Category Archives: radical folk

Three Wax Mannequin Shows and Two Festivals

Aug13: ROBSON VALLEY MUSIC FESTIVAL
Aug16: Jack of Clubs Pub w/Wax Mannequin, Wells BC
Aug17: CJ’s w/Wax Mannequin, Williams Lake BC
Aug18: Westwood Pub w/Wax Mannequin, Prince George BC
Aug20: MUSIC ON THE MOUNTAIN, Fort St.James BC **
I got one ridiculous week ahead of me.  It starts with travelling to Dunster BC all for the chance to stand on a big stage that faces gorgeous mountains and sing to the marvellous folks that are going to ROBSON VALLEY MUSIC FESTIVAL.  We’re all happy because it’s a 7pm set, the only time all summer we are scheduled to play early.  There will be kids there so don’t expect us to play that stupid fucking Andrew Neville song haha.
Then next week starts off by playing a set of three shows with one of my favorite performers, Wax Mannequin.  I met him at my first Artswells, to put that in perspective this past one was my 11th.  Already then I loved what he did, there’s no one else like him.  No one else writes songs like he does or commands the stage in such an epic yet silly manner.  Wax Mannequin is as good as it gets!!  I’m glad he’s my friend and I’m glad we’ve been able to work together so much over the years despite living 4000km away.
Then it all winds up for me at MUSIC ON THE MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL in Fort St.James BC.  It’s the lastival for nearly all of us, although I do have the Barkerville Cowboy Festival coming up in September.  We have the extreme honor of sharing the stage with the legendary punk band DOA!!  I mean come on folks, this is a big frickin deal.  We go 1-2 on the mainstage that Saturday night and it is sure to be a highlight of my year.
Then things slow down before I go on the warpath to promote NO MORE TROUBLE IN THE PEACE, our band new ass kicking album.  See you on the trail folks.
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NO MORE TROUBLE IN THE PEACE: Online Release July 29

No Trouble In The Peace Album Cover low qANNOUNCING ONLINE RELEASE ON CD BABY and BANDCAMP: July 29th!!

Doing this to try and raise more capital for the project.  You can also donate at our GoFundMe page.

Also coming soon: official music video for NO MORE TROUBLE IN THE PEACE.  In editting and production right now, hopefully ready by July 29th as well.

Also coming up…official album launch…NO TROUBLE TOUR DATES including October 1st at the Prince George Legion, October 9th at Vancouver’s WISE Hall and October 15th at the Occidental in Quesnel!

Join us on facebook!!

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“NO TROUBLE IN THE PEACE” – Album

ABOUT THIS PROJECT
Canadiana  outlaw country virtuoso and folk singer Joey Only and his band of Outlaws are hot out of the gates and ready to share their latest recordings. Fresh back from the Transgression Trail, Joey Only has a brand new full lenth LP, “No More Trouble in the Peace”. This album is about trouble and redemption with explicitly Canadian content.  The songs you will hear on this album speak about the restlessness of the heart, finding family, lost loved ones and overcoming unimagineable struggles.  Anyone who has heard the demo cuts already agrees, this record will be the best product Joey Only has ever created.

ABOUT THE ALBUM
The title track ‘No More Trouble in the Peace’ is a joke song about the oil and gas companies trying to take over my friends ranch up in the Peace District here in British Columbia.

‘Beer League’ is a hockey song telling the story of the Big Dog Plumbing Team down in Nanton Alberta.  The last team unfortunate enough to have Joey Only staking down the wing.

‘North of Number Seven’ waltzes eloquently about the loss of the old rural ways.  It’s a lament about how things just never stay the same.

‘Walker Rock’ encourages survivalists to hit the bush when the shit hits the fan.  Live in the shadows, think like an animal…you will do what it takes in those life or death days.

‘Noble Cause of the Cowboy Soldier’ is mostly based on the true story of a fallen friend and his family.  The Alberta born young man went to Afghanistan and didn’t last a month there, the family didn’t want him to go but he believed he was doing the right thing.

‘Tempest Wind’ is the true story of our friend Tempest Grace Gales murder on Hornby Island BC, November 16th 2009.

