Category Archives: Canada
We just played our first gig in seven months as a band. If you recall bassist Ed Hanrahan had double knee surgery and has been on the disabled list since last year. But we got to Sweetwater 905 Festival outside Rolla BC and hit the stage at midnight firing wildly in all directions. Ed was so happy to be back. We were so happy to have him back. We were so happy to be back. The crowd exploded with joy and so did we. So we’re back!!
That same weekend we also recorded 3.5 hours of footage for a 3.5 minute long music video that’s in production. No More Trouble In the Peace will be the first official music video of this album – and with any luck it’ll be public midsummer. Josh Trotter Wanner did the filming with us in locations such as the Sweetwater Festival, the Rolla Pub, the Peace River and more.
The album No More Trouble in the Peace is now mastered and the artwork layout has begun. The album will be released in mid-September and we are currently booking the release shows which I ambitiously hope will take place in many towns across the BC. More on that later.
We are still raising money for the record and desperately need support…all the money we raised so far has already been spent on production. Please go to: https://www.gofundme.com/joeyonlyoutlawbandand give us your childrens college fund. In return we’ll say a healing prayer for you or something
Upcoming shows!! You can find us at the Haney in Maple Ridge on July 8th and the next night (July 9) in Vancouver at the Rickshaw Theatre with a slew of great bands such as Devil in the Woodshack. It’ll be a legendary show, all the bands involved are noteworthy!
There’s a rumour we’ll be opening for a famous Canadian classic rock band in July as well but no confirmation on that yet.
Then I’ll be in Bonnyville Alberta on July 23rd for Malcolm Maclean and Jeny Soucy’s wedding with Edmonton’s best outlaw band the Give Em Hellboys. The rodeo is in town there that weekend so I’ll be playing a show there as well as another in Red Deer (which will be announced in two weeks time).
The end of July brings Artswells which I will play at for the 11th consecutive time. I have now played more Artswells Festivals than any other singer songwriter. The line-up looks great again this year.
The next weekend I attend once again an annual private party called Camballah before we get to Robson Valley Music Fest the next weekend on August 13th. August 20th we’ll be at Music On the Mountain in Fort St.James opening up for the legendary punk band DOA. My summer season always ends with Barkerville Cowboy Festival on September 10th.
From that point forward we start our CD release shows…details on that will come out next month! Already I can tell you we’ll be at the WISE Hall in Vancouver on October 9th!! This is gonna be a fun summer…but I’m already looking forward to the fall and our album launch.
March 3rd 2016 will mark 10 years since the first Outlaw Band pilot show at Spartacus Books in Vancouver BC. Today’s blog is about how the first of the original six members joined the band in 2006. Even to this day members of the original six have been known to occasionaly back me up for a show. Some of them have played more than 300 shows in the Outlaw Band. I owe them much thanks…
MEMBER #1: CHRISTINA ZIPPY ZAENKER:
Meeting Zippy was one of those life changing flukes that seem so ordinary at the time. But 10 years later you realize that everything about your life began to change because of this one or two things that innocently came together. Zippy helped form the vision of the band, helped introduce me to my hometown of Wells BC and even helped me survive a terrible disease that would like to have beaten me.
For all these things to happen I first had to become friends with Zippy Zaenker. In order to befriend Zippy I had to unknowingly set myself up for the occasion by making a series of choices that seemed inconsequential at the time. A number of things could have happened differently which may have led to us never meeting and never becoming friends at all. Thankfully things played out how they did because Zippy is still an important friend in my life.
SMELLS LIKE QUESNEL
In the summer of 2005 there was this 18 year old named Jesse Matthies who decided to throw some punk shows in his hometown of Quesnel BC. He invited me up to play with no gaurantee of success but because I had never been to the Cariboo Region I decided it was worth the gamble. At the very least it would give me another opportunity to road trip to a part of the province I hadn’t seen. Jesse and I had already met in Vancouver the winter before but it was during this trip Quesnel where Jesse and I became lifelong friends.
Hanging out in his parents basement one night we started jamming on a country standard when somewhere out of the blue I started improvising some words with my sore and broken voice. The two of us were almost laying down because we were so baked and playing our guitars very passively, somehow from this innocent moment a new pathway in my life opened up.
“Hey you know, that’s funny, we should write a song out of this right now. Ever co-write a song?”
So right then and there we jotted some words down together collaboratively constructing the framework of the song in a matter of 20 minutes. The song we wrote was called Smells Like Quesnel’s Teen Spirit…but was later shortened to Smells Like Quesnel, was reworked, hooks and solo’s added and then later finalized.
As the evening wore on I said something to the effect of, “it’s a good song, we should do something with it. I kinda got an idea for half an album already and some tracks recorded, we should do a split record with your band.”
