When alt–country was developing on Queen Street in Toronto during the ’90s, who would have thunk that there’d be such a connection with that scene and downtown Hamilton. While Colin Cripps has been in the latest in carnation of Blue Rodeo, many a Torontonian from that scene has since made their home in Hamilton. Lori Yates and her band Rang Tango were there when Blue Rodeo was just starting out as well as Rae Billing and Cry Baby. Both singers have made Hamilton home for the last fifteen years or so and perhaps they’ve helped to continue that bridge with the scene that had Handsome Ned take up from Stoney Creek and move to Toronto. This weekend, some of those nascent Canadian alt–country pioneers come together thanks to singer Steve Ketchen and his latest project the Parkdale Rebels.
“I joined the later incarnation of Cry Baby in Toronto in the ’ 90s,” recalls drummer Lucky Pete Lambert who recently helped Billing revive that band after two decades away. “I had played punk in London, Ontario and then went to England but when I came back and joined Cry Baby around 1995 and played with them for a few years. It was 2001 when I learned about Steve Ketchen and the Kensington Hillbillies and I joined the band. They’re still going but what happened was we started off as more of a country band but we went to Fujirock in Japan three years in a row and doing country there but we saw Wilco Johnson, the original guitarist in Doctor Feelgood, one of the pub rock bands that were a precursor to punk. We saw him and the band changed more into the pub rock vibe with more edgy sounds. We do country Clash songs and such these days. Steve is such a prolific songwriter and they’re so good. But it came to the point where he wasn’t doing country anymore and he started a new band. He ended up approaching me and then Basil Donovan of Blue Rodeo, who I’ve played with on and off for over twenty years. We recruited Chris Staig on guitar and Steve’s new country band was born.
“We recorded an album over the last couple of years at Greg Keelor’s Woodshed Studio and it was mixed by David Baxter (former Hamiltonian who plays with Lori Yates in Hey Stella) and then mastered by Peter Moore (former Hamiltonian producer of Rae Billing, Cowboy Junkies and the Band),” adds Lambert. “We did a couple of tracks with David at his studio and one of those we had Lori come in and sing — an old school great country ballad in the vein of George Jones called “The Other Woman is a Man” so it’s got a little bit of a different take on it. It’s humorous and heartfelt at the same time.”
With Steve Ketchen leading the charge, Yates is set to join the band for their Hamilton showcase and Hamilton’s premier country gospel septet, the Handsome Devils will open for a full night of honky tonk music.
“This is very much more of Steve’s country songs and a band that can play them so that’s the kind of show you can expect,” says Lambert. “We do all the songs off of the Roundup album as well as the songwriters we love like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. It’s old school honky tonk. The band has a lot of energy and we try to rock the house every time. It’s a great line up of classic rocking rebel country music for your dancing pleasure so I think it’s going to be a good night.” V
Steve Ketchen and the Parkdale Rebels play This Ain't Hollywood on Sunday July 14 with Lori Yates joining and the Handsome Devils opening. Doors are at 8pm and $10 gets you in. Click on facebook.com/parkdalerebels