Roy Forbes looks back on half a century in the music biz

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCT. 16, 2021

By Steve Newton

Roy Forbes is celebrating 50 years in the music business right now, because back in 1971–18 years old and fresh out of Dawson Creek–he showed up in Vancouver to launch his career as a singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer.

Back then, though, he was better known as Bim.

“It was one of my childhood nicknames,” says Forbes on the phone from his North Van home, “and you know in the early ’70s it seemed like a good idea to be Bim. Later on there was Valdy, Ferron…and Raffi of course. Now you’ve got Feist, Lights. So it worked, but as life meandered on into the mid-to-late-’80s, I kept putting ‘Bim, aka Roy Forbes’ on my posters, and finally just one day I just switched it around.”

Forbes started recorded under his real name with the 1987 album Love Turns to Ice, and by that time he was already a fixture on the Canadian folk music scene, known for his high, keening voice and his acoustic blues and traditional country stylings. Last year he released his first studio recording in 14 years, Edge of Blue, which he’ll showcase songs from at a string of shows that include a two-night fundraiser for First Impressions Theatre this weekend (October 22 and 23).

When he looks back on his half-century in the music biz to try and pick out the most memorable moments, he doesn’t even have to go that far back.

“I had one recently with Steve Dawson and his band,” notes Forbes of a 2019 gig at West Van’s Kay Meek Arts Centre. “Steve likes to reimagine these albums, and we were doing the Tom Petty Full Moon Fever album, and I mean his band is shit hot–it’s really a good buncha people he’s got together. But anyway we were doing ‘Here Comes My Girl’, which is a song I’ve always loved, and it was as if we all levitated doin’ that tune.

“Another highlight was in the fall of ’71, when suddenly I found myself on stage at the Queen E. Theatre opening for Rita Coolidge. That was pretty amazing, and especially considering that ten months earlier I had had my mind blown witnessing Neil Young‘s solo tour on that same stage. That’s still pretty precious to me–and I got some good reviews, too.”

Other musical moments Forbes looks back fondly on are his Rio Theatre performance with Amos Garrett at a 2013 benefit to support Garrett after his house got flooded, and his numerous gigs at folk festivals doing workshops with artists like Memphis Slim, Lydia Mendoza, and guitar legend Richard Thompson.

“There was one with Richard Thompson where I was playing in an open tuning,” he recalls, “and he nodded to me to take a solo. I had to do some quick thinking, so that was fun. Normally when you take a solo you’re in standard tuning, right.”

It’s not so much the past as the present that’s on Forbes’s mind these days, though. He’s chomping at the bit to get out and perform tunes from Edge of Blue, which was recorded and mixed by Jim Woodyard–except for the keyboard tracks, which were recorded by Chris Gestrin. Forbes first met Gestrin–who plays Hammond organ and Wurlitzer electric piano on the disc–at the aforementioned Tom Petty tribute.

“With Chris Gestrin, you don’t have to say anything,” raves Forbes. “You just kinda give him the odd hint, and away he goes.”

Gestrin is just one of several familiar Vancouver names that catch the eye on Edge of Blue‘s credits. Another is local legend Claire Lawrence, who plays sax on the closing track, “Rumble Strip”.

“That is the Claire Lawrence from the Collectors,” confirms Forbes, “who produced my first couple of albums. He also produced–along with Shari [Ulrich] and Bill [Henderson] and I–the UHF albums. I mean I bow down to Claire, my early mentor. I respect him so much.”

Another ace player on the album is John Reischman, who handles mandolin on “The Beating of Your Very Own Heart.”

“We go back to the early ’90s,” says Forbes. “I used to hire him on various records that I produced, and, again, most respect. You’re not gonna tell John Reischman what to play. You’re just gonna listen and be amazed at what he comes up with, and pick your favourite of two or three tracks that he might have laid down.”

One local music-scene luminary mentioned on Edge of Blue–though not for any instrumental contribution–is artist manager Gary Cristall, who gets a shout-out “for his way with words”.

“He’s written my bios for the past couple of albums,” explains Forbes, “and he’s such a great guy. He booked the [Vancouver] folk festival for years, you know that, and I’ve done umpteen festivals in my life–I did them all, headlined them all, whatever–and when I would read the program the Vancouver ones were always the favourite, because he’s such a good writer.”

Forbes wrote all 10 tracks on Edge of Blue himself, and he calls it the most cohesive album that he’s ever done. But it’s not like he has anything against cover material.

