The Quest For Real Country Music

24. A German Exchange Student and a Tireman’s Daughter

September 28th 2016 7:34 pm

For the most part, minor hockey meant partying. A Friday night home game was followed by a players parents house commandeered by a load of on’ry teens. With any luck, master bedrooms were vacant of the house’s owners and debauchery could ensue. We’d fill ovens with marshmallows and freezers with shaving cream filled condoms. I’d get a case of Bohemian/Pilsner/Kokanee Gold for Friday night and another for Saturday. This lasted years.

Not one to pull out the guitar and impose my newfound passion on a wee-morning listenership, a Kipling/Kennedy home game had sixty kids filling my parent’s kitchen, bathrooms, hallways, decks and ‘back room’. An extra space in the house that connected the garage to the rest of our home. Once a rec-room for us four kids, it’s utility shifted to my make-shift rehearsal space. Fender Squire plugged into a 10 watt Fender Frontman sitting in the corner. Being a closet picker, I was planning to erase the stigma attached to being late for hockey practice because of Thursday night piano lessons.

Dad bought home a Fender Combo Pack from Regina the winter of 1998. It included everything needed for a to-be electric guitarist. Not having an iota how to dial in tone, I went for the gain knob and played a power chord. Our parish priest, Father David Banga, was in the kitchen visiting and responded with ‘Good God’.

The Fender leaned as a corner fixture at our post-game house party. I should had put it away before anybody arrived but decided to leave it out hoping it would go unnoticed. I had once rattled off Great Balls of Fire on a friends upright piano in the dying hours of a party. It was an attempt to get a cuddle in with the German exchange student that my best buddy was dating. The second time it worked but I declined the opportunity due to a conscience. Those were my piano skills, my guitar chops were pathetically elementary. An embarrassment ready to happen. Unable to risk the humiliation, I decided to pack the guitar and amp into the bedroom attached to the ‘back room’. All denominations of friendships, from loyal to fair-weather, crammed in a room to comfortably seat ten, I made my way through to the corner, unplugged the axe. Looking to avoid a performance, I achieved the opposite by drawing attention to its possibility. Dammit, I was being set-up for a disaster. To revert attention I set the guitar down and dolled out a few free beers. No success. I was pickled.

For whatever Godforsaken reason “Wild Thing” popped into my head at that moment, is beyond me. I had never even attempted it before let alone make it my coming-out performance. My dexterity was better than expected and the three chords needed didn’t sound too bad. In fact, the song choice was genius as I didn’t even have to sing, my peers did it for me. German Exchange Student included. Hot damn.

The impromptu performance was a success and was repeated at a Kipling High School dance a few weeks following. A member of the student council had their cousins band set up in the gymnasium. We were drinking in the parking lot. I was ushered onstage half in the bag and had the gym singing along. Some going for the ‘Wild Thing, I think I love you’ and others ‘I think you move me’ in a harmonious tension with each other. The “Wild Thing” Thing became a thing.

Young Blake

During this period I began free noon hour guitar lessons with two others from the fill-in band teacher, Mr. Gibson, a discovered distant relative through marriage. My guitar repertoire expanded from Wild Thing to Matchbox Twenty’s “Push”, Pearl Jam’s rendition of “Last Kiss”, Bush’s “Glycerine” and the opening lick to Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”. Hearing of a local talent night in neighbouring town, Windthorst, I convinced fellow guitar student to ditch the strings and accompany me on drums as he played with a local church group. I would break into St. Anne’s Catholic Church and borrow Father Banga’s pulpit microphone and XLR cable. With the help of Kevin we jerry-rigged a PA system in my parents dining room and would rehearse David Lee Murphy’s “Party Crowd”. Adopting Kevin’s volleyball nickname we entered the talent show as Blake and Chuck. My first “band”.

I was caught somewhere between trying to win over a German exchange student and the local tire-man’s third daughter. This was enough fuel to practice my ass off. I still can’t recall the outcome of the talent night but a spontaneous encore, without a second song rehearsed with Kevin, had me asking my hockey goalie, Alex Runions, if he’d jump up and take a verse in “Dust On The Bottle”. He complied. The local Ford dealership owners eldest daughter watched from the wings, who would become my first girlfriend. And heartbreak.

Chuck and I snagged volleyball teammates Neil Cook and Mark Gravener. We formed the group Blowing By Daisy, named by a dial-up internet connection and a ‘band name generator’ website. Mark’s dad had a local dance DJ outfit, complete with microphones and front of house. No more stealing from the church. Mark sang as it was his father’s microphones, Neil and I played rhythm guitars and Chuck on the drums. First full band performance had us playing “Last Kiss” at the local junior drama night. Chuck and I switched instruments and followed up with “Glycerine”.

More high school parties. Closer hangs with goalie, Alex Runions. I was about to jump ship and leave the Kennedy boys for neighbouring town Kipling. I would take my parent’s 1989 Chevy Diesel Van and load it to the nines with friends and ‘go to the drive-in’. This wasn’t exactly lying…while mom and dad thought ‘drive-in movie’ 25 minutes up the number 9 highway, I meant drive-through burger run two hours up the number 48 highway. Cases of beer, a sober driver, and Alex and I singing Brooks and Dunn tunes. We formed “Green Angel”, named by pulling a random book off the library shelf. The progression continued to out perform the previous line-up. We developed a song-list, played the local pool and regional band competitions. I performed my first original, written for the tire-man’s third eldest.

Once again, I jumped ship. Up the 48 highway and found Windthorst, Saskatchewan brothers, Tyson and Derek Bachert. Sons to the local case dealership owners.

That’s when it all truly started.