Big Sugar goes acoustic on new tour
February 4, 2015

The Prince Albert Daily Herald

One of Canada’s loudest and wildest rock bands comes to Prince Albert with a sweet new sound on Feb. 18

Big Sugar brings their acoustic show to the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Feb. 18. Gordie Johnson is in the middle of the front row holding a banjo.

Big Sugar, a band known for Gordie Johnson’s wild guitar solos during their high-energy concerts, brings their acoustic show to the E.A. Rawlinson Centre.

For Johnson, it all makes perfect sense, because, as he jokes “that’s how you’d find us if you snuck up on us in the wild.”

“It’s the thing that we do almost daily. When we are rehearsing we don’t rent out a soundstage and plug in the equipment and the double-neck guitars,” he says. “We’ve never done that. Our music comes from a different background; it’s not about that kind of thing.”

The veteran Canadian outfit has released seven full studio albums since 1991, scoring top 10 Canadian hits with songs like The Scene, Diggin’ A Hole, Turn The Lights On and Girl Watcher.

Johnson would invariably handle the promotional chores at radio stations during their tours, bringing along an acoustic guitar to perform a song or two.

During Big Sugar’s last electric tour, the other guys in the band started to tag along and the entire band would perform acoustically.

“I thought, how much fun would that be if that was the tour, if that’s just what you did every day?” Johnson says. “Never mind all of this electricity and soundcheck and all of that. We’d just roll up with our hand drums and acoustic instruments and just play for people.”

In 2014, the band released the acoustic album Yard Style.

“We didn’t rehearse for it really, we didn’t talk about it too much,” he says. “We just kind of threw a party at the studio and sat in a big circle and played songs and they recorded us. Away we went.”

It had an unexpected effect for the band, which has earned a well-deserved reputation for the sonic level they play at.

“We’ve certainly enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get in tune with our music and with each other’s playing when you’re in a more intimate setting where you can hear each other without amplification or monitors or any of that sort of thing.”

But as Johnson suggests, it’s a band living a double life. They recently did a fully electric tour in Germany, Holland, Belgium and England, places they hadn’t been in 15 years.

It’s obvious chatting with Johnson that he likes to keep busy. He actually toured in Europe four times last year, including when he joined Joe Satriani on the road. He also went to Australia with his side project Sit Down, Servant.

He plays with Saskatoon’s Wide Mouth Mason, a band he has produced. He has also been in the studio with Gov’t Mule, the Joel Plaskett Emergency, the Trews and Taj Mahal, among others.

The father of three, who grew up in Medicine Hat and Windsor, Ont., now lives in Texas. On a recent day, he was busy eradicating an invasion of cedars on his property with a chainsaw.

As opposed to living in snowy Alberta, he’s now able to drive his beloved 1970 Dodge Charger every day of the year. He has a 1966 Charger that he calls his project after he’s rebuilt its engine.

He moved to Texas a couple of years before Big Sugar went on a six-year hiatus from 2004-10 but he still owns farmland and animals in Alberta.

He actually worked as a cowboy for a couple of years, completely leaving the music industry until the fire came back.

“I can still sing a herd of cattle to the fence,” he says. “There’s a real art to it. There are certain frequencies and notes that they really respond to. I worked it at for a long time. I had lots of time standing around up there.”

When the band chose to come back together, many of the legal and financial pressures had eased, Johnson says, making it better the second time around.

“There’s a lot less pressure on us,” Johnson says. “We only came back because we wanted to. There was no financial black clouds hanging over our heads, we didn’t owe money to any managers and there weren’t any lawyers involved or record company nonsense to deal with. We started with a clean slate, new management, new record deal, new everything with complete creative control.”

Big Sugar currently includes Garry Lowe (bass), Stephane Beaudin (drummer), one-man horn section Kelly Hoppe (saxophone, guitar, harmonica) and DJ Friendlyness. On this tour, there will be a minimum of eight musicians on stage. The two-month tour will include 40-50 shows from Ontario to Vancouver Island, followed by an appearance at the prestigious South By Southwest music festival In Texas.

Then they’ll head out for the summer tour.

Johnson says for the acoustic tour, Big Sugar actually puts out extra chairs every night because they don’t know who’s going to show up, laughing that they know musicians in every town.

“It’s kind of a spiritual experience. When you have that many people on stage, you feel a kind of brotherhood and musical community … It’s a beautiful presentation.

“It’s very organic. I think the crowd is in for a magical experience.”

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This project is funded in part by FACTOR, the Government of Canada and Canada’s private radio broadcasters. Ce projet est financé en partie par FACTOR, le gouvernement du Canada et les radiodiffuseurs privés du Canada.