MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason
• The world is awash in opinions on immigration – to say nothing of millions of tragically desperate refugees – and heated debate about citizenship, much of it spilling over from the “Excited States.” One contribution most worthy of attention and repeat listening hails from the deep, musically iconic cradle and melting pot far south of the 48th parallel: Victor Anthony’s new release, Those Nashville Blues.
On August 12, 2014, the judge who swore Victor in as a Canadian citizen, along with his wife Joelle, a prolific, published writer – and 91 other candidates – stressed their responsibility to share their native culture with new neighbours and fellow citizens originally from “somewhere else.” Taking the judge at his word, Victor has compiled a collection of songs he learned first-hand from masters who “lived down the road.” And make no mistake; when you search for evidence of “American exceptionalism,” the blues are a gift for the ages.
Those Nashville Blues is a warm welcome, unadorned, authentic, timeless and although all pre-WWII, new and fresh to Canadian music fans. There’s nothing flash or gaudy – no need for phoney enhancement or technological trickery. As Victor says, “Ragged but right… and I hope it falls easy on your ears.”
If you’re wondering “Victor who?” he recorded three albums under his birth surname Mecyssne in the 90’s and was very favourably reviewed by the likes of Rolling Stone and Sing Out! magazines.
His band, Victor Mecyssne and the Ragtops, included what he describes as “high-falutin, big-cheese musicians, at the top of the food chain,” such as Grammy winners bassist Jeff “Stick” Davis (Amazing Rhythm Aces, best known for the mega-hit, Third Rate Romance) and saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Dave Matthews Band). For years, Victor also played myriad acting and production roles with the celebrated Cumberland County Players.
However, in his characteristic inimitable fashion, Victor fled the scene – taking his wife’s surname “Anthony” – and headed North. He threw away his cigarettes and threw himself into the community of Gabriola Island.
“Joelle and I were suffering from a deficiency that’s been dubbed ‘Vitamin T’ for ‘Tribe’; we longed for community and found it here, including the unique Gabriola Commons and musicians to play with, including some on the album like Lloyd Artzen who has been playing New Orleans jazz for 70 years,” he recalls.
“I was fearful of guns people were packin’ and buying at places like Wal-Mart and had one stuck in my face. A large part of our decision was health care. An only child, I had to sell my house to pay for treatment for my mother, even though she retired on a government plan after heading up the office of a US Senator. There were too many problems that wouldn’t be solved in my lifetime. And when George W. Bush was re-elected, fair and square, why, that broke the camel’s back.
“We saw pictures in guide books for the Gulf Islands and the Big Island [Vancouver] and honeymooned here, searching locations, amazed at some things that Canadians take for granted: women comfortably walking the streets of Victoria late at night, something you don’t see in many cities that size, RCMP who weren’t armed to the teeth, polite, honest, friendly people who are part of the landscape that makes me proud and happy every day.”
Victor’s music is steeped in real life experience that money can’t buy and nobody can fake. His deceased father was “head fret of a whole shooting match,” president of a company, that, among other things, pressed records and distributed them, supplied jukeboxes far and wide with the latest ‘45s and was first in line with car stereos and independent labels like Bragg records. The young man’s summer job comprised working, living and breathing music and the biz. Piano and sax lessons filled in time until the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan when, like almost everyone else, he took up guitar.
Right from the get-go, Those Nashville Blues is real and really eclectic, which resonates through all 12 tracks. As a college student, Victor found the address and favoured whisky of Furry Lewis and spent an afternoon sippin’ and listenin’ to blues played from a daybed – Furry’s wooden leg propped in the corner – in the same room Mick and Keith visited to ask Furry to open for the Rolling Stones on tour. Victor revisits the source in his version of Dry Land Blues, the opening cut of a stellar collection.
“It took two years of hard work – to the day – to get into Canada,” he reports. “And because we couldn’t bear to reside in a place where we couldn’t vote, another three years to become citizens. We’re grateful.”
Another piece has been added to Canada’s multicultural mosaic, emanating from an appreciative, motivated, highly skilled and talented recent immigrant. Juno award-winning artists, Valdy, Gary Fjellgaard and David Gogo have all recently recorded some of Anthony’s original compositions. Little wonder so many of us in this country are shouting “More!” For additional information, visit victoranthony.ca and while there don’t miss his photography or the link to Joelle’s work.
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations to Kevin “Sipreano” Howes and Light in the Attic Records, nominated for a Grammy (Best Historical Album) for Native North America (Vol. 1). Featured in Common Ground (January 2015).
Leon Bibb tribute: The following information was unavailable at press time last month: A celebration of Leon Bibb’s life will be staged at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage, 2pm, January 10, 2016. Doors open at 1:30pm.