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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.