“It just felt right to use all of these songs,” he says, “but I do love to interpret. I’d love to do a soul album, you know, where I interpret tunes by Sam Cooke, Little Willie John, Hank Ballard, all of that. If I had an unlimited budget you’d have a hard time gettin’ hold of me right now. I’d be in the studio recording all these dream albums.”

For Edge of Blue Forbes was joined in the studio by rhythm sections that included acoustic bassist Miles Hill, electric bassist Brian Newcombe, and drummers Chris Nordquist and Phil Robertson. But for his upcoming shows it’ll just be his voice and the Gurian guitar he bought new at Kitsilano’s Bill Lewis Music in January of ’72.

“I will be celebrating the repertoire from the past 50 years,” he says, “but the big concentration will be on Edge of Blue, because that’s still the new album, even though it’s over a year old now. But I’ll also go back to things like ‘Can’t Catch Me’, which I made up about 50 years ago almost to the day, and it was the kickoff track on Kid Full of Dreams, the first album. So I do a few of the old ones and lots of the new ones.”

Forbes, who’s always suffered from “crummy sight”, lost his dwindling vision entirely after an accident in 2015, and he says that writing songs like Edge of Blue‘s “Don’t Let Go” and ‘Heart Have Mercy” was part of his recovery process. But the sightlessness hasn’t effected his guitar playing much.

“Not really,” he claims. “I practice more now, and I’ve made myself work up and down the neck, right from the start. Occasionally I’ll be down in the lower area and go up to grab let’s say a high-E note or something, and more often than not, I get there. And if I don’t, call it jazz. A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

To hear the full 26-minute audio of my interview with Roy Forbes subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 325 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1992
Tommy Aldridge of Whitesnake, 1990
Steve Miller, 2022
Devin Townsend of Vai, 1993
Al Stewart, 1985
Stewart Copeland from the Police, 2022
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1994
Terry “Mess” Messal of Flies on Fire, 1992
James Cotton, 2002
Martin Barre from Jethro Tull, 2022
David Gogo, 1994
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1990
Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, 1992
Popa Chubby, 1995
Jerome Godboo of the Phantoms, 1990
Alain Caron of UZEB, 1985
Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big, 1989
Ty Tabor of King’s X, 2001
Mike Gordon of Phish, 1993
Paul Shaffer of David Letterman, 2022
Paul Nieder of Scatterbrain, 1991
Bob Rock, 2002
John Cougar, 1983
Guitar Shorty, 2001
Cy Curnin of the Fixx, 1984
James Young from Styx, 1986
Charlie Musselwhite, 2002
Steve Morse of Deep Purple, 1998
Lenny Kravitz, 1998
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1998
Tinsley Ellis, 1992
Matt Minglewood, 1985
Mojo Nixon and Country Dick Montana of the Pleasure Barons, 1993
Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock, 1992
Sue Foley, 1992
Tom Keifer of Cinderella, 1991
Terry Adams of NRBQ, 1997
Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, 1984
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 2010
Slash of Guns N’ Roses and Slash’s Snakepit, 1995
Sonny Rhodes, 1999
Peter Goalby of Uriah Heep, 1983
Lenny Zakatek of the Alan Parsons Project, 1983
Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
Chris Whitley, 1991
Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
Bill Elm of Friends of Dean Martinez, 1995
Simon Townshend, 1983
John Bush of Anthrax, 1993
Aldo Nova, 1983
Steven Adler from Guns N’ Roses, 2011
Mick Ronson, 1989
Tom Morello, 2011
Paul Pigat of Cousin Harley, 2021
Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, 1993
Henry Fambrough of the Spinners, 1983
Dave Brock of Hawkwind, 1990
Roger Fisher from Heart, 1985
Graham Goble of Little River Band, 1983
Colin Hay of Men at Work, 1983
Mark Kelly of Marillion, 1986
Luther Allison, 1995
Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats, 2007
John Critchley of 13 Engines, 1995
J. Geils from the J. Geils Band, 2006
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, 1997
Jason Newsted of Newsted (and Metallica), 2013
Marshall Crenshaw, 2013
Dan Hartman, 1984
Sean Costello, 2006
Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, 1998
Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, 1993
Brian Blush of the Refreshments, 1997
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Craig Northey of Strippers Union, 2021
Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, 1997
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, 1984
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Eric Carr of Kiss, 1984
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Ivan Doroschuk of Men Without Hats, 1984
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Michael Lardie of Great White, 1987
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis & the News, 1983
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
Mark McEntee of Divinyls, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Jack Semple, 1993
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman of the Guess Who, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Gregg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001
…with hundreds more to come

Leave a Reply