So far, 2013 has been a very eventful year for Glace Bay, Nova Scotia’s Matt Minglewood. Honoured by the Toronto Blues Society in January, he has kept busy performing with a heavy schedule of band dates, solo performance dates, primarily in the Maritimes, with a slew a festival dates tossed in. The tragedy of mourning three departed Maritime recording artists; Rita MacNeil, Stompin Tom Connors and Ritchie Oakley..and then there was THAT concert.
Saturday July 13th at the Salmon Festival in Grand Falls Newfoundland, Minglewood got together with a roster of fellow Canadian artists which included Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip and Johnny Reid to perform before 50,000 fans at the festival. Oh yes, there was one other band on the bill…The Eagles!
Reflecting on the event, Minglewood noted “It was really good, but in a way it was really bad,”. The good part was the natural camaraderie between the Canadian artists who banded together to delivery an electrifying concert while hanging out together backstage. “The bad part was all us Canadian artists were in one compound while The Eagles were in a second compound, and you couldn’t even look at them never mind chat with them.”
“The Eagles are a big conglomerate machine,” continued Minglewood. “They arrived with 25 American personal security guards, all wearing flak jackets – even the promoter couldn’t talk to them. All he wanted was an autographed concert poster for his son who had cancer but their manager totally refused his request.”
“I never want to talk bad about anybody, that’s not my nature – but I’ll never listen to an Eagles’ song again!,” remarked Minglewood. “I mentioned this on Facebook and someone responded and said, `Matt, you want to read Don Felder’s autobiography, and then you’ll understand what the Eagles are all about.”
This blip aside, Minglewood’s dance card has been jam packed with band gigs, his specialized one-man acoustic shows , his songwriter circle sessions with good friend Bruce Guthro and some major festival appearances. Yet he rarely ventures out of the Maritimes these days restricting his Canadian exposure to his appearance in Toronto to receive his Blues Society Award, a one-day appearance at the Calgary Blues Festival and a slot at the Port Colbourne Canal Days festival.
“I am very fortunate that I can make a good living playing around the Martimes, I’m playing gigs that other artists can’t get,” reports Minglewood, real name Roy Batherson. “I get good money for my band in the bigger clubs and I can do my one-man show in the smaller venues. “I could still do without the travel. Even in the Maritimes, you have to go five or six hours sometimes just to get to the gigs.”
“Unfortunately playing in Ontario or out West is economically almost impossible,” he reflects. “The money club owners out there pay doesn’t come close to what I can get in the Maritimes. If I play out West I can’t take my band with me so I have to hook up with other musicians. I still come out West a couple of times a year just to prove I’m still alive, and I’d love to do the casinos out there and also play British Columbia but I have yet to find a booking agent who will make me a decent offer.”
It didn’t use to be that difficult for Minglewood to tour the entire country. His blues-country rock hybrid sound was a guaranteed club filler in the 70’s and 80’s where East Coasters, legendary for their beer-drinking capacity would pack venues all along the Trans Canada Highway from St John’s to Victoria.
This writer has vivid memories of Matt Minglewood’s success going back to 1977 when CJAY-FM Calgary music director Tommy Tompkins waved a copy of Minglewood’s “Red” independent album, raving that this was as good as anything Macon Georgia’s Capricorn Records were putting out at the time. Considering that Capricorn’s roster included the likes of The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band and Elvin Bishop, this was indeed heady praise.
I then witnessed Minglewood’s magic first hand when performed an extended stint at Calgary’s Refinery Nightclub, pulling crowds that wound down the street. Suffice to say that a club full of Maritimers every night shattered the club’s beer sales records.
Canada’s record industry took note, and even though RCA didn’t quite know what to make of the band, they signed them to a record deal, launching with the 1979 “Matt Minglewood” release that was produced by Claire Lawrence.
Featured on this album is a Minglewood classic, his cover of The Marshall Tucker Band’s `Can’t You See’. According to Minglewood, he had always loved that song and had intended on recording it for his Indie record but wasn’t quite happy with the arrangement. “So Claire Lawrence is flying into Toronto to record my first album for RCA and I’m at the El Mocambo giving my songs a final run-through before the sessions,” notes Minglewood. “So I’m about to sing `Can’t You See’ and I notice two guys sitting in the front row, obviously from the Maritimes but they looked totally miserable. So I just started to ad lib this intro about a young man from Cape Breton, who leaves home for Toronto, meets up with a woman who takes advantage of him, dumps him when his cash runs out and leaves him penniless and on his way back home. So many people in the Maritimes can relate to that situation and that song became almost anthemic.”
“I have to play that song every night,” he continued. “I did a one-man show in Glace Bay once, didn’t perform the song, didn’t include it as my encore and the audience flatly refused to leave the building until I went back on stage and played it for them.” Unfortunately, with Matt’s verbal intro, the song clocks in at 7 minutes 20 seconds, way too long for any radio exposure. “We lied and said it was only six minutes and 48 seconds but they still wouldn’t play it,” Minglewood laughs.
With `Can’t You See’ as the highlight of a blistering live set, Minglewood was back in Calgary and even though he opened for Molly Hatchet, his band was so hot it was hard to decipher who was the headline act. The band’s impact was so strong that my business partner at the time, Conny Kunz, negotiated with the promoters of Alberta Jam 11 to bring Minglewood back to perform and earn a healthy $10,000 fee (a lot of money in 1979).
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One year later, I enjoyed my first visit to Halifax when, then manager Doug Kirby, invited me to the Nova Scotia capital to interview Matt for his “Movin” release in the foyer of C-100 radio station and to meet a number of other Nova Scotian music industry figures – and drink a lot of beer!
