By Keith Sharp
While all of North America was fawning over the latest record releases by Justin Bieber, Weeknd and Drake (not to mention Shawn Mendes and Alessia Cara), Hamilton resident Lori Yates used the same pre-Christmas period to release her latest independent cd release, “Sweetheart Of The Valley”.
To many Canadian music neophytes, the name Lori Yates won’t instantly ring a bell, but for to more seasoned fans, Yates will initially be remembered as the punk rock front woman for Senseless and The Last Resorts before joining alt country rockers Rang Tango, who used to regularly rub shoulders with Blue Rodeo, The Cowboy Junkies and Handsome Ned at the forefront of Toronto’s trendy Queen Street music scene.
Claiming she was performing alternative country music before there was even a name for it, Yates was lured to Nashville by Sony to record her 1989 solo release, “Can’t Stop The Girl”. While finding her Nashville experience to be intimidating, Yates did manage to tour with the likes of Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and even recorded a duet with Gregg Allman titled “Brother To Brother” for Patrick Swayze’s “Next Of Kin” movie soundtrack.
A switch from Sony Nashville to Virgin Music Canada (home at that time of Culture Club, Rolling Stones and Simple Minds) couldn’t have been more dramatic, yet Yates found herself in the famous Bearsville Studios in New York State in 1994 recording her second solo release, ‘Breaking Point’ with the likes of Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and The Band’s Rick Danko singing backup vocals.
Unfortunately, her efforts to record a big-budget ‘Untogether’ release (“We spent an entire year, recording at Metalworks) in 1996 backfired when Yates attempted a more trip-hop direction and the subsequent album was instantly shelved by a new Virgin Records’ president who had just replaced Doug Chappell.
At a loss what to do, Yates returned to her Queen Street roots to join forces with guitarist David Baxter, Blue Rodeo bassist Bazil Donovan and former Prairie Oyster drummer Michelle Josef to form Hey Stella, who over a three-year period became popular with the`Now’ newspaper crowd, recording a self-titled release in 1998.
But it was when Yates pulled up roots and moved her family to Hamilton in 2003, that her musical direction continued its evolution. “When I arrived here, Hamilton was still a `punk town’ but it’s always had a history of alt-country going back to when The Band and Ronnie Hawkins played here and you quickly realize there is a great music scene here that distinctly belongs to Hamilton. You think of musicians like Tom Wilson, Colin Linden, Jack DeKeizer, The Arkells and The Road Hammers, there’s a lot of talent in this town.
Yates quickly endeared herself to the locals by turning in Sunday matinee performances at the city’s infamous Corktown Tavern, voted as the city’s “Best Live Dive”. “I guess I earned my Hamilton stripes by playing there, I kind of proved I wasn’t a diva but I go crazy when I don’t play and that place always had a great live vibe.”
Never an artist to rush out recordings (she has only released five solo records in a 26-year career), Yates has settled into the Hamilton scene, producing stage shows like “Johnny Cash, The Original Punk” and “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.”, released one new album The Book Of Minerva in 2007 (which won Hamilton Music Awards for best songwriter and alternative country recording.
Yates then formed a new local super group, Evelyn Dicks with the likes of Cleave Anderson, Chris Houston, Jimmy Vapid and Buckshot Beeze as well as also cultivating an alternative career as an i-phone photographer, staging several area photographic exhibits.
Which has all led to the release of Yates’ latest opus; “Sweetheart Of The Valley”, 12 new songs which see her reunited with her Hey Stella cohorts to produce a record critics are lauding as her best effort to date. Very much autobiographic in nature, Yates writes about the loss of a close friend on “Laugh Till We Cry”, meeting her father for the first time in 40 years on “Shiloh” and the adverse reaction to her Nashville experience on “Trouble In The Country” where veteran record producer Billy Sherill observed “There’s only one red-head in this town and her name is Reba (McEntire). What makes you so special”.
“It was so great reuniting with Hey Stella, I just had to play them the material once or twice and we totally connected, we had the who album down in like two days,” reflected Yates.
Co-produced with David Baxter at his Knob And Tube studios, Yates elected to achieve a live sound on two tracks; “Trouble In The Country” and her tribute to “Corktown” by recording both tracks at Hamilton venue, This Ain’t Hollywood. “I’ve gotten to work with so many great musicians here that I wanted to include them on the record,” she noted. “I was trying for a live party atmosphere on the two tracks but when they showed up, everyone (including the likes of Rita Chiarelli, Ginger St James, Buckshot Beeze, Mary Simon and Terra Lightfoot) were initially really tense. A couple of shots of tequila soon loosened everyone up though.
Working as an independent artist who even manages herself (Since the death of former manager Gary Pring in 1993), Yates says she has been developing her skills as a storyteller and now with many different forms of country music now in vogue, her timing might be just right for her new album.
“By being independent, I am in constant contact with the people who like what I’m doing,” concluded Yates. “There are no record company execs shelving the record because they don’t like it. If nothing happens to this record, I will know why, that’s the beauty of it. My whole goal is to form a chain of people who like this record as much as I do, who believe in it and want to get behind it.
“ I am hoping this record does well but by making all these contacts, I am also setting the stage for future releases. My goal is to make sure the next one doesn’t take so long to make as this one.”
By Keith Sharp