Remembering Canadian guitar great Gaye Delorme on his birthday

gaye

Gaye Delorme would have celebrated his 67th birthday today. Sadly, he died of a heart attack on June 24, 2011, the day before he was set to play the Calgary Blues Festival.

The name might seem too familiar; it wasn’t that familiar to me when I went to his apartment 24 years ago to interview him about his new album. But I’d known that he was considered one of the country’s top guitarists, and that was all I needed to know to want to the get the scoop.

This story that somebody else wrote might fill in a few details, or you could just read mine.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 27, 1990

By Steve Newton

Gaye Delorme would have been a good choice for one of those old American Express commercials, where some faceless celebrity says, “Do you recognize me? Not many people do…” before his famous name pops up, imprinted on the credit card. Problem is, Gaye Delorme’s name isn’t even recognizable—unless you happen to be a music industry professional or someone who meticulously notes the credits on certain hit tunes.

Yet the 43-year-old musician has been an active part of the Canadian music scene from day one. He’s performed all over the place, done mounds of session work, and scored half a dozen feature films. He’s hung out with guitar great Lenny Breau and jammed to the wee hours with Stevie Ray Vaughan. He even wrote that deathless ditty of Canadian R-rated radio, “The Rodeo Song”.

So what gives?

“It hasn’t been a cut-and-dried road for me,” says Delorme from his modest West End apartment. “If I wanted to be a blues player, it would’ve been okay. If I wanted to be a rock player,” he adds with a snap of his fingers, “okay! But I incorporate all those styles into what I do, and that makes it hard for record companies to see what kind of artist they’re getting. So it’s taken a long time for it all to gel into a kind of package.”

The package Delorme refers to is the Blue Wave Sessions, his first ever solo album. Released on Epic Records, via CBS, the LP features a stellar line-up of Vancouver musicians, including keyboardists Robbie King and Teddy Borowiecki, bassist Dougie Edwards, and drummer Darryl Bennet. Delorme handles all the guitar and vocals on the self-produced effort which, like his notoriety, is long overdue. The music on the Blue Wave Sessions has already been in the can for two years.

“I’ve been listening to record companies telling me why it would never go anywhere for the last couple of years,” says Delorme, a stocky fellow with grey-tinged hair and a moustache that’s hangin’ in there with the brown bristles of his youth. “They were telling me it’s because I sound like Dire Straits, or I’m over the hill. They’ve got a million excuses, but you’ve just got to go through that. It’s like gettin’ fired every day for a while, but you reach a point where, what are you gonna do? Quit playing? You can’t.”

Perseverance has been an integral part of the Gaye Delorme saga. Born in Thunder Bay and raised in Edmonton, Delorme learned to play guitar as a way of straightening out his life while a teenager in reform school. But he had no aspirations to be the next Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.

“I wanted to be a flamenco guitar player,” he asserts, “not a blues player. I’m not anti-blues, you know, but to me blues is just so obvious, where people go with it.”

At the age of 22 Delorme joined a band and made the first of many trips down South, out of necessity more than anything else.

“That was a long time ago,” he laughs, “so there wasn’t any record business to speak of in Canada. Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t even happening—how’s that? There weren’t any record people here, so we ended up going down to New Mexico with Norman Petty, Buddy Holly’s writer and producer, and we did some stuff there.”

When he returned to Canada in the late ’60s, Delorme lived in Toronto for a few months and then moved out to Vancouver, where he formed Django, an acid-rock band which opened for acts like Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, and Lee Michaels. Without any serious management, Django fizzled, and Delorme headed for L.A. with keyboardist David Foster, who would later become known for his super-slick album production and charity baseball games. Delorme joined Foster’s band, Skylark, a one-hit-wonder that tasted brief fame with a tune called “Wildflower”. But that conglomeration was doomed as well.

“Two of the band members wanted to be James Brown,” chuckles Delorme, “and David Foster’s wife wanted to be Karen Carpenter. David and I wanted to do Yes. So it was a band that couldn’t play together that well.”

Delorme didn’t hightail it back to Canada, though. He was befriended by the pot-happy comedy team of Cheech and Chong, who arranged for him to stay in L.A. and work for them. He ended up scoring five of their movies, and co-writing the huge novelty hit, “Earache My Eye”, from the popular Up in Smoke album.

