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. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
WESTERN TOUR DATES FOR 2015 SUMMER (with band)
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.