Bluegrass Programming Flips The Page At CKUA
It’s a little bit of the “in with the new” here at CKUA as we anticipate a new chapter in the bluegrass broadcasting portfolio of the network.
Really, it doesn’t seem that long ago that David Ward led a charge to make sure bluegrass had a secure place on the CKUA schedule. But looking back, it was actually 12 years ago that he felt the success of the movie soundtrack for O Brother Where Art Thou
would translate into a devoted audience looking for the sounds of Monroe, Skaggs, the Stanley Brothers, Krauss, Rice, Scruggs, and Vincent on a weekly basis.
Sure enough, the ripple from that movie gave the bluegrass scene a boost and concert promoters, festivals, folk clubs and CKUA radio announcers have served up more of the sounds of banjo, mandolin, upright bass, guitar, fiddle and dobro with three part vocals than ever before in this part of the world.
The bluegrass baton was passed from David Ward to Craig Korth and for a number of years the he dished out his own unique presentation on Fire On the Mountain. During fundraisers, Craig mounted some of the more unique calls for support and delivered some hilarious moments. I know this because I was the butt of a few of his jokes on a few Sunday morning fundraisers before the show moved to its current Thursday night slot. There were also numerous, spontaneous live interludes that would find the host and a number of his talented compadres gathering around a microphone, letting the high lonesome sound rip. Typically, Korth’s musical invitation to support the network would result in the pledge room phone banks lighting up.
A touchstone to the scene, as he has been a pivotal player on the western Canadian roots front for years, Korth kept CKUA listeners up to date with local and international bluegrass news.
The good news is that the incoming host of Fire on the Mountain
has also played a role in fanning the bluegrass flame in this part of the world for some time. Steve Fisher
is his name and his resume is oh so similar to those of so many of his new CKUA co-workers.
Hats? Steve has a few. He was a successful lawyer by day, retiring in 2004, and now he directs just as much energy into making and teaching music out his home base in Calgary.
If memory serves me right, I first met Steve when he was picking and singing in a tight little quartet out of the Turner Valley area called the Sheep River Rounders, but Steve had been performing for over a decade by the time we made acquaintance. The group, that also included some veterans of Ian Tyson’s bands, left us with one album, Four Rode By. Since then Steve has also led the group Restless Lester, which has released one disc to date, that being Endless Skies. Somewhere along the line he also found time to release his first solo album. River is an impressive piece of work that features contributions from some of the best acoustic players around and any time a disc has John Reischman, Sally Van Meter and Chris Jones making contributions, it’s going to demand more than a cursory listen.
Steve has also served on boards for various roots music organizations and continues to teach and mentor young players.
For a time in the early nineties he found himself behind a microphone in the CJSW studios on the U of C campus, splitting a time slot with artist manager Neil McGonigill for a show called The Lost Roundup and it was something he thoroughly enjoyed.
“To be honest this call regarding Fire on the Mountain
came right out of the blue. But my first reaction was that I wanted to do it,” admits Fisher, who quickly put together a demo tape for CKUA program director Brian Dunsmore.
The next few hurdles were cleared Steve makes his CKUA debut on Thursday January 6 at 6 p.m., and he has an overall template or roadmap for Fire On The Mountain
“It’s about starting with the broadest idea first. In my mind all good music is on the same footing, whether it was created 40 years ago or four months ago. So I want to play a lot of old records that are great but work hard at finding and exposing the new stuff that is worthy,” says Fisher.
On the new music front he immediately points to The Punch Brothers, led by monster mandolin player Chris Thile, and an emerging crew called Joy Kills Sorrow.
“I saw the Punch Brothers in Wyoming last summer. The music is challenging and they are one of the most exciting acts I’ve ever seen, but for such sophisticated musicians, they have a lot of fun and don’t take themselves too seriously.
“Joy Kills Sorrow is an act I caught in Memphis when I attended Folk Alliance last year playing guitar for Cori Brewster. I had vaguely heard about them and I understood why there was such a buzz about the group after catching a showcase. Another artist I admire is Michael Jerome Brown and his old style fretless banjo playing, that Doc Boggs kind of thing,” added Fisher, who expects to invite guests onto the show from time to time.
A rebranding of Fire on the Mountain will likely happen some time down the road, but for the time being Fisher is just pleased to be the newest member of the CKUA on-air staff.
“When I was in law school I was always championing CKUA to my fellow students. Somewhere I have boxes of cassette tapes of Holger’s H.P. Sauce interviews. I first heard the music of Doc Watson and Ry Cooder on CKUA and Bill Coull might be the best radio announcer any of us have ever heard. It means a lot to me to have this opportunity.
“Right now the plan is to just produce a good, straight forward bluegrass show, that is all about the music.”
Welcome to CKUA Steve, and we all look forward to hanging with you a little bit once the spring fundraiser rolls around.