The 70’s and 80’s were a golden age for country music and at home the radio was always tuned in to the local country station. I grew up listening to some of the greatest Country artists of all time, many now legends in the history of the Country Music Industry. But my influences run much deeper than that. Like many a good tale mine begins at home. This too, is where my story begins.
I grew up in the 70s, in a mid-sized steel making city called Hamilton in the Canadian province of Ontario. It’s a blue collar industrialized city, situated at the west end of Lake Ontario just 61 kilometers from Toronto, the largest city in Canada. Back then, Dad’s worked and Mom’s stayed home, cooked home-made meals and reared the children. Houses cost 20 or 30 thousand and a gallon of gas was about $0.40. And I was 13 years old.
As a young boy I listened to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Super Tramp but also Rod Stewart and John Prine and Gordon Lightfoot. Heck the very first record I ever bought was Dr. Hook with “Sylvia’s Mother” and “The cover of the Rolling stones” on it? But it was the honest simple story-telling sounds of Country Music that really intrigued me. After all, that was the music that my father played.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
My father sang and played guitar and harmonica, his roots going back long before I was even born. No doubt he was the first influencing factor in my eventual love for making music. He’d sing old Hank Williams tunes, Roy Acuff’s the Wabash Cannonball and pick guitar and play the harmonica to the old Carter Family song “Wildwood flower.” As a youngster I dreamed of someday being like him. Making music, just like my dad!
At the age of 7 or 8, I remember singing Buck Owens hit song “Tiger by the Tail” with my cousin Judy. She of the same age, both of us much too shy for an audience so we’d sing behind the closed door of my grandparents bedroom while our parents pressed their ear to the door.
One night, my parents went to the Horseshoe tavern in Toronto to see Ferlin Husky and brought one of his records home. I wore that record out singing “On the Wings of a Dove” over and over again mimicking his voice until mine started sounding a lot like his. Well, that’s what my mom said anyways? And Mothers don’t lie to their children, Right?
As a boy I’d sing along with the songs on the radio. Songs by Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, Sonny James and Johnny Cash to name a few. Later it was Kenny Rodgers, Conway Twitty and the “Possum” George Jones. As a family we’d watch “Hee Haw” or the “Country Music Awards” to see our favorite singers perform.
Before that it was the “Tommy Hunter show” where unbeknownst to me at the time a very young boy from our area was showing off his skills on guitar. Later amazingly, at the tender age of 14, he’d become the lead guitar player in the second edition of my band. Sometimes fate can be stranger than fiction?
But without a doubt the most influencing phase in my yet music making career was the Saturday night sing-a-long parties Pops used to hold downstairs in our rec-room. This was where my eyes were opened. The dark veil lifted. Much like in the Wizard of Oz when black and white suddenly exploded — into color!
In the mid-seventies, in my teens now, Pops would hold regular Saturday night Hoedowns (as he liked to call them) in our downstairs rec-room inviting local musicians and neighbors alike for a party-night of drink and sing-a-long. There after some coaxing my then tag-a-long good buddy Brian and I would team up and sing “Amanda.” This was the very beginnings of what would later become a long journey singing Country Music.
These regular once a month or so Saturday-night parties became very popular, well attended and looked forward to. And why not? This was all before the digital revolution, before Facebook or Social media. Hell even before the Internet itself! This was how people had fun back then. A social night of drinking, laughing, and making music! But it was more than just that to me.
This is where I first learned to play guitar and sing in front of a crowd (without fainting!) It’s also where I came to learn the words they were singing and enjoy the music we were making. And to see the effects we had on the people who were there listening and having a good time. Slowly but surely — I was getting hooked!
MY FIRST BAND
It all began one summers day in the late 70’s. Pop’s put an ad in the paper, Looking for local Musicians to start a Country Band, it read. He rented some equipment from a local music store (Mics and stands, mixing board and speakers) and we started auditioning. That was how the first edition of “The County Outlaws” came to be. Easy as pie. Simple as that!
FIRST GIG AT VISCA’S
Our first gig ever was at a huge hall that Pop’s rented and advertised as “Country Hoedown night.” An extension from the original Hoedowns he used to put on at home. The show featured some of the same musician friends that were regulars on our Saturday night sing-a-longs and of course, my very new first band!
The place was sold out! All the regulars from our hoedowns were there plus their friends and family and relatives they invited. The place was literally busting at the seams. This is where for the very first time, Corky and The County Outlaws would step on stage! Everything that came before leading up to this very moment.
My brother was on sound and my father the Emcee. The crowd was buzzing in anticipation as Pops walked to the stage, grabbed the mic. and introduced us to a thunderous applause!
Was I nervous you might ask? No, not really. Not in the sense of having to sing in front of a large crowd. Although Visca’s was a huge step up from singing in our little rec-room and held hundreds of more people; somehow I was confident enough not to let that overwhelm me. Perhaps all the years of positive feedback had something to do with this? Not only that, the crowd was filled with friends who wanted me to succeed!
But I did have worries! Things out of my control like: the band playing out of sync? Or the P.A. system running amok? After all this was my very first time on stage with “My Band!” Not only a personal reflection of me and what I had to offer as a vocalist but of my choices of songs and the bands talent to make them come alive.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The sound was incredible! Echoing evenly throughout the cavernous hall reaching all the way to the back and up high into the balcony above. The guys in the band were awesome and the crowd, mixed with so many familiar faces was unbelievable in their support. Our first gig you could say was all you could ask for and then some! — The journey had begun!
DIDN’T DO IT ALONE!
Like most people, success is due to many things, including the many influencing people behind the scenes. I was lucky to have a Dad who took interest in my dream of having a band and going above and beyond to make it come true.
I had a brother who’s interest in sound production and talent in mixing and fixing all things related made that first night and many others on down the road, successful. I had good friends standing beside me, who supported and joined me in the love for what I was doing. And Mom? Well — I had no Bigger fan!
And my first band? I was lucky to fall in with a good bunch of guys. I was Green as Green could be and they were patient and supportive while we practiced endlessly honing our craft. Eventually though, the time came. We were ready! Corky and the County Outlaws were ready to head out and make their mark as a band.
END OF — Tales of a Road Band: How it Began
NEXT TIME! — Hear the Audio Recording from Visca’s: Listen to the 1983 recordings of that night, made with an old 1970-ish reel-to-reel portable tape recorder placed haphazardly on a table in the middle of the cavernous rented hall. The quality as you might imagine is far from perfect, but for the old technology used at the time? Pretty darn good!
Here’s a bit of what’s coming up next time on — Tales of a Road Band!
From an overflowing cavernous echoing hall, originally recorded in 1983, these recordings have endured a long and altering past. From reel to reel, to cassette, to CD, to PC and now today as an Audio file posted on this blog.
As you listen, consider if you would, the old technology it was recorded on, the long journey these recordings have traveled, and how amazing that it still even exists today considering that this was our very first time on stage. It was our 1983 debut, the songs themselves dating the times of that era.
Truly — “A Blast from the past!”
THE WORD OF WAYNE
“Tales of a Road Band!”