By: Russell Bowers
As the iconic trio prepare to say goodbye to cross-Canada touring, Kevin Blackmore looks back on 35 years of ‘Nods & Winks’
It’s almost impossible to consider, but Kevin Blackmore of Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers admits they were “once asked by an agent to move to Toronto.” It was early in their 4-decade spanning career but the very concept “so disturbed Wayne (Chaulk) that he went home and wrote Saltwater Joys.”
Ray Johnson, Wayne Chaulk, and Kevin Blackmore are the bedrock of modern Newfoundland & Labrador music in just about any way you can measure it. Successful albums, DVD’s, independent distributors, a relentless touring act, and composers with iconic melodies and lyrics known all over the country. If there’s someone in the province who doesn’t know their music, it could be because they have been born yet.
Accordionist and singer, Johnson was already a celebrated performer having established Fishing In a Dory as one of the biggest Newfoundland hits of the 1970’s. “He was responsible the preservation of a lot of Irish/Newfoundland folk tunes,” Blackmore remembers. “When we met, I was delighted to be working with him. He’s an amazing accordion player and a really steady hand. When you’re on stage, he’s just like a rock you can rest on.”
Kevin Blackmore spent his college years plugging away as one half of the duo, Free Beer. Together with Lorne Elliott (from Madly Off In All Directions), Blackmore’s Free Beer days was a lesson in what he wanted to do in music, and what he didn’t.
“Lorne Elliott was and is a brilliant writer,” Blackmore recalls. “It was a great education for me to get out there and entertain people. It’s so immediate because people bawl at you if they don’t like what you’re doing. But it informed me about things I wouldn’t do again, like playing clubs, playing smokey rooms, drinking establishments.
“When we formed Buddy Wasisname, we had to go in another direction. That’s how we ended up doing school gymnasiums and soft seaters, and that’s all we have ever done.”
Initially, Ray and Kevin played together however, Johnson mentioned another local player and fellow teacher he wanted to bring in, Wayne Chaulk. “It was the three of us in Ray’s art room class on Tuesday nights, back in ’83 and ’84” Blackmore recalls. “Wayne and I brought our songs and influences, and Ray was just Ray with a myriad of tunes. It was at a school assembly in ’84 when we finally got up and played to any public audience.”
The trio’s first record, 1986’s Makin’ for the Harbour may have heralded a new sound, but the disc came after three years of the band getting to know each musically. Wayne Chaulk and Ray Johnson were both teachers with the band operating as a weekend gig with a few summer festivals. By 1987, demand for live appearances were growing and after 2 year-long sabbaticals proved that live shows could replace teaching salaries, their fate was set and Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers was a full-time reality.
Touring Canada soon became a way of life. “We call it guerilla touring,” Blackmore laughs. “You go out there for the most intense two weeks you can, carry back all the money you can, but there’s never a question of leaving home.”
However, leaving home for weeks at a time for 30+ years has taken a toll on the three men. They have missed large chunks of the calendar for their families and with all three now circling their 70’s & 70’s, they have decided to call time on stagework off the island. They wrap up their Canadian concert life with shows in Alberta during the month of October.
“I’ve never been a neo-Newfoundlander,” Blackmore declares, “but what the touring has given us is an enormous appreciation of what Canada is. We’ve been allowed to get into more than 350 towns, been able to speak to and be entertained by people in those northern communities to all those cities and towns in the south.
“That hasn’t changed us or the source of the character types in our humour. What it’s done is make us more enlightened and educated.”
Summing up a 35-year career with 20 albums, 5 DVD’s, and countless live shows can be a tall task. However, the music and mirth of Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers would be classic if all they did was reinforce a love of Saltwater Joys and a deep belief that “I got to get me moose, b’y.”
Kevin Blackmore looks at this one last trip across Canada as a sign of other things. “We are aware, the times they are a-changin’,” he ponders. “It’s not so easy to do what we did. People starting out now don’t get the breaks we did. You have to rent halls at exorbitant rates, there’s no breaks in the airfare or hotels industry.
“The aspect of touring is complex and difficult and I wonder if there will be an erosion in the business for the set that comes after us.”
“But we won’t disband. We still love playing together and having fun.”
For more on Buddy Wasisname and The Other Fellers visit buddywasisname.com