Garnet Rogers,
Night Drive: Travels with My Brother
(Ball Media, 2016)

Eighty-five chapters and almost 800 pages in, this rollicking, poignant and often hilarious series of vignettes of life on the road with a larger-than-life brother and folk icon winds to a close. As Ontario-based singer-songwriter Garnet Rogers hit his 60th year, he decided to tell the story of what life on the road was like with Stan Rogers in the 1970s and early '80s.

Now much of the story has already been told -- through Chris Gudgeon's slim book, first published in 1993 and appearing since then under several titles, including An Unfinished Conversation: The Life & Music of Stan Rogers, as well as the film One Warm Line and more, but never in so much detail, nor by someone as close to Stan Rogers.

Many miles are traveled, many mics and amps hauled and sound-checked, and many characters met. Names (some) have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, but it often isn't hard to guess who Garnet is talking about. And he doesn't hesitate here to hide his differences with those who didn't see things his way.

Back in the '70s, there simply weren't a lot of places for aspiring folkish singer-songwriters to play. Stan Rogers -- working with a number of duos and finally settling on a trio format -- didn't give up and finally started to make a good living in the '80s. However, as many know, Stan didn't survive an airline tragedy in 1983. Yet his legend continues to grow.

Here, Garnet introduces us to a full cast of characters, including bassists David Eadie, Dave Woodhead, the unforgettable but short-termed bassist "Klag" and Jim Morison; a number of unnamed and pseudonymed "managers," with Jim Fleming among those named; and folk artists such as John Allan Cameron and Peter Bellamy who influenced the band so much. Also the many cameo appearances include John Gorka, Lui Collins, Ferron, Margaret Christl, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger and Garrison Keillor, just to name a few.

It all makes for an entertaining ride through the highways, folk clubs, festivals and downright seedy dives of Canada, New England and the U.S. Midwest. Amidst the debauchery and ribald humour we get sweet moments, and we are witness to the creation of some of the greatest folk songs of the era, including "Barrett's Privateers," "Northwest Passage," 'The Lock Keeper," "Harris & the Mare" and so on. (The songs aren't all in DADGAD tuning, it just seems that way).

Although Stan was the headliner, Garnet's point, and one that has been lost, is that Stan Rogers was always not an individual but a band. Point taken. This is revised history in a sense because the story has never been told quite like this. Garnet would not previously (to my knowledge) discuss this period in depth publicly or play any of Stan's signature songs except on special occasions. That's a lot to hold inside. And as Garnet's 35-year post-Stan career in music showed, the younger brother had a hell of a lot of talent and creativity, too.

book review by
David Cox

1 July 2017

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