Jesse thought it was a great idea, before the night was over we had an agreement for a basic framework for the production. I went back down to Vancouver to get a bunch of gear while Jesse organized another punk show in Quesnel with the intention of helping pay for my trip back to the Cariboo. That show became the legendary drunkfest of 2005 as swarms of teenagers converged on the Elks Hall to see the Effigy, the Hippiecritz, the Tups and the Taberfucks.
With a weeks work we threw together the album QUESNEL COUNTY COUNTRY PUNK CONSPIRACY at Effigy member David McKillicans house…it just so happened that 15 year old David was already a sensational drummer and his father owned a useful music studio. Although David’s dad Barry took great care to not get involved and let us figure the whole thing out for ourselves he was still real supportive in other ways. This was how I first became friends with Quesnel’s infamous music family the McKillicans.
This was my second recording I had released and it wasn’t really selling all that well compared to Radical Folk. There were also some issues with the sound quality having too much bass due to our lack of understanding on mixing and mastering. After hearing the final product I thought maybe we should have asked Barry to help us with the recording. Then there was the fact that a lot of my folk music fans weren’t all that interested in the punk band at the end of the record.
Despite all those draw backs somehow or another Christina Zippy Zaenkers attention was drawn to the song Smells Like Quesnel. I still don’t know how she first heard it. It so conveniently happened that she was on the board of directors of a fledgling festival near Quesnel called Artswells Festival of All Things Art. Zippy thought it was a hilarious song, without being too disrespectful, and showed it to the other members of Artswells board.
Quesnel smells like the pulp and paper mills,
the smog lays low between the rolling hills,
you might get brain cancer here, oh well,
we’re alright here in Quesnel, we’re alright here in Quesnel.
I guess the other board of directors liked it too because one day out of the blue I got a myspace message from this Zippy Zaenker saying how much they liked the song. I guess this is a good reason to be a Canadiana folk singer as opposed to singing those Nashville songs…quite often I’ve opened doors just by singing about this town or that town. After having been to Wells for a mountain hike the summer before I instantly accepted the festivals offer which would one day lead to the opening of many more doors.
(EDITORS NOTE: Zippy tells me she saw a poster for a show I did with Leela Gilday at the Railway Club and looked up my myspace where she first heard the song).
Of course I said I’d be interested in playing the festival. I loved it up in the Cariboo and would relish any chance to get back up there again to see the friends I had made. Through all this correspondence I somehow learned that Zippy played cello rather professionally. She in turn soon learned how I was thinking of starting some sort of really original country-folk concept band. One thing led to another and soon enough we got together and started jamming as a duo mostly at David Roy Parsons place.
(In some ways seeing Corbin and Naomi currently playing in Prince George under the name Power Duo reminds me of these times playing with Zippy).
On March 3rd the first show of the fledgling Joey Only Outlaw Band took place. It was a pilot show in the sense that this wasn’t the band yet I was going to build and I fully knew that. What I was looking for was try different players out to see what was possible, to see how the audience would respond and to see where I could possibly take these new ideas. It was a fruitful venture to say the least, I crossed some ideas off the board soon had a direction.
Before the band fully existed the artwork style, logo, name and concept of the wild west anarchist-bank robbin-outlaws was cemented. The show featured a bit of a haphazard line-up of acoustic players that I wasn’t sure how I could fit into one project. But there were one thing that worked through that pilot show which affirmed that this was worth the work. That was the sound and feel of playing with Zippy.
Through this show I found that Zippy added a lot of feeling to those songs and sonically suggested an entirely different direction from what I had in mind. At this point I deconstructed whatever model I’d imagined for this band and decided that we would play as a duo until I figured out how to build this band. At this point I couldn’t see how a bassist or a drummer could fit in with an acoustic duo of a folk singer and cellist. At least for now I had one solid and talented player who could both follow my music with ease, remember all the parts and could sing excellent back ups. For the next week after the show I went back to the drawing board.
There were some other people who played that first show including future bassist Rick McCallion. I give Christina credit as the first Outlaw for a number of reasons which I will make more clear when my next blog (about Rick) is ready. Rick played bass in the first set that night and James Forrest played most of the rest of the night. After the show I had to make some decisions on how to proceed as I believe bass is the most important part of the band, for reasons I’ll explain later I eventually decided to roll with Rick. There were other people who played in the group that night including T.Nile, Andy Mason, David Parsons and Luka but none of them ever became members.
By a stroke of luck I chose a really good person to start building the foundations of the band with. By the time June rolled around I was becoming sick with a potentially life threatening disease with neither the family or finances to care for myself properly. If it weren’t for the kindness of friends like Zippy I don’t know how I would have got through that very scary and difficult time. Not only that but my first trip to Artswells that summer also started me on a journey that ultimately led to me living here and starting a family…but those are stories waiting for another day to be published.
