”
Repeat after me “WE WANT MUSIC…WE WANT MUSIC!”

And they did. And the principle arrived at the door a few minutes later. Strapped with my guitar, I whispered to him in the hallway, ‘Just play along, I’m teaching them how to protest!”
And he was brilliant. He stormed into the classroom to become a perfect foil.
“What’s all this about?”
“We want music in the cafeteria during lunch hour!”
The kids laughed, the teacher laughed, I laughed and I had them sing my one and only children’s song ‘Apple Pickin’ and we all walked away richer for the experience. I’ve often thought if I were to retire from music, teaching would be such a noble profession.
Art Beat had worked it’s magic. Everyone benefited from the experience.

Now this time, Jill’s Art Beat email was a bit different. “Jay, we’ve been trying to have a correctional facility sign up for Art Beat for many years…and it finally happened! They’ve agreed to let a performer come in and sing! We thought of you immediately.”

“Why did you think of me Jill? Have you been looking through my past? lol…”
“No we were just discussing your record and …”
“My RECORD! How did I know it was illegal to smoke weed in Cuba?”
“No Jay, your latest record – OVERTIME”
“Oh yeah…of course – Overtime!” (Thank you Tommy Chong)

I guess word had spread a bit about my Johnny Cash fixation. Playing tributes on occasion and singing Cash songs long – long before he was cool again. In fact I remember singing his songs during the late 80’s and early 90’s when people would grimace. Yes, there was a time for a while when he was dismissed and this always seemed strange to me.

Regardless, I agreed to perform in the Brampton Correctional Facility last Thursday as a part of Art Beat.
Without thinking about it too much, I simply romanticized the task at hand and embraced the concept.
Hey Aymar (I said to myself), you’ve been singing about this stuff for so long, now it’s time to embrace the fact that the river has led you here. This amazing journey has actually brought you to this place. Ok here we go.

I arrived at the front desk on Thursday at 1pm. Without giving this any thought whatsoever I mentioned my name and purpose and they led me to the recreation room. In came the men who sat in a circular format in front of me. Several guards were on hand to brief me in a room prior to the concert.
They introduced me as a Canadian songwriter who tours ‘all around the world’ and ‘has just finished a 120 show tour’ which was all true, but it seemed to really give the guys (perhaps) a sense that I WAS Johnny Cash as someone immediately screamed out “CASH!”
As I prepared for the first song, the warden leaned into my ear and whispered “You’ll be fine son…they’re an appreciative audience!”

As I was about to hit the first chord, I looked up and saw the crowd. Something happened when I looked into the faces of the guys staring at me. I was grief stricken. Can’t explain it. I began to tremble on the inside. This wasn’t a nervousness or fear, but in fact a deep, deep feeling of empathy. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t prepared for this. After thousands of shows in my life, I’d never felt this stuck. This feeling became overwhelming. This wasn’t a fucking joke – nothing about this was like Johnny Cash in Folsom….my dad buying a guitar from a guy in prison…Cool Hand Luke. Those fantasy images were just that. Fantasy! This was reality – I was in the middle of it – and I was suddenly grief stricken by the stark realness of it all.

Behind the men was a booth where two guards watched the proceedings from above everyone. It was all cool and controlled. I played my first original song then quickly got back to the CASH request. I said ‘Who was requesting Johnny Cash?”
Someone from the back raised his hand. I said “Ok man, how about A Boy Named Sue!”
And off it went. During that Silverstein classic is a verse where the father ‘took out a knife and cut off a piece of my ear” …at which point everyone laughed out loud and FINALLY the tension was cut.
I was beyond relieved.
I looked up into the tower and saw two of the guards clapping and dancing a bit which eased my mind a bit more.
Then I asked if there were any guitar players in the crowd. Someone yelled out “Honky-Tonk!”
“Where’s Honky-Tonk?”
And he was right there off to the side. Humbly raising his hand.
“You feel like playing a song for everyone Honky-Tonk? Who wants to hear Honky-Tonk?” The place erupted and much like the elementary kids pretending to protest,  the guys began chanting “Honky-Tonk! Honky-Tonk!”

It was just then that I realized I may have been breaking protocol but they allowed Honky-Tonk to come and join me for the rest of the show. He was escorted to a room where his guitar awaited and arrived ready for showtime. He was a great player and was happy to sit back and simply accompany me with some picking on the songs.
Then, as though time evaporated, I looked up at the clock to realize the concert was over and my John Henry was required for a few pieces of paper.

Before I left, the staff and I had a brief conversation about ‘simple gestures of kindness’ in this type of environment. On how there may be an outside chance that ONE inmate may have seen light in all of this…a seed may have been planted in some soul…enough to hold on to…HOPE. I welled up.

I finally made it out to my car – shaking. I sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes , closed my eyes and said some prayers to the great universe asking for my own redemption. “Save those souls and give them hope. Thank you for bringing me into this world with all of the advantages of love. Thanks for allowing me to have the opportunity, strength and gift to do this.”

Then I thought about my own dad. Not the guy from “A Boy Named Sue” but the guy who stood up in front of me with his Hawaiian guitar, shaking his hips, screaming “HOUND DOG!” That guy. The same guy who said “Never look back – you can’t change the past”, the guy who provided for his eight children day in a day out without ever complaining. The loyal husband and father who kept us all on the straight and narrow. The same guy who bought the record player for his family (when we didn’t have a lot of extra money)  so he could play his trad jazz and we could play our rock and roll. 

I left the parking lot and drove to the four day conference where like-minded folkies had converged on a hotel in  Mississauga.  Remember: GIVING BACK – PAYING IT FORWARD -this is all run of the mill kind of stuff for people in this community. It’s all part of the tradition. It’s part of the spirit. I felt safe here amongst this tribe. There were times over the weekend though that I couldn’t ‘shake’ the feeling of what had transformed me during that prison concert. In fact, there were times when I couldn’t stop smiling about it – and times when I couldn’t hide my grief. Never have I carried around so many mixed emotions from one incident.

Upon my arrival home the first person to call me up was my dad.
“Good morning son, I just wanted to know how the concert in the prison worked out?” I gave him detailed account of the events and asked “Dad, I’m not sure why I have these mixed emotions about it all? It’s like I don’t understand how I feel about what happened? Strange isn’t it?”

