By Keith Sharp
This may come as the worst kept secret in domestic music circles but, shock of all shocks, Johnny Reid is NOT a Canadian country music singer!
Sure, he’ll take all the CCMA accolades and all the Juno awards the Canadian music industry is prepared to lob in his direction but when it comes down to the basics, Johnny Reid is who he is, a unique stylist whose music is not only celebrated by the country music fraternity but also by a growing diversified audience.
Reid’s eighth studio recording, `What Love Is All About’ (distributed by Universal Music Canada) is a case in point. Start playing the 10 tracks (13 if you purchase the deluxe version) and you will draw comparisons to Michael Bolton, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, the Muscle Shoals Horns and Bob Marley, but Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, not so much!
Preparing to launch a major 47-date national tour in February ($1 off each ticket sold is going to the Musicounts charity and all online customers also receive a copy of his new CD), the personable Scotsman agrees that `What Love Is All About’ is not your dad’s typical country music record but reflects his growing stature as a stylist performer.
“This chap was talking to me when we were recording this album,” explained Reid, seated in the Epic Restaurant in Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel. “And he says, Johnny, what kind of record is it that you are making. Is it a rock album, is it a soul album, or is it a country album? And before I could respond, my producer Bob Ezrin interjected and said `It’s a Johnny Reid album!’
It’s not by accident that Canada’s country music fraternity have adopted Reid who immigrated to Canada in 1988, attended high school in Brampton Ontario and then went to Bishop’s University in Lennoxville Quebec. I’ve always like to perform but when I was at university, all the kids were into Pearl Jam, which I couldn’t relate to, and all the locals in the pubs and clubs were into country music so I thought, maybe I could sing some of those story-telling songs. Before I knew it, I was becoming a wee bit of an attraction at the local pubs and soon I was packing them in at all the pubs and clubs around the Lennoxville/Sherbrooke area. Then I thought, hey, it’s time I made a CD.”
Johnny Reid has always professed to be more of a story-teller than a county music singer yet his first two indie efforts, a 1997 `Another Day, Another Dime’ and his 2000 self-titled release connected with the country fraternity. This was further cemented when Reid signed up for Ron Kitchener’s Open Road Recordings label and released his `Born To Roll’ record in 2005. Kitchener’s label has been the starting point for an entire roster of top country performers such as Tim Hicks, Dean Brody, Jason McCoy and Emerson Drive and this connection soon found favour with the Canadian Country Music Association.
Teamed with producer Brent Maher, Reid reached the platinum sales mark (100,000 units sold) with `Born To Roll’, before rolling out three straight double platinum releases, `Kicking Stones’,(in 2007) `Dance With Me’,( in 2009) and “A Place Called Love” in (2010), which triggered three Juno Awards for recording Canada’s Top Country Albums (2010,2011 and 2013) as Reid Mania started to peak. This and a plethora of CCMA awards cemented Reid as Canada’s reigning country music superstar, a reputation enhanced by his dynamic live performances, eagerly supported by is growing Tartan Army fan club.
A switch to EMI which resulted in his self-produced `Fire It Up release in 2012 took a bit of a sales dip (still platinum status isn’t too shabby), but after a three year hiatus of travelling to places like Berlin, London and Los Angeles to just “hang out with guys and play music”, Reid is back with his most diversified release to date, recorded with ace producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel).
“Bob kept a handle on the relate-able and continuity of the record,” related Reid. “He wanted to make sure that even though the songs are completely different, style-wise , when the record was completed it sounded like a Johnny Reid record and what tied everything together is my voice and my message.”
From the opening album title track, “What Love Is All About”, a powerful ballad that would do Michael Bolton proud to the blistering “Honey Honey” which is pure Bob Seger, backed by the Memphis Horns, it’s clear from the onset that Reid has all his bases covered.
“I think “What Love Is All About” is one of my best ever vocal performances and “Honey Honey” is something my dad used to say to my mam,” the Nashville resident informed. “He used to work as a diesel mechanic in the steel mills back in Scotland and you could always tell his mood when he came home at night. If he was in a bad mood, he’d be really quiet but if he’d had a good day he’d smile and would say to my mam, “Give me some of that honey, honey”.
“I always thought that was a great line so I am driving to some song-writing session and I just started singing “Just give me some of that honey, honey” in the car and I had to pull over to a gas station and sing that line into my phone. So I’m at the house of my guitar player Mark Selby, I play him a rough demo and he thought it was brilliant. Then when Bob got hold of it, it was his idea to bring in the Memphis Horns.”
Another surprise track is Reid’s collaboration with ace Canadian rapper, Kardinal Offishall on “What I’m Feelin’ Right Now”. “That song is all about love and what this world needs more of so I thought it would be a great idea if I brought this big black fella together with this skinny, white Scottish fella and just present this image of what the world should be,” Reid explained. “I have known Kardinal for years and we always talked of collaborating together so this seemed like a perfect opportunity. So we went into Mobile Sound, brought in a bunch of local reggae artists and just laid down the track and the end result is a breath of fresh air.”
With a total of 13 tracks (if you buy the deluxe version) that encompass a wide variety of musical styles from R&B rock to reggae to gospel, and yes there is a Charlie Rich “I Feel Like Goin Home” country song in the mix, Reid continues to evolve as a complete artist. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” he notes. “I can sing anything, I can tackle a lot of different music, but this industry always wants to categorize you. Even people who compare me to other artists invariably compare me to someone else who’s a stylist. I mean, would you call Elvis Presley a country artist or what category would you put Michael Buble in?
“Probably the best compliment I can receive is when someone says to me, `I don’t even like country Music, but I would buy your record, I like what you’re doing” Reid enthuses.
Reid acknowledges Canada is currently enjoying a country music boom with the likes of Tim Hicks, Dallas Smith, Emerson Drive, Chad Brownlee, Jason McCoy and Kira Isabella all chalking up mega record sales and attracting strong concert ticket traffic but he refuses to take credit for this renaissance.
“My hat is off to those boys and girls, they are in a specific genre, singing a specific style to a specific audience, it’s a tough business and they’re obviously doing well. I appreciate that the country audience has embraced me but I would like to think I am also reaching a wider audience,” he notes.
So with “A Picture Of You” already released to radio and his money track, “Honey Honey” set to be a follow up, Reid is preparing to rise up his Tartan Army with a full scale national tour through February and March. Also featured on the bill is East Coast fiddle artist Natalie MacMaster and two other young performers, Aaron Goodwin and JJ Shiplett.
“At the end of the day, I’d like to be known as a storyteller,” concludes Reid. “I want to be that guy that spoke up for guys like my dad and sang songs for women like my mother who loves passion. If I can do that, I’m a happy fella.”
For more information on Johnny Reid’s What Love Is All About tour dates, please link to http://www.johnnyreid.com