Small Town Talk / Pinetop Perkins
It’s not news that far too many buildings and structures in this part of the world, with any character, pleasing architectural aesthetics, or of any historical significance, have been put to the ball and chain or bulldozed with no consideration for what they offer and reflect.
So the experience of unexpectedly finding oneself in a space that has been the gathering place of a small prairie community for almost a century, and one that is also the perfect venue to host music events, is something you can’t help but embrace.Chipman
is a small agricultural community that lies about 20 minutes north-east of Elk Island Park and it is a community that is apparently comprised of many fans of roots music and people who appreciate the sounds CKUA serves up on a daily basis.
Last week, long time Prairie Oyster lead singer Russell de Carle
found himself with his compadres, the guitar-playing Steve Briggs and accordion player Denis Keldie, booked into the Chipman community hall as part of an abbreviated swing that found the singer-songwriter playing smaller communities in northern Alberta and BC.
Chipman is located in an area of our province that was settled by hard-working Ukrainian immigrants a century ago, and the town hall reflects that heritage with a number of pieces of artwork that appear to date back to the time when the hall was built. This inviting community hall is only a stone's throw from one of those majestic Ukrainian orthodox churches that are so immediately identifiable when they appear on the horizon of the prairie landscape.
Not having a clue as to what to expect in terms of how this concert would unfold, it was obvious once we had turned on to the main street of Chipman that de Carle, Briggs and Keldie would not be playing to an empty hall.
Though not a particularly inviting night in terms of weather conditions, well over 100 residents of Chipman and surrounding area had made their way to the hall to hear de Carle sing songs from his first solo album Under the Big Big Sky that was released last year. The place was packed and probably holds somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 patrons.
When the house lights dimmed, the proscenium arch took on the qualities of a rustic but recently varnished picture frame. The performers, inset on the stage, started peeling off songs that were of the timeless variety, melodic, bluesy country and pop tunes, some penned in the Forties by a number of de Carle’s favorite artists, others written by the featured performer just a couple of years ago. Of course he made room for a couple of Prairie Oyster tunes over the course of two sets.
We’ve all seen music videos and movies that successfully recreate scenes of an era that has slipped away, but there we were, sitting in a space that insisted we had been dropped into the Fifties, and this wasn’t about great set decoration and great lighting designers.
This was the real deal!
Before the lights went down I wouldn’t have been surprised to notice someone reading a newspaper with a picture of John Diefenbaker on the front page.
The entire evening was a reminder that the live music experience isn’t always about million-dollar sound systems, bloated box-office fees, and show biz smoke and mirrors.
Members of the Chipman community are thrilled about how their friends and neighbors are supporting amateur live theatre productions, and concerts being presented in the hall.
As one audience member noted, “a lot of the villages and towns out here are dying - not Chipman, it’s a vibrant place. Unfortunately many of the Ukrainian community halls built in the Twenties have been torn down over the years; we’re lucky this one was looked after and restored.”
The town of Chipman has a superb website
and come spring, when the weather conditions are a bit better, I plan on making a return trip to one of the many events the community sponsors. Jimmy Rankin will no doubt pack the Chipman hall on Thursday May 19.
Russell deCarle summed up the experience with a big grin while emphatically stating, “can you believe this place? What a great hall and what a great bunch of people.”
And it wasn’t lost on anyone that Mr. deCarle served up “great music” to go with everything Chipman has to offer.
The passing last week of blues great Pinetop Perkins
strangely comes as a bit of surprise even though the distinguished gentleman was 97 years of age.
Pinetop was such a vibrant individual, right up until the day he died, that you just expected the pianist to make the next gig.
Thanks to a number of promoters and venues, blues fans in Alberta were able to catch Joe “Pinetop” Perkins in a number of settings over the past 35 years. He first rolled through the province with the Muddy Waters Band back in the mid-seventies. A decade later the pianist was part of the Legendary Blues Band, which was comprised of Muddy alumni.
This observer recalls some great sets that found Pinetop rockin’ alongside Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and harp player Jerry Portnoy at a joint called Jasper’s in the Convention Centre in the mid-eighties.
Cam Hayden, when he booked entertainment at the City Media Club, presented some memorable nights with Pinetop a few years later. It would be a “moths to a flame” kind of scene, as Pinetop would invariably find himself surrounded on stage with a cast of great local players, as well as superb blues men passing through town who just happened to have a night off. Pinetop’s last appearance in Alberta was at the Labatt Blues Festival in 2008 when he played with the James Cotton Band and another legend, guitarist Hubert Sumlin.
The pianist couldn’t have scripted a better curtain call than by winning his third Grammy Award, in the Best Traditional Blues Recording category, in February. The honor came via the recording Joined At the Hip, a duo effort he recorded with longtime friend Willie Smith. He was the oldest musician to have ever been honoured with a Grammy.
Pinetop fans can find a nice tribute to Pinetop on line at bluesrevue.com
, and Cam Hayden will be paying tribute to the man he worked with and got to know on the April 1 edition of The Friday Night Blues Party
from 10-10:30pm on CKUA.