I become widely known as a Stompin Tom Connors impersonator.  So I rewrote the words to Tom’s tune ‘the Don Messer Story’ and relabled it ‘the Stompin Tom Story’ and now open my Stompin Tom Tribute shows with this number.

‘Cold Wooden Box’ is an epic waltzing ballad that reminds us to not take life for granted because it is so short.  The only success I hope for is to have my songs remembered when I am gone.


Outlaw Band June Newsletter

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!!  RickshawPosterJuly2016

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 MapleRidgeJuly2016July 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.


Original Six Outlaws…#2: Rick McCallion on Bass

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 Rick came to be our bassist for the first 2.5 years.

 

MEETING RICHMOND RICK

For a couple years Rick was the most dedicated and most important member of the band.  We generally rehearsed at his place, he updated web pages, made sure other members had cheat sheets and owned the fleet of Dodge Caravans that we ran into the ground.  Like everyone else involved it seems to me a real coincidence I got to know Rick so well while its an unlikelyhood that he would have become a bass player in our band.  After all, he wasn’t even a musician when I first met him.

It was during a long rainy spell in February 2003 that I ended up down

Rowan and Rick in Fernie BC, November 2007. This was the last show we did that year, they went to Vancouver and Leah and I moved to Nanton Alberta for six months.

Rowan and Rick in Fernie BC, November 2007.

in Richmond BC to see about this house sitting gig.  I had only been in Vancouver a few months at this point but had already been through a lot settling into life on the coast.  I had been a homeless squatter with pnuemonia, a member of the legendary Woodwards occupation and had basically couched surfed/house sat through three different places afterward.  By this point I was actually sleeping on a bed made of my own clothes in a heatless appartment my friend had which was only made more bearable by my -20 rated down sleeping bag.

I had no idea what I was going to do with myself, or where I was going to go in life so depression was quickly taking over my thoughts.  The weather was so dreary and the dampness seemed colder than I ever could have imagined.  My health wasn’t well and I barely had a dollar to my name.  I had dreams that I felt I was impossibly far away from.  I was still organizing with the Anti-Poverty Committee in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside but I found myself missing the Tenant Action Group comrades back in Belleville Ontario.  I didn’t feel like I had any friends on the coast and in some ways I can say those feelings were justified.

However there were people who I seemed to have affinity with.  One of them was this sorta strange and gentle character I can only describe as a modern day monk.  His name was Sean and he sported a bald head and a long beard.  He was then and still is a perceptive character with very convincing ideas about the nature of government.  I met Sean at Woodsquat and then other left wing events I happened to be at in the city, he was keen to get involved with things as he could.

One way or another Sean knew I had nowhere to go, and was suffering for it, so he told me he might be able to help.  His housemate Rick was going to go to Gautemala for a project that involved computers, coffee and chocolate so the house would have no one in it for several months.  Sean didn’t actually live in the house as he and another fella named Bob lived in vans parked around the property.

I went out and met Rick one night and we instantly got along.  Without

Zippy on cello, Rick on bass. Robson Valley Music Festival August 2008, our last show together as the original lineup.

Zippy on cello, Rick on bass. Robson Valley Music Festival August 2008, our last show together as the original lineup.

further adieu I was able to stay at Rick’s through most of the spring of 2003.  The property was on the edge of a forested section outside of Richmond directly under the flight path of the big jets coming into YVR which would often rattle the windows on their way overhead.

The living room was great for songwriting and I made good use of it those months I was there.  I’m not sure how many songs I wrote there, or which ones, but I do recall making some progress on my fledgling act.  Rick also had an amazing collection of original 1970’s psychadelic rock albums which I spent a lot of time listening to and learning about.  At one point I made sure to record all my favorite records he had on to cassette tapes for further study, in some ways these bands are still a big influence on me.  Knowing what kind of music Rick was into as well played a role in the Outlaws becoming a band that pushed our shows to a psychadelic level.  All this seems fitting seeing as Rick’s living room would become the place where the band became the band just three years later.

Once Rick came back from South America I moved into a Strathcona single room occupancy place called the Bad Manors – which is famous for how many down and out or upcoming musicians had lived there.  My stay there was but a few months before moving around to a number of other places and going through a few years of relative stability in Vancouver.  Besides all that moving around I did Rick and I still kept in touch.

