JAIMIE VERNON – THE GRAND SONG CARAVAN


Jaimie Vernon
Excerpted from the upcoming Bullseye Records 30th Anniversary book “Bullsography”
 Dave Rave Buffalo

Touring in North America is a tough way to make a living especially if your record label is small and there is no budget for things like food and gasoline (i.e. my label Bullseye Records). But when you’re an intrepid life-long road hound like Hamilton’s Dave Rave you figure out a way.
KathleenEdwards In 2002 plans were set for Dave, beat poet and Bongo Beat Music guru Ralph Alfonso, Tom Wilson (Florida Razors, Junkhouse, Blackie & The Rodeo King, Lee Harvey Osmond), and chanteuse Kathleen Edwards to do a run from Vancouver across Canada the old fashioned way – by van – so that they each could promote their newest releases. But something wonderful happened to Kathleen…she was invited to appear on the ‘Late Show With David Letterman’ stateside and the tour was scuttled only days into the British Columbia interior. The arrangements for the shows relied on four performers. No one was available to replace her at the last minute. The tour was put on hold. The clock was ticking and potential revenue was quickly slipping away.
Tom WilsonBut as is the necessity in life, musicians have to make a living too. Tom Wilson couldn’t afford to sit it out while his new SONY solo album began hitting radio. He managed to hop on board as opener for touring artist Jann Arden and bowed out as well. That left Ralph and Dave to try and salvage the shows – which you do not want to cancel if you ever want your agent and the venues to speak to you again. Ralph remained in British Columbia and Dave flew back to Ontario. Dave and Bullseye’s VP In Charge Of Everything Lisa Millar and I put our heads together. Well, actually Dave and Lisa put their heads together and I sharpened my cheque-writing elbow.

Dave Rave AnthologyDave has been touring relentlessly since the 1980s – starting with The and then with the Dave Rave Conspiracy in the late ‘80s and early 1990s and then as a duo called Agnelli & Rave during the post-grunge era. Most, if not all of it, have been in the trusted family van.  Dave owned a Dodge Grand Caravan. With tongue planted firmly in cheek the tour would be officially named the Grand Song Caravan. With that established, Dave needed to sell the idea to independent artists also looking to expose themselves across North America. Dave knew how to negotiate a fair deal with clubs via his agents and contacts so getting shows was not at issue. The plan was roll with it for a year if they could so that he could promote his newest Dave Rave Group album.

Joe MannixIt was important to break the album in the US where Dave had worked for a decade making his name known. So it made sense to invite Americans on the tour. Dave fired up his Rolodex – this being pre-Facebook after all – and found two amazing solo artists willing to pack up and go: Kate Schrock from South Bristol, Maine and Joe Mannix from Northport, New York. Dave had either produced or appeared with both artists so there was already a camaraderie amongst them – an important element when you plan on living in a tour van for 365 days or more. Meanwhile, Ralph Alfonso was becoming too busy with his own label to join in but was keen on getting former Payola$ frontman Paul Hyde out there to promote his new Bongo Beat album ‘The Big Book of Sad Songs, Volume 1’. Paul would be flown in for select shows as the budgets and circumstances allowed.

IKateSchrockt was also important to get a support mechanism in place for both Kate and Joe if they were going to be selling their indie product on tour (or why bother, right?). While Joe was already in the midst of a new album for Bongo Beat, Kate needed distribution in North America. I took up championing her latest – ‘Indiana’ which featured appearances by both Dave Rave and Tom Wilson – by making it available in Canada through Fusion III Distribution, and in the US through Burnside Distribution Company (a deal I’d landed through the generous help of Ralph Alfonso as well).

Lisa drove the tour itinerary and media. It’s why I hired her and she is the reason our marketing and promotional campaigns always exceeded expectations. The only thing we could not control was public response. We had to hope that artists like Dave Rave, Joe Mannix, Kate Schrock and Paul Hyde  could step on stage and win over audiences. It wasn’t so much of a problem in the US, but in 2003 it was early days for smoking to be banned in nightclubs and bars. Attendance was hit and miss in places like Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo in the west of Ontario and places east like Oshawa.