“It’s not strange at all. I really did expect this. Sometimes we don’t have answers for how we feel.  Just move on. It’s over!”

Just like the song:
‘Keep your head steady and don’t look back
That’s how you keep the train on the track’

In a few short months, I’ll be back at home sharing Christmas with the family. We’ll enjoy music and laughter once again.
As always I’ll be performing a local show, only this year I’ll have a new song to be added to my repertoire:
John Prine’s Christmas in Prison. Dedicated to my Dad, Prine and his band, Cash, the Brampton Correctional Facilty, Art Beat , Folk Music Ontario and the great healing power of music.

Next stop…


I Never Drink in the Afternoon (Well Sometimes I Drink in the Afternoon)

Yesterday was one of those very rare Sunday’s where we sat and watched an all-day YouTube movie marathon. A beautiful sunny afternoon in Windsor Ontario was met with a plethora of options. Sure we could hit Balloonapalooza down on the waterfront but you know how that goes: overpriced water, long line-ups, too many frustrated parents, and those annoying hot-air balloon enthusiasts who all look like they just rolled out of a Jimmy Buffett concert. Yeah, I’ve seen a version of Balloonapalooza before and the attendees adequately passed for less affluent Parrot-heads. Let’s just say I noticed a lot of waxed tipped mustaches of the Colonel Sanders variety fashioned into spiraling masterpieces enough to make any Shriner extremely proud.. The only thing seemingly missing were the clown shoes and prospectors hat. In fact, I believe I heard one gentleman use the word “hornswaggled” to his wife upon learning that his 500 ml bottle of Nestle Pure Life Water was a paltry four dollars.
“Oh hell baby…we’re getting hornswaggled! First they want ten bucks to get in, seven bucks for a hot dog and four bucks for a thimble full of water! We should have stayed a Miss Kitty’s Saloon dagnabbit!” Ok….that’s not what I heard exactly, however, it was what I imagined this character to be saying. All of this to say that while Remax and Royal Lepage hot-air  Balloons were floating around down at the carney grounds, my brother and I decided to ‘kick it old school’ to an all day movie marathon. Oh the joy of being single and without kids! To have a complete day of rest and recovery from a party weekend is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Before we embarked on the marathon we had to cover the key essentials.
Snacks: We’d start with some afternoon stove top Orville Redenbacher, Coca-Cola on ice, and some Twix Candy bars. We’d interrupt the proceedings at five o’clock for some spaghetti and meatballs. Easy – done. Now we had to pick a movie genre (not so easily done when you’re rivaling Tarantino in the b-movie viewing department.)

“What do you think Jay? 70’s Action? Western? I’ve been getting into John Wayne’s back catalogue lately and loving his stuff from the 40’s.”

“Yeah that’s cool but I’m thinking more along the lines of Blaxploitation today. Maybe that or some hillbilly cabin in the woods type of thing?”

You see, my brother and I have long been on the hunt for the ‘worst (best) movie ever made’. It started with the collection of VHS Tapes acquired while we were collecting records.. The collection has some incredible hard to find gems in all genres and it was well used until the internet came along and blew the doors off the entire concept.Suddenly we could find any movie we wanted – read the reviews and ultimately find it streamed somewhere for free. YouTube has been an incredible source for this. Cue it up – attach our Dollarama cable to the big flat screen and viola – who needs Balloonapalooza anymore? (And we wonder why the new generation of kids aren’t flocking to live concerts these days? Except of course my concerts, which boast sold-out crowds every single night with the core demographic being that coveted 16-30 year old female CD buying market who really dig middle-aged folk songwriters! But then again, I’m one in a million!)

Yep so our previewing conversation went like this:
“How about the old college graduates get away for a weekend in the woods and become tormented by some twisted hillbillies? You know, that old chestnut!”

“Hmmm…I don’t know if I’m feelin that one today. We’ll stick with American for sure. How about some good old Blaxplotation from the mid-seventies. Breadbasket kind of stuff. I’m kind of feeling that after speaking with Fred Sr. yesterday.”

“That’s a good call amigo. You enjoyed meeting Fred yesterday eh? Helluva a nice guy. He’s 80 years old you know. He’s had a wild life.”

“I know,” I said, “We spent about an hour talking after you went in for dinner yesterday. It was mind blowing brother!”

You see, during Saturday afternoon we decided to slow cook some ribs in the back yard with a new (used) smoker my brother had picked up in his travels. An incredible amount of prep time and research went into learning how to use the cooker – the chips – how to prepare the ribs etc…We started them early and after about an hour we gave up. The smoker fire would not stay lit and the chips were not really smoking. We quickly moved them over the gas BBQ and slowly but surely neighbors drifted by and suddenly we were having an impromptu backyard party. A rum and coke here, a beer there…and before you know it, there’s about ten people sitting around a table generally all talking at once.

I was introduced to an eighty year old man name Fred Sr. Fred has been living here in this nice working class neighborhood for over forty years. He lost his wife to cancer when she was a mere twenty-eight years old. She gave him an adequate brood before she passed on and he had a few more down the line with the second love of his life. (I believe 7 or 8 in total)

“So Fred, I hear you do a little salvage work these days?”

“Yeah they jokingly call us Sanford and Son! If you need it we just might have it!”

“How long have you been doing that?” I asked.

“Oh, we’ve always been doing that on and off.”

“So what was your stock and trade growing up?”

Just then, my brother joined us at the table and I stood up to riff on some Red Foxx. (I couldn’t help myself) With hand over heart, gazing to the sun I screamed out “I’m coming to join you Elizabeth!” It was a subtle way of letting Fred know that I was dialed into his world – if only in a pop culture kind of way.

And with that, we continued on with a conversation that took us all the way back to the early 1930’s when Fred was born. He walked me through his childhood in foster homes, the sadness, the fear, the rebelliousness that comes along with that empty feeling. How he continuously ran away. How at fourteen years of age he ran away for good and found himself doing just about any job to stay alive.