 

TREE SITS AND WILDERNESS TRIPS

Rick is a genuine environmentalist which is something we held in common.  We had a number of adventures together in the years leading up to the formation of the band.  One July weekend we went up to the Elaho Valley, camped out and hiked around while Rick recounted many of the stories from the big forest protests he had been a part of there.  We ended that weekend by roping up and scaling down a cliff to get my cat Buddy who had decided to sleep on a ledge below our picnic site that seemed to have enough sunlight for him.  That’s right, my cat came camping.

On another occasion in August 2003 we drove out to the Anderson River somewhere outside of Boston Bar and took bicycles over to where Cattermole Timber Company planned to cut an old growth forest stand known to have spotted owls in it.  We biked more than 20km to get to the lookout and biked back spending a great deal of the return trip flying down steep switchbacks and never having to pedal.  For all our efforts we found his car to be sabotaged when we got back to it making our journey back to the city interesting to say the least.

Later in 2003 word got around that Cattermole Timber out of Chilliwack had been granted permission to log an old growth stand on Elk Mountain just outside of Chilliwack.  The next few months became very interesting as we got involved in the only forest action I was ever part of.  First we made friends with native allies from Cheam First Nation such as June and Fred Quipp and later became active in the protest camp itself as supporters.  We brought up provisions and often would go out just to visit, play songs and raise morale.

The cover of an informational zine I made for the Elk Creek Tree Sit.

The cover of an informational zine I made for the Elk Creek Tree Sit. (2003)

One day late in December Rick and I roped up and climbed to the platform at the top of a very large tree.  Swaying around in this giant tree was an amazing experience leaving me feeling so alive afterward.  However that very next day loggers wisely used a distraction tactic to make the activists think they were going to take a new road in, when the activists went there to intercept some other fallers came in and ended the tree sit camp once and for all.  They fell the very tree were in the day before.

As a last ditch effort to stop the logging operation one of the youth at the camp anonymously claimed the trees were spiked.  Although it was never proven to be true, and I have no knowledge that they actually did do this, it didn’t stop Joe Foy and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee from offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the tree spikers.  I never forgave Joe Foy for this personally, most of the kids at the camp were barely over 20.  Another spotted owl habitat was destroyed as was my remaining faith in liberal environmentalist movements.

So as the next two years passed Rick and I stayed buddies, one whom I knew I could trust.  Everything I had seen and experienced at the Elk Creek forest defence camp was because I was there with Rick.

 

RICK JOINS THE BAND

This brings me to February 2006, that month leading up to the formation of the band.  I had returned from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, fresh from my experience of having a real band playing behind me and decided I was going to build my own once and for all.  I’m not entirely sure how it all came about but somehow or another Rick and I got to jamming at his place semi-regularly.  Our friend Luka also joined us frequently and we were starting to visualize the possibilities of a band.

Zippy, Kenan, Rowan and Rick behind the Royal Hotel in Fernie BC...February 2007

Zippy, Kenan, Rowan and Rick behind the Royal Hotel in Fernie BC…February 2007

I had set up the Outlaw Band pilot show at Spartacus Books which would happen on March 3rd.  I already had the services of a professional double bass player handy to me in the name of James Forrest.  When it came time to do the gig I did one set with Rick and two with James backing me up.  Rick had only just started to play bass and quite limited with what he could do, being new to music he especially struggled with song structure which he compensated for by having detailed cheat sheets.

However it was pretty obvious after this first show that James Forrest is the kind of bass player every aspiring country-folk singer would want to have behind him.  I also knew that bass players like him in Vancouver aren’t all that loyal to one particular band, they are hired ringers and if the gig pays well they will be there.  Of course our Spartacus gig paid squat but James was keen to make a try-out of it.  Of course having to commit to a bass player who is a professional and is busy with a number of other acts would make touring as a unit nearly impossible.

Knowing that Rick was going to be more willing I quickly started to think that maybe he was the way to go.  Up to that point I don’t think Rick expected that he had the chops to keep up with the project but I knew something about the electric bass guitar.  When I was a 15 and got my first bass Mike Rose and I immediately started working towards starting a punk band, in six months I went from having no skill on the instrument to being pretty good on the thing.  Maybe Rick wasn’t all that great in March 2006 but I correctly assumed he would be a lot better by the time March 2007 rolled around.

