Happy Hump Day Everyone! I was trying to get this up yesterday but burned out at the end. I am still getting used to amping up on the writing again. I will get there. Thanks for hanging in there with me.
I don’t know how many of you get Vision TV or not but if you do and you are getting to that time of year that you may start to feel a bit blue, set up a recording for “Are You Being Served?” For those of you who know what it is – YES!! It is being shown at 2:30 pm on Vision. If you aren’t familiar with it – it is British, it is from the 70’s, it takes place in a department store. It is positively witty, charming and is guaranteed to turn that frown upside-down. Unless you’re my friend Apryl but that’s a whole other story.
If that doesn’t work for you (or even if it does), you could always pick up Echo Road – The Best Of Doc Walker.
Released on September 30, Echo Road is a look back at some 20 years of work from this Manitoba band. Lead singer Chris Thorsteinson and I had plenty to talk about considering we are from the same soil. It was actually pretty exciting for me to have the opportunity to talk to him. I had “grown up” with Doc Walker, seeing them many, many times when they were starting out here in Winnipeg. I read Chris a quote from a press release I had received about them “…Doc Walker is one of the most recognized Canadian country acts of the past two decades…“. He was quiet for a moment, as if he was soaking in the words I had just read to him. I asked him if, when he was standing on the stage at Silverado’s 20 years ago, he thought he’d be hearing a quote like that and that they’d be putting out a “best of” album. The moment the name Silverado’s came out of my mouth, it commanded a chuckle. For the non-Manitobans in the crowd, let me provide some context. Silverado’s was a very popular country bar and pick up joint in Winnipeg – along with The World Famous Palomino Club (“The Pal”) – and Doc Walker could be seen playing there on weekends. Still laughing he said, “No. What I remember about Silverado’s is pretty much ‘Kick Off Your Boots’ By Hawg Wild and I was always jealous that we didn’t have a big hit like that.” Chris talked about the tough times of travelling from coast-to-coast in a suburban and attributes those times not only to the building the rapport Doc Walker has with their fans but to their ability to write and record good music. Chris commented, “I don’t think artists do that enough these days. It seems like it’s an instant success these days with YouTube and downloads and whatnot.” If you really look at it, Chris and band mate Dave Wasyliw are actually going on 30 years of playing together, having started their first band when they were 12.
I am not going to lie, listening to Echo Road made me feel nostalgic (by the way, that’s a creative’s way of saying they felt old). I can’t believe it’s been 20 years! It really did make me reminisce about those days. If it did that for me, what kinds of thoughts and feelings did they have while compiling the album? Chris answered, “I really didn’t think of it much until the album came out and it was the release date and I’m sitting there, holding the CD and I’m looking at 20 years of work. I didn’t get the CD or really anything, I didn’t see it until the release day. I threw it in the truck, I drove in to Winnipeg. I live about an hour and a half out of Winnipeg. So I listened to it. I mean, boy, it sure takes me down memory lane.” For him part of that journey is hearing the difference in recording and writing styles.
One song that is a an addition to the album is a cover of “They Rage On” by American singer-songwriter Dan Seals of “Bop” fame. As beautiful as it is, it is hardly the feel good song of the year with lyrics like On the same dark night two more people meet | In a rented room on a crosstown street | and she’s lost her youth and he’s lost his dreams | but for a while they feel like they used to feel. I asked Chris why they began to sing this song in concert, so much that it became a fan favourite. Well, to start, Chris is a huge Dan Seals fan. But there was more to the story. “When we used to play festivals, we’d get the 3 o’clock in the afternoon slot and there wasn’t very many people there. So we always tried to do something unique and different. So what we used to do is get on 4 stools, when it was a 4 piece band, and the drummer would bring his snare drum up and we’d just sing that acoustically with a big 4 part harmony.” If you’ve never heard Doc Walker perform this song, you owe it to yourself to purchase this album to hear it. It is haunting. It makes you ache in the pit of your stomach. Basically what I am saying is if listening to Doc Walker sing this beautiful song doesn’t emotionally stir you – I have the number of a great therapist you can call. It is no wonder their fans far and wide have asked them to record this song. And now they finally have.
