Tag Archives: Georgia Strait

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.

Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer Bring Special Tuesday Treat for Blues Fans

The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer are stopping at Meaford Hall on a Tuesday night, April 11th, as they tour to support their new album Apocalipstick.  They began their tour closer to home in B.C. and this week they’re making that long trek from Thunder Bay to Toronto to start the Ontario part of the tour.  An ideal stopover is at Meaford on Tuesday night.  Luckily for them they get to play the newly revamped Opera House, now with improved balcony seating and state of the art sound.  Luckily for local fans we get to see this west coast blues duo live in our own town.

The band’s name, like The Barenaked Ladies, is an attention grabber.  When you understand that the axe murderer means a mean guitar player and the harpoonist means “took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana and was blowin’ sad while Bobby sang the blues.”, the name makes sense.

Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers met in a Vancouver studio while recording a jingle for a pizza place in 2006.  Shawn worked as a microwave truck operator for CITY-TV Vancouver and Matthew already had a reputation as a “serious” composer, writing film scores and a commission from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.  When they got together with their mutual interest in the blues, it clicked.  They started a duo, gave it what Peter Goddard calls “a wonderfully idiosyncratic, utterly unforgettable name” and immediately began to attract attention.

HAM also has great posters and cover art

They rigged up percussion that they could play themselves which made for a great live show as well as great blues.  They get their feet going with their foot drums and percussion while harpooning and singing.

They put their own twist on the blues.  “We take the blues and do something different with it,” they told Peter Goddard, “We take a lot of our inspiration from the really early blues guys like Robert Johnson who didn’t always play 12-bar blues, but had this rather skewed approach to the music. For us the blues is just a good starting point.”

Shawn is the front guy and the singer.  Michael writes the songs, creating an interesting process of channelling a lot of Shawn’s “crap that has gone on in my life in writing for me.”

Their first release in 2007 was entirely covers of traditional blues, their next release mixed in some originals, and by the time they released Checkered Past in 2012 they were getting into some interesting modern twists, their different influences coming out in their work.

Mike Usinger  in his 2012 Georgia Strait review said, “Where Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers differ from the industry blueprint on Checkered Past is that they actually sound like they might have been to the Mississippi Delta. Or at least sat down and listened to a Robert Johnson boxed set from start to finish. The first thing you notice on the emotive opener, “Shake It”, is that these guys come off as traditionalists with no desire to fix something that ain’t broken.”

Watch them perform “Shake It” with Dawn Pemberton on Exclaim! TV. September 10, 2015.

Gian Karla Limcango summarized the band’s appeal in the Vancouver Weekly:

“Many bands have incorporated the elements and style of blues in their music but The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer does it traditionally. Inspired by the pioneers and masters of blues such as BB King, John Hurt, Bling Willie McTell, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, they have innovatively crafted their sound to its bluesy perfection, always returning to their roots and the roots of music. Sticking to the format of the original blues performances which is having just one or two guys singing, playing the guitar and stomping their feet, just made this duo a true blues act. Ultimately, HAM introduced the old sound to the new generation and showed everyone how blues should be played”.

You will be hearing the name a lot as The Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer continue to attract attention, inevitably moving on to bigger venues.  Thanks to Canadian geography we have a lucky chance to see them at Meaford Hall this Tuesday, 8 p.m.

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Click on the album cover to hear music from The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer: