By Keith Sharp
Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson isn’t prepared to idly sit back and play out a pandemic. Even during an enforced two-year layoff, he was releasing his GJ SoundShack video series and was even able to execute a One Man Big Sugar Show.
So as soon as he was able to get back on the road, Johnson jumped at the chance to execute a brief tour of Ontario and Quebec in early December before squeezing in four Western dates after Christmas, all in order to promote a reworked release of his 1998 hit album, ‘Heated,’ his band’s fourth album, and, arguably his most commercially successful release.
Now with four additional tracks from his vault, an acoustic version of “Better Get Used To It,” a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It,” plus two other previously written tracks, “Je Suis Cool” and “Alka Lights.”
Johnson is celebrating the 25th anniversary of that platinum-selling release that has been issued on vinyl for the first time.
“The whole reason for re-releasing `Heated’ was to issue it on vinyl,” noted Johnson over the phone from his Austin, Texas residence, where he took a Christmas break before wrapping up the four-date Western swing that included dates in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Saskatoon. “When `Heated’ first came out in 1998, nobody was releasing anything on vinyl, but I don’t think it’s a proper record unless it is on vinyl. My 23-year-old son only collects vinyl records.”
According to Johnson, the acoustic version of “Better Get Used To It” was recorded at the time of the original album release. “We recorded it in like one day and sent it out, but it kind of got ignored because of the album version,” he noted.
Johnson is also a big fan of Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It” and tells the story of people originally thinking it was a pro-marijuana song. “Of course, Paul denied it, but we were approached by a pro-marijuana movement to record a song in support of them, and so we recorded a cover. I don’t know whatever happened to the album it appeared on, but we added additional controversy to that song.”
With two more songs recovered from the vault, Big Sugar has enjoyed getting back on stage, performing two sets per night, the first featuring a complete run-through of ‘Heated’ with the four additional cuts before taking a break and returning to playing other standards.
The big news is the appearance of 22-year-old Ben Lowe on bass. Lowe is the son of Garry Lowe, Big Sugar’s original bass player who was mainly responsible for establishing the band’s reggae rock style before passing away in 2018. “I told Garry I would keep an eye on his kids, and it Is such a thrill to see Ben emerge as a qualified young man. Our music has always been about roots and culture, and you can hear Big Sugar in Ben’s DNA.”and with Roots Valach on drums to add additional youth to the band’s lineup, Johnson is enthused about getting back on the road. “As soon as I get that double-neck guitar around me, I’m ready to go,” he enthuses. “This has only been a short tour, but we look forward to performing across the rest of Canada and the U.S. in 2023.”