March 3rd 2016 will mark 10 years since the first Outlaw Band pilot show at Spartacus Books in Vancouver BC. Today’s blog is about how the first of the original six members joined the band in 2006. Even to this day members of the original six have been known to occasionaly back me up for a show. Some of them have played more than 300 shows in the Outlaw Band. I owe them much thanks…
MEMBER #1: CHRISTINA ZIPPY ZAENKER:
Meeting Zippy was one of those life changing flukes that seem so ordinary at the time. But 10 years later you realize that everything about your life began to change because of this one or two things that innocently came together. Zippy helped form the vision of the band, helped introduce me to my hometown of Wells BC and even helped me survive a terrible disease that would like to have beaten me.
For all these things to happen I first had to become friends with Zippy Zaenker. In order to befriend Zippy I had to unknowingly set myself up for the occasion by making a series of choices that seemed inconsequential at the time. A number of things could have happened differently which may have led to us never meeting and never becoming friends at all. Thankfully things played out how they did because Zippy is still an important friend in my life.
SMELLS LIKE QUESNEL
In the summer of 2005 there was this 18 year old named Jesse Matthies who decided to throw some punk shows in his hometown of Quesnel BC. He invited me up to play with no gaurantee of success but because I had never been to the Cariboo Region I decided it was worth the gamble. At the very least it would give me another opportunity to road trip to a part of the province I hadn’t seen. Jesse and I had already met in Vancouver the winter before but it was during this trip Quesnel where Jesse and I became lifelong friends.
Hanging out in his parents basement one night we started jamming on a country standard when somewhere out of the blue I started improvising some words with my sore and broken voice. The two of us were almost laying down because we were so baked and playing our guitars very passively, somehow from this innocent moment a new pathway in my life opened up.
“Hey you know, that’s funny, we should write a song out of this right now. Ever co-write a song?”
So right then and there we jotted some words down together collaboratively constructing the framework of the song in a matter of 20 minutes. The song we wrote was called Smells Like Quesnel’s Teen Spirit…but was later shortened to Smells Like Quesnel, was reworked, hooks and solo’s added and then later finalized.
As the evening wore on I said something to the effect of, “it’s a good song, we should do something with it. I kinda got an idea for half an album already and some tracks recorded, we should do a split record with your band.”
Jesse thought it was a great idea, before the night was over we had an agreement for a basic framework for the production. I went back down to Vancouver to get a bunch of gear while Jesse organized another punk show in Quesnel with the intention of helping pay for my trip back to the Cariboo. That show became the legendary drunkfest of 2005 as swarms of teenagers converged on the Elks Hall to see the Effigy, the Hippiecritz, the Tups and the Taberfucks.
With a weeks work we threw together the album QUESNEL COUNTY COUNTRY PUNK CONSPIRACY at Effigy member David McKillicans house…it just so happened that 15 year old David was already a sensational drummer and his father owned a useful music studio. Although David’s dad Barry took great care to not get involved and let us figure the whole thing out for ourselves he was still real supportive in other ways. This was how I first became friends with Quesnel’s infamous music family the McKillicans.
This was my second recording I had released and it wasn’t really selling all that well compared to Radical Folk. There were also some issues with the sound quality having too much bass due to our lack of understanding on mixing and mastering. After hearing the final product I thought maybe we should have asked Barry to help us with the recording. Then there was the fact that a lot of my folk music fans weren’t all that interested in the punk band at the end of the record.
Despite all those draw backs somehow or another Christina Zippy Zaenkers attention was drawn to the song Smells Like Quesnel. I still don’t know how she first heard it. It so conveniently happened that she was on the board of directors of a fledgling festival near Quesnel called Artswells Festival of All Things Art. Zippy thought it was a hilarious song, without being too disrespectful, and showed it to the other members of Artswells board.
Quesnel smells like the pulp and paper mills,
the smog lays low between the rolling hills,
you might get brain cancer here, oh well,
we’re alright here in Quesnel, we’re alright here in Quesnel.
I guess the other board of directors liked it too because one day out of the blue I got a myspace message from this Zippy Zaenker saying how much they liked the song. I guess this is a good reason to be a Canadiana folk singer as opposed to singing those Nashville songs…quite often I’ve opened doors just by singing about this town or that town. After having been to Wells for a mountain hike the summer before I instantly accepted the festivals offer which would one day lead to the opening of many more doors.
