If any Canadian folk artist’s discography deserves the “kid gloves” treatment when it comes to re-releasing a catalogue, one doesn’t have to look any further than that of the late Stan Rogers.
Most Canuck folk and roots music fans over the age of 40 know the story of this larger-than-life figure who became a national treasure within four years of releasing his debut album Fogerty’s Cove in 1976.
As we also know, and seem to recall as though it was yesterday, Rogers died at age of 33 on an Air Canada flight bound from Dallas Texas to Toronto 29 years ago. The smoke from an in-flight fire took the lives of 23 passengers just as the flight had made an emergency landing at the Greater Cincinnati airport. Rogers had just wrapped up an engagement at the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival and was destined and set to find an equally adoring audience stateside.
Three years earlier Rogers had been part of what was dubbed the “Travelling Folk Festival and Goodtime Medicine Show”, which as the name suggests, travelled all over Alberta as part of the 75th birthday celebrations of the province.
According to the lore from the day, and depending on whom one talks to, Rogers was either court jester or brigadier general of the troupe, which included Connie Kaldor, Sylvia Tyson, Stringband, Paul Hann, and John Allen Cameron.
Within short order the man could sell out sizeable campus halls and I certainly remember Rogers' late night main stage performance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival at Gallagher Park in 1982 where he commanded one’s complete attention.
Here we are thirty years later and Stan’s brother Garnet is still out on the road while his son Nathan has added another branch to the family songwriting tree.
In Toronto, the brain trust at Borealis Records has been keenly focused for the last couple of years on re-releasing the Rogers catalogue.
Between the Breaks…Live! and Turnaround landed in my mailbox last week and the digitally re-mastered albums sound spectacular, or as the accompanying Borealis press release states, “simply stunning,”
Paul Mills and Bill Garrett, who were in Rogers’ corner early on, are two of the founding members of the Borealis label, along with Ken Whitely and Grit Laskin.
Mills was Rogers’ producer and Garrett was the associate producer for Between the Breaks…Live! when the crew rolled tape at The Groaning Board folk club and organic eatery in Toronto during the spring of 1979.
“Yes I was at some of those original sessions and listening to these releases sounds like I’m in the studio again,” said Garrett earlier this week from his Borealis office.
Stating that the first round of Rogers re-releases on compact disc over twenty years ago sounded “okay”, Garrett went on to say that with these two re-masters and the re-mastered released of Fogerty’s Cove last year, the Borealis team has reason to be “ecstatic.”
“When the tapes came into our hands they were sent out for restoration and to be baked. They were remastered by Joao Carvalho and Paul, and Richard Hess did the digital transfers,” continued Garrett who has stitched together a wonderfully fine-tuned resume of his own through the years. Among other things, Garrett co-hosted CBC’s 'Touch The Earth' with Sylvia Tyson for 18 years and he’s produced over 60 folk and roots albums.
For you techies, one of the reasons for the brilliant sound on these re-issues is that the transfers were done at an exceedingly high bit rate.
When asked if he felt these releases would inspire a bit of a Stan Rogers renaissance Garrett’s answer was two-fold.
He first mentioned that when Rogers' widow Ariel came to Borealis, the original Rogers website had “in effect gone dry” over the last few years.
“But you know that songs like "Barrett’s Privateers" have certainly stuck around. At any time at a gathering with folk musicians or folk fans, someone could entice everyone to sing a great Stan Rogers tune.
“It’s also interesting that Nathan’s agent convinced him last year to tour a show presenting the material of his father and those shows were very well received and they served Nathan well,” added Garrett.
It is a deep well of song that Stan Rogers created in such a short time and anyone who is still moved by pieces like "The Witch of the Westmorland", "The Mary Ellen Carter", "Forty-Five Years", "Fogarty’s Cove" or "Try Like The Devil" needs to snag copies of these re-released recordings. The artwork has been expanded on and tastefully tweaked by A Man Called Wrycraft and the sets also contain additional album notes from Ariel Rogers and Paul Mills.
If you can’t find them at your favorite record head to the Borealis website at borealisrecords.com.
On another note coming from the desk of Mr. Garrett, the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference, which goes in Mississauga October 11 thru 14, is planning to display a history of Canadian folk clubs at the annual event that is built around seminars and showcases.
“We’re looking for copies of any photos of Canadian folks clubs and venues through the years from all across the country. We’d love pics and files of any other memorabilia as well,” says Garrett who should be able to put together quite the display with his crew.
I’ll be sending him some scans of posters from the Hovel days in Edmonton that had the 109th Street and Jasper Avenue venue presenting artists like Jesse Winchester, bluesman Johnny Shines, and Leon Redbone for admission prices that never went above $4. I think Garrett will also be pleasantly surprised to see a handbill/poster from Bruce Cockburn’s five night stand at the Barricade Coffee House in the early seventies.
So if you have any such memorabilia you want to scan, hi res and large files of course, and send Garrett’s way, head to the Borealis website and find the appropriate e-mail address and fire away.