Rick at Book and Company in Prince George for the Artswells Fundraiser. June 2007.

Rick at Book and Company in Prince George for the Artswells Fundraiser. June 2007.

He made some immense improvements over the next year becoming a reliable ‘hold the fort’ bass player.  Picking a player who would be dedicated to the concept of a band…a family…a crew…was one of those smart things I did.  I wanted a democratic band of willing participants invested in our success, not hired musicians that you couldn’t rely on from week to week.

Not only did having our own bass player allow us to tour western Canada but I’m not sure we ever could have done so much of that without Rick’s driving efforts.  He also had a handy hippy living on his property named Bob who could fix just about anything wrong with our tour vans.  Rick really brought a lot to the table and is one of the biggest reasons the Outlaws had our first string of successes.

Rick waterproofs the leaky trailer that Todd Serious/Rebel Spell gave us.

Rick waterproofs the leaky trailer that Todd Serious/Rebel Spell gave us.

So in the weeks after the very first Outlaw pilot show I knew that I would somehow try to work with Rick while I had this amazing cello player named Zippy Zaenker who I also knew without a doubt I was going to work with.  I wasn’t sure how to mesh the two sounds together of a bass and a cello.  At this point I figured I was actually building two seperate bands and would figure out how to reconcile this problem later.  What I was doing with Zippy was essentially a continuation of the folk-punk act I had been doing the last few years…whereas what I wanted to do with Rick more represented the direction I wanted to take my music.

I wanted to be a real deal outlaw country singer.

If anyone has ever heard the Joey Only Outlaw Band EP (2006) they will understand what I mean by having two distinct sounds…part of that recording is the trio of Rowan Lipkovits, Zippy and I…while part of it is an example of what the Outlaw Band was going to try to do.  Often I would play one gig with one lineup and another gig with the other lineup depending on what made more sense for the room…and sometimes I’d play with both at the same time.  But by the time 2006 ended both lineups were integrated into one giant band and it pretty much stayed that way for the next two years.

So now I had a cello player…and a dedicated bassist.  I needed someone who could play with a cellist and I needed a drummer to play with the bassist.  I was in luck, a month later (April 2006) I met accordionist Rowan Lipkovits and drummer Kenan Sungur.  Almost all of the principle players would soon be involved.  When all the peices came together we were able to put together an ass-kicking road troupe that never backed down from a chance to go hard….but that’s a blog for another day.

Rick fixes a picnic after fixing the trailer during a breakdown outside Drumheller Alberta, June 2007

Rick fixes a picnic after fixing the trailer during a breakdown outside Drumheller Alberta, June 21st, 2007 on our way to Saskatoon.

Rick played gigs in four provinces with us during multiple tours until the end of the summer of 2008.  I believe he most likely was on stage with me for somewhere around 150-200 shows.  Rick became one of the principle people who helped me get through my recovery from tuberculosis.  He was our tech expert

We worked him hard through stressful trips and if we weren’t getting along at the end his time in the band it didn’t take long for us to admit our parts and stay friends (as we are to this day).  After surviving a few health scares and moving out of the city Rick continues to play music with a number of friends where he now resides on the coast. 

Thank you Rick for helping make the band happen…happy anniversary old friend.


The Original Six Outlaws – #1. Zippy Zaenker

The original six at the Ashcroft Opera House (2007)

The original six at the Ashcroft Opera House (2007)

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.

Nanton Auditorium Hotel with Zippy Zaenker, 2007

Nanton Auditorium Hotel with Zippy Zaenker, 2007

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.

Buds On Broadway, Saskatoon, summer 2007

Buds On Broadway, Saskatoon, summer 2007

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.”

Snowboot Ball, The Alpenhorn, Smithers BC, Nov 2007

Snowboot Ball, The Alpenhorn, Smithers BC, Nov 2007

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.

Zippy and Mike Zinger, the Royal Hotel, Fernie BC, 2007

Zippy and Mike Zinger, the Royal Hotel, Fernie BC, 2007

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.

The first two Outlaw Band members Zippy Zaenker and Rick McCallion at Robson Valley Music Festival 2008.

The first two Outlaw Band members Zippy Zaenker and Rick McCallion at Robson Valley Music Festival 2008.

