Tag Archives: Suzie Vinnick

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.

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings To Play In Collingwood

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings will be playing at concert at Collingwood’s Historic Gayety Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 26th, the second stop on their new tour to promote their latest album “Kings And Kings”, released late last year.  After the kickoff concert at Massey Hall the night before, they will coming up to the southern shore of Georgian Bay at the behest local music promoter Steven Vipond.  “Steve’s an angel,” says Blackie co-founder Tom Wilson, “and you need guys like that in the community who do it for the music”.  Local fans can be grateful indeed to have a chance to see a band of this quality.

Willie P. Bennett

Although they are categorized as “Americana” music, Blackie And The Rodeo Kings are to some extent the archtypical Canadian band.  They began as a gesture of love toward the legendary singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett (taking their name from one of his songs), who ranked high in their collective esteem.  “Willie’s music was just so powerful,” says Wilson, “but just when it looked like success for him was just down the road, he would always take a turn right into the ditch.  This was our way of supporting what he gave all of us”

The three principals who came together to make up Blackie And The Rodeo Kings, Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson were already highly respected Canadian talents at the time, with Junos, platinum sales and even film appearances in their individual histories.  It wasn’t so much a matter of them hitching their fortunes to Willie P. Bennett’s as it was of hitching his star to theirs.  And this reflects an essential element of the band’s mindset: they exist not just to promote their own (formidable) talents but to share with their audience the talents of other (mainly Canadian) artists for whom they have the greatest respect.

It began with “High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett” twenty years ago.  As they continued to record new albums, they added tributes to other great and sometimes underrated Canadian tunesmiths such as Bruce Cockburn, Fred J. Eaglesmith and David Wiffen.  In a band that had excellent songwriters built in, it was inevitable that they would eventually record albums that were all originals of their own.  But that would never be a permanent situation.  Their sixth album, “Kings and Queens” was a collection that brought their favourite female artists to join them on each track.  Along with high profile American artists like Roseanne Cash and Emmylou Harris, they included such Canadian treasures as Mary Margaret O’Hara, Holly Cole, and Serena Ryder.  Their sequel, “Kings And Kings” teams them up with another mix of great talents, male this time, that includes vocal as well as composition credits from Bruce Cockburn, Rodney Crowell, Nick Lowe and Dallas Green, among others.  And they haven’t forgotten Willie P., including on the album his song “This Lonesome Feeling” brought to life by Vince Gill.

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings have become, as a band, a great Canadian treasure in their own right.  But they have never forgotten nor ignored the idols of their youth, stretching back to the days when Colin and Tom haunted the coffee houses of the day to catch performance by the artists they continue to pay tribute to.

These days you can count the Canadians winning Grammy Awards to find ample evidence that Canadian music is appreciated well beyond our borders, but it wasn’t always that way and these three guys have been around long enough to remember how tough it has always been for Canadian talent.  If you listen to songs like David Wiffen’s “Coast To Coast Fever” or Willie P. Bennett’s “White Lines” you get a stark portrait of how difficult it has been in the past for Canadian original talent to succeed.  Wilson says they still end every concert with “White Lines”, a song that inspired him to make music his life’s work.

Tom Wilson with his paintings

Tom Wilson has always been a triple threat creative artists and, like his bandmates, he pursues other projects outside of Blackie.  One of Colin Linden’s recent gigs has been as technical supervisor on the TV show “Nashville”.  And Stephen Fearing, in order to join the others on this tour, has had to insert it into his own solo tour, flying in from the U.K. just before the kickoff Massey Hall show, and then picking up his own tour after this tour ends in mid-March.  Tom Wilson has always been musician, artist, and writer simultaneously.  These days he earns a third of his income from his paintings and he’s currently contracted to Random House for a memoir he’s writing with Dave Bidini of The Rheostatics, due out this fall.

To itemize the careers of these three extraordinary creative artists would require a book in itself but it is worth spending a few moments looking at another Tom Wilson project because of what it says about Canadian music and his personal dedication to it.  That project is a band called LeE HARVey OsMond, formed by Wilson in 2009 as a collective that includes members of The Cowboy Junkies, The Skydiggers and 3’s a Crowd (along with Suzie Vinnick).  Like Blackie And The Rodeo Kings, it’s a band that also carries the history of Canadian folk-rock in its personnel, and it is a band built around a specific vision.

Suzie Vinnick Sets The Standard for the Gallery Series

Review by Bill Monahan of Suzie Vinnick Concert, Jan. 28 at Meaford Hall

Suzie Vinnick kicked off the Meaford Hall Gallery Series on Saturday night with a warm engaging show that set the standard for the series of six concerts.

The Gallery Series was born of necessity because the Opera House can’t be used during renovations to the balcony, but it has created something which provides unique value for live music fans with high quality acoustic performers in an intimate setting.  Tables were set up in the Gallery of Meaford Hall to create a setting that seemed a hybrid of house concert and coffee house.  It provided an ideal environment to enjoy the music of performers who seem like they belong in a larger venue, in a small room that, despite the proximity of the cash bar, encouraged the audience to remain quiet and attentive during the performance.  With Al Burnham on the mixer, it was guaranteed that the sound would be high quality, tailored to the room.  The lights were not turned down so that the performer could see the audience, encouraging interaction.  Suzie Vinnick made the most of it, speaking to various members of the audience directly, even encouraging one table to leave so they didn’t miss their ride, and engaging the audience in some call-and response moments.  While the sound of an entire audience singing along didn’t quite match the magic of when that happens in the Opera House, it was enough interaction to encourage both Suzie and her audience.