“I picked a lot of tomatoes near Leamington. I was sure good at picking those tomatoes for a while. Tobacco in Tillsonburg. Did a lot of that too. That road was endless. I always said that no matter what happens to me in the end, I would never ever allow my children to be taken away from me. They would not have to live in foster homes! After my wife passed away, it was hard for a few years but I always took care of my children! It wasn’t easy for us back then either. Always being accused for things we didn’t do because of our skin colour.”

And with that we had a simple conversation about the way it was. There wasn’t a whiff of discussion about Obama or MLK yet just true to life stories about how it actually was.

Our conversation led to Fred asking me about my music and influences. After exhausting my list of influences (many of which he loved as well – from Ray Charles to Hank Sr. to Leadbelly to Mavis Staples etc…)

“You know my first wife was a gospel singer son? We sang a lot of gospel in our house!”

And with that, my brother appeared with another rum and coke for me, some more beer for the table and  a guitar. Now you know the way it goes. After about 100 shows in the past five months, sometimes looking at a guitar reminds me of work on these weekends. I am one of those artists that require a complete break from the creative endeavor at hand. I need to shift into reading, writing, conversation mode. The beauty of visiting two of my brothers now residing in Windsor (and family in general) is that I can decompress in the comfort of family without having to worry about performing, driving, meeting strangers with my ‘game face on’, finding my next meal, my next bed and so on. Needless to say, the guitar can interrupt the flow of these occasions. More often than not, I find when the conversation is rolling along nicely, a musical interlude is not warranted. I mean, who want’s to interrupt what Socrates claimed are the best moments of the human experience “When engaged in meaningful conversation!” Yet for some reason, in the hot sun under a canopy of grapes, with the smell of slow cooking ribs in the background talking to my new buddy Fred, his son, his buddies, my brothers, some other neighbors…playing some songs not only felt right…I really felt like doing it. Not to mention, I wasn’t shackled to my own songs here. Now I could search my memory bank for those songs I’ve always wanted to play for just this occasion.

Yeah, I would tailor a set just for Fred Sr. For the underdogs. For all of us. So without giving it much thought, I ran through these songs:
Busted (Ray Charles version), Sail Away (Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee version), That’s Alright Mama ( “Big Boy”Crudup… well Elvis I guess) I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister (Pete Seeger version), That Lucky Old Son (any version – Fred remembered it as Sachmo’s song) and on and on until I finished off the concert with ‘The Midnight Special’ for everyone to sing-along to. It was with this song that I noticed Fred tear up a bit.

The prison song popularized by Leadbelly was being sung well over one hundred years after it’s creation by a bunch of guys sitting around a table on a hot sunny afternoon – free to do so on our own accord. Think of that! Freedom is a concept we can’t truly appreciate until it’s taken away from us. Sing a song like the Midnight Special to a man who’s had his freedoms restricted, and you might even learn to understand just a fraction of what real pain is. I could feel it.

We continued on the backyard for much longer than Fred was likely intending. He kept up the pace with us – what an unbelievable trooper. Relaxing in the shade with this cane, we kept the cold beer coming until the ribs and salads made their way onto the table. It was at this point that Fred leaned in and told me about the time the ‘law’ had brought him downtown with a very big accusation. Without getting into the details of the story, let’s just say it was heartbreaking. There was not one ounce of exaggeration detected in Fred’s tale and it simply highlighted how far we have truly come in respect to racial divisions in North America. He ended it with him saying how great it was to have me singing these old songs for him. I assured him it was my privilege.

“Hey Fred, don’t forget, my own father is 91 years old now. Makes you look like a spring chicken. I was the youngest of eight kids you know. He had me in his late forties which makes me a rarity I guess! One of kind buddy! Oh and I’m humble too …lol. But that said, my dad loved all of the old standards. The swing era Jazz from Louis to Nat King Cole. He had great taste. It was my oldest brother Bob who came along and picked up on Miles Davis and Coltrane. Then it was all guys like Bob Dylan taking old the old stuff and reworking it. The Beatles reworking Chuck Berry! You know what I’m saying! Elvis copping Crudup – that kind off stuff! I guess you could say The Beatles brought me in, Dylan made me think differently about it – he introduced me to Pete and Woody and they introduced me to guys like Leadbelly and Robert Johnson. I moved forward from there into Chess and Atlantic stuff.  Full circle stuff man.”

And with that, we went back and forth discussing our collective experiences. For good measure I told him one of my all-time favourite ‘racial-divide’ stories which caught the attention of the entire table. On how my publicist and friend, Richard Flohil eventually made his way Chicago to a bar called Smitty’s (?) to catch Muddy Waters and how he would eventually become a promoter and publicist for so many international blues acts. A story I could not do proper justice to, however, enjoyed by all just the same.

After hearing this story, Fred said “Hey play one of YOUR favourite songs before I go!”

“Well Fred, here’s one that seems to be at the top of my list these days. It’s an old song by Kris Kristofferson called ‘To Beat the Devil’. It hits home because I’m often singing singing songs I wrote to people who might be talking. I think, what’s the point of even doing this if no one’s really listening? Anyway here’s the song.”

“If you waste your time a-talking to the people who don’t listen to the things that your are saying who do you thinks gonna hear!” (To Beat The Devil (The story behind the song)

That was that. It was an afternoon for the ages. Fred left me a few final words of wisdom.

“Hey son, no matter what you do in this life, don’t let them drag you into one of those nursing homes. I was in one on and off for four years and it almost killed me. One day I just walked out. What were they gonna do? Been taking care of myself ever since! Take care of yourself son – nobody else is going to!”

“Yup…paddle your own canoe Fred! I get ya man. It was a real pleasure meeting to you!”

And with that Fred was driven home and the rest of us sat out back to watch the dusk descend upon the city. “Hey,” I said, “You know guys…I  play music across this damn country about five nights a week and I never ever get the chance to go listen to some live music! Let’s say we hit the town and find some live music and single girls. What are we doing here? Let’s go be somebody!”

And so we did. The night went late but the laughs were loud. I woke up the next morning vaguely remembering a half-hearted promise to a girl and her friends that we might meet them down at Balloonapalooze at 2pm on Sunday afternoon. Easy come easy go. She likely forgot all about it and besides we had a full day of movies ahead of us.