(EDITORS NOTE: Zippy tells me she saw a poster for a show I did with Leela Gilday at the Railway Club and looked up my myspace where she first heard the song).
Of course I said I’d be interested in playing the festival. I loved it up in the Cariboo and would relish any chance to get back up there again to see the friends I had made. Through all this correspondence I somehow learned that Zippy played cello rather professionally. She in turn soon learned how I was thinking of starting some sort of really original country-folk concept band. One thing led to another and soon enough we got together and started jamming as a duo mostly at David Roy Parsons place.
(In some ways seeing Corbin and Naomi currently playing in Prince George under the name Power Duo reminds me of these times playing with Zippy).
On March 3rd the first show of the fledgling Joey Only Outlaw Band took place. It was a pilot show in the sense that this wasn’t the band yet I was going to build and I fully knew that. What I was looking for was try different players out to see what was possible, to see how the audience would respond and to see where I could possibly take these new ideas. It was a fruitful venture to say the least, I crossed some ideas off the board soon had a direction.
Before the band fully existed the artwork style, logo, name and concept of the wild west anarchist-bank robbin-outlaws was cemented. The show featured a bit of a haphazard line-up of acoustic players that I wasn’t sure how I could fit into one project. But there were one thing that worked through that pilot show which affirmed that this was worth the work. That was the sound and feel of playing with Zippy.
Through this show I found that Zippy added a lot of feeling to those songs and sonically suggested an entirely different direction from what I had in mind. At this point I deconstructed whatever model I’d imagined for this band and decided that we would play as a duo until I figured out how to build this band. At this point I couldn’t see how a bassist or a drummer could fit in with an acoustic duo of a folk singer and cellist. At least for now I had one solid and talented player who could both follow my music with ease, remember all the parts and could sing excellent back ups. For the next week after the show I went back to the drawing board.
There were some other people who played that first show including future bassist Rick McCallion. I give Christina credit as the first Outlaw for a number of reasons which I will make more clear when my next blog (about Rick) is ready. Rick played bass in the first set that night and James Forrest played most of the rest of the night. After the show I had to make some decisions on how to proceed as I believe bass is the most important part of the band, for reasons I’ll explain later I eventually decided to roll with Rick. There were other people who played in the group that night including T.Nile, Andy Mason, David Parsons and Luka but none of them ever became members.
By a stroke of luck I chose a really good person to start building the foundations of the band with. By the time June rolled around I was becoming sick with a potentially life threatening disease with neither the family or finances to care for myself properly. If it weren’t for the kindness of friends like Zippy I don’t know how I would have got through that very scary and difficult time. Not only that but my first trip to Artswells that summer also started me on a journey that ultimately led to me living here and starting a family…but those are stories waiting for another day to be published.
Zippy and I played a variety of my most thought provoking original songs at the time such as Learn’in To Live, I Dreamed I Saw Dudley George and No Glamrock Country Stars. We also played some songs that I never published and sometimes wish I had of such as Cooper Road Drunk Drivers, It Rains But It Pours, These Plains and A Vision Of the One.
I was soon to add Rick McCallion to the list of potential members and in a short time meet both Rowan Lipkovits and Kenan Sungur. The original line-up was about to come together in a very natural way. Collectively we were about to carve out a new sound, a new shtick and a new attitude towards folk and country music.
But that’s also a story for another day…
What I can tell you without giving away the plot of future blog posts is that Zippy played nearly every show we did from spring 2006 till the end of 2007 when she started to step back. She still joined us for a lot of shows in 2008 but by then the band was getting louder, faster and crazier. We were stepping on her parts and making it hard for her bass-mid frequency instrument to be found in the mix. Our volume caused constant feedback problems for her gear as well. I doubt it would be a stretch to suggest that Zippy probably played 150-200 shows in my band, no small feat.
But there were no hard feelings when Zippy announced she was going to start stepping back. Even after Zippy’s time of formally playing on our travelling road show she made appearances on the next two recordings we produced…which were the Fire On Anarchist Mountain (2008) and Transgression Trail (2010) albums. She’s sat in with me on shows a number of other times and still remains a highly trusted and respected friend….and will always be the very first Outlaw Band, unless you count Rick or myself. I guess realistically I am actually the first…but I’ll give it to Zippy anyway.
…NEXT CHAPTER…BASSIST RICK McCALION