Sunday Wilde and Reno Jack have settled in back home after a whirlwind seven week tour that took them from Montreal to Memphis, and a couple of dozen points in between.
“It was a lot of work,” said Wilde. “If we weren’t playing or recording, we were setting up or taking down, or driving, or meeting with people to plan something. And really it’s two months living out of a van!” said Wilde.
But that’s one of the challenges living this far off the beaten track. When you do get to a bigger entertainment centre, you want to pack in as much as you can.
The mid-winter trip was the third for the duo, and they have built solid connections on the music scene in Clarksdale, Memphis, and Nashville.
In Clarksdale, Reno Jack teamed up with Gary Vincent (he produced the duo’s 2016 album, Blueberries ‘n Grits) to write a song – a song Jack has been carrying inside himself for years, (I’m glad) You’re boyfriend’s back in jail. The song can come across as a black humour piece, but has a bittersweet sadness and longing to it that shines through when Jack does his acoustic version.
In Memphis, Sunday Wilde was invited to Sun Studios (the recording home of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash) to record with James ‘Buddy’ Rogers. Rogers, a guitarist and blues road warrior from Pitt Meadows, B.C., was nominated for a Juno in 2014. He and Sunday have been mutual fans since meeting a few years ago.
With the International Blues Competition in town, there were musicians galore around, so for a third year running Wilde and Jack organized an impromptu showcase concert.
“It seems to have a different theme every year,” said Wilde. “Last year we called it the Lovebirds Show because all the acts were couples; this year it was all acoustic performers. So we had the only all acoustic show on Beale St.”
They recorded again in Memphis, this time at American Recording Studio, another legendary site on the rock and roll scene. It was here Jack recorded (I’m glad) you’re boyfriend’s back in jail. (Editor’s note: We got it wrong in the newspaper version of this story.) And he and Sunday got involved in some group recording.
They teamed with Robert Hughes (a guitarist, he’s the musical director for Teeny Tucker) and Low Society (Mandy Lemons and Sturgis Nikides), although well-established blues act. Jack and Hughes have been talking about some kind of collaboration ever since meeting at the Roots of Blues Festival in Salmon Arm in 2010.
This collaboration was Jack’s baby; Wilde, as the newcomer to the group, wasn’t so sure. But Jack said they loved her work on an old blues Gospel song on which she shared vocals with Lemons.
“You got to play with a band – that’s invaluable,” Jack told here.
“Yeah, they were awesome musicians,” said Wilde.
The final result? “It will be a surprise when we get it,” said Wilde.
(One product of the session was the photo featured at the top of our story; it was taken by Elaine Hughes, a professional photographer and Robert’s wife.)
It was on to Nashville, and a little better living arrangement. As members of SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada), they qualified for a week’s free accommodation at the SOCAN house in Nashville.
They were again overwhelmed with the welcoming spirit of the place. The music industry is, of course, intensely competitive – but the players are open and generous. They loaned the duo instruments whenever needed, as they participated in several open mic and showcase sessions. (Upright bass for a week? Here you go. A guitar? Sure, use this 1963 Martin. A keyboard? Yes, let me show you how to use this…)
“It was amazing. And the quality of the music everywhere was just outstanding,” said Wilde
They got to do a little tourist stuff this year, too, a first for them. They visited Graceland, and also got to sit in for the Viva! NashVegas radio show out of Franklin, Tennessee.
The brainchild of George Hamilton V, Viva! NashVegas brands itself a cross between HeeHaw and Prairie Home Companion, with its two-hour mix of music and comedy. The troupe features The Think Globally Act HillBilly Orchestra, and gathers every other Saturday, at 11 am at Kimbro’s Cafe in Franklin, just outside of Nashville.
The trip was bookended by a clutch of performances in Ontario and Quebec. On the way down, they performed in the Soo, Ottawa, Montreal and in and around Toronto. They had fifteen shows altogether, in coffeehouses, restaurants and other small venues.
The highlight was the Blues Summit in Toronto, where they earned a featured set – a half hour of their own for about 500 guests at the Downtown Merriott ballroom.
“Most of these were big, loud blues bands, going on before and after us, and then we come up, our little duo act…”
They definitely got the room’s attention!
They also recorded in Toronto, again with a crew of Jack’s old running mates, including Cleve Anderson (he was a contributing musician on Jack’s 2015 release, Lightning Fried), Johnny McLeod (The Jack Family and the Handsome Neds, with Jack, and Johnny and the G-Rays on his own), Steve Koch (who went on to some punk rock fame with the Viletones), and engineer John Borra.
“For me, it was a very different sound with all these people involved,” said Wilde.
“I’m glad Peter Moore has agreed to do the mastering, all the final polishing. He won a Grammy for his work on Dylan’s Basement Tapes,” said Jack.
On the return trip, they got to hear some early results of these Toronto sessions, and were pleased – though they are still not sure what they have with all the recording done over two months in three studios in two countries.
They also had a gig in Toronto, and then another (a house party) Red Lake almost as soon as they got back home. Next up is an event in Thunder Bay they organized, a songwriters showcase at the Royalton Lounge in Thunder Bay on April 8. Wilde is pleased to have recruited Nick Sherman, a First Nation performer from Sioux Lookout, to come down for the event.