It started with Trick Baby and ended with Nightmare in Badham County. Interestingly, both of these movies explore the black meets white buddy concept in very distinct ways. There I was, laughing a bit on the inside as I watched these movies through the eyes of Fred. They were fantastic in a great low-budget B-movie kind of way.

I woke up this morning and walked over to the record collection  (can you say 5000 records to chose from – and this is half of our collection). Morning coffee in hand, I reached in to pull out a record and as god is my witness out came Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys. From “Rednecks – to Rollin” I enjoyed that 1974 breakthrough over my cup of java like no man.

Nothing more beautiful than the company of old and new friends, a hot cup of coffee and beautiful music. Every once in awhile, the events seem to be more than coincidence. They seem to have a purpose. From the south-side of Chicago through to the deep south. From the eyes of Huddie Ledbetter and Fred Sr. in Windsor ON to my father’s music and the movies of my own generation. Occasionally it all comes together and within a split second everything you’ve thought about crystallizes into one perfect vision. You know, the simple things like: We’re all created equal; we all bleed red; and singing along to “Birmingham” on a beautiful Monday morning.

Got a wife got a family

Earn my livin’ with my hand

I’m a roller in a steel mill

In downtown Birmingham

My daddy was a barber

And a most unsightly man

He was born in Tuscaloosa

But he died right here in Birmingham

Birmingham Birmingham

The greatest city in Alabam’

You can travel ‘cross this entire land

But there’s no place like Birmingham

got a wife named Mary

But she’s called Marie

We live in a three room house

With a pepper tree

And I work all day in the factory

That’s alright with me

Got a big black dog

And his name is Dan

Who lives in my backyard in Birmingham

He is the meanest dog in Alabam’

Get ’em Dan


Canada Day and Bruno and the Sisters of Ursuline became a quick fading memory. It all went off without a hitch and they want to bring me back next year. Hmmm Canada Day in Bruno every year? We’ll see how it goes. Great folks to be sure. As they do every year a parade of  horses came down the main drag with riders in full regalia which prompted one of “Citizens’ to exclaim, “See I told you this wasn’t a one horse town! It’s a six horse town!” The afternoon ended with some visiting and a BBQ and some terrific stories from longstanding Bruno residents. I awoke to realize it was time for the long haul home. A few shows this week but some massive driving.

Got up at 6:00 am and randomly punched in the city BRANDON MANITOBA into my GPS. A paltry six hour drive and a day of rest awaited me. About three hours into the drive I realized I had broken a promise to a girl I’d recently met in Brandon on my way through. Yes, on my tour west a few months ago I had stayed at  the in Brandon and it was just a few days after the deer hit. The car still mangled, my nerves still fried, I needed some luck and as you know I found plenty of it (See “Oh Deer Me Parts One and Two).  In the story I reference five angels that appeared along the trail to help out just when all seemed quite dire. Yes…I forgot to mention one of them and in driving back to Brandon today it reminded me of my folly.

I drove my jalopy into the front office of the Western Motel in Brandon in the early morning of Sunday, May 12. The day before was a bit of gong show as I’d performed for a six hours on and off at two locations, closing the night very, very late with a group of folks at a bar called the Double Decker Pub. The Double Decker is a pub show, which I will rarely perform these days, however, the afternoon gig called for my attention and the Double Decker was going to ‘fit the bill’ for the evening. A lot of these shows for me are dial-ins in the the sense that I can put it into auto-pilot, sing some Cash covers, get well fed and watered and usually stumble home. Over the years, I realized that some places treated you better than others and this place was always first class – top notch. One of the owners who booked me was a girl by the name of Kim Hooker, who was the illusive owner behind the email who always got back to you right away, always had your payment waiting for you, your posters up, the staff well informed of your deal – etc…The interesting this is that I’d never met Kim in person. Just another disembodied email contact.

The gig was a late one. I shut it down at 5:00 am after a very late party night with many in the venue. I woke up at the Bed and Breakfast  at 11:00 am, completely fried from  the night’s shenanigans and thought I’d better get a motel room and figure out my plan of action for the week. I knew the ‘deer hit’ was playing on my mental state. My car, still in ruins, I felt it had become a metaphor for the way my songwriting career was going. (You can think some strange things after a night of potent potables with not a real friend to talk to.)

I’d literally stayed in all of the cheap motels in Brandon over these past years. Tried them all. I had been down to staying at crazy place on the highway with tin roofs calling itself The Little Chalet. Nice people, but a few ownership changes along the way and they suddenly priced me out of the touring musician market. I shouldn’t have been driving the next morning as I likely smelled like a brewery. I hauled my unshaven, wrinkled carcass of a mess into my shit-box and began cruising the blinding bright streets of Brandon high-density Sunday morning church-going traffic.

“Ah…I’ll try that one!” I said to myself. A small sign tucked between The Keg and million other signs along the busy street. Not expecting much, I came in and begged for mercy. Every ‘beg for mercy’ exchange in this situation is one that I learned from this great little Ukranian woman who owned a nice motel in BC. She told me that her husband and her had owned the motel for 20 years and that she always appreciated musicians (as her son was a concert pianist!) She said “You can take’a diss advice for what it’s worth. You go into da motel with a $50 dollar bill in your hand ana say “I’m a musician without a lot of money and I need room for tonight. I don’ta wan any service. I don’ta want any noise. I just wanna room and all I have is dis $50. Yes or No?” Then she continued “All they canna do is say yes or no? You a big boy – you canna handle rejection! I always say yes to da musicians!”

I must confess, it takes some getting used to, the grovelling component and the red-faced feeling when the 70% of motel owners laugh at you, however, it has worked time and time again and MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, the rooms I walk into are full of great character, a fridge, a microwave and TV, a clean bathroom and great bed. Most even have a little bbq for some cooking if you’re so inclined. Naturally, the beds are always a gamble but the small motels always seem to take pride in new mattresses.  I know, I know, the  illusion of security and cleanliness of a Best Western is hard to beat, but I’m talking about a songwriters budget. Let’s keep it real. Normally, I’d be on someone’s couch or in a hostel. This is ridin’ high.