There are certain songs that, when you hear them, you can imagine yourself driving down a country highway. Farmland on each side. The golden-yellow of canola reaching up to meet a brilliant blue summer sky. Windows down, you can feel the warm breeze in your hair and the air is filled with the scent of flax. “Heaven On Dirt” is that song. It is a brand new track on the album. Fellow prairie folk will understand what I mean when I say it has a “prairie sound”. It’s country. It’s homeland. It’s heartland. To me, it sounds like coming home. Chris appreciated that, “It does. That was sort of the idea behind that song.”He does admit, “Radio across Canada were a little shocked when we came out with a fiddle song. We didn’t hide the fiddle at all. It’s there!” Even with this type of album they wanted some fresh material. “You know, when you’re putting together a ‘best of’ record, we weren’t necessarily thinking, ‘Hey, is this going to be a big radio hit?’ We were thinking, ‘We need something on this record that sort of reflects who we are’ and growing up in rural Manitoba, a huge farming community, it really fit.” Chris adds, “It’s also a song about balance.”
That was a perfect lead in for my next question. Between band members, there are 10 children. Chris laughed, “We’ve got a little hockey team here!” With families, you’d think that it would be difficult to find some work/life balance. “It’s not like the old days where we’d get in a suburban and we’d be gone for 300 days out of the year.” They are currently on tour until the end of November. They play for a couple of weeks at a time and then come home for a week. Chris says that when he’s home, he’s HOME. He and Dave might meet up to do some writing but otherwise it is no different from shift-working couples working opposite shifts for a couple of weeks.
And now that the band members are all grown-up with families of their own, priorities have obviously changed. Chris says he really enjoys the all ages shows. First, it saves them having to find a sitter (Ah – the true lives of musicians). Then there is the Doc Walker generational anomaly. Chris said that he had a girl about 13 or 14 years old come up to him and say she loved “She Hasn’t Always Been This Way.” He stood thinking to himself that she wasn’t even born when the song came out. “It’s funny how Doc Walker kinda stretches over generations.” He added, “It’s exciting to be able to be in this industry for 2 decades and still be able to have fans and go out and play.”
After a career spanning 20 years, they have definitely walked away with their share of hardware, including 15 CCMA Awards and a Juno Award. I am always curious with multiple award winners if the 15th (in their case) is as exciting as the first. Chris answered, “They’re all amazing. Honestly I wondered if it would change because I remember my first CCMA awards, how excited I was to be there. It doesn’t change.” For him, most of the excitement is really in the fact that people enjoy what they do. When they make music, they don’t worry about making hits or CCMA Awards. “Our goal is to make music for our fans and that’s really the first and foremost thing we always think about.” Well, fans have more to look forward to from Doc Walker as they are currently in the studio working on a project to be released in March 2017. Chris said, “It kinda carries on a bit of the ‘Heaven On Dirt’ feel. Really kind of a heartland feel.”
Some of this heartland inspiration could be due to a train trip that the band took. “We did the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train last year through the U.S.; we went from Chicago all the way up through to Calgary and went through the actual heartland on a train.” Chris recalls, “To take a train across the prairies and really see the heartland and experience it really moved us.” Despite the sometimes brutal cold (he remembers it being -38c in Brooks, AB), he considers this as a highlight of their career. They will be doing it again this year, travelling from Montreal to Chicago. “What it does for small communities, the CP Holiday Train, every dollar that goes to the train or every bit of food, stays in that community and to see at that time of year, around Christmas, the families in smaller communities that really do need the support. It’s just such an honour to be a part of that.”
The fact that the Holiday Train is in the winter is really of no consequence to Chris. I asked him what he missed about Manitoba when he was on the road a lot (family and friends aside, of course). He laughed, “You’re going to think I’m absolutely crazy but I miss winter.” My response? “NOOOOOO!” He kept laughing, “When I lived in Nashville, I missed winter. I love ice fishing and snowmobiling. I just love cold. Maybe it’s because I’m Icelandic. It doesn’t seem right that you don’t get that drastic change in season.”
Doc Walker recently played Club Regent Casino here in Winnipeg and then sang the anthem with Brett Kissel at the Heritage Classic. Chris exclaimed, “We’re big Jets fans!” They are currently on tour so you should catch them live if you have the opportunity to. I did want to let Chris know, that as a fellow Manitoban, it was great for me to see them have so much success. Very humbly he replied, “Really when it comes down to it, we couldn’t have done anything if we didn’t have the support from everybody in Manitoba throughout those years.”
Here is to another 20 years, guys! Manitoba couldn’t be prouder! Be sure to pick up Echo Road – The Best Of Doc Walker. And REALLY keep your eyes and ears open for a March 2017 album release. You could probably check one of these: Website (www.docwalker.ca) Facebook (@DocWalkerBand) Twitter (@doc_walker) or maybe even Instagram (@docwalkermusic). Meanwhile, why don’t you roll the windows down and hit a back road? Here is “Heaven On Dirt” by Doc Walker