Zippy and I played a variety of my most thought provoking original songs at the time such as Learn’in To Live, I Dreamed I Saw Dudley George and No Glamrock Country Stars. We also played some songs that I never published and sometimes wish I had of such as Cooper Road Drunk Drivers, It Rains But It Pours, These Plains and A Vision Of the One.
I was soon to add Rick McCallion to the list of potential members and in a short time meet both Rowan Lipkovits and Kenan Sungur. The original line-up was about to come together in a very natural way. Collectively we were about to carve out a new sound, a new shtick and a new attitude towards folk and country music.
But that’s also a story for another day…
What I can tell you without giving away the plot of future blog posts is that Zippy played nearly every show we did from spring 2006 till the end of 2007 when she started to step back. She still joined us for a lot of shows in 2008 but by then the band was getting louder, faster and crazier. We were stepping on her parts and making it hard for her bass-mid frequency instrument to be found in the mix. Our volume caused constant feedback problems for her gear as well. I doubt it would be a stretch to suggest that Zippy probably played 150-200 shows in my band, no small feat.
But there were no hard feelings when Zippy announced she was going to start stepping back. Even after Zippy’s time of formally playing on our travelling road show she made appearances on the next two recordings we produced…which were the Fire On Anarchist Mountain (2008) and Transgression Trail (2010) albums. She’s sat in with me on shows a number of other times and still remains a highly trusted and respected friend….and will always be the very first Outlaw Band, unless you count Rick or myself. I guess realistically I am actually the first…but I’ll give it to Zippy anyway.
…NEXT CHAPTER…BASSIST RICK McCALION
On March 3rd it will be 10 years since the first official show of the Joey Only Outlaw Band. The show was a pilot of sorts we put on at Spartacus Bookstore on Hastings Street in Vancouver on March 3rd 2006. In honor of our 10 years I’m gonna tell you a little about what happened part by part. If for no other reason just so my stories are preserved somewhere.
THE EARLY YEARS – BEFORE THE OUTLAW BAND
To keep this short I’m not going to mention the deep musical roots of my family, my mom’s choirs, my uncle Gary’s insane piano playing or the Madoc Music Store mom ran with her boyfriend when I was a boy. I won’t talk about my first public performances nor will I mention how I got a bass and a guitar in 1994, relics that were left over from the defunct music store.
I won’t talk about the three year run of our punk band the Persecuted (1996-1998) or all those insane shows held at Spiderland Acres. I won’t talk about busking in Belleville with Simon Handley and learning the ways of Mickey Hart from him. I won’t mention being the leader of a church band, learning the blues, becoming a poet, being the singer of our high school jazz band for one year or the countless hours I spent playing guitar alone.
Now that’s out of the way…
2001: In 2001, due to certain circumstances, I decided not to return for a fourth year of University. I came back north of #7 that year and rented a room in a very old farmhouse for $100/month and largely bummed around all summer with my room-mate whose family farm it was. I began working even harder on writing songs and was now fully moving away from playing the blues on my acoustic. I was deep in study of the history of folks, roots and country music.
I had been in several punk bands already since I was 16 but had also played with a wide variety of talented musicians from different genres. Through high school I played the blues when home alone. I was lucky to have had high school friends like Clifton David Broadbridge and Chris Cadell to teach me how to play the blues, they both have had major accomplishments in the blues world since so were well qualified to do so. But I didn’t sing like them because I was a bass vocalist, I had to develop my own thing.
For lack of a band I began to develop a sort of one man show where I’d stomp and whistle and hoot and holler. I would kick the hell out of the floors of the farmhouse trying to get tighter, faster and smoother. Despite this development my goal was still to play bass in a really good rock or punk band. In my mind I’d start a good band and soon not have any more time for this folk music hobby. It was fun pretending to be punk rock Stompin Tom in my spare time but I had no illusions of getting too serious about it.
TENANT ACTION GROUP – JOEY STREETPOET
When I needed money I would hitch hike down to Belleville, grab a milk crate from Mikey Labossiere’s place and stand on it downtown yelling ridiculous poetry at passersby. I often did alright doing this, people were so surprised to see a busker of any kind in Belleville. My poetry was political, intelligent and my street antics were hilarious. It was a hobby that paid my few bills and kept me out of working a real job which would have derailed my artistic development.
Yelling poetry meant I didn’t have to hitch hike to the city with my guitar on my back. It gave me all the money I needed for my meager rice, lentils, garlic and marijuana lifestyle up at the farmhouse where I mostly read books and smoked bongs. I spent that year thumbing back and forth from the farmhouse to Belleville whenever I needed food, weed or friends. I made art for local friends, went on days long solo hikes in the bush, practiced martial arts, read books and played guitar. I was a punk rock beatnick poet.