So there I was at the front desk waving my $50 around but this time not ready to walk. I was too burnt out and not willing to chance anymore driving – especially with a car that screamed “Here I am cops! Over here!”

The girl behind the counter offered me a quiet room in the back building for $60 all-in which was a fair deal all in all. As I walked through the lobby, I noticed a great display of muffins, fresh eggs, full on continental breakfast. Wow this is unexpected. “Do you mind if I help myself?” “Go right ahead” she said.
I spent the remainder of the day using their high-speed internet – scouring the country for a 2003 Camry hood – a replacement which I simply was unable to find. (Every colour other than black).  The next morning I joined the travelers in the lobby, congregating to discuss the Leaf game and the enjoy the free breakfast.

It was at this moment I approached the front desk to talk about renegotiating for another night’s stay. I’d enjoyed the room so much I thought it would be nice to give these fine folks the business. First class.
This time it was a new girl. “Sure we can fix you up. What’s your name?” “Jay Aymar,” I replied. “Jay? The musician from Double Deckers! I’m Kim Hooker!”
After all of this time I’d finally met Kim who’d once booked me at her pub and was now here?
“I sold the Decker and now own this motel!”
“Wow Kim that’s amazing. I must say you have the MIDAS touch because I was just thinking this morning that whoever owns this motel is really trying to turn it into something special. First class all the way!”
“Yeah, we’re renovating the rooms slowly but surely. Flat screens and new floors and beds are making their way into the rooms!”
“Well, I’ve stayed in hundreds over the years and can surely put this one top of my list. I mean that!” I replied.

We began to chat about our lives and talk about the twists and turns on this crazy river and eventually I shared a mini-version of the deer story. Still reeling, her semi-familiarity to me became a ear to lean on about my recent troubles. “Oh wow Jay, that’s a crazy story. I know how hard you musicians have it too. I used to see so many kids come through who just didn’t have any money, or clean clothes, unshaven, hungry. I don’t know how you all do it?”
“Well Kim, I am a bit further along in my career than that, however, some days I can feel that same Devil nippin at my heals!” I responded. “Hey” she replied “why don’t you take this nice executive suite for a few days at no charge. It’s newly renovated and not rented and let me do that for you. Just a friendly gesture.”
“Are you kidding me Kim? I am so low right now…I won’t say no. I won’t even pretend to argue with you!”

And with that, she set me up into this amazing suite inside of the motel unit. It even had a full-on kitchen, queen sized bed, dining room table and extra large flat-screen. I’d died and gone to heaven just when I needed it the most. My final nerve was counting on it and this angel appeared with this gesture at the exact moment I needed her too.

Upon leaving I made a promise to Kim that I would give her new Motel a shout on on my blog. One good deed deserves another. Somehow, the next few days slipped away into months and selfishly the notion slipped my mind – until this morning at 9am. I thought ” Aymar…you asshole…you promised that girl you were going to blog about her motel and you forgot!” Knowing that I was en route to the motel for the evening I was fulyl prepared to do this when I got in (which is where I’m at right now). I approached the front desk a few hours ago anticipating my explanation to Kim and was met by another girl checking me in. “Oh is Kim here?” “No, sorry she is off until tomorrow!” she replied.
“Oh, I’m a friend and you should have my name on file – I’d like to stay tonight. I’m a musician that used to play for her at the Decker.”

“Oh yeah, she mentioned you. How was your tour? I think she mentioned you were going to write a review about our place on your blog!”

……I hate it when someone beats me to it. lol

That’s the story folks. A great girl working her ass off to build a nice family business in the heart of Brandon MB. The Western Motel. I’ll vouch for this cozy little spot and it’s owner all day long. Don’t even think of staying anywhere else!

After all, what’s better than Wheat Kings and pretty things? Gotta love ya Brandon.


As I write this, I’m staring at a small plastic crucifix affixed to a concrete wall at the end of my single bed. To the left of me, the other single bed is occupied by my two guitars and one gym bag. To the right of my bed is a white concrete wall with a water-colour painting of two women sitting on the rocks, overlooking the ocean. Next to the crucifix is a picture of Mother Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms. It’s a small picture but placed as the centerpiece of the room as it’s up high above the adjoining closed doors. Across from the small crucifix is a statue of Mother Mary with baby Jesus hanging on the wall. It looks very authentic, as though someone may have hand crafted this small piece of other-worldliness. Over on the far left wall is a large picture of Jesus as a man, surrounded by his flock of sheep. It’s a very tranquil painting. Upon looking above me at the back wall, I see two brass heads looking down over either bed. One of Jesus and one of Mary. I have my window open just a crack….enough to let the air into my tiny room. I just heard the train go by. There is only a small sink in the corner and the bathroom is down the dark hall somewhere in the abyss. I certainly hope I don’t get disoriented, lest I’d have to say “The answer my friend is blowin in the wind…the answer is pissin in the sink!” Then again, how could I let down the Sisters of Saint Therese? I couldn’t. I would ‘stumble and stagger down the snakes and up the ladders to the towers where the blessed bathroom lies’ – all in an effort to redeem myself in the eyes of the Lord.

Yes sir, through a miracle of sorts, the Ursuline Sisters – now St. Therese School (or in this case a young Catholic girl preparing for her big wedding day next weekend) allowed this wandering troubadour a place to rest for the evening. Nice of her for sure. The Sisters have long moved on, and like most convents it has run headfirst into twenty-first century atheism. What’s amazing to me as I sit here is the beautiful silence. In fact there are signs everywhere throughout the convent saying “Silence – how can you hear anything if you’re not listening!” I love that. It feels strangely comfortable for a disenfranchised Catholic like me.

I made it back to Bruno Saskatchewan today in advance of  the Canada Day Celebrations. A promise I made to the town a few years ago has come to fruition. I said I would return for our nations birthday and here I am. Bruno can’t be anymore than five-hundred folks (if that) and it was musically put on the map by a guy named Tyler who simply rolled into the ‘middle of nowhere’ with a girlfriend and a dream. He thought ‘If I build it, they will come.” He created a small cafe, a small stage and the people in town started attending the shows. The musicians heard about it and put it on their tour routes. Voila! It happened. Bruno was suddenly talked about from Victoria to Saint John. Musicians immediately discussed the tiny town jail the size of a wood shed right on the main drag. It’s just one of those landmarks you never forget.

