Thursday, May 7, 2015


The annual Hamilton Music Awards are coming up May 24.  I've attended, and written about this event in the past, and it's an impressive display of powerful music scene in the Hammer.  Often overshadowed by its larger, duller neighbour, Hamilton is home to many of the best current acts in the country, including Whitehorse, Lee Harvey Osmond, The Arkells, Daniel Lanois, Steve Strongman, Jeremy Fisher and on and on.  

Plus, the talent connected to the city's rich past is astounding.  It's where Conway Twitty brought rockabilly to the country, and wrote the smash #1 hit It's Only Make Believe on a hotel fire escape.  It's where Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm first unloaded their gear after Twitty summoned them from Arkansas that same year.  A young Kelly Jay saw them taking their gear out of the car that day, long before he joined Hawkins on stage, and then formed Crowbar.  It's where Teenage Head started, the most popular of Canada's first wave of punk bands.  It's where the Lanois brothers Dan and Bob grew up, and started a recording studio in their mother's basement.  I could go on, but there's way to long a list.

This year sees nominations for national stars (Fisher, Arkells, Elliot Brood) and equally-talented folk that make up the local, thriving scene.  Up for two trophies is retro-country/rockabilly singer Ginger St. James, nominated for Female Artist of the Year, and Alt/Country Recording of the Year.  It's for the album Diesel & Peas, recorded with her group The Grinders.

St. James has a no-nonsense, rough and tough attitude, and writes and sings that way too.  She's a '50's bad girl, hanging with the bikers, not the deacons.  The songs take place in taverns, on the edge of a small towns.  She's a dangerous lover when crossed ("Furious"), and all temptation:  "How would you like the sound of a zipper coming down?"

While Ginger is sizzling on vocals, the Grinders are going for broke behind. SnowHeel Slim is a guitar man from the old school, twanging like Scotty Moore. Greg Brisco, keys king also from Hamilton's Dinner Belles, lays into some inspired barrelhouse solos of his own.  There's no mystery here, you have the singer, the soloists, the rhythm section, and above all, the classic attitude. That's something that you can't fake, and seems to be in abundance in Hamilton.

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