35 Years of Stony Plain Records
I’ve just checked on the morning mail here at CKUA only to be reminded that it is indeed Easter Monday and only a few of us are working in downtown Edmonton today, hence the easy flow of traffic heading into work this morning.
I have however fished from my mail bunk, a "hot off the production line" copy of 35 Years of Stony Plain
, that Holger must have left for me over Easter weekend.
Only a day earlier, while rifling through some music memorabilia, did I stop and look at a handbill from the Bam Boo Club in Toronto, which was one of the venues where Stony Plain Records celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1986.
The Bam Boo handbill/calendar was a reminder that Stony Plain acts and affiliated artists converged on Queen Street in Toronto, the other venue was the Horseshoe Tavern, and they collectively lit up the big city from April 7 through 12 twenty-five years ago, bringing Stony Plain some well deserved national coverage that had eluded the label
prior to that celebration.
Bob Carpenter and Bim, aka Roy Forbes, were handling the folkier side of things at the Bam Boo during the early part of the week, while Mendelson Joe added some musical gristle to the proceedings.
I certainly remember sitting in the small and inviting Bam Boo on the Tuesday night anxiously awaiting a rare performance on Canadian soil from acoustic guitar visionary Tony Rice and his band., At the time the Tony Rice Unit included a young John Reischman on mandolin. Yes the music was remarkable, as Rice was mining and interpreting the music of some of his favorite jazz artists and continuing to add brilliant originals to a catalogue that had been turning heads since his days with David Grisman. Near the front of the room sat Gordon Lightfoot, who was also waiting to catch this amazing artist. Why was Lightfoot there? Because Rice, along with being a pioneer of the jazz-grass sound, had been releasing some of the most riveting and personalized takes of Lightfoot tunes that had ever been recorded.
Lightfoot had more than taken notice and it was one of the many memorable evenings during that first real celebration of Edmonton’s Stony Plain Records, and the catalogue Holger Petersen had been building.
That same week it was announced that Prairie Oyster’s debut disc would be on the Edmonton-based label and the party also presented the first gigs that Amos Garrett, Gene Taylor and Doug Sahm would perform under the banner of The Formerly Brothers.
There was a contingent of Edmontonians who made their way to Hogtown to help Holger celebrate, and somewhere there are incriminating pictures of many individuals having way to much fun, but they were not part of the memorabilia package where I found the handbill.
Twenty-five years later, as Richard Flohil’s liner notes suggest in the booklet accompanying the 35 Years of Stony Plain set, things are much different in the world of music and the world at large.
But Stony Plain keeps on ticking, and “the blues” continues to be a major part of the labels’ thrust today. If there aren’t as many releases in a year as there were a decade ago, quality remains high, just listen to the latest offering from Rory Block, Shake ‘Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell.
Just a few weeks ago Stony Plain announced the signing of two superb Canadian blues acts. Ottawa’s Monkeyjunk is without question the hottest young roots acts in the country and arguably on the continent. To Behold, the bands first disc for Stony Plain, will be released on June 21. The other signing finds west-coast pianist/vocalist Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne doing his thing on an album called An Old Rock On A Roll that will be released on the same day as the new Monkeyjunk offering.
“Kenny has had such an interesting journey, being raised in New Orleans, working alongside so many legends and eventually winding up in Vancouver where he’s become a favourite on that scene and found a home. Pairing Kenny with Duke Robillard worked out very well,” says Petersen of the two musicians who are also represented on the 35 Years
of Stony Plain set.
Hardcore blues fans and those who tune in regularly to CKUA’s Natch’l Blues
are guaranteed to dip into Disc Two frequently.
It’s a dynamic set where tempos fluctuate from tune to tune, featured instrumentation runs from the crisp and fluid guitar playing of Robillard, Joe Louis Walker or Ronnie Earl to the stylized piano playing of Jay McShann that influenced so many players from the
There are numerous examples of inspired vocal performances, and two worth noting come from artists who have been associated with the label for years who also resided in western Canada, those being Big Dave McLean and the late-Long John Baldry.
The bonuses include four previously unreleased tunes by American blues legend Robert Nighthawk from his last sessions that were captured on tape in Toronto in 1965. That indeed was a great find.
Disc one, titled Singers, songwriters and so much more….., winds down with three Bob Carpenter songs culled from demo sessions recorded in Toronto in 1979. Recently unearthed, these gems represent one of Canada’s greatest but most underappreciated tunesmiths. One pass through these performances and one is reminded that Tom Rush, Brent Titcomb and Billy Joe Shaver championed Carpenter’s poetic passages in the seventies. That these Carpenter tunes are included on this set that must have come together in a painstaking process is also a real reflection of the deep foundation that Stony Plain is set upon. Carpenter, who sadly lost a battle with cancer in 1995, and Petersen became friends at a time when The Hovel and the Barricade Coffee House were the venues of destination for roots music fans in this city.
Toss in a bonus DVD that brings together videos from some of Alberta’s finest, such as Ian Tyson, Corb Lund, and Jr. Gone Wild and other cinematic takes from Jeff Healey, Jay McShann and The Paperboys, and voila, 35 years of vision, passion and diligence is condensed into a couple of evenings worth of repeated listening and viewing pleasure.
In late 2009, we at CKUA saluted Holger for his 40 years of producing and hosting Natch’l Blues
, and I think I speak for all of us at CKUA when congratulating our friend, who continues to inspire us all, on 35 years of delivering great roots music around the globe via Stony Plain Records.