In a few hours I’ll be on a flatbed trailer singing to the town as they watch from the their Maple Leaf lawn chairs in that exact park. I’m looking forward to this day for a variety of reasons. For starters, I’ve learned to love this country beyond my expectations so to celebrate it’s birthday is a true joy. I know, I know (according to the bard) “Patriotism is the last refuge…to each a scoundrel clings.” That’s not it. It’s not about lines on the map per se, it’s just about the people I’ve met and our amazing geography. Or as my buddy Andy says “Aymar, 95% of this country is rugged rocks and trees…the rest is just about the people!” Very true buddy….very true.

I wasn’t supposed to be in Bruno this year for Canada Day but fate dealt me a strange hand. I was booked to perform at a private festival from an individual who saw me perform last year in Moose Jaw. Unfortunately the festival organizer became very ill  and he was much too sick to continue on. (God bless you my friend and I hope you pull through). I made some quick alternate arrangements and found myself leaving the pick-up band behind and heading north to Nokomis, Humbolt and now Bruno SK. But making new plans has become run of the mill on this tour. Let’s just say, I may be the curse or the cure – I’m not quite sure – but every single stop along the way has been marred by natural disaster. Let me back it up.
The first month out went relatively smoothly but it wasn’t until I hit Stony Plain Alberta to perform at the Early Stage Saloon that I was hit with the bad news. The waitress whom I’ve met over these past four years, lost all of the contents of her apartment to a fire. The fire ravaged the entire building and unfortunately she was without proper insurance. I decided to donate the sale of my CD profits to her for the one night I was there (Bravo Aymar – we love you…awww gee it was nothing). I left Stony Plain and slowly made my way over to Golden, Kelowna, then Pentiction, back to Revelstoke, Calgary, Red Deer, High River, Nanton, Twin Butte then Medicine Hat (or as someone mentioned Canadian songwriter Stephen Fearings explanation of how he toured Alberta calling it “The Star of David Tour!” lol…thanks Stephen…consider that one stolen). It seems that I was the bad boogie-woogie weather-maker. Everywhere I went, a few days later they would be hit by heavy rains. It greatly effected most of my shows. Many were cancelled and many were in the middle of such bad weather that only a handful braved the elements to come out.

It’s obviously such a double edged sword this crazy sociable life of playing and touring like this. You meet so many incredible people that it’s actually dizzying. The downside is often when those same people are affected by tragedies, you run low on the empathy scale as there are so many new friends to grieve for. I like to think that my heart is big enough to appropriately grieve for the victims of these horrific floods but I’m not sure. It’s burning me out a bit. My friends in Calgary have lost so much – the same area I had been walking in days before – now gone. History, wiped out in an instant. High River, and their funky little music venue Gitters, run by a friend Donna – gone. Medicine Hat – spared the ugliness of massive ruin, yet still badly bruised. I saw the pain only briefly in the eyes of the folks at the evacuation shelter. The volunteers sure shoulder a burden during these times. You want to meet amazing people…really salt of the earth people….volunteer. It’s going to be my new mission. If any good came of this, it was that epiphany.

As I too had lost many anchor shows I was kindly offered the amazing charity of some great artists and tenders of the trail in The Hat. Traci and Jay and Piet and Ina and the list goes on. (I predict a great well-spring of art out their combined movement in Medicine Hat – I’m good at calling winners too!)  It was with this heavy hearted feeling for the folks of Alberta, I finally made it onto dry prairie land and Big Sky opened up. It became a heat wave (although they’d had the torrential rains during seeding just a few weeks ago. Gonna hurt the crops I’m sure).

After a few solid gigs and a chance to be on my own again, I wound up with a Sunday to myself in a town I love in a small room inside an empty convent in the middle of Saskatchewan only now waking up to Canada Day (which is like Christmas to me – I’ll leave it to your imagination how good it all feels). I look up from my bed and “Mother Mary’s watching me…speaking words of wisdom…let it be!” Or as the Muppet Show band used to sing “Letter B..Letter B”. I’m reminded of the time when in my early thirties, I lived in a chapel. Should I let this story be? Oh hell…
Yup, I lived in a convent in Ottawa for two full years. My kitchen had a floor to ceiling cruxific (it was the alter) and stain glassed windows ran along the perimeter of my living room. My bedroom closet was a confessional. Had two bars installed to hold my clothes. I can’t tell you how many times I’d bring a date home only to have her either completely weirded out or strangely turned on by the proceedings. Do know how creepy it is for life-long Catholic guy like me to be sharing some wine (not sacramental – sorry) with a random girl and suddenly start making out with the big guy perched on a twelve foot high crucifix looking at me in pure judgement. With every stroke of her hair I could hear him whispering “You are in the Lords house and you bring great shame to this sanctimonious space! You will burn in Hell for these impure thoughts…these impure deeds!” Meanwhile the only thing burning was the doobie and our loins. Things would always progress to making fun of these symbols to ease the absurdity of the moment. Quite often, I remember stumbling into to the confessional (er clothes closet) to play “tell me your secrets” as though I was Reverend Aymar. It wasn’t quite fair as the queen sized bed was the first welcoming site outside of the confessional. Strange days indeed! Most peculiar mama.

