The burly Nova Scotian known for his lightning precision on anything with strings, JP Cormier, strode
onto stage in Perth, ON, recently to a full house and announced this was to be his last tour.
After 30 years on the road for 250 or more days each year he is heading home to continue making music in his own Ranson House studio. He’ll continue producing other peoples recordings and is excited to be starting to utilize the miracles of social media via the internet, kicking off what he claims will be a revolutionary website that has the capability to be interactive. His creativity won’t be lost, as he stated he already has four new projects ready to hit the market in the near future; both instrumental recordings and songwriting projects.
Cormier highlighted many tunes from these upcoming CDs with help onstage from The Elliott Brothers; Mike on bass and Bill on guitar. The brothers themselves are 40+ year veterans of stage as sidemen, studio and their own shows.
Putting that much mastery on one stage leaves us listeners driven back in our seats, mesmerized and giving thanks for being able to enjoy such a creative moment, wishing it would never end.
Not many a musicians’ career kicks off as early as Cormier. Recognized as a child prodigy after starting on guitar at age 5, he was winning contests by 9 and learning by ear fiddle, mandolin, banjo and bass from listening to recordings by his heroes, Chet Atkins and Doc Watson. He recorded his first album at age 16 and not long after moved to the States playing on the festival circuit there, becoming recognized over the next 10 years as a session man, playing the Grand Ole Opry with notables Marty Stuart, Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs.
When you’re young and talented, the road can be a non-stop adventure: new locales, admiring audiences and recognition that pads the ego and pushes the desires. Being something new and fresh to the world only lasts so long. There’s new young ones all the time grabbing the attention of fickle media and audiences. At some point every player becomes an ‘also ran’, needing to find new ways to find and maintain audiences. One has to only look at the list of projects JP has lent his skills to realize how in-demand he continues to be. He’s one of the lucky ones.
As I sat there and listened to these veterans of 30 and 40 years on the road I harkened back to conversations I’ve had over the years with other full-time musicians and realizing for every one who “makes it”, there at thousands who try for a while and then find new ways to pay the bills.
These past 30 years, JP Cormier has beat the odds.
As the music industry has become more independent — especially in genres like singer/songwriter, jazz, country, roots, it’s up to each performer to carve their own niche to allow them to keep bringing in the bacon.
As gas prices go up it further cuts into possible earnings from the road and there just aren’t the number of venues there used to be. Licensing for alcohol and event costs have driven many places who used to offer live music out of business. Even looking around our Ottawa Valley since I moved here 30 years ago and one sees just a handful of places that remain.
Then there’s surviving on the road. If you’re not lucky enough to have friends to crash with, room rates have gone up everywhere and to keep expenses down fast food restaurants become the order of the day which can challenge anyone’s guts after awhile. Back in the day, performers used to play at a venue for 3 to 5 days, get accommodations and meals (oh the scary stories I’ve heard about some of these) all the while developing a fan base in that area over the week, often playing matinee’s on Saturday as well as that night. Repeated appearances, if you were any good, assured both good bar sales and a loyal following that generated into more regular gigs.
Nowadays its usually one-nighters with a lot of kilometres between gigs. House concerts have become the bread and butter for many folkies where presenters will accommodate, feed and do your promo by inviting friends into their home. These tend to be weekend events so players try to find routes that will make sense economically, playing a Friday night in one location, Saturday a few hundred kilometres away and again on Sunday in yet another locale. There’s even an organization called Home Routes that coordinates house concert tours for qualifying musicians.
I’ve been recognizing effort put in by full-time musicians who have to cover the miles to keep food on the table for their families they often see little of. Those Weekend Warriors deserve credit as well, often burning the candle at both ends trying to fit in late night practice and performances around full time jobs, family obligations and the other realities of the world. It takes a lot of understanding employers, wives or husbands and kids to allow musicians to follow their dreams. We thank those around musicians for their dedication.
We the audience attend a show but often don’t realize the amount of road traveled, the number of lonely nights in hotels and roadside restaurants these dedicated folk endure. Yeah, the thrill of the road wears off pretty quickly so it has to become the love of the music, the independence, the satisfaction of the applause and that creativity from within that spurs the modern musician on. It’s certainly not for everyone. God bless ‘em.
Their toils of road life are what keep us being able to enjoy live music and for some of us, its what keeps us being able to endure the rest of the week.
Thanks for thirty years, JP.