Suzie Vinnick is the winner of multiple Maple Blues Awards for a variety of talents, including vocals, guitar, bass and songwriting.  All of these skills were on display on Saturday night.

As a vocalist, she has a soulful quality that even enhances her humming.  She can go from a sensuous bluesy growl to a beautiful soprano in a single line and it’s clear that the direction her vocals take arise from a deep inner feeling rather than an intent to impress.  Her guitar playing has the same quality.  Although she is capable of intricate rhythmic blues runs on the guitar, she knows enough to save the pyrotechnics as spice in a dish that is built around flavour, sticking to simple strumming when that is what best suits the song.  As with her singing, it seems that her guitar playing is driven by her heart.

I didn’t expect to see an example of her bass playing but she treated us to a song called Danger Zone, which she learned from the great slide player (and her teenage hero) Ellen McIlwaine, accompanying herself only with her Sheldon Dingwall designer bass.  While it is a beautiful instrument, brought to life by her playing, she admitted sheepishly that she chose the guitar because of its colour, called Fifth Marguerita Green.

Suzie is a great collaborator, co-writing songs and winning competitions with a list of great songwriters that included one-time touring partner Rick Fines, blues great Matt Anderson, and Dan Kershaw, one of my all-time favourite songwriters.  In addition to these co-writes, she performed a lot of her own compositions and a number of covers from unexpected places, including Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Tom Waits, Roy Forbes (Bim) and even (in the encore) Bruce Springsteen.  But every song she sang became her own through her great ability to inhabit the song.  Hearing how she infused these songs with such emotion brought to mind that old phrase, she could “sing the phone book and it would sound great”.

With such multi-faceted talents, it seems surprising that she is so self-effacing, but of course she is Canadian and we Canadians appreciate that sort of thing.  She considers it something she still has to work through but it is part of her charm.  She commented that although she has been performing since she was a teenager and she’s now in her forties, she still gets nervous before every show.  You’ll see no sign of nerves when she’s playing but her down-to-earth modesty about her talent had the effect of drawing everyone in the room closer to her.  It was helped by the fact that, with the lights undimmed, we all knew she could see us, and we felt more connected.

The show seemed to be quite short but it wasn’t.  I guess it’s an indication of a great performance when you wish it would go on for a few more hours.

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Blues Great Suzie Vinnick In The Intimacy of the Meaford Hall Gallery

This Saturday, Suzie Vinnick will perform the first of the first of the intimate concerts to be held in the gallery of Meaford Hall, while the balcony in the Opera House is being renovated, a series called The Gallery Concert Series.  Every act booked for this series has something special to offer and with Suzie Vinnick, it is starting out strong.

Suzie Vinnick is the kind of blues artist that attracts awards.  She’s won ten Maple Blues Awards, for her singing, her songwriting and even her bass playing.  She won the 2012 CBC Saturday Night Blues Great Canadian Blues Award and the 2012 SIRIUS/XM Blues Artist of the Year.  It all began for her when she recorded her first solo acoustic blues album, called “Me ‘n Mable”, referring to her guitar.  It immediately attracted attention from Bill Wax, who at the time was program director of a SiriusXM radio show called BB King’s Bluesville, which was often co-hosted by the blues legend.  She spent seven weeks on the show’s “Picks To Click” feature, reaching number three.  “Me ‘n Mabel” received a 2012 Juno nomination and led to international touring and rave reviews, not to mention the use of her music in several TV commercials and the movie “A Touch of Grey”.

Check out this excerpt from the house concert TV series “The Neighbors Dog”:

Mike Agranoff of The Minstrel, has written, “When Saskatoon native Suzie Vinnick takes the stage, she takes it from footlights to rafters and owns it. She can belt out a blues or croon a ballad with equal deftness. Her guitar work is effortlessly commanding and supremely tasteful. But it is mostly her powerful presence that leaves a lasting impression. This lady is a force of nature with a six-string guitar. You’ve got to experience her to understand.”

Suzie performs powerfully as a solo act, as a duo or as a full band. She has toured nationally with Stuart McLean’s The Vinyl Café and the John McDermott Band. Suzie made her New York City debut in 2011 supporting John Hammond at a free outdoor stage in Madison Square Park Conservancy and has performed for Canadian Peacekeepers in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf.

Her collaborations include The Marigolds, a band with Gwen Swick and Caitlin Hanford, and tours with Rick Fines which whom she shared a Maple Blues Songwriter of The Year awardfor their 2006 joint release, “Nothing Halfway”.  She’s also co-written with blues great Rita Chiarelli.

Saturday night in the Gallery will showcase Suzie and Mabel, her trusty guitar in an ideal setting for blues fans.

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