The down side of interviewing a rockabilly band is that you don't come away with a notebook full of pithy, controversial quotes about social injustice, music industry indifference or teenage angst. Why not? Glad you asked. Because....
One, rockabilly songs tend to be less about cataclysmic themes like nuclear winter and more about interpersonal cataclysms like love's fading bloom -- to whit songs like "Cooin' the Wrong Pigeon" and "If You Do, I'm Riding Too." Two, if, as Ronnie Hayward contends, the origins of rockabilly can be traced to the recordings of Jimmy Rogers (circa 1927-33), then labels have been releasing rockabilly for some 70 years and do so today at a prodigious rate, although for what is clearly a niche market. Three, the survival of the music is underpinned by unquestioning affection and a sense of tradition that enthralls its fans and practitioners, young and old, alike.
In the case of 34-year-old Hayward, vocalist and bassist for the Ronnie Hayward Trio, "I was the youngest in a large family. My parents were a lot older so they played music that was a lot older. I liked the sound of it." Affection, plain and simple. For electric guitarist and British transplant, Pete Turland, 28, it was the death of Elvis in 1977, his brother's purchase of a tribute compilation, and the cut "My Baby Left Me" that, "did it for me." He immediately began searching out earlier material in the same musical vein 'til he found the comfort factor: rockabilly. Meanwhile, rhythm guitarist Darwin Fisher, 28, driven by the opinion that the music of his youth -- of the late 70's and early 80's -- "wasn't very interesting," went looking for a period when things were "really happening musically." Tradition. He settled on the 50's, exclusively, ended up in a jug band and was eventually asked by Hayward to join the trio. It was a wise, as they say in 90's jargon, career move.
Because? Because the future looks bright for this backward-looking trio. Their current locally-recorded release, Gotta Get It On, a 10-song, 10-inch, vinyl-only offering on Britain's Fury label has world-wide distribution. Almost. It isn't available in Canada (could there be a pithy quote in that?), but not by the band's choice -- Canada's just "not a major rockabilly market."
However, a 15-song CD Move Around on the local indie label Eastside Records is due for imminent release and will be available locally. This material, plus some nine additional songs, will eventually be released world-wide, except in Canada, also by Fury. INTERESTING QUESTION: How many other bands, local or otherwise, can boast the release of over 30 cuts in a single year? OBVIOUS QUALIFIER: Most not at home?
The band, international in its outlook and relatively under-appreciated in Canada, is just as busy with live performances. (Could this be leading up to a pithy, controversial quote?) In April, the trio heads to the UK and Europe for a minimum three-week tour, with solid bookings well in hand and more coming in. Highlights include three nights in Amsterdam, gigs in the UK and Germany, a possible booking in France and an invitation to perform at an annual British rockabilly festival.
Early January saw them do a U.S. swing of two nights in Portland and one night in Seattle. Average attendance ranged well over 300 for each show. Gigs in Vancouver at similar venues might pull 80 or less. Small surprise that Hayward and Turland play with other local groups -- blues, R&B and basic rock 'n roll -- to keep themselves busy, and, one presumes, their heads above water. And which does lead to some, yes, pointed, if not pithy, quotes.
"Canada isn't very open-minded to the past," opines Hayward. Harsh words. "Everyone's too concerned with being modern and up-to-date." Which is a shame because there's been an active, and noteworthy, rockabilly scene in Vancouver since the 70's. "Right now there are just three or four bands, the least there's ever been," he laments. And there could soon be one less.
The European tour is starting to look like a relocation. Hayward already has a good following there. "Rockabilly gets a lot more airplay [in Europe]," says Hayward, and the move would put him a lot closer to places like Sweden, from which he regularly receives royalty cheques. And European music journalists would doubtless love to jump on quotes such as (are you ready), "Canada doesn't really offer much to anyone -- musically or otherwise."
Ah, controversy. Ah, angst. And, ah, could there be a deeper, darker, highly symbolic interpretation to the Hayward-penned, previously-mentioned "If You Do, I'm Riding Too"? Couldn't it really be a song about fan indifference and infidelity, the band's (and others') inability to earn a good living in a city that wastes millions of dollars on over-the-hill opera singers that act as ill-mannered and contemptuous of their fans as former rock stars Oasis, and... and... and...
All kidding aside, where else do so many musician stories seem to end on this note?
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