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Lisa got the troupe much needed radio time at a large commercial station in Oshawa for the gig there. Everyone piled into the Dave mobile and headed out to do the on air chat early in the afternoon. I would meet them at the venue afterward with the PA system just before sound check. Suddenly, I get a panicked phone call from Lisa.

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“We can’t find the radio station. Can you double check the address?”

I did a search online for the station website and confirmed the location. This was pre-Google days so there wasn’t even a map to search.

“Yeah, that’s where we are…and are about to be run over by incoming aircraft. We’re standing on a runway at the Oshawa airport!”

“Well, um, get off the tarmac. Let me call the station.”

I phoned the station’s receptionist (back when stations had them) and she gave me the lowdown. I called Lisa back on her mobile phone.

“Yeah, you’re in the right place, the station is inside the control tower. You’ll have to get airport security to let you in.

And so it went.

Readers Grand Song Caravan

There were a number of backing musicians on board during the Ontario leg of the tour – hand picked from the incredible musical pool back in Hamilton which Dave, Joe and Kate all used to full advantage which included Keith Lindsey, Bill Becker, Paul Panchezak and Pete Rhibany. It made the transition between each of their solo sets effortless and seamless. Dave was a rockabilly and power pop guy; Joe leaned on more traditional folk and alternative College fare;  Kate did a one woman show on piano reminiscent of the Carol King era of showmanship; and  Paul Hyde stuck to an acoustic guitar and storytelling format that was endearing to hear from a guy from Manchester who had called Vancouver home for the previous 30 years and had shared stages with Canada’s music royalty. To give the proceedings cohesion they all did guest appearances in each others’  sets. It wasn’t just four artists promoting themselves but an old school revue.

By the time the tour hit the Golden Horseshoe area in the Summer of 2003, it was a well oiled machine. I was acting as roadie and soundman on many of the shows. The Dunnville show was interesting in that the venue was both a restaurant and the local library/book store called Readers. It was quirky…and Waterford 007sold out.

But, the piece-de-resistance was a two-night sell out at the Staircase Theatre in Hamilton. The venue was an old hydro electric building that had a corkscrew staircase running up through the centre of the building. The office areas had been converted into a makeshift theatre complete with sports bleachers for audience seating. The actors, now replaced by a roving band of musical gypsies, stood in the concet bowl floorspace below.

Lisa got maximum coverage from news media like the Hamilton Spectator and View magazine and Dave landed time on CHCH TV’s morning, Lou Molinaro’s Mohawk College radio show and even the commercial Rock station in town Y108. Hometown hero returns to wow the city!

Grand_Waterford2

The two shows were sold out and well received. Rave’s old music cohorts came out to perform as well including Rick Andrew from The Shakers and Tom Wilson who had wanted to be part of the Caravan at the beginning. I even recorded the shows for posterity. Maybe one day Bullseye can release the material so everyone can hear the magic from these amazing acts. This was Paul Hyde’s final show which left Dave, Kate and Joe to carry on. Which they did.
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We had released an EP sampler featuring 2 songs for each of them which gained us radio traction and allowed them to extend their run in Canada. The last Canadian show was at the Waterford Conservation area in Simcoe County – home to several members of The Band. The show was a co-op environmental awareness show organized by producer Bob Lanois (Daniel’s brother). Raver was longtime friends with the Lanois brothers and we all volunteered our time. Dozens of acts performed on a beautiful summer afternoon and I even got to meet Mom Lanois – barely able to speak English but clearly enjoying the day watching Bob and The Band’s Garth Hudson playing traditional Acadian mountain music.

Finally, the Caravan left Canada to further success stateside. It wasn’t a huge financial windfall, but it created a lot of life long friends.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon

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