(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).

Zippy and I playing Books and Company in Prince George 2007.

Zippy and I playing Books and Company in Prince George 2007.

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.

Zippy at Kenan during breakfast in Saskatchewan.

Zippy and Kenan during breakfast in Saskatchewan.

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.

The Lamplighter, Vancouver BC

The Lamplighter, Vancouver BC

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.

Canmore Hotel, Alberta

Canmore Hotel, Alberta.

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


The Early Years – (10 Years of the Outlaw Band)

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…

persecuted6

The Persecuted…1997

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.

bloodthirst.png

Singing in a punk band called Bloodthirst (2000-2001)

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!!’

The newspaper article that donned a nickname that donned a stage name.

The newspaper article that donned a nickname that donned a stage name.

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 everWISEFlyingFolk.png 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.

The Hot Footed Haints, our Commercial Drive Busking troupe 2003

The Hot Footed Haints, our Commercial Drive Busking troupe 2003

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.

Radical Folk of the Great North, first pressing.  Sold 2500 units.

Radical Folk of the Great North, first pressing. Sold 2500 units.

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.

I probably organized 4 or 5 legal defence shows like this in 2004-2005.

I probably organized 4 or 5 legal defence shows like this in 2004-2005.

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.

AnneFeeneyPoster.pngHe 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 CarletonUnivPoster.pngdearest 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.

SmellslikeQuesnel

Album #2, Quesnel County Country Punk Conspiracy sold 2000 copies.

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.

Under the Volcano, 2005

Under the Volcano, 2005

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 NorthShoreOutlook2005.pngSubhumans 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.

Georgia Straight, 2005

Georgia Straight, 2005

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.YukonNewsCover.png

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.

10 years already.

10 years already.

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…


Why I Largely Stopped Playing Left-Wing Freebie Shows

First of all I never intended to be a band leader, a folk singer, a songwriter or anything like that.  It all began back in the summer of 2001 when I decided to drop out of University and moved back north of Madoc to live in the old Dudgeon farmhouse.  I had already had a lot of experience in music up to that 21st year of my life.  I had played bass in punk metal bands like the Persecuted, Fart Bomb Appartment and Notwithstanding AE.  I was the music pastor of a small church in Hamilton Ontario for the better part of two years while in University but mostly played drums come service time.  I had experience singing and I was fine with doing it, let’s just say it wasn’t something I felt like I was real strong at despite having vocal control.  I had been the singer in my high school jazz band, did some guest appearances with Clifton David (Kirk Broadbridge) in Belleville and was the singer of a punk band for two years called Bloodthirst.

Despite all that, my heart and soul yearned to start another punk band so I could play bass.  However north of Hwy 7 sittin at the old farmhouse it became apparent I would be waiting a lot of years to get a fully operational band together again.  It also dawned on me that once civilization collapsed and the lights went out there would be no metal bands.  The lure of the acoustic called me once again and I started writing my own punky style of folk and country music believing someday I could tell those stories anywhere and anytime there were six strings on my guitar.

That whole summer of 2001 I had no job.  I made all my money by busking in Belleville.  As it was a 75km hitch hike to get there my chosen method to busk was to yell poetry at people on the street.  Belleville had never seen this before and I raked it in alright every week, taking time away to go back to the farmhouse or to go camping on some epic adventure in Algonquin Park.

When I decided to come west my identity was Joey Streetpoet.  I played and sang some but my inclination was that no one was gonna like my songs in and of themselves, that the songs had to have a purpose.  As a young politically motivated anarchist I sang ‘radical folk’ songs.  It was October 2002 when I finally landed in Vancouver and got the nickname Joey Only because of a misunderstanding with a reporter who liked my speech at the Woodwards Squat.  Soon I was playing the odd show as Joey Only and I became known as ‘the radical folk singer’.

So there I was in Vancouver, busking to get by every day.  Not because I thought I was gonna be a star but because I was poor and the idea of sitting in my 45square foot appartment playing my songs to myself disturbed me greatly.  I didn’t see myself properly yet.  I had no confidence in my material.  I truly believed nobody wanted to hear a song that was about ME, so I sang political ditties and old fashioned folk-country tunes.  I would go to the Drive and make $30, buy a gram of weed, buy a chocolate soy milk and sit alone at night with few friends to talk to.  Truly 2003 were dark times for Joey Only as a stage persona was yet but a newborn.