That was how I met Sam Kuhn on Belleville’s Front Street. He stopped with his girls one August afternoon and I yelled ridiculous poetry at them about the end of the world or something. He looked at me stunned and said, ‘can I take you out for lunch?’
So there we were at the Bohemian Penguin talking at great length. Sam told me that he was an anarchist who wanted to start a radical tenant advocacy organization to help smash capitalism. The group would be allied with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and we would fight the ever increasing evictions that were happening. I immediately jumped on board with Sam and Katherine Davis. We quickly found enough angry poor people in downtown Belleville to start organizing, we were a force to be reckoned with after just one month.
Tenant Action Group quickly became an inspiration to anti-poverty groups across Ontario by stopping evictions, stopping hydro cut-offs from the newly privatized utility and bringing large contingents of people from Belleville to every major militant protest in the province. We defended welfare mom’s and made great inroads with people in the local Mohawk Reservation. It didn’t take long for TAG to become big news and a big controversy in Belleville. We were maligned in the newspapers and harrassed by the local constabulary.
Through all this I was the entertainer of the group. At this time I was still a year away from earning the nickname Joey Only but I was playing on the streets and in the bars of Belleville on the side. I still had no stage name and no ambition. I was pretty much just Joey (or streetpoet Joey). If I played somewhere it wasn’t to start a career but to earn a meal, a few beers and whatever tips the bar would offer up. If there was a major demonstration going on, such as the G20 Meetings in Ottawa of that year, I was sure to be seen singing songs or yelling ridiculous poetry to genuinely interested crowds. By the time 2001 finished off I had made a lot of friends in the activist world. It was a very fun time, things had changed a lot for me in just one year. I saw myself as a poet of the revolution and made no attempt to consolidate my gains or build a reputation, I was doing it for the cause.
HEADING WEST THE FIRST TIME
2002: The first two months of that year were quite exciting. We hosted a big event in Belleville that brought Jaggi Singh, John Clarke and Judy Rebick to speak. Once again I played entertainer and was celebrated for it while we as a group were scorned in the Belleville Intelligencer, as was always the case. We were quite proud of ourselves.
Despite these positive things I was already getting weary from hitch hiking back and forth from old man Spiders property where I was staying through that bitter winter to organize in Belleville. I had no money to my name and was skinnier than I had ever been. My cabin wasn’t airtight and the stove wasn’t either while the walk to the road from the back of Spider’s property made sure no one would visit me. I was tired of busking or collecting the odd welfare cheque while freezing my ass off in the bush and I was lonely for the love of a decent woman. A wild fisher ate my two cats and that was the final straw, I was going to go away for what I thought would be a few months and have an adventure. Boy was I wrong, the decision to go west completely changed my life. I knew I had to become something but it tormented that I had no idea what that was or how to do it.
In March I took a Greyhound bus to Lake Louise Alberta and got a job with my old punkfest and high school friends Lucas, Mikey and Dylan at Ski Louise. The mountains blew my mind and there were also lots of great jam sessions to be found there. There was something about the west that was calling me to stay. I went back to Ontario at the end of April and got back to my old activist antics pretty quickly. But I was deeply disatisfied with having nothing in Ontario to my name and didn’t feel like I could turn to my family.
So a few months later I was back in Lake Louise again working a crappy job and climbing mountains on my days off. That year alone I had already travelled the country back and forth twice entertaining people wherever I went. I’d be the guy at the back of the bus getting everyone singing including the driver. I’d be the guy on the park bench entertaining total strangers who couldn’t get enough of the old time music. I sang around Lake Louise while I was some sort of mountaineering, folk singing, punk rock dharma bum…I was loving it.
When the season ended, on Labor Day, I didn’t go back to Ontario. My high school friend Lucas and I basically took the greyhound from Lake Louise to Hornby Island where I soon began playing music around the island for the next two months. We’d jot over to the island to climb a few mountains then jot back to Hornby to play some party or event. I met a lot of people in those two months. I met a 14 year old girl who could walk on stilts and yell poetry, her name was Pest…years later we called her Tempest, her story later became a tragedy central to many of our lives. But that’s a story for another day. After two months on the island Lucas and I went our seperate ways and I decided I’d head east but make a stop in Vancouver first.
LANDING IN VAN
When I landed in Vancouver for the first time that October the first place I went to was the now infamous Woodwards Squat. I had already been a part of numerous squatting actions in Ontario and figured there must be some way I can help out while killing some time before either going to Ontario or back to work in Lake Louise when the season started.
