Tag Archives: Stephen Fearing

Tom Wilson Shares a Stirring Story of Family Secrets Mixed With Songs

by Bill Monahan
Feature Photo by Donna Harper

On Tuesday, Feb. 20th, CROW Bar and Variety in Collingwood is presenting the first of “The Crow Sessions” dinner shows, where they bring an artist who combines story with song and encourage the audience to, as Steven Vipond puts it, “Shut up and listen.”  These shows are special enough for the audience to set aside their chatter and do just that.

And the kickoff in the series is very special by any measure.  Tom Wilson of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, will talk about his memoir, “Beautiful Scars” and sing songs related to the story.

“I’m kind of out for the next year-and-a-half or so concentrating on doing  what I call literary recitals, consisting of either what I’ll be doing in Collingwood which is piano accompaniment and myself, all the way up to a 21-piece orchestra which I did last month in Hamilton and will be doing in Ottawa and Calgary, etc.  This is me being able to combine the story of my book along with the music that I’ve been writing for the last year around the book.”

And what a compelling story that book contains.  Since its release last year by Doubleday, “Beautiful Scars” (the book, not to be confused with the song or the album of the same name that Tom has recorded) has impressed critics.

Scott Merritt Emerges From The Cottage

by Bill Monahan (photo courtesy of Randy Sutherland)

If you are someone who recognizes the name Scott Merritt as a songwriter of promise from the 1980’s who toured with Jane Siberry and recorded with Daniel Lanois, then it’s as if you’ve been let in on a special secret.

Despite releasing only three albums in the past twenty-five years, Scott Merritt is still considered one of Canada’s best and most underappreciated singer-songwriters.

After some commercial airplay of his early songs, he was signed to Duke Street in Canada and IRS Records internationally.  Unfortunately both labels folded not long afterward.   A legal mess with IRS prevented him from recording for several years but he wasn’t entirely frustrated with the situation.  He hadn’t been particularly comfortable being marketed as a commodity.

“Yeah, my hands were tied, but I wasn’t in much of a mood to raise a stink to be honest,” he explained to Innerviews, “I had become SCOTT MERRITT in capital letters and it didn’t feel real anymore. There was a toxic feeling to it at an artistic level. So, I.R.S. had me in a position, but I wasn’t in any position to record anyway. I didn’t want to go back into that factory. I had really got to a place where it wasn’t fun and I had to promise to myself — something most of us do, but never keep — when it’s not fun to do, do something else for a while. So, at the time, the idea of a career wasn’t very attractive. I lost my taste for it.”

Since those early days, when promising record deals bloomed and withered with the vagaries of the business, Scott Merritt has spent most of his time working as a producer in his Guelph studio that he calls The Cottage.  Artists like Suzie Vinnick, Stephen Fearing, and others have made their pilgrimage to The Cottage for his producing services.

While he has released relatively few records in his career what they have in common is that every one has been greeted by effusive critical praise for an artist whose music and lyrics both come from a unique and moving place.

When he was young and riding high, Scott Merritt had a reputation and something of a guitar and effects wizard which stood alongside his reputation for evocative and poetic lyrics.  He never thought of himself as a commercial artist.  It took him by surprise when his second independent album “Serious Interference” in 1981 ended up on some commercial radio playlists and labels came calling.  The tours and awards were short-lived and strangely unsatisfying.

The Thursday Outlook – Oct. 19 to 23, 2017

The Band That Kills Hate, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, is coming back to spread their vibe and their amazing music in our area, with a show on Sunday evening at Meaford Hall.  Along with killing hate and putting on a show that rocks the house, this is a band that represents the best in Canadian song writing.  Originally founded as a tribute to the late Willie P. Bennett, the band was conceived as a fun side project for the three artists (Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing) who all have their own careers, and two decades later they still bring that fun of an all-star jam to every show.  Throughout their career they have consistently made a point of shining the spotlight on Canadian songwriters and others from the wide world of music.  Touring with them recently is Tom Wilson’s son, Thompson Wilson, who dispels any hint of nepotism with engaging original songs performed solo on acoustic guitar.  Blackie and The Rodeo Kings is a band that every Canadian music fan should see and there’s no better venue for that than Meaford Hall.

Owen Sound based songwriter, Larry Jensen, whose original songs have spawned a tribute album by the leading lights of the local music scene, will be performing a special concert tonight at The Bleeding Carrot, starting at 7 pm.  This is an ideal small venue to be able to really enjoy the songs and stories he weaves.

