Range (and Homes Thereupon)

OR, Why Gordie Johnson is the Best Musician Working Today

Here’s Gordie with his band, Big Sugar, in 1994, back when he was the best-dressed man in Canadian rock and roll.

And here he is in 2005, after moving to Texas and putting on a vest (and about 30 pounds–seriously, look at his arms in this video. He’s like the Terminator with a trucker’s moustache:)

Gordie spent the first two Grady records rerecording and covering his own songs from the Big Sugar days with this new southern twist. Now, the reason this is interesting: normally you need to have at least two separate groups or people performing a song to get a different take on it.

Think about it.

Such a radical difference in the tone and performance of a song really highlights the music itself as mutable, as the thing which exists solely to give the audience a path into the performer’s state of mind. A song like this, which hopefully most of his concertgoers would’ve heard before, lets us see the situation much more clearly because we’re so familiar with the older version. The change becomes highlighted, and the performance itself rather than the piece performed becomes the focus.

For those of you who don’t go to live music, that’s why you should.

Gordie’s showing us how something as simple as time affects his own material with this process. Fifteen years, give or take, and a notoriously antagonistic relationship with the Canadian arts scene has turned one of the premier blues musicians of our day into an expat working out of Austin. Grady are vicious, raucous and bare, honest in a way that hits you right between the eyes. Big Sugar were easily one of the best bands of the Canadian alt-rock explosion we experienced in the mid to late ’90s. I’d put them up there with or above such groups as The Tea Party, I Mother Earth and Our Lady Peace. To take the coolest parts of the coolest genres of music available–blues, jazz, reggae–and somehow synthesize those parts into something sensible… that took talent. And know-how. But Grady have a frenzied sort of life that Big Sugar, perhaps tied up behind those Hugo Boss suits, always lacked.

That being said, I’ve seen Grady twice now, and am super psyched to see Big Sugar reunite onstage with The Trews two Thursdays from now in Barrie. I hope it’s loud.

Sometimes I wonder, baby, will I ever make it home?


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