The Sheepdogs/Influential Clubs
One would imagine that most roots rock fans on this side of the border, and I mean north of the 49th not west of the longitude line that runs through Lloydminster, were pulling for The Sheepdogs
in the contest to see what unsigned band would end up on the cover of Rolling Stone.
The Saskatoon based quartet had cleared all the hurdles over the past few months and over time were one of two acts left standing from an initial pool of 16 groups.
The Sheepdogs were the sole Canadian act in the running for the coveted prize of gracing the cover of “the Stone”, which over the last couple of years has done an excellent job of returning to a format where a favorable balance in coverage of musical styles and in-depth and insightful political features are the order of the day.
That the winner of the Battle of the Bands would find themselves hooked up with Atlantic Records would be enough to make any band salivate, especially one such as The Sheepdogs that was basically lurching from gig to gig in a country where touring is still about as tough as it gets anywhere in the western world when having to deal with the vast landscapes that lie between major centres.
In early July at the Dauphin Country Fest I witnessed The Sheepdogs rolling into a backstage area as the group was following sets from the Brent Parkin Band, The Heartbroken and Front Porch Roots Revue. While everyone else on the bill was traveling in relative comfort, the Sheepdogs, at a glance looked to be dog tired. The van in which the band was traveling looked like it needed to bond as soon as possible with the nearest industrial strength compactor.
This did not look like a band sitting at the crossroads of the big time, or in baseball terms, set for a trip to “the show.”
Fortunately I had caught the band in action just a few weeks earlier during the Prairie Scene festival in Ottawa. The group rocked hard, and the audience was treated to a great front of house sound mix. On that particular night The Sheepdogs were impressing a number of visitors from south-of-the-border, which they continued to do both via the internet, and in concert as the Rolling Stone contest marched on.
Some 1.5 million votes were cast over the course of the Rolling Stone contest and, as we know, The Sheepdogs came out the winners.
So there they are on the front of the August 18 newsstand edition of the music magazine with the highest readership on the continent and the banner reads “Canada Beats U.S. In Battle Of Bands.”
The profile of the band was written by Austin Scaggs, son of Boz, and judging by the tone of the disc, Austin Scaggs is a scribe who was not just assigned to write about the band, but an observer who appreciates the musical foundation from which the Sheepdogs work.
In fact it was Scaggs who turned the Kings of Leon onto the band and not long afterward the Kings offered the Sheepdogs an opening slot on a fall tour. Unfortunately since that offer was extended, the Kings tour has been scrapped due to some sort of mental fatigue or breakdown one of the Kings is dealing, or not dealing with.
So, while the article is going to do nothing but boost the fortunes of the band and send new and potential fans to both the Sheepdogs and Rolling Stone website for a listen, the extensive expose left more than a few stones unturned and a few that should have been left alone.
One wonders if band members were given any media coaching before heading into this territory as readers aren’t going to get enough inside information on what the band is about musically, how they’veevolved individually and as a group through the years, or for that matter what their collective expectations are for a forthcoming session for Atlantic Records.
Instead Scaggs, although maybe not intententially, painted a portrait that presents Ryan Gullen, Ewan Currie, Sam Corbett, and Leot Hanson as small town hosers. Who in Saskatoon or western Canada needs the highlighter pen landing on such memorable quotes as Gullen’s boastful reminder that, “there’s an old saying, ‘Saskatoon’s got nothing but hookers and hockey players.’”
Follow that up a few graphs later with a nice visual of the bass playing Gullen losing his lunch on the steps of a recording studio and you get the drift.
Hmmm. The last few times I’ve been to Saskatoon, I’ve experienced a great winter blues festival, a scene that boasts a number of well run music venues, a wonderful community nestled alongside a gorgeous river valley, fine cafes, and a laid back vibe. Saskatoon’s beautiful tree lined streets run through neighborhoods filled with character, well-maintained houses built in the thirties and forties that look like they will be standing for another century.
Thankfully some of us have had the chance to be impressed with the Sheepdogs in concert, but for anyone whose first introduction to the band was via Rolling Stone, issue 1137, pick up a copy of The Sheepdogs 2010 recording Learn & Burn as it will give you a different take on what the band is about.
I do know that I will continue playing the ‘Dogs on Dead Ends and Detours and will look forward to the next recording project for Atlantic.
On the subject of American publications taking notice of things are decidedly Canadian, a recent summer issue of Billboard magazine included Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on a list of America’s 10 Most Influential Clubs
Built in 1929, the second story dance hall on Granville Street is also the oldest music hall on the list, and it sits alongside such hallowed halls as the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, The Showbox at The Market in Seattle and The Troubadour in Hollywood. San Francisco and L.A. landed two venues each on the list as the opulent Great American Music Hall in the Bay Area and The Music Box in L.A. were also top picks.
Anyone who has attended a show at the Commodore knows that it remains one of the classiest concert venues around, providing great sight lines, a horsehair sprung dance floor, and a beautiful aesthetic in all facets of design.
I have many fond memories of Commodore shows in the seventies and two seem to standout at this particular time. One found Tim Buckley in fine form just months before he tragically died. Vancouver was like a second home to the folk-rock singer with the operatic range and he’d always find himself playing sell-outs in that city and respond accordingly. The other was a show with the short-lived Rick Danko/Paul Butterfield Band. What a songbook those two had to draw on and as much as I recall the volume was a bit over the top, the two proved to be great musical foils for one another.
The Billboard list also got me thinking about how Edmonton lost a great ballroom in the seventies when the wrecking ball and short-sighted developers clobbered the Troc ’59 Ballroom on 103 street just north of the Hudson’s Bay store. Surely any developer or architect could have found a way to keep the gorgeous ballroom intact in a new structure, but not in this city.
As music fans, could you imagine how a 500 seat venue boasting a tiered balcony with tables, great sight lines to the stage, a beautiful hardwood dance floor, thrust stage, and foyer with bevelled glass and oak doors and crushed velvet covered love seats would fit in with our current cultural scene? It would be in use no less than 20 nights a month.
A crying shame to be sure!
On that note it is great news that the renovations for the Bailey Theatre on mainstreet in Camrose have been completed and an amazing venue from the turn of the last century has been saved. We’ll talk more about the Bailey in a few weeks.
Bringing this column to a close, can any Calgarian tell me if there was a comparable venue to the Troc ’59 in Calgary and if so, what happened to it? I would love to know. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org