I set up camp there on Hastings Street and played tunes to all the squatters. I later gave speeches, took part in organizing and joined the Anti-Poverty Committee’s cause of fighting for the poor people of Hastings Street. Through that I once again found myself playing at fundraisers and protests for any ultra-left cause that would take me. I only stayed with APC a year but once again I had met many friends that would shape my life for years to come. When I arrived in town I was without direction in life or even a stage name to advertise.
That soon changed when I got accidently named Joey Only by the Province newspaper in November 2002. After a rally cry speech to a large crowd at the squat the newspaper people all wanted my name for their pictures. I refused to give them my full name and I basically had no stage name as of yet to give them either. I gave speeches at rallies because my moving speeches were effective, not because I wanted to become an activist celebrity.
I probably had no stage name due to some sincere beliefs that no one would really care about my music. I burried my lack of personal confidence by imbedding myself in a movement. I thought the only value my talent had was to motivate people on the issues of social change and that there was no place for my personal life in my songs. I was content to sing at protests to raise morale and still had no delusions of a folk singing career. I wasn’t trying to become a famous singer songwriter or even known in any capacity and I didn’t believe I had what it took to sell out. I didn’t have a stage name and I didn’t want to give one. It wasn’t my concern whether they printed a photo of me or not, I wasn’t staying in Vancouver long (so I thought) and wasn’t trying to attract too much attention to the authorities.
So I told the newspaper people, ‘my name is Joey.’
They demanded a last name and followed me around the Woodwards building till I finally emphatically announced, ‘it’s Joey ONLY!!’
What I meant was ‘Joey’ was the only name they were going to get from me. But instead a color photo of me speaking at the squat was published with the name JOEY ONLY captioned beneath. As the papers would go around the squat every morning people noticed it right away and instantly believed that was my actual name. Within half an hour of the paper arriving at the squats desk everyone was calling me JOEY ONLY. I thought I would abandon the handle as soon as I left Vancouver, but that never happened.
Through some turbulant times which including squatting another abandoned building with some punks, couch surfing, busking, dumpster diving and spending the last of my money waiting to get over my health problem I soon found myself stuck in Vancouver with winter coming on full bore. The wet weather and harsh life of sleeping on the streets of Vancouver took its toll quickly, I developed pnuemonia and never bought the bus ticket back to Ontario as I was too sick to travel. I had no money, the climate didn’t suit me and depression was starting to really take its toll. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. What was such an optimistic year ended in a profound state of depression and loneliness house sitting an appartment and spending christmas in isolation.
2003: I had some small successes to start off 2003 including the first big solo show I ever played. It was at the WISE Hall and the headlining band was none other than Flying Folk Army. The show was huge and it was a lot of fun. I played really well too. I was convinced I was on to something. Pretty much from that point on I decided I was going to become ‘Joey Only’ and start trying to do more with my music. From this time forward I had something new to work towards and it involved my own art. I was terribly depressed though and not all that motivated to put myself out there.
Through 2003 things were pretty slow for bookings. I appeared at Cafe Duex Soliels sometimes and was a constant regular busking in front of the People’s Co-op Bookstore. The communist bookstore seemed to appreciate my knowledge of Joe Hill, Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg…they never moved me along but rather encouraged me to busk there. I survived in Vancouver at that time by busking every day on Commercial Drive, some days were better than others. I would sit in my single room occupancy appartment and sing for hours tormented by the fact that I didn’t know how to take myself somewhere with this music. I hated singing to myself, I was driven to dream of more.
Through that summer I got teamed up with banjo picking punker named Altona. Soon we added a fiddle, a washboard, spoons and a variety of other instruments and became a full on street band. We took turns with Boxcar (Blake) hogging the best busking spots and eventually became the feature band of the short lived and controversial anarchist group called the Squeegee Council. We formed our own branch in the Industrial Workers of the World called the Buskers Union and for a short time were a thorn in city councils side.
We actually walked into a City Council meeting with our instruments blazing to protest the police crackdown on buskers and panhandlers. Because we disrupted the meeting with music the cops didn’t get us there that day however they began to harrass anyone involved with our street punk political movement. We called the band the Hotfooted Haints. We had a great thing going on that eventually fizzled away as many of them punx actually hopped trains once winter came. Most of them I never saw again and didn’t know their real or full names.
Due to a series of criminal charges I got slapped with during my time with the Anti-Poverty Committee, and some concern about the breakdown of democracy in the organization, I stepped back from working for them. I wanted to play music more but was still finding it hard to get real gigs knowing fullwell that having no recording was a big problem. Thanks to a room-mate, Shane Davis, I had made a great demo disk with Canned Ham. But someone stole the only copy of the disk from me and Ham never kept the file on his computer. It was good, but it was lost.