I used these talents and these old songs to bolster picket lines, play legal defence benefits and chime in at protests.  Pretty soon 2004 came about and David Parsons set me up to make my first album ‘Radical Folk of the Great North’.  I should add that before I had a recording my show had next to no value, the album was the first thing that made my show worth something.  For a little while sales were good while lots of opportunity presented itself and I used whatever money I made to fight a series of criminal charges I was facing.  It was May 15th of that year I found myself in a Montreal jail cell for what would be the start of a two year court battle.

In that way the government truly borned Joey Only for good…for until that legal battle in Montreal came up I never put much effort into getting paying gigs.  This was when I began to tour Canada just to afford to get to court.

It was also around this time though that I started getting disillusioned with my role in the community.  For the first while I was bitter at the Montreal organizers of the Westmount protest, I wrongly felt like I had been hung out to dry.  This began a time of travelling back and forth to Montreal, a time where I had to ask for some money to play my show just so I could get east and defend myself in court.  At this same time I started feeling like I wasn’t being appreciated properly in Vancouver as well.  I was getting disillusioned by the left on the whole due to infighting and inner struggles within the Vancouver protest scene.

Over the course of the next two years there were many times I was asked to come play at events put on by the Vancouver left.  However many times I felt like I came and did what was expected of me but wasn’t even thanked or paid…or in some cases offered a free beer for my services.  I got the impression the left wing community was willing to use my talents but didn’t take them all that seriously.  I remember after one show at the Alf House feeling very disturbed by how selfish the other acts were, I ended up leaving without playing a note or recieving any appreciation whatsoever.  I was bitter.  I felt like quitting that night forever.  I knew how depressed moments like that made me and I was scared that I couldn’t take that sort of humiliation.  I was pretty crazy at the time and I struggled to have meaningful friendships.

There were small examples of this dynamic not being true as the Palestinian refugee’s loved my song No One Is Illegal.  They had me play at a number of events where I was the only white guy, they treated me with dignity and respect.  But many times I played for the protest crowds and did not feel so warm afterward.

Still, time passed.  I felt like it was important to turn down more and more shows that didn’t pay to protect myself from depression.  At first it wasn’t about the money although I needed that.  It was more about the appreciation and I realized that if asked for a price, they might say no, and that would be fine cause they I didn’t really want me anyway.

Then in Dec 2005-Jan 2006 I landed in Whitehorse.  Soon the local musicians gave me shit for not charging the bars enough.  They explained politely how in doing so I was driving the wages down for all the local musicians in town.  I accepted this though when I made my own band still found it very difficult to set a price.  But we got better and better and more in demand and the price became a mechanism to turn down shows that would deplete my energy and my bands morale.

In creating the Outlaw Band in the spring of 2006 there was a noticeable change in my material and my show.  The show became less political and less directed to the left wing.  The concept of the Outlaw Band was to use wild western imagery to speak to the idea of freedom and revolution is our own era.  However I didn’t try to blatantly promote the revolution in the way I had before.  The Outlaw Band was not going to play coffee-houses, talent nights, protests or anything like that…we were gonna become a working band and we were gonna make bar owners want us.

I also knew by this time that left wing folk singers have an uphill battle to survive.  When professional political folk singer David Rovics asked for $500 for a show we did in Ottawa people were incensed, even though David was American and had a fairly arduous travel schedule just to attend the show.  They interpretted that as David not being for the cause, that he was in some way a representation of capitalism for having a bottom dollar.  Personally I had done alright playing union events but after I was blacklisted by Jim Sinclair and the BC Fed I only got the odd union gig for CUPW in places like Halifax or Calgary.  Playing the political folk music was not a good career choice if I couldn’t do it in my own province.

Part of this was my disillusionment with my role in the left and part of it was my desire to make music my living.  But another part of my changing was  a desire to speak to the working class of Canada on a greater level and not be some left wing freak show preaching to the already converted.  By speaking the common language I believed someday they would have a better understanding of why I am an anarchist and that my far flung ideas could be indeed normalized through tireless performances.  It largely worked.  I sang cowboy songs to the Albertans until they liked me and then by the nights end I sang a few tunes such as “Stephen Harper is a Nazi Douchebag and I Hate Him So Much” and the Albertans laughed and laughed at me.  It didn’t matter if they agreed with my politics, they liked me because I was one of them.  I liked them because they paid better than BC did.

