BACK TO BASICS FOR BAMFORD
Ranchman’s first up on honky-tonk and dive bar tour
As with most country artists of a certain vintage, Gord Bamford has a history of cutting his teeth in honky-tonks and dive bars.
That includes Ranchman’s, Calgary’s long-standing, westernthemed watering hole and dance hall. The 42-year-old performer, who moved from his native Australia to Lacombe at the age of 5, began checking out bands there as soon he was old enough to get in. Before long, he was sitting in with acts of the day, such as Brett Barrow.
“He would play and I would jump up and play with him,” Bamford says in a phone interview from a tour stop in Australia. “Some of his bandmates are actually in my band now. I used to go in and watch all the acts. Eventually, when I got going, that was kind of the place you wanted to play.”
The folks at Ranchman’s, like many others across the country, were good to Bamford when he was coming up through the ranks. So it’s fitting that he would begin his roots-returning, cross-Canada tour at the venue on Wednesday.
It’s the second Canadian tour for Bamford in support of Neon Smoke, his eighth studio record that was released earlier this year. But this leg has a distinct gimmick. The Honkytonks and Dive Bars tour will find the artist playing smaller clubs over the next two months. Officially, it’s in honour of his newest No. 1 hit single, the Tebey-penned stomper Dive Bar.
But it’s also a chance for Bamford, who hasn’t played clubs in a number of years, to reconnect with audiences in more intimate settings. Not surprisingly, Alberta’s honkytonk and dive-bar circuit will be well-represented, with Bamford following his Ranchman’s gig with appearances at Edmonton’s