During this year I also began to play songs live on Co-op Radio. After just a few weeks of doing this I was offered a regular spot on the show Sound Resistance. Even if I was out of the city for long stretches of time I soon became the main programmer for that show until I left Vancouver for good in 2011. As the years went by the program became popular and my timeslot was expanded. Hosting radio is something I will always miss, it was something I was born to do. I’d play guitar, interview activists, give the lowdown on protests in town and play a wide assortment of interesting music. Many people tuned in to the show every week for years, they never came to a concert and this was the only way they knew me.
By the end of 2003 I had decided that if I couldn’t get hired by clubs I would put on my own shows. That’s why I started a run of monthly shows for 6-7 months at the new Palestine Community Center. It was called the Working Class Cafe and usually featured a musician or two, who was passionate about social change, plus a guest speaker. In a sense it was a live production similar to the format of my radio show.
Tea and coffee were served and the shows were interesting enough that some people did come back every month. Reem and Khaled were so supportive that they would always invite me to sing at any event the Palestinians put on (which was a big honour). But the most important thing that came out of that time period for me personally was when David Roy Parsons came out to a show there and introduced himself. Meeting Dave was one of those important things that had to happen because he helped fast forward my progression.
RADICAL FOLK OF THE GREAT NORTH
2004: Thanx to David Roy Parsons I got invited to play a cool birthday party he was throwing with his old buddy Erik Paullson. Erik is a great film producer who was soon to have a lot of success with the production he was working on called Eve and the Firehorse. For their birthdays, which was on pretty much the same day as mine, they rented a theatre, invited a crowd and played video footage of the moon landings. Later that night David and I played a short set and I also met Andy Mason and his band the Tricksters that day. My destiny was once again forever altered.
David and Andy had no trouble convincing they should help me produce a record, so I began to put my mind toward a concept which would become Radical Folk of the Great North. We developed a small label called Ravenhymn Records (which never really took off). Before we could produce my album I flew back to Ontario to play some shows with the likes of Rae Spoon and David Rovics…only to find myself landed in a Montreal jail cell due to some ummm misunderstandings that take place at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair.
Being charged and booked for trial in Montreal seemed like a huge obstacle at first. I was in danger of getting some jail time as my charges were breach of probation, unlawfull assembly and mischeif over $10,000. But I found that leftists were happy to help me raise money to make the trips across country to my court dates so long as I was playing music for them.
It gave me a good excuse to tour my way to Quebec and back to BC repeatedly. After my incarceration in Montreal I pretty much stopped organizing openly with activist groups. I may have showed my support, played benefits, stood at the back of their rallies…but I never again put myself on the line and probably never will. I had been targetted and I knew it, with such stringent bail conditions it wasn’t safe for me to take part in militant activism anymore as I didn’t have the resources to fight anymore criminal battles. I intended to come back to activism but I just never really did. This was a good seperation though as music now took over my life.
We recorded Radical Folk of the Great North in David’s 10th floor appartment at the edge of the downtown eastside entirely on his budget and the donations of friends across Canada. Andy Mason and Megan Adam from Flying Folk Army were the major guest stars on the album. I wanted that CD to be a tribute to all the comrades I had organized with knowing that music was soon going to be the only kind of activism I was associated with. I wrote ‘Fire on Anarchist Mountain’ in 45minutes one morning because there was a certain kind of song the album was lacking. I couldn’t have guessed it would be my most popular song I ever wrote while my ‘Song For a BC Fightback’ had also become very popular on the left.
We were doing weekly shows at this Ethopian restaurant just up from the Cambie called the Afro-Canadian. Menasbo would let us do whatever we pretty much wanted so we began to throw elaborate shows there including my first legal defence benefit shows. There was music upstairs and simultaneously in the basement. The money raised from tickets and the auctioning off of my art sent me back east to my court dates. Curtis Clearsky and Kinnie Star were two of the most important names that played the first big show. David Roy Parsons, Tamara Nile, Rae Spoon, Leela Gilday and Andy Mason also volunteered to play some of my legal defence benefits.
The show was successful enough that I made it to my next court dates in Montreal and managed to play a dozen shows in Ontario and Quebec while out east. During this time I played my first shows in Edmonton, Montreal and a host of other places while criss crossing the country on a one month VIA Rail Pass. I came back to BC and ended that year recording songs like ‘Spiderland Punkfest’ on a portable digital recorder in my basement room. These were the beds for what would be my next big recording project the following year. I got my first coverage on CBC TV and a number of other really positive things were happening. I was young, free and rolling. I was just on TV with Joey Shithead Keithley and stoked about it.
