A CONVERSATON WITH FRED EAGLESMITH
Fred Eaglesmith is a more than a singer or a songwriter, he stands for a whole lot more than that. And he represents a lot more than that to the firebreathing rabid that call themselves Fredheads. I knew that before I got the new live record (Ralph's Last Show/Signature Sounds), and after I listened, I wasn't sure I was getting it yet.
But I wanted to get it, I liked where he was coming from. He's an old school road warrior, 200-250 dates a year, driving and fixing his own bus, five guys from 23 to 50 loading their own gear. He's a national treasure in Canada, a land of more musical surprises than I ever knew. My girl said I had to pick up a couple of the recent studio CDs, too, to get the whole picture, so I did (Lipstick, Lies and Gasoline, plus 50-Odd Dollars). Then the scope and depth of his writing was revealed to me, and I was impressed, respectful. But I didn't really get religion until I saw him play a dungeon in Nashville called The End, and they tore the roof off the place.
Like Fred says, it's somewhere between Rock & Roll and Country music of the 60s. He's got young bucks who went to music school on bass and drums (Darcy Yates and Kevin Komatsu), they got it nailed down tight. Another young cat who grew up playing Country in Canadian bars (Roger Marin), a really fine player on guitar and steel. But the two focal points of the show are Fred and Willie P. Bennett, the "Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin." The latter is a legend in his own right. He is a great writer himself, began cutting his own records in 1975, as a fixture of the Ontario Folk scene. He's cut seven of them in all, some went out of print. But five are now reissued or released by BNatural Music and available at Willie's website. His 1998 CD Heartstrings won the Juno, Canada's Grammy, for Best Roots & Traditional Album - Solo. A north of the border supergroup called Blackie and the Rodeo Kings cut a tribute album to Willie called High or Hurtin'. (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings is Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson: three badass dudes from Folk, Blues, and Rock, respectively.) Willie also sings his ass off, plays excellent harmonica, and is a high energy individual onstage.
Then there's Fred, who's more or less in the force of nature category. He's more Everyman than any singer songwriter I recall. He's released ten records that have been all over important Top Ten lists of every major publication in a number of countries. His songs have been cut by the likes of Dar Williams and the Cowboy Junkies, and are making their way into a number of movies. He's totally his own man, no company owns or directs him. He told me he doesn't need to be any more famous than he already is, he's doing just fine: enough money, enough gigs, and he loves what he does. Truth is, he's a star, just under the radar.
We didn't have a lot of time to talk, so we talked fast, and had some laughs in his bus just before the show. He's a warm and generous person, a full blown renegade. We need more like him, but I'm not sure they're anywhere to be found. continue