Jacelyn Holmes, whose press touts her as a blend of Marilyn Monroe and Stevie Nicks, is at The Huron Club in Collingwood for the weekend.  Following her showcase performance at the 2017 Juno Awards she’s released a smoky blues single, “Fool”, and is working on an upcoming album.

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings Energize a Quiet Sunday In Collingwood

Review by Bill Monahan of Blackie And The Rodeo Kings at The Gayety Theatre, Feb. 26, 2017

On Hurontario Street in Collingwood, normally quiet on a Sunday night, all the parking spaces were filled both sides of 3rd Street, and people were streaming from them to the Historical Gayety Theatre.  Inside, the capacity crowd had arrived early, anxious to see Blackie And The Rodeo Kings.  Before the concert even began it was clear that this was going to be a great show.  There was already so much excitement in the audience and that is a major ingredient in any concert’s success.  We all knew that this concert was a special gift.  This renowned band, celebrating twenty years together, is the closest thing we have in Canada to a Supergroup, comprised of Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson, each legendary in his own right.  Just the night before they had kicked off their latest tour with a sold out show at Massey Hall in Toronto, and for them to be playing a relatively small hall in Collingwood seemed too good to be true.

We can thank Steven Vipond, as much a fan as he is a promoter, for going out on a limb to make it happen.  He’s loved this band since buying a cassette of their first release, “High And Hurtin’ – The Songs of Willie P. Bennett” two decades ago, and they love him back.  “If it wasn’t for Steve,” Tom Wilson said at one point in the concert, “We’d be sitting in a motel room in Sault Ste. Marie, watching reruns on TV.”  They’ll be playing there Monday night and thanks to Steve they were able to get part way there tonight and play a show instead of chilling in a motel.

“Spreading the love is what we do,” Tom Wilson said.  The band’s slogan, “This Band Kills Hate” was emblazoned on a backdrop at the back of the stage, and on the T-shirts they were selling.  As Wilson pointed out, they are not a political band.  They had been formed through a mutual love of the music of Willie P. Bennett and the main ingredient that makes them such an uplifting experience to see is the love that they clearly have for each other.

It’s a family thing.  The opening act, with just a handful of original songs, was Thompson Wilson, Tom’s son, whom Stephen Fearing remembers as a four year old in the wings when the band began way back when.  His voice in not like the bass profundo of his father, it’s closer to Ian Tyson.  His songs are immediately likeable, set firmly in the singer-songwriter tradition, and they were delivered with a great confidence and authority.

Before the band began its long set, Stephen Fearing, took a few minutes to tell us about a charity they are promoting on this tour, as part of their determination to “kill hate”.  Care Canada has been working around the world for seventy years to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice, centred particularly on the rights of women and children.  Not only do they have one of the lowest administration rates of any charity, they help millions around the world by lending money to women to expand their horizons, a worthy cause if there ever was one.

And then the music started.  It was, from the first chord, a joyous celebration, fueled by these three great talents and Colin Linden’s long time rhythm section, Johnny Dymond on bass and Gary Craig on drums.  The songs were roaring with energy and full of heart.  The singular talents of each member shone through as they took turns front and centre: Colin’s stratospheric slide guitar, Stephen’s “Irish tenor” and Tom’s deeply resonant bass vocals.  When they did a Willie P. Bennett song they exploded with an energy that surpassed anything that Willie P. had ever done, without losing the cry from the heart that was a central element of every one of his compositions.  And their take on The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood”, which Colin considered “the best song every written about this country” soared.

But every song soared.  The band was loose and “making it up as we go along,” as Wilson said at one point, “This is semi-professional entertainment”.  There were a few times when everything paused while they decided what to do next.  You could hear someone off-mic saying “Okay, we don’t have to do that one, we can do something else…”  But the audience was so into it, these short delays were no problem.  And whichever song they chose, they did a killer performance of it.

Two songs in particular stood out for me.  One was “The Long Walk To Freedom”, written for Nelson Mandela by Stephen Fearing and Reeny Smith, a beautiful evocation of what freedom really means in these “interesting times”.  Another was “Beautiful Scars”, co-written by Tom and Thomson Wilson, performed by both of them with the band, a song about the bittersweet life of a musician on the road.  “I heard Thompson singing around the house something he had written,” said Tom, “And I thought ‘I need to get a piece of that’”.

It was one of those concerts that seemed to end too soon, even though they played for two hours.  Everyone in the audience knew they had got their money’s worth and more.  How lucky we all were to see a band such as this so close to home.

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