2005: Now I entered a time where things really clicked for a while. Everything came easy. I got flown to Halifax by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to play a convention and then later flown to Calgary to play their prairie convention. This was the first time I was in a position set a price, ask for certain things, get my travel paid and treated like I really had something to offer. I was already one of the few qualified folk singers in Canada who knew such an astounding assortment of historic working class folk songs so how could they not hire me. I did my studying and for a moment it seemed like this niche was going to work for me. I knew 150 years of protest songs and people loved me for it.
My only problem was I had also been noticed by the BC Federation of Labour who apparently didn’t approve of my antics or my anarchist philosophies regarding activism. 2005 also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Industrial Workers of the World union, a large conference took place in Vancouver and I was given the task of organizing the party. Unfortunately it also marked the beginning of my decline in working for the union movement. The conference and the shows were successful, that had nothing to do with it, I was now being fully scrutinized by the union leadership in BC.
Despite working for unions in other parts of the country I never got taken seriously by the union movement in my own province. I suspect this was by design as it had been noted that I was heckling President Jim Sinclair from the crowd of a Steelworkers picket line. What gave away my cover was the next person called up to rile the crowd was none of than me. Typically I got the crowd pumped but I don’t think Jim Sinclair was impressed after I had already yelled, “bullshit, prepare the general strike,” during his speech.
He was later heard to say, ‘I like that Joey Only, he reminds me of myself when I was young.’
When those words got back to me I wasn’t impressed, I had no intention of ever becoming something like him. Whether I was intentionally blacklisted or not is something I can’t speculate on anymore. But what I do know for certain is I never sold myself or anyone else out. I was not like Jim, I was an artist from a poor and working class family and was proud of my humble roots. I made friends with union folk singers like Anne Feeney but playing for the unions themselves didn’t pan out as a career option for me like it did her. Part of it probably was I just could never control my mouth, my mania or my wild ideas. I would never submit to their authority so they would never hire me again.
SMELLS LIKE QUESNEL AND A BLOWN VOICE
I found myself in Ottawa for a third time by late June that year to play a party for one of my dearest friends. My beloved comrade Heidi Rimke defended her thesis and to celebrate we took over Irene’s Pub in Ottawa for one hell of a time. I played relentlessly long shows to enthusiastic audiences across Ontario during that whole trip. It was around this time I first noticed my throat was always sore and I couldn’t hit my notes as easily as I should.
I thought nothing of my voice though because I was a young ignorant punk. I kept doing what I was doing. Staying up late, singing all day, smoking dope, not warming up, not treating my voice right, drinking and making friends till the sun rose. It was taking it’s toll. I thought I liked the rasp but soon it took over and I couldn’t control it anymore. As my vocal range declined the pain naturally increased.
I made two trips up to Quesnel to play shows with the Effigy, Tups, Taberfucks and the Hippiecritz. It was this first trip that I made friends with many of the people I come to know up here in the Cariboo, I found myself instantly attracted to the area and came back up quickly. My voice was so sore the whole time but I just didn’t stop staying up all night drinking beer. I didn’t know how to not have fun and it was killing my show.
Before long Jesse Matthies and I were working on an album concept called the QUESNEL COUNTY COUNTRY PUNK CONSPIRACY. We recorded some tracks with myself and Jesse’s punk band the Effigy out at Barry McKillicans studio. I met the McKillican family, Murray Boal, Heath Onstine and many more during this time. We recorded six songs of the Effigy as well so that the album was a mix of punk and folk. It was brilliant all except for the fact my voice sounded hoarse and awful in the recording.
I couldn’t sing anymore by the time that record was done. The doctors soon told me I had a vascular vocal polyp (on my right vocal chord) and only surgery would make it go away easily however I would be in danger of doing long term damage to my voice if I didn’t get serious. I played one last gig and cancelled everything after that. I made sure the surgery happened after my biggest gig of the year.
It just so happens that this last gig featured a spot on the mainstage of Under the Volcano Festival in North Vancouver. It didn’t hurt that it was the Subhumans I was opening for. What did hurt was my voice, it was excruciating trying to sing by the time August rolled around. My set earlier in the day featured me with Bob Dylanesque Subterranian Homesick Blues placards that the whole audience could read (and so I wouldn’t have to speak). David Parsons, Andy Mason and Tamara Nile did most of the singing for me during that earlier set.
But later that night was the big stage, I had to do three songs with a blown voice in front of a substantial crowd. I played the shit out of my harmonica and made an impression but I felt like I had lost a great opportunity to prove myself. For the first time in years the Subhumans stood on a stage, and they were behind me, I was so proud. Missed opportunity to prove myself or not I got to be part of an amazing moment.
