World Famous Merle Haggard "Footlights" Table
It was time.
My first-ever gig. My buddy Mike Tough was in the food business. He supplied mostly meats (I think) to restaurants and various sub-shops around Southern Ontario. He managed to secure me a show at a small venue in downtown Burlington for $150. The place was called Players Pizza. One half of it was a sub shop and the other half was a small bar that fronted right onto Brant St. The sign looked like the Players Cigarette package.
We got the word out and we PACKED it! Hugely supported by friends and my baseball team, it was so cool. I remember at the time I was working at a shoe store in Hamilton and was sick as a dog leading up to the gig. I took two huge gulps of cough syrup and took the stage.
The First Song
I was, and still am a huge John Mellencamp fan. So I made up a cool harmonica intro, launched into “Lonely Ol’ Night” and off I went.
Getting gigs is hard. It actually can be quite a soul-sucking experience. Some people are good at selling themselves, I am not. My night at Players was a success (I even got bonused $30) so it was easy to book back there. Now I had to try to get my guitar in the door at other places. Not easy but I managed to get myself into Carrigan Arms a few months later. Even now, after all this time of playing, I still hate canvassing for gigs. The usual answer is no, or bring me a demo. To this day, I have never gotten a gig from a demo. It just doesn’t replicate the live atmosphere of a bar. These days, I don’t ask anymore. If I get a new room it’s usually because the owner saw me play or customers are bugging the shit out of them to have me play there.
Live Streaming From The Honkytonk
Enter the Agent
As I mentioned in a past blog, meeting Pat Hewitt was life-changing in many ways. For the purpose of this blog, let’s just talk about music. Pat taught me my way around a drum machine so, with A LOT of late nights, I quickly became adept and began building a more solid and diverse repertoire. At the time (the ‘90’s) Pat was using an agent who will remain nameless. This guy had control of the entertainment at a lot of the hot spots around Southern Ontario. I could never get him to talk to me, you know the story. Well, Pat Hewitt put in a word for me and next thing I know, I’m getting a call from Mr. Agent. Pat was very sure to say that it was up to me to play well, but I was getting my chance.
It went very well, thank goodness. Before I knew it, I’m playing steak houses in Aurora, Seafood Places in Markham, pubs in Sutton and a few bars scattered around Mississauga. Mr. Agent actually worked for the bars. So they paid him and then he also took a cut from the musicians. I worked for him a couple of years and I don’t think he even saw me play one time. Mr. Agent stressed me out immensely. Seemed I was always getting yelled at for something but I was making money and meeting people. The tipping point with the agent was when the owner at Barracuda’s told me to tell the agent that he wanted me there one weekend per month. I was so happy. To this day, Barracuda’s is one of the best places I’ve ever played. So I call Mr. Agent man the next day to tell him the great news and he basically told me, “no”, that he didn’t believe that. That was the end of it for me. I asked the owner of Barracuda’s if I stopped using the agent, would book me directly. The answer was yes, and the rest is history. I told Mr. Agent I wouldn’t be requiring his services anymore and just started booking myself.
Me and Delaney
What Else Was Going On?
During these years, my wife and and I were trying to start a family and I had just started working construction for Vanbots CC. The baby-making was not without some tragedy and heartbreak. I won’t get into that here, but suffice it to say, that when I say or sing that my wife is a hero and “blows me away”…I mean it from the very core of my being. So she is working like crazy for an investment company (she’s super smart too) and now I am doing construction and playing in the bars…a lot!
Fast forward and we were “that” family. We’ve got a son and a daughter. Wife working hard, Father has two jobs and kids are in daycare. Life was fucking crazy and exhausting. I would work in Toronto until 3pm and then race home, shower and pretty much get right back in the car to get across the city and into Aurora, or even Sutton! I would get home at 3am some nights and then back up at 5am to head back into the city. Our life was breakfast, leave the dishes in the sink, come home, wash the dishes, get the kids, make dinner, clean up dinner, give the kids a couple hours of our exhausted attention, and then repeat. We lived like that for a year, maybe a bit more. But, we started doing some math when we realized we were spending $15 000/year for someone else to look after our kids. That’s $15k before taxes, so we would need to make say, $22 000 to pay for that! I was in the union and making a great hourly wage but when we factored in paying to park downtown, the 407 toll highway, the gas, the daycare, union dues etc, the results were quite staggering. The bottom line is we made the hard decision for me to quit construction and just gig. It was so crazy! We didn’t even miss my construction wage. All I needed to do was make sure I was playing 3–4 nights a week and we were whole. Like I said, crazy, right? We literally said goodbye to around 50K/year and barely noticed a difference and we got to raise our own kids!
So there I was, looking after the house and the kids and singing songs at night. It was beautiful. Our life became so much more relaxed and the kids were not so exhausted at the end of their day either. We caught resistance and questioning from people, but I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t think either one of us has a single regret about our decision. In case you’re wondering how badly I messed our kids up…Our son just graduated with a Masters Degree in Bio-Medical Discovery and Commercialization and our daughter is entering her last year of University and has big plans to make the world a better place.
Love My Family
I’m very grateful for music. It’s such a leap of faith to go into any art as an occupation. I’m so appreciative of the help and support I’ve received along the way. Much love to my family and Pat Hewitt for this!
Stay tuned for more…