The convent was up for sale, as most are these days, and the nuns had all amalgamated and were down to one last convent in Orleans, ON. My friend Jim bought the convent and asked if I would stay in the newly renovated bachelor pad (the old chapel) and keep an eye on the students he was renting it to. (An amazing world class Cordon Blue cooking school was beside us – meaning every night I was the recipient of amazing roast duck dinners!) The Cordon Blue students were all cool and one took to calling me Reverend Ferley. A name which derived from my love of the sitcom Three’s Company (Don Knotts appeared as Mr. Ferley after the Ropers left…anyone? lol…don’t ask). Yep so there was swinging bachelor Rev. Ferley selling wine by day – living in a convent by night! Although it was a cool spot, I was kind of happy to move into a sterile apartment after that. Believe me, the ghosts of my past came to life in that space. The constant reminder of how I was once a firm believer – and five year tenure as an altar boy – then only to became a disenfranchised youth (for a few years) – to wind up in a Catholic Youth Encounter as my folks thought I was slipping off the rails for a while. Ok…I’ll have to back it up even further.
In fact, I was just doing what every other kid in high school was doing (beer, a tiny bit of weed et al) but as my parents were so much older when they had me, they were still buying into “Refer Madness” as gospel. Now how mixed up is it for a kid like me when you have your own father railing against this new generation and the acceptance of weed…but simultaneously encouraging me to recite Cheech and Chong skits at the dinner table. Who was more about weed than Cheech and Chong? (or as dad still calls them ‘Cheek and Chong! ha ha). As Archie and Edith sang….”Those were the days!” So yeah, in the summer of my seventeenth year, I was called to the court of the family living room to face Judges Johnny and Mad.
“We think you need to get away from your friends for a while. We’ve found out about this Junior Rangers program and your signed up to go to Tweed ON for the summer.”
“But wait, why? What did I do?”
“We think it will be a good experience for you. Oh….Are you smoking marijuana?”
“Well…I won’t lie I’ve tried it but..Hey I don’t want to go to the bush for two months!”

And with this crazy teenage angst all teens go through, I railed against it until my mother said “Or there’s Option B.”
Come on option B – be a good one. Come on mom please spare me – show me mercy. “What’s option B?” I replied.
“Well in two weeks there’s a Catholic Youth Encounter at the Catholic Youth Centre. It’s three nights and four days and if you choose to do that, then you won’t have to go to the Junior Rangers in Tweed.”
I remember thinking – hmmmm….two months in the bush with a bunch of boring budding geologists and some recovering reprobates or a four day stint in old Catholic Stony Mountain!
“I’ll take option B!” I said semi-enthusiastically.

Two weeks came fast. I remember my friends threw me a substantial party in this gully we used to call The Zone. Bush party extraordinaire. It was behind our old elementary school and had long been the bush party spot for several generations of bored Northern Ontario teens. We went as far as to build benches and put up a sign – Welcome to The Zone. (That’s another story for another day). I can still remember celebratory beers and laughter as I was marching off to ‘do my time’ in a few short days. “Thanks guys. I’ll get this over with and see you right back here the weekend after next!”

I arrived to the Catholic Youth Centre and actually recognized some familiar faces from my past. Guys  I’d played hockey with, or just random people from school. One girl I knew from my classroom became the girl they seated me beside. The first thing they wanted us to do was to assemble at the front of this gymnasium floor to give us instructions for the weekend.

“You’ll be sleeping over there – please remove watches as we don’t need to know the time – the windows are covered as well – this is when you’ll be eating etc…”  Geesh…where the Maharishi?

The first night began with us having to share the reason why we had come to this encounter. Many were there on their on volition. Wanting to become closer to Christ. Many were there because it likely enhanced their chances to meet some friends as I found many to be socially awkward. A very few, like myself, were there (technically against our own will) for going a little sideways in life for a while.

The priest (Now there were many great priests I’ve met along the way (two uncles in fact) – trust me – most of them were spectacular people) gave an opening speech and somehow managed to weird out everyone in the assembly. Everyone said it as the weekend went on. You can be a teen and still have the senses of an old man. It’s true.
We were asked to come up to the podium and one by one tell the others what brought us to the encounter. We were sworn to secrecy for what was shared by the other kids that day so I can’t really get into it. Needless to say, after hearing that one guy was addicted to chocolate covered coffee beans and staying up late to listen to Wican Radio…I realized I might be okay after-all. “Hi my name is Jay Aymar. I came here because my parents thought I was partying too hard. Smoking weed and stuff. Guess that’s why I’m here. Thank you and GOOD-night!” About sixty other kids came up and recited their reasons for wanting to jump with Jesus.

As this part wound down, I was so surprised to see one of my closest friends older sister and her husband assisting with the weekend. She was a beauty. Always sang “Ava Maria” during Easter and had a spectacular voice. I think I was in love with her as a child. She was there with a guitar and her husband kept encouraging me to play. I had been playing for about a year then and had learned my very first three songs: Rocky Racoon, Moonshadow and American Pie. She asked me to perform them in front of everyone.
Now trust me teenagers – really listen up here – you don’t think your brain is susceptible to being washed? Transformed quickly? It happens. This is how it happens.

The validation I had from the crowd of people clapping for those songs was the very first form of validation I’d had on a large scale for anything (Hockey didn’t seem to count). I’d had some validation prior to that for my writing but never for music – my true passion. (I’ve always believed in the power of simple song over five hundred pages of Crime and Punishment.) Anyway, there I was feeling the rush of idolatry, hubris, pure joy….all without any chemical enhancement. Imagine that? When I was done, I left the stage and walked through the gymnasium floor to my table where I was seated beside two girls. Lisa and Cindy. Lisa was a girl I knew from high-school but was hardly into. Cindy on the other hand was a real beauty. Sandy blonde hair, big blue eyes. I couldn’t stop fixating on her. We really hit it off too and just as we were getting lost in the moment, the priest came along and partnered me up with Lisa.

Lisa ended up being cool in her own right. We both took delight in tearing down the proceedings of the weekend. We were pretending to be tough misfits. She knew my gang all too well and knew we weren’t bad guys – just lifelong friends who were partying like everyone else (only difference was the Catholic connection which made it more strict in our households – or so I’ve come to conclude). We had to sing a spiritual song to each other and do something called sharing “Palanka” which was a gift with the other person. It meant opening up to the other individual. I’ll never forget how over the course of those two days, my opening up to this random girl in these circumstances began to feel very real. I listened to her she listened to me and then suddenly you want to tell her everything. You are telling her everything. She’s telling you everything. Then it’s break time and you’re hungry and overtired and you don’t know what time it is and then you’re back to listening to stories about Christ. Then it’s more sharing – more playing the guitar – and WHAMO – you’re suddenly wanting to be with this girl. How could this happen? Was it divine intervention? I wasn’t into her at all 48 hours ago and now I’m some love struck fool!
Oh to be seventeen again. The weekend went on and as fate would have it, my slow disregard for Cindy made her more open to my friendship. Whatever was happening with Lisa all went away when I looked at Cindy (likely a metaphor for my future bachelorhood existence – ‘My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble” – thanks Wilcox). That taught me something. If you really want a girls attention – ignore her.

