Rappin’ With Roy
So just what could possibly be missing on a day where spring was definitely on the horizon and old man winter was definitely in the rear view mirror?
The birds were singing, the sky was wide open and blue and the windows were cracked open. The disc on the old turntable, that was dispensing one great tune after another, was Levon Helm’s first solo venture with the RCO All-Stars. It was a set that was released a year after The Band said goodbye for the first time in 1976.
Pristine vinyl, there’s nothing like it, especially when the voice that lies deep in the grooves is Levon’s, as he tumbles through tunes like Havana Moon, The Tie That Binds, Blues So Bad and Rain Down Tears. Thirty-eight minutes of soulful perfection, performed with a crackerjack band of pals, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Duck Dunn, Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper all on the frontline.
Seems like all was idyllic in this punter’s world.
There is however nothing more appreciated than an unscheduled whirlwind chat with Mr. Roy Forbes
, who had decided to send me a midday e-mail missive.
One e-mail fired back in response, and five minutes later I’m dialing Roy’s west coast number.
The host of CKUA's Roy’s Record Room
, and one of Canada’s most gifted tunesmiths, was ready to give me the lowdown on the 2011 edition of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions, that had been held in Toronto on Saturday April 2.
Roy has been on one of the induction committees for “a couple of years”. He’s really enjoyed hanging with respected music journalist Larry Leblanc, Prairie Oyster pianist Joan Besen and other colleagues, determining which inspirational artists are next in line for induction into this hall of fame that came into existence a few years ago.
“Sylvia Tyson, who is the current president of the organization, pops in every now and again. We all throw ideas around and are dealing with a big backlog of deserving inductees,” says Forbes of the organization, which over the past eight years has inducted Rush, Paul Anka, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, Gordon Lightfoot, Robert Charlebois, Claude Dubois, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Félix Leclerc, Raymond Lévesque, Gilles Vigneault, Bob Nolan, Claude Léveillée, Shelton Brooks, Serge Deyglun, and Hank Snow. An equally impressive list of songs, including Spinning Wheel, Comme j’ai toujours envie d’aimer, Universal Soldier, En veillant su’l perron, O Canada, L’Adieu Du Soldat, Far Away Places, When You and I Were Young Maggie, Farewell to Nova Scotia, Gens du pays, A Guy is a Guy, Sweet City Woman, Heart Like a Wheel, and La Manic have also been ushered into the Hall.
This year Robbie Robertson was one of the inductees, and before accepting the award, Daniel Lanois performed Robertson’s The Moon Struck One, while Wintersleep dove into Broken Arrow.
“Robbie was very gracious, and as he stepped onto the stage he gave the house band a nod of appreciation, he was very respectful. He went on to talk about the mysteries of songwriting and his time spent with Ronnie Hawkins. Another highlight, especially for a west coaster like me, was when the song Wildflower was inducted alongside the Motherlode hit When I Die and Crowbar’s Oh What A Feeling."
Wildflower is a song that was hit on both sides of the border in 1973 and Skylark, the band that recorded the tune, included future superstar David Foster and Doug Edwards, who these days is still a top-notch Vancouver-based session player, who also hits the road as a member of Chilliwack. Like The Band, and The Full Tilt Boogie Band, Skylark had been an edition of Ronnie Hawkins' back-up band The Hawks, before venturing out on their own.
Roy figures I need to hear the story of how Wildflower has had an incredible shelf life. I’m all ears, as I loved the song from the first time I heard it. In fact, my ears still perk up when Wildflower’s beautiful melody line cuts through the ambient sounds of a shopping mall or hotel lobby via the music delivery system du jour.
“Did you know that Hank Crawford, the great jazz sax player cut a version of it back in 1973?” says Roy.
I didn’t, and I also had no idea that Color Me Badd, Johnny Mathis, Aaron Neville, Gary Morris, The O'Jays, and Lana Wolf had also covered Wildflower.
“Just piles of cover versions. This was a song that came about when Doug (Edwards) randomly picked up a piece of poetry from a substantial volume written by a guy name Dave Richardson, and started putting the words to music. He and drummer Duris Maxwell recorded their run through and then everyone else added their parts later,” continues Forbes of the tune that was sung by Wildflower frontman Donny Gerrard.
“And did you know that these days Donny Gerrard sings with Mavis Staples?” Roy asks.
I didn’t, but that’s pretty cool too, Roy.
Then it’s time for the icing on the cake as far as Wildflower goes.
“Hip Hop artists love the song and began sampling Crawford’s jazzy version of it years ago. Wildflower was first sampled by Tupac, on his song Shorty Wanna Be a Thug, and also by Kanye West and Paul Wall on their song Drive Slow. The list just keeps growing. So, Wildflower is one of the most recorded songs in Canadian history, and Divine Brown sang the hell out of it at the induction,” stated Professor Forbes with a verbal exclamation mark.
This is the edited version of the conversation, but let’s say it was time to turn the attention to the exceptional songwriting talents of Roy Forbes.
The night before this conversation, Suzie Vinnick and Rick Fines were playing at the Blue Chair Café in Edmonton. Vinnick had in hand her brand new album Me ‘N’ Mabel, a fine set of blues-dipped, streamlined acoustic performances. There, amidst the 14 songs, is a Forbes gem, Crazy ‘Bout Lovin’ Me.
“It’s really cool when somebody covers one of your songs,” says Forbes, who despite not having a publisher banging the drum for his tunes, has seen a number of his tunes revisited over the past twenty-five years.
“This is the fourth time Suzy has cut one of my songs and I also had a recent cover on Denise Withnell’s album Rose Petal Pie. She recorded Let Me Make It Up To You Tonight.”
Both of the aforementioned artists delivered splendid versions of the pieces they chose from the deep Forbes songbook, and for that matter both recordings are well worth purchasing.
Most know that Roy makes an appearance during the CKUA fundraisers and he’ll be hosting Roy’s Record Room
out of main control in Edmonton on Monday, April 11 at 6:00 p.m. Consider giving the pledge room a call, and show your support for what Roy delivers as a unique broadcaster, and why not make a musical suggestion that singles out one of the many interpretations of his tunes. Just a thought!
Forbes fans in this province will also have the opportunity to catch him at work on a couple of stages in May. On Friday May 6, the Northern Light Folk Club presents UHF, that’s Ulrich, Henderson and Forbes, at the Transalta Arts Barns, and the following night, The Bow Valley Music Club presents the trio at the Strathcona Community Centre in Calgary.
Thanks for making my day Roy, and to you to Levon. That RCO All-Stars record stands up like a marble pillar. Maybe in 20 years, when it’s got a few more pops and ticks, a few spins on Roy’s Record Room
will be in order.