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.
DUCKS UNLIMMITED CHARITY ACUTION AND MEAT DRAW
FEATURING OLD TIME COUNTRY MUSIC BY JAKE RIVERS
to be continued….