Deep Dive: Local Blues Rockers Beauwater Break Down latest album ‘Who Works For Who?’

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These past two years may collectively have Newfoundlanders and Labradorians singing the blues, but we doubt readers will take issue with blues rockers Beauwater’s latest triumph, Who Works For Who?

Winning the 2020 MusicNL Award for Jazz/Blues Artist of the Year, the pairing of Jonathon Reid (Guitar/Vocals), Greg Newhook (Bass) and Michael Maddox (Drums) have performed alongside a who’s who of the music world from Our Lady Peace to Third Eye Blind and Big Sugar.

Beauwater caught up with The Herald for the latest in our album deep dive series for their seminal album, Who Works For Who?

WHO WORKS FOR WHO?

This song will always invoke memories of our trip to St. John, New Brunswick in the spring of 2017 for the ECMAs. 

Greg had been working on this one in the weeks prior to the trip and debuted the lyrics to us in the car on our way back to Halifax to fly home. We were coming off of such a high the night before and partied a little too hard. 

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Once the rough demo of music was played through the car speakers and we all joined in singing the chorus in a crude attempt at a three-part harmony, it was enough to forget our hangovers and feel even more excited than we already were to record our third album. 

Fast forward to the fall of 2019 and after two attempts at nailing the structure and performance of the song in the studio we had the lead track and title to our new album. It is a favourite of mine to play live. Just a loud, balls to the wall blues rock song in the vein of influences ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin which we expand on during our live show incorporating further influences Bo Diddly and The Tragically Hip.

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THE NEW DISEASE

I believe the rampant spread of misinformation is one of the biggest issues facing society today. By manipulating social and traditional media, celebritizing politicians, lobbying by massive corporations, and many other unethical methods, opinions and ‘facts’ are being skewed to support whatever ideas, conflicts or beliefs one might desire. 

This song explores some of these issues, painting political, anti-science and racist propaganda as ‘the New Disease’ that’s quickly reaching epidemic status (written and recorded long before the Coronavirus pandemic was on the radar). I’m a huge fan of George Orwell’s 1984 and drew a lot of the inspiration for this tune from the premise it presents, and the unfortunately striking parallels to current times. Check your facts before you hit that ‘share’ button, folks! 

THE REAL MCCOY

This song was written after a conversation I had at an industry event about how we tend to put additional value on folk music due to its cultural relevance. I figured blues and rock can be culturally relevant as well, and set out to prove it. 

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The song is about the infamous rum runner Bill McCoy, who ran bootleg rum from the South coast of NL and Saint Pierre to New Jersey during the prohibition. He and the other rum runners would arrive back in Jersey late at night, lining up at the border of international waters three miles off shore where the feds had no jurisdiction. The three mile line eventually became known as ‘Rum Row’ due to the row of vessels lined up to transfer their illegal cargo to smaller, faster landing boats which could outrun the federal agents back to shore. Bill was so successful  because, unlike his competitors, he didn’t water down his product, creating massive demand for the purer McCoy booze. 

His competitors began labelling their product as McCoy in an effort to compete, but consumers caught on and started asking for “The Real McCoy” which of course is a term we still use to this day. 

TONIGHT SHE’S GONNA BURN

This one was written about Dorset Fisheries that burnt down in July of 2016 in Norman’s Cove. My father had run the place for close to 30 years, and one night that summer an electrical fire had burned the place down.

We were fooling around with this Zeppelin type riff we had for a while, and once we got actually writing this is where it went. Huge loss to the town where myself and Greg grew up, and it’s just a little tribute to describe what went down that night.

NODDING OFF

This was actually the first tune written for this album if I remember right. Some of my family live in Ontario. In the area there is a bit of an opioid crisis among teens. When we wrote this tune I was real worried about my younger brother. The whole thing is a bit of a dig at the low-lifes that would consider selling this sort of thing to young kids. Very heavily influenced by the amount of Gary Clarke Jr. we were listening to at the time as well. 

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BROKEN MAN BEHIND THE WHEEL

This one is a change of pace to the rest of the album, dwelling on more of a Jazz influence than a heavy blues rock sound. It was originally brought to the band by Greg citing influence from a Tom Waits phase he was in at the time. The song really exemplifies his storytelling ability and upon hearing it for the first time I couldn’t help but picture a movie playing along to the lyrics. 

After introducing the song to the band we played around with the feel and rhythm to try and make it fit closer to the sound of the rest of the album. Luckily that did not last and we reverted back to the original feel and format when pre-production began with our producer Chris Kirby. It was a very fun tune to record in the studio with all three members stepping out of our norms to serve the song and style. Percussive limitation and overdubs, cymbal stacking, bass muting and sparsely played rhythm guitar were all new tools Chris had us employ to get the right sound. 

To top it all off, we were very fortunate to have two amazing performances from Terry Campbell on trumpet and Chris on piano to really make the song pop. It is really worth your while to seek out this song for their contributions alone. This is the one surviving recording from our week long Groove Den sabbatical in Norris Arm, with engineer Mike Kirby, our first attempt at recording the album.

POISON

I am pretty sure the music to this song predates the band’s existence … it is definitely as old as the band itself. I remember receiving a midi file, which is the basic equivalent of an 8 bit Nintendo soundtrack song, with this riff on it when myself and Greg were looking for a new project to work on together in 2008. The guitar riff was played at a much slower tempo, at that point in time. 

It was dusted off about a decade later, adapted for an open guitar tuning and given a tempo change along with the addition of lyrics to become the finished product. Again we were very fortunate to have some help on this track from one of our friends from Lovers Fools and Kings, Kelly Hoppe of Big Sugar fame, played harmonica on this song. It really added a new dimension to the song and made it a new favourite for our live sets.

ONE WAY OUT

This song was actually finished in the studio (and was the only one we did that way). There were several incarnations/versions of the lyrics. One was about the Leafs, another about social media and how everyone is a celebrity, and another version never even had a message. It was just a positive tune called “lift it.” 

When this version was re-written, it came from some mounting frustration on how the album was dragging on and on. It seemed like we would never land on the final product, and every time we would try to make a decision we could never fully agree on how to go forward. This song was written about that. One Way Out meant the only way out of this was to get this album released (which we did)!

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Dillon Collins is a writer based out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Multi-time MusicNL nominee for Media Person of the Year. Lover of heavy metal, hoppy beverages and the loveable canine.

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