Drummer Gerry Wand has previously written of how his music career commenced in Western Canada, including playing with legendary artists Billy Cowsill and John Witmer, among others and, after joining the band Fosterchild, being part of the backup band for Chuck Berry. He’s also written about a memorable “staredown” encounter with a moody Mitch Ryder, as well as spending ten days, early in his recording career, learning from master drummer Larrie Londin.
Fosterchild was a band considered to have great promise, having been signed to Columbia Records for two albums, and later releasing a third, on Edmonton-based Vera Cruz Records. Gerry has so far written about the recording of the first, second and third albums, as well as about the breakup of the band.
He has also written about some of his favourite Canadian drummers, as well as conveyed his impressions of legendary singer Kathi McDonald, following her untimely passing. Gerry also took the time to write about the later career of Fosterchild band co-founder and band namesake, Jim Foster, as well as Gerry’s earlier history, as a musician in Montreal, plus deciding to reconnect with his old friend, Ludwig.
Here, Gerry writes about returning to playing publicly, after some twenty-five years.
I haven’t played in public in more than 25 years. In fact, the last show I can recall doing was with Dave Vidal and John Witmer, opening for James Cotton at The Embassy Ballroom in Vancouver, around 1987.
Playing again has been an interesting process. Getting my technique and feel to a point where it was acceptable to me was step one. Having the confidence to step off the ledge and get out there was another. It has been a deeply meaningful and important process for me, given that I spent over fifteen of my younger years as a professional musician. The support from friends, family, and fellow musicians has been outstanding. The feeling of “I own this” is becoming a reality, and is getting stronger every time I play. I haven’t felt like this since the Fosterchild days.
There is a great watering hole in Calgary called The Blues Can that has entertainment every night of the week, plus some open jams on the weekends. I’ve played there several times with my old friend Vernon Wills, whom I have known for over thirty years and with whom I spent over five years recording and touring, at times playing some pretty big venues, either headlining, or in support of some bigger artists, such as Burton Cummings, Trooper and REO Speedwagon.
I was the drummer for Fosterchild, a band that Vern co-founded with Jim Foster. It was Vern who gave me the opportunity to get back on time. Very pleased that after a 25 year break, Vernon Wills and bass player Tommy Knowles trusted me enough to welcome me back into the very close-knit society of blues musicians here in Alberta. I am forever grateful.
It all started last July. I reconnected with Vern at the Blues Can, and he invited me to sit in for part of a set. Vern and I finally reconnected after all these years, and I found that there never really was a disconnect. I was given a chance to play a few songs at the end of the day, such as “The Thrill Is Gone”, and had a lot of fun. Suitcase James was the bassist that day.
Some weeks later, I was invited to be in the host band for the day, along with Tommy Knowles, Vernon Wills and Mike Watson. Confidences and musical comfort zones came back quickly, but I must say the entire first set for me was like walking a tightrope. The fear of slipping , at any time, was very real and it was the last thing I wanted to do in front of a full house, backing some really great players, whom I have a lot of respect for. All I could think of was, just play Wando, steady as she goes; keep it simple. We did five sets together that day, starting at 3:00 and ending at 7:00. Five sets, in four hours. Minimal breaks. Both of my sons were there to see me play, which even made the day more meaningful. One of my sons had become a drummer himself, playing professionally for a period, and could appreciate the challenges his father faced that day. Both of my boys had seen me overcome some near-overwhelming challenges in the past few years, and having them there in the audience in support was just what the doctor ordered. Here is a clip of my drummer son, Morgan, playing with the band Crystal Kid:
Active musicians have a particular social world. Since starting to play publicly again, I have been fortunate to have played with Jimmy Williams (who passed away last fall), Tommy Knowles, Mike Watson, Danny Patton, Suitcase James, Ron Cassat, Dave Currie, Kelly Jay (of Crowbar fame; yes, he is here in Calgary), and Tim Williams — who, incidentally, just won two awards at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis. Tim Williams has been a great supporter of blues music in Calgary for years, producing numerous artists, including the late Back Alley John. Kelly Jay plays piano on his own sometimes at the Blues Can, and he’ll sometimes go to the upright piano on the dance floor and play with whomever is on stage.
The talent never leaves, amidst so many connections, past and present. Suitcase James played with Ronnie Hawkins’ band, The Hawks. I once sat in with The Hawks, when they were playing with King Biscuit Boy in Edmonton. I was a pretty cocky and confident young man then (see my “Refinery Glare” with Mitch Ryder), so to me I was “just” sitting in with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. Now I am humbled when appreciating how big of a deal that really was—then and now.
I even played with my old friend and Fosterchild bandmate, keyboardist Pete Sweetzir, during a trip to Vancouver this summer. I also had the opportunity then to meet up with Jim Foster at an exceptional Government Mule concert. Jim continues to release new material, which I like very much. I’m hoping to do a little playing with him down the road. You never know what’s in the future.
It’s been a nice reunion with some old musician friends, as well as meeting a number of new and very talented players. I’m enjoying the moment, which is the way most musicians approach things, at whatever time or place.
It feels good to be back in the saddle and back, on time.