Again, RCA just couldn’t figure the band out so in 1981 they sent Minglewood down to Memphis to record with the legendary Muscle Shoals bassist Donald `Duck’ Dunn – seeing the band as a more southern rock outfit. I was invited down to Memphis to spend a couple of days with the band, got to interview Dunn who was excited about Minglewood’s US potential.
On the Saturday night, Minglewood jammed with Dunn and a bunch of other seasoned Memphis musicians and was so electrifying that three Southern rock concert promoters, thinking I was the band’s manager, gave me their business cards, raving that the wanted to book Minglewood with top-notched Southern US bands like the Fabulous Thunderbirds and The Marshall Tucker Band. Yet when I flashed those cards at Doug Kirby, Minglewood’s manager, he just shrugged and said “Impossible, we have to tour Canada for contractual reasons. “When that subsequent album “Out On A Limb” stiffed, all those US offers were quickly withdrawn.
CBS jumped in to sign Minglewood for “M5” in 1985 but as Minglewood quickly discovered, that was another false start. “CBS promised us a big American deal but they reneged on it. They wanted to make us the next Loverboy!” bemoaned Minglewood. “It was my fault. Doug Kirby and I made that decision. We couldn’t have know that their head office was going through some big changes and we got left behind. “M5″ had some good songs on it but it wasn’t us. So at that point, I said to myself, I think I’ll play the music I love to play.”
What followed then was an extended period of recording independent records on Bryan Ferriman’s Savannah label, a period which resulted in some of Minglewood’s best work, especially the 1986 album “Me And The Boys”, the title track being recorded by The Charlie Daniels Band.
In the past few years, Minglewood has been more selective about his recording output, issuing titles on his own Norton label, including the 2005 acoustic “My Story’ out of his home studio in Glace Bay. “It’s amazing what technology will allow you to do these days. He recorded the one album from his solo show, which is acoustic storytelling and he did have one decent hit with `Kandahar’ a song recorded in honour of the second of his two visits to that Afghanistan outpost.
“It was a life altering experience, I have never witnessed anything like it,” noted Minglewood. His first appearance was amidst the relative safety of Kabul and the Kandahar base but his second visit took him off base at Kandahar to a concert right in Kandahar City. “We were supposed to fly to the concert site in helicopters but the Canadian forces didn’t have any available. So we had to travel about 45 miles in what they called LAV’s (Light Armoured Vehicles) which had a machine gun positioned at the top of the vehicle. When I got into the vehicle, one of the soldiers said to me, “Now If I get shot, this is what YOU have to do, showing me how to work the machine gun! This area was called `Death Alley’ and the armed forces closed it off to the general public shortly after our visit.”
Minglewood said it the show was kind of like one of those USO performances with a bill that also included country music artists, Juilien Austin and Dianna Chase. “As we arrived in Kandahar, one of the soldiers pointed out to these flags hanging from one of the buildings and said those belong to a warlord who is friendly to Canadians – but as been know to kill a few of us. And those guys sitting on the fence watching the show, wearing the black scarves, and eyeing the women performers – they’re Taliban! Suffice to say Minglewood survived both trips and emerged with a poignant song about his experience.
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Aside from his adventures in Afghanistan, Minglewood has also entertained the peace keepers in Egypt and Israel in 2006 and Abu Dhabi in 2010
Sadly, this has been a painful year for Minglewood who had to bid farewell to three of his closest musical buddies; Richie Oakley lead guitarist with Halifax-based Oakley Band and of course Rita MacNeill and Stompin Tom Connors.
“Rita’s death was right out of the blue,” commented Minglewood. “I knew she hadn’t been well but she went into the hospital for a routine operation and never came out. I was fortunate to record one of her songs; ‘`Working Man’ and that is always an emotional part of my show.
As for Stompin’ Tom, Minglewood admits they weren’t close friends but he vividly remembers an encounter he and his wife Barbara had with Connors at a Halifax Chinese restaurant. “We were in the restaurant watching a country music show on TV that was being shot in Dartmouth when eventually, the whole cast of the show walks in, still in their stage gear and ordered their fancy drinks and food. The restaurant announced last call so Tom walks up to the bar, and in that nasal twang said “I’ll have six Moosehead!. I thought to myself,`I like this guy’ so the wife and I went over, we introduced ourselves to him and we subsequently played a show together.”
Looking back, Minglewood knows he could have spread his fame internationally had he elected to move to Toronto or even Memphis or Nashville but he never saw the need or desire. “Business-wise, Doug Kirby was always on to me to move to Toronto, but my wife didn’t want to move and I didn’t want to move. My attitude was, ‘If you’re in Toronto and the record company is based in Toronto – then why do you need me?”
Ironically, the way country music has commercialized itself, it seems Minglewood was ahead of his time. You compare my “Me And The Boys” album to say Rascal Flats or even Travis Tritt. That was me 20 years ago except Travis Tritt now has this big hype machine behind him.
Yet Minglewood is content that he got out of the record industry when he did and finds it ironic that the whole industry is now based around independent releases – which is where he started out some 37 years ago.
“I’m glad I had the success I had but I’m glad I got out before all this social media stuff started,” he concludes. “I never got into this business to be a star. I have no regrets, I make a good living making music, I never wanted a million dollars in the bank, I just don’t need it . I have a great home, a great wife, great family and all the security of being in total control of my own career. At the end of the day, I couldn’t ask for any more.”