I got better at setting a bottom dollar..however I wasn’t good enough.  Truly one of the main things that costed my that first Outlaw Band lineup of members, who did 200-450 shows with me, was how far and how long we travelled for how little we got in return sometimes.  There were blow ups on the road regarding money when band members found themselves too broke to eat properly or pay their rent once we got home.  Eventually a few of my members were picked off by Fred Eaglesmith, a professional, who could afford to pay them a gaurantee every night of the week.

The one thing that became apparent over the course of those 450 shows was that when we kicked it into high gear the bars sold a lot of beers.  Routinely we would outsell other bands, even if we played on a Wednesday.  Selling more than $3000 in beer was becoming common and we knew that the bars were raking it on off of our backs.  Still at that time we were struggling to build an audience and build our connections, we would play for less before we’d risk losing a show.  We demanded better and slowly starting getting it more and more often.  We were living in poverty despite playing so many amazing shows, we couldn’t do it like that forever.

When a promoter once told me that playing his show would be good for exposure I retorted, ‘I’m dying from exposure!’

Soon I quit music due to personal disillusionment, moved to Wells took it easy, started a family and soon got a brand new ass kicking band together.  Each member of the band now is a family person.  It can be very inconvenient for us to all get together.  Nowadays we require a lot more than I did 10 years when I was just getting started.  But the product we have to offer is a lot better now too.  I am 10 years more experienced as a band leader and when we come we come to rock it.  With families and things to do in life it is a lot of work for us to put on the show we do for you.

But now you know.  It’s often our job to sell beer and we know what that’s worth.  We know now that it’s okay to say NO to shows that will stretch your bands morale or make life harder for my players and their families.  Now I know that I don’t have to play every small town bar for next to nothing because we laid the ground work out.  Now I know that if it’s a fundraiser, or a show for a good cause, it has to be well promoted and we must be well appreciated for giving our time and energy.

The one thing I never want to feel again is anger leaving a show…or that feeling of despair because I tried so hard but people really didn’t seem to get it.  Now I know that low paying and poorly organized shows can tear a band apart quicker than any personal dynamic can.  Now I know that when bands play for next to nothing they drive wages for artists down across the board.  Artists need to be appreciated and they need to be treated nicely because most of what we do to prepare for our performance pays nothing.  So many amazing performers ran out of steam and quit altogether because it was not worth it for them to keep going.  Think of the talent we’ve lost simple because musicians were sick of being taken advantage of, sick of the futility of going nowhere and getting nothing in return.

I beg of you…if you have a band and you are willing to play for less than $100 a person, all you are doing is making it harder for professional quality bands to get what we deserve.  You are stealing our work like scabs and making it harder for us to survive.  We put in our time, we paid our dues…don’t undermine us.  Don’t allow venue owners to pocket thousands off of our backs, the relationship needs to go both ways.  Also, if your band isn’t ready to play a bar for a night keep practicing, put on house shows, get hot before you come play for free.  We put that effort in so we want you to do that as well.  Don’t drive down the quality of performance out there, when a crowd goes and sees a poorly rehearsed and shitty band they are less likely to take a chance on seeing us the next weekend…much less pay for it.

See yourselves as having value for the countless hours of writing, practicing, planning, travelling, setting up, playing, tearing down and travelling home.  That is what professionalism looks like.

I’d like to finish by saying that my disillusionment with the left and with my former role as ‘the radical folk singer’ is no one’s fault.  Although there are real critiques I could make of situations that affected my withdrawal from that role part of it was also a personal battle to find value in myself.  It’s taken me that long to truly love myself, believe in what I bring to the table and to see my role in the community for what it really is.

I demand more now so I play less.  But I get better gigs than I ever did before.  I created value for myself.  I try to balance that by behaving professionally, working hard, having a good attitude and giving what I can of myself without selling my players out.  If it only lasts a few years I’ll enjoy it, I’m in my hayday right now.