The weekend ended with all sixty of us kids on Sunday evening holding hands and running in a big circle facing each other in the gym – singing a religious song. As we were doing this, the curtains at the half of the gym opened up to all of the parents seated in folding chairs watching us. It was surreal.
One by one, we were asked to go to the podium to reveal to audience ‘how we met Jesus’. By this time, my brain was so doused in liquid Sunlight and scrubbed clean with blessed SOS pads that I walked up to the mic and gave Jesus some mighty high praise for saving my bacon. I mean, I was a hair away from turning into Faldwell or Baker (minus the hookers, blow and embezzlement). Yep, I was now a Catholic Youth (isn’t that cadence a little scary? Sound familiar?) It wasn’t until about a year later that my mom said she regretted the entire Option B plan. Even mom, who is to this day a faithful Catholic and perhaps one of the kindest souls on the planet, said she had reservations after she heard my speech that day.
I came out of this confinement to the golden dusk of a Sunday evening coming down.  Sporting an extra large wooden crucifix around my neck and feeling pure and pumped up about this new girl I’d met. Cindy too had given me her phone number and asked me to join her at a PCP Party they were having in a few weeks with all of the kids from the retreat.
“A PCP party? Cindy, that doesn’t sound right?”
“It stands for pop, chips and parents silly! You want to come?”
“Sure, I’d love to come along!”

For my lifelong friends to see me walk up to the lunch table on Monday wearing a gigantic wooden crucifix on the outside of my shirt must have been akin to seeing a alien life form walking the hallways of our school. “Alien High” Starring ….Reverend Ferley!
Yup, as they tell me, the gang was sitting around the lunch table using high-school vernacular pretending to be Jr. Sopranos.
“Yeah so that fuckin guy went over and did some of that shit…and holy fuck…shit…mother…who wants to go for a smoke?” etc…
“Excuse me guys”, I righteously exclaimed, ” would you please refrain from swearing?”
To which the entire table laughed hysterically as I turtled into my new uber-Catholic persona. I only found comfort in Lisa – the one girl in highschool who could relate to this new found reality. We went together for a year. It felt real at the time but looking back it was simply ‘another brick in the wall’. Looking back we were both just lucky to be dodging bullets. If anything came of it, two of my very best friends have been married ever since those days and are still going stronger then ever!!!
The holy-roller stuff officially ended with me screwing around with the crucifix chain on the back of my neck until it slipped off. I went to pick it up and accidentally dropped it into the sewer directly in front of my house. YES – THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED – IRONY ALERT!!! It wasn’t before too long I was back to throwing roaches and cig butts back in that same sewer. Oh and by the way, I went to the PCP party right around the time the brainwashing was fading and found that Cindy was simply a nice straight-laced Catholic girl and her friends were very conservative. Likely she would have been the one to pursue – nothing wrong with pure goodness. I was always the chump going for the first one that chose me. lol
So, here I am, writing this entire diatribe on floods, fires, females, hanging crosses, crosses to bare and songs to sing – all while resting in a deathly quiet room once inhabited by two nuns. What did they talk about? Did they share secrets the way I did at the retreat? Who were they? How many came through this room?  Can you imagine dedicating your life to a concept? It truly amazes me. Oh wait…that’s what I’m doing.  Songwriting – Nice.

I felt a very warm calm come over me when I landed here yesterday. It was like I was meant to be here to reflect on these past few months and the hardships folks have suffered.

The great side of religion and faith is that it does offer some hope to the hopeless. What’s wrong with that? You can keep the dogma and institutionalized lunacy (from my humble perspective). What I think is cool is that these beautiful sentiments passed along from all world religions, our little superstitions give us something to hold on to in dark times – well…just maybe they aren’t all that bad either. I called home today to tell mom and dad that I was sleeping in a convent. My mom said “Well…it’s Sunday Jamie…did you go to church today?”
“Mom, you ever heard of Tom T. Hall? He wrote a song I love called ‘Me and Jesus Got our Own Thing Going”.
“No I’ve never heard of it but I guess that’s an okay way to look at it!”
“Thanks for the free pass ma!”
“Just try to be good son.”

Halfway Home
we were brought into this we had no choice
taught to repent we learn to rejoice
and I fear this god might be all in our mind
our way of easing the passing of time
but what if these fables all come to pass
or the answer exists in one blade of grass
maybe we’re all just molecular mass
compounds of solids, liquids and gas
and it’s all I know is I know nothing at all
a picture of Darwin appears in my hall
and outside the leaves start to fall

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Today, I am reminded of how fortunate and blessed we are living in Canada during peaceful times. Today is International Holocaust Day today and we should all give pause and prayers. I was fourteen years old when I discovered my oldest brothers University text books in our basement bedroom bookshelf. Wedged between Aristotle and Plato – I found a tiny little paperback entitled ‘Night’ by Eli Wiesel. Likely too young to be reading this book without explanation or emotional preparation, it forever changed my life. For years I was terrified by the images, the stories, and graphic depiction laid out in this novel. This powerful narrative of a boy and his father in the Auschwitz concentration camps in Nazi Germany…it left a mark so deep that I knew I would forever be a pacifist. After studying the great political philosophers, I stumbled into a course entitled WAR in my 3rd year – taught by the amazing Professor John Sigler. He emphasized the first line of the text (paraphrasing) – “Ask yourself this one question: Do you believe that mankind is intrinsically good or evil?” Part of the analysis of this answer involved the Holocaust. How could this be possible? How could humanity allow this? What are we capable of? I cannot express how it makes me feel but I will simply say that today I will say a few prayers to that great ? in the sky hoping that we’ll all figure how to coexist peacefully. I believe that we are intrinsically good in spite of contradictory evidence. Last night I had the strangest dream….


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