As I ended they kicked it off with attitude, the crowd instantly went nuts. I was mesmerized standing in the sound booth on stage with none other than Barry McKillican himself. Real legends in front of me and a real one beside me, how awesome. Meanwhile singer Brian Goble had a terrible flu, I personally witnessed him walk off stage twice to puke. But it didn’t stop him. They absolutely slayed their set.
My appearance at Under the Volcano somehow set me up for a feature article in the Georgia Straight. By some extradinary luck I got editor Mike Usinger himself to come interview me, his article was brilliant. I was now in demand, getting coverage, running a good radio show and making friends…only to blow my voice and get surgery. I was very disheartened at this terrifying setback.
The surgery was quick and all but it left me unable to sing for the next few months. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to sing the same again. One thing that was certain was I needed to change something when I got back on stage. I needed to sing properly and not shout. I needed training. I needed lessons.
Through much of that year I had appeared on Tamara Nile’s monthly show at the Railway Club. She was the first one I sang Jackson with as a duet. Although we had a falling out that we never attempted to fix I can still credit her with getting me on track with a more professional approach to being a vocalist. Her suggestions sent me on a course of relearning how to sing so that I would never go through such intimidating vocal damage again.
I sat in silence for nearly two months after the surgery. I would go to the Vancouver Canadians baseball games or to the movie theatre at 41st and Cambie and say nothing to no one. I would sit in my basement room all day in silence writing lyrics I hoped I could one day sing again. My voice hurt for months after the surgery, it was scratchy and awful to talk. I figured I would never sing again and was quite depressed to have come so far only to be stopped by my own voice. But I was wrong, I would soon sing much better than I ever had. Unfortunately because of those months off I had lost some of that momentum I picked up in the two years previous. I felt ready to try something new once again to counter this quick decline in my organizing power.
DREAMING OF A BAND OF MY OWN IN WHITEHORSE
My next real run of gigs didn’t happen until December. After four months I was ready to sing again and the first place I was gonna go was Whitehorse Yukon Territory. My old friend and roomate Heather Jones was putting on productions up there so they hired me at the end of December to come up and do this gig. Rather than fly back I spent the next month in Whitehorse gigging, drinking and making friends. By the end I was afraid I would never leave, I wasn’t happy in Vancouver on the whole and the north much more suited my personality.
Paddy’s Pub became my Whitehorse haunt where I managed to put on a number of fairly well attended shows. Paddy asked me when I got there if I wanted a band of ringers to back me. I told him I never played with one much before…at least not with my folk shtick. But then I recalled how recording with the Effigy the summer before was so much fun. I told Paddy I’d be glad to try his guys out, I was due to try something new. Besides having someone to play solos gave my voice a moment to rest during the show.
Well Paddy Singh couldn’t do better than Ken Hermanson himself along with Micah Smith on the bass!! Ken ripped the telecaster and lap steel like no one I’d yet played with at that point in my life. Paddy hired a bartender so that he could take the night off and play drums. We rocked the place all month. While I was there we also organized a successful benefit for our friend John Graham in his battle to stop his extradition to the United States. Meeting John’s family was a pleasure. All this added up to radio interviews and a full page article in the Yukon News. My Yukon trip was an extraordinary success.
I was back…
JOEY ONLY OUTLAW BAND PILOT SHOW
When I got back to Vancouver I realized I wanted what we had in Whitehorse. I wanted to build a rockin band to get that sense of comradeship I lacked as playing solo was getting lonely and boring. I decided I would finally start to build one of my own and tried to find players that would commit. With a pool of musicians to pick from I started consorting to field a line-up and book a small show to try it all out. I set it up at Spartacus Books. There were no drums. James Forest played double bass and it was the only show we ever did together, later that month Rick McCallion became the bass player of the Outlaw Band.
One of the musicians that were there with me at Spartacus however that night did go on to form this new band with me.
A few months before this took place Christina Zippy Zaenker had heard my Smells Like Quesnel song and showed it to the organizers of Artswells Festival. They immediately asked if I wanted to play Artswells 2006. My band hadn’t played a show yet and we were booked for a real cool festival, my associations in the Quesnel area were about to become long lasting. The events were now fully in motion that would later lead me to move to Wells BC and play the next 50 Artswells Festivals. Through all this Zippy started practicing with me and as an accomplished cellist I quite liked what she could do. Zippy was the first Outlaw Band member.
Future bassist Rick McCallion played in some that first show too however it wasn’t till a short time after the pilot show where I decided I’d go with him on bass.
March 3rd 2006 was the official birth of the Outlaw Band. I think only 20 people came to see it and I was fine with that, it was meant to be a pilot show. It was a work in progress but afterward I felt like we did have something to work with. The concept of the band had been born. I had no idea how wild and interesting things were about to get in my life.
…to be continued…