By Keith Sharp
After spending almost five years serving as Corey Hart’s understudy, Jonathan Roy has now graduated into the big league of Canadian music with the release of his debut recording, ‘Mister Optimist Blues’ on Hart’s boutique Siena Records label.
The son of NHL Hall Of Fame goalie Patrick Roy, Jonathan Roy was once an aspiring goaltender in his own right, starring with the Quebec Hockey League’s Quebec Remparts for two seasons in on a team coached by his illustrious father. And you’d think Jonathan would be crushed when Roy Sr sat him down and gave an assessment that, in his humble opinion, Roy Jr. didn’t possess the skills or tools to make it in the pro leagues. On the contrary, Roy felt the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
“I was brought up to play hockey, my dad was my idol, I wanted to follow in his footsteps but my mother had also gotten me into music,” explained Roy over lunch at Toronto’s Roastery restaurant during a three-day media blitz which saw him perform a solo gig Monday at the Drake nightclub. My first concert was seeing The Backstreet Boys in Denver. I realized I wanted to do that, I wanted girls to scream at me, I wanted to connect with an audience.”
“My Mom bought me a set of drums and a guitar and vocal microphones and I started to compose my own songs,” Roy continued. “I shelved that when I started to play hockey at a serious level but I got to a point where I was focusing more on music than hockey so it was a relief when my dad sat me down and told me he didn’t think I could make it at the pro level.”
A stint performing in a Montreal theatre production of Don Juan proved to be a valuable learning lesson for Roy, “It gave me a school to learn how to sing, it was like being with a musical team and I looked at these talented people and learned what would work for me.”
Yet to take that next career step, Roy cashed in on a connection his dad had with super star Corey Hart who is living in Nassau, Bahamas and operating a boutique record label, Siena Records, distributed in Canada by Warner Music. “Dad knew Corey and once signed a hockey stick for him so both he and I wrote to Corey and Dad asked him if he would check me out and assess my talent,” Roy explained.
Hart agreed to stage an audition, asked Roy to learn three songs; a Corey Hart song; “She’s So Good” an original Roy composition “Walk With The Man” and a song by Teddy Thompson and invited Roy to travel down to Corey’s home base in Nassau.
” I am sure Corey felt he was just doing my father a favour and wasn’t expecting too much,” Roy reflected. “I felt this was my only chance to audition for a superstar, you don’t get a second chance like this. So I start to sing the Teddy Thompson song, he gets up, starts to walk around and I’m thinking, Oh no, he doesn’t like it, it’s over, I’m going home. But then he sat down, I finished the song, he starts to applaud and says `Welcome To Siena Records’.
Then the real work started. For Roy it’s been like spending five years grafting in the minor hockey leagues, learning and developing his craft, figuring out what kind of music fit his style and working with producers and writers to develop himself as a recording artist.
“Writing is an obvious weakness of mine but Corey has been working with me and he’s written about 50 songs for me to work with. He has a beautiful way of writing songs, his melodies are so distinctive,” enthused Roy. “Yet Corey let me play around with each song, change the keys and let me do my own thing with them.”
The pair finally realized that pop, folk and reggae were Roy’s strong points and that the release of “Daniella Denmark”, a Hart song written about a dream he had of Roy meeting a girl in Denmark, would lay the template for future recordings. “I think I recorded “Daniella Denmark” before we’d settled on a final direction. But when I recorded that track and also recorded “Your My Ace” (with it’s distinctive calypso feel), we knew where we were going.”
Roy enjoyed his first commercial success when he teamed with Hart to cover a Chris Rea Christmas hit; “Feel Like Going Home” which reached No 1 on the charts last December and he pre-promoted his debut album by opening for Burton Cummings on a national tour last Fall.
“That tour was such an education for me. We played soft seaters, all the attention was on me and I was aware that no one knew either me or my songs,” allowed Roy. “But Burton’s fans were fantastic, they were very supportive and Burton himself was very gracious. He’d stick his head in my dressing room before I went on and say “Hey Jo, have a great time out there.”
With three songs all ready released from the album; “Daniella Denmark”, “She’s The Ace” and his latest single; “Good Things”, Roy is confident that Hart’s patience in developing his talents will pay dividends.
“The album is called `Mr Optimist Blues’, it’s a song Corey wrote (one of five Hart tracks on Roy’s debut) about me and it sums up my outlook on life. I am the eternal optimist, I always look for the positive rather than the negative and to succeed in this business, you have to be positive, or as Corey once said “Never Surrender”.