John Witmer: Canadian Shouter

I had vaguely recalled him as a lead singer for the Downchild Blues Band, as it then was known. Did an internet search and found out that he had died in 2004, at the age of 53. A couple of internet entries, largely without reference to his larger recording career or contribution to Canadian blues music. Such a unique “shoutout” voice, as here, with his former band, the seminal and the pivotal Whiskey Howl:

Similar to trying to create a more complete portrait of Margo Davidson via Wikipedia, I decided to do the same thing with his life and memory: that of John Witmer. Found out that he had gone from Whiskey Howl, to Downchild and then out to the west coast, where he had found some form of stability of cash flow through employment at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Couldn’t leave music completely, as did Margo Davidson, Dianne Heatherington and so many other exceptional Canadian music artists. Stayed in the game through Vancouver-based band the BelAirs, later reconstitued as The Fabricators. At the time that I developed an interest in what had happened to him, the band still had a active website, with the last entry being an announcement of his death. I used the contact e-mail to inquire as to what had happened to him during the latter years of his life, since there seemed to be a gap of a couple of years, prior to his death, when he was no longer in music. Bass player, band co-founder and fellow employee at BICT, Larry Smith, wrote back to me, to confirm that he had not been involved in music during the latter few years of his life, for undisclosed reasons. Deeply grateful and honoured when he sent me CDs of material from the BelAirs and Fabricators; he had still been writing and recording. Then Larry posted some rare performance material to YouTube:

John Witmer still had it; that unique shoutout vocal style, just like he had it decades before:

Found out that Whiskey Howl was not remembered via Wikipedia, and so did the same thing for them as I had done for him. Wikipedia editors originally proposing to delete everything. After all, how notable could a band called “Whiskey Howl” be? A few references more, and they left me alone.

Some people have fantasies of exotic vacations. My fantasy is to have my financial act sufficiently together to produce and release a “Best of John Witmer” CD, among other notable Canadian artists where continuing recognition is due, such as the late Calgary-based and Ottawa-referenced Back Alley John. After all, John Witmer died as the father of three children; where is the royalty legacy that he never enjoyed during his lifetime?

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About brucelarochelle

Practising Lawyer and Part-Time University Instructor (Accounting, Commercial Law, Organizational Behaviour); Part-Time Federal Tribunal Member. Non-practising Chartered Professional Accountant (Chartered Accountant and Certified Management Accountant).
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2 Responses to John Witmer: Canadian Shouter

  1. Björn Wictor says:

    As a long time fan of John’s, I was very pleased to read your story. John Witmer deserves way more credit and appreciation than he has received. Thanks.

    Bjorn W, Sweden

  2. Gerry Wand says:

    I have played and still continue to play with some of the best blues artists in Canada. John will always be remembered as one of the best this country has ever produced.

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