“That was something I had written the music for,” says Delorme, “and I was goin’ with the attitude like [sings in a hyper voice] ‘People talkin’ to me tryin’ to tell me how to live!’ So Cheech got on it—he liked it. We wanted to do a take-off on Alice Cooper and David Bowie, so Alice Bowie was the character that we came up with. And that one exploded on us—it was a major record.”

The afternoon the Straight visited Delorme’s abode, he played the latest version of “Earache My Eye” by New York thrashers Scatterbrain, which he’d just picked up on cassette. “That’s my solo, note for note,” he beamed, like a proud father.

Tommy Chong also introduced Delorme to Brazilian musician Airto Moriero, with whom Delorme recorded in New York in the company of drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Stanley Clarke. Delorme did some more session work in the Big Apple before moving back to L.A.

“I worked for this guy in L.A. who was a producer/lunatic named Eric the Norwegian,” recalls Delorme, shaking his head. “David Foster and I both worked for him, and that’s where we got our chops from—we learned what not to play. He could take a guy that could play and half an hour later the guy wouldn’t even know his name! He’d just twist your head up.”

Delorme moved back to Canada around ’78 and lived in Calgary until ’81. During that time an Alberta band called Showdown had a huge hit with his “Rodeo Song”, a risqué country ’n’ western tune that became all the rage during the urban cowpie frenzy of the early ’80s. Two platinum awards for Showdown’s 1980 LP, Welcome to the Rodeo, grace the wall above Delorme’s music stand, between two flamenco guitars made by master guitar-builder Frank Gay.

The sight of those shiny discs brings to mind “The Rodeo Song” in all its raunchy glory. Remember that opening line? “Well it’s 40 below and I don’t give a fuck, got a heater in my truck and I’m off to the rodeo.”

“I wrote the first part of that when I was in Red Deer,” says Delorme. “I was opening for a group called the Original Caste, and it was 40 below zero. The second part I did when I was playing in a trio in Okatokes. I woke up and heard this ‘Allemande left and allemande right.’ I looked out the window and it was like a pancake breakfast at six in the morning.

“And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the cartoon where Bugs Bunny goes into the Ozarks and he’s in trouble so he starts dancing and going, ‘Hit ’im in the head, hit ’im in the head with a hammer in the head.’ Well I just did ‘The Rodeo Song’ like a Canadian colloquial version of that.”

While Showdown revelled in the success of “The Rodeo Song”, Delorme went down to L.A. to do more film work, but returned to Canada for good when the music industry recession hit in ’82. He moved to Vancouver a couple of years ago, but has kept a low profile, even though various unadvertised local gigs have packed people in on word of mouth alone. Those Vancouver shows brought Delorme back to the real world of live performance.

“After a couple of years of doin’ movies—livin’ in nice hotels in Vegas and Chicago and that, I had to come back here and play—and it was tough!”

It was getting into the live swing of things that helped Delorme secure the record deal that brought the Blue Wave Sessions out of the vaults. While touring Alberta last winter, Delorme was confronted by a retailer from Sam the Record Man who wanted to know where his record was.

It seems that the CBS Records representative in Calgary had been bugging the retailer for a copy of the new Gaye Delorme album, though there was no such thing in existence—Delorme was still haggling with another label to get the record out. So Delorme sent a copy of the tape to the CBS rep, who sent it on to the national marketing boss in Toronto, who was blown away. Lo and behold, Gaye Delorme had a world-wide album deal.

But even though getting an album released on a big-time label has been a major accomplishment in the lengthy career of Gaye Delorme, don’t expect the man to rest on his laurels. Despite the million-selling tunes he’s been involved with over the years, his living room is not cluttered with heaps of royalty cheques.

“There’s been a few bucks over the years,” he says, “but basically you have to sue to get your money, you know. Well, now I don’t, but in the old days the only way you’d learn is by havin’ somebody rip you off for your tune. And also, when you’re sittin’ out there starving, you’ll do anything, anywhere, to get some credibility. Sometimes you just have to do it for dick, that’s all.”

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