PERTH - If anyone can make a sentimental, romantic song about the likes of Don Cherry, it’s Jay Aymar.
Aymar Plays Perth.
Jay Aymar plays O’Reilly’s Pub in Perth at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 22.
“I’m heavily influenced by narrative story telling, more folk than country influences,” said Aymar during a telephone interview last week, as he prepares for two Ottawa Valley shows this weekend. Aymar plays O’Reilly’s Pub, 43 Gore St. E., at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 22. He also plays Coco Jarry’s, 314 Raglan St. S. in Renfrew on Saturday, March 23.
Like many Canadian musicians, Aymar is taking stock of the legacy and influence of Stompin’ Tom Connors. In fact, he is taking part in two upcoming Stompin’ Tom tribute shows in Kingston and Ottawa.
“I’m doing it because I did his catalogue across Ontario,” said Aymar, on the phone from his sister’s place in the Toronto suburbs.
In fact, he was due to play a birthday show to the Canadian entertainment great at Hugh’s Rooms in Toronto, but Stompin’ Tom was unable to attend that evening.
“I am writing Canadiana songs like him,” said Aymar.
Like the original travelling Canadian troubadour, Aymar also travels widely across the country, playing about 150 gigs a year.
“I feel his presence as a troubadour,” said Aymar. “He cut the trail.”
At this time of introspection for many Canadian singers and songwriters comes the age-old question about a possible revival of folk music, which saw a great resurgence in the 1960s.
“(When) you are in the eye of the hurricane…it is hard to tell when you are in the middle of it,” admitted Aymar. But, as he looks around into the faces of his own audiences these days, “they are constantly growing. More and more kids are coming out to the show…they want to be anchored in real music.” He surmises that this comes from a need in both young and old, “a need to explore what is real.”
While the 35 plus age group is well represented at his shows, he is witnessing more 19 to 23 year-olds arriving to take in his performances, something he sees on a larger scale with the success of English folk rock band superband Mumford and Sons.
Making sure not to slight Mumford and Sons, Aymar was quite to point out that “my songs have a bit more depth to them. They are more than just a string of symbols.”
Not surprisingly, Aymar’s songwriting style was born from his literary background. An English literature major from Carleton University, he lists the likes of humorists Stephen Leacock and Mark Twain as his two greatest inspirations, since they, like him, are “writing very localized ideas, with a universal appeal. There is a universal message behind the words,” both theirs and his.
It was during a modern poetry class in his fourth year that the Sault Ste. Marie-born singer had an epiphany.
“The stuff I gravitated to were the poets who wrote locally,” he said. “My professor thought I had a gift for that. There is a difference between a song and a poem,” though he calls the difference only “borderline,” with the two forms likely sharing a border.
“It’s not local to a geographic time and place,” he explained, the way in which, say, a ballad like Gordon Lightfoot’s classic The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, is. “It’s more a collection of local stories.”
Like many a songwriter before him, as the youngest of eight children, he has enough experiences from just his immediate family alone to draw upon.
“That’s enough to work with for 20 more albums,” he joked, though he is currently extolling his new album, Overtime.
While the lure of family is strong, the call of the open road is just as alluring, and he finds it another gold mine of great stories.
“If you are constantly touring, or on the road, you are always picking up stories,” he said. “They (the stories) set themselves up in your subconscious.” After a time, “the story is set.”
While he does hold Lightfoot up as a model of storytelling songwriting, so too is “the grand master of his genre,” Ian Tyson, who wrote one of the most famous modern folk songs ever, “Four Strong Winds,” made popular by the likes of the Kingston Trio and Neil Young.
“(Tyson) very rarely records anybody,” said Aymar. “He recorded a song I had written about Don Cherry. That gave my career a boost,” to mention, his confidence.
While using the bombastic hockey commentator as the inspiration for a sensitive love song might not seem like an obvious choice, the idea was a good one worth pursuing for him.
The song “My Cherry-Coloured Rose,” released about four years ago, is written from Cherry’s perspective, singing it to his dear, late wife, Rose.
“I wouldn’t have done it without Don’s approval,” he hastened to add. “You’re appropriating someone else’s grief.”
One might have expected the inspiration for the song to have come from a place like watching a hockey game or an evening out at a sports bar.
But instead, Aymar was inspired by a magazine article about Cherry’s home life, where he was far from his outgoing, loudmouthed self and was, instead, quite humble and quiet with his wife.
“That always resonated with me,” he said.
Some time later, he found himself in, of all places, a NASCAR sports bar in the Deep South. The bartender had taken pity on the visiting Canuck and adjusted the satellite feed to play Hockey Night in Canada.
To his newfound American friends, “I tried to explain who this loudmouth Don Cherry was,” after his Coach’s Corner segment. After that, “the symbols just came together right away,” and he wrote the song in about 30 minutes, before recording a quick demo to send to Cherry.
And of course, Cherry thought it was a “beauty,” and the rest was history.