A friend of mine, the brilliant songwriter Bob Snider, wrote in one
of his songs that The only thing a darn folksinger cares about
His tongue is planted firmly in his cheek, of course. And, when he
performs the tune, nobody in the audience laughs louder than the other
musicians in attendance.
Personally, I never actually decided to become a folksinger,
or a singer-songwriter, or whatever you want to call it. I just sort
of slipped into it.
It was back in first year University, and I knew a few chords on the
guitar. Even with limited musical expertise, I was already writing songs.
Someone from the students council heard me noodling away on my
guitar one day, before (or instead of) classes.
He offered me a gig, which turned out to be a half hour concert in
the colleges main concert venue.
After I stopped laughing, I explained that there was no way I was ever
going to get up in front of an audience and play. No sir.
He countered with an offer of 50 bucks.
He had me.
Back then, $50 could keep you in cheap wine and bus fare for a month.
I couldnt say no. I was terrified.
Luckily, on the bus home that day, I ran into an old friend, Jim Pett.
Jim had been the hot shot guitar player at my high school, and I pleaded
with him to do the gig with me.
He graciously accepted, we rehearsed a little, played six original
songs (none of which I can remember now), and nobody threw anything
Not only that, several attractive young women wandered up, after we
got off stage.
They were quite complimentary in their remarks.
I wasnt used to this.
The same guy who booked us for the concert, immediately came up and
asked me to play the college pub the following week.
On pub night, I faked three or four sets, playing with another friend,
The crowd was so loud they probably didnt know we were there.
Then, at the end of the night, when I was trying to close with a sensitive
song about someones dead father, the table of people directly
in front of the stage - a group that had been playing euchre and cursing
each other all night - rose up in unison and mooned the stage!
I was learning early that each gig had its own unique charms.
Paul and I played a few more University shows, then he told me about
a nightclub on Kingston Road that hired solo singer-songwriters.
Just go in and play three Cat Stevens songs and three Lightfoot
songs, and theyll hire you, assured Paul.
I auditioned a few nights later at the club. I played six original
tunes, and the pub managers, Ronnie and Danny, hired me anyway.
The club was called The Moustache, the gig was a six nighter, Monday
through Saturday, and I was eventually getting booked in for weeks at
And thats where I cut my teeth as a professional performer.
There were bad nights.
I had beer spit on me while I was singing on stage, I got hit by a
formica table that got thrown across the room during a bar fight, and
one night, just as I was about to open the big metal back door to help
the upstairs maitred, Yvonne, put out some garbage bags, we heard
a sound like ping, ping, ping.
When we opened the door, there were several bullet holes in the outside
of the door.
It wasnt glamourous, but at least three or four nights a week,
Then, Monique, the slightly aging blonde waitress, pulled me aside
one night and whispered, How do you do it? You shut the whole
room up when you played! They were screaming, and yelling, and swinging
from the goddamn ceiling - and you started playing, and they shut up!
It was always hard work, but there was no way to describe the satisfaction
of authoring songs that actually made people stop and listen. And applaud.
After 34 years of this, I think I appreciate the humor of Bob Sniders
parody song about money and folksingers more than most.
Ive learned theres more kinds of payback than strictly
Ive met and shared stages with Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, Tom
Paxton, Taj Mahal, Ritchie Havens, Shawn Phillips, John Lee Hooker,
Bruce Cockburn, John Prine, Michael Smith, Jackie Washington, Josh White
Jr., Tom Rush, etc., etc.
Ive never been able to put a price tag on that...
P.S. - And, its not just musical heroes. Ive been fortunate
to meet and work with many TV and radio on-air personalities. Ive
met and assisted Americas greatest living playwright, Arthur Miller,
with a reading night at Massey Hall.
In the green room, after Millers reading, I was going to suggest
he think about a sequel titled, Death of a Folksinger but
the old gentleman looked pretty tired.
And, of the many politicians Ive met, one stands out.
Every time I played a benefit for the homeless, or for legal aid clinics,
or the white ribbon campaign against spousal abuse, Jack Layton seemed
to be here, supporting the cause, acting as M.C., or keynote speaker,
or, in one case, auctioneer.
Just as music heals and brings renewed hope, so too can intelligent,
humane, committed elected representatives make a difference. Youve
just got to believe that not every gosh darn politician is in
it for the money.
Being a musician, Ive got lots of spare time in the day. I think
this time, Ill use some of it to go out and vote on June 28th.
Itll be the first federal election in a very long time where
a truly exciting and positive voice has entered into the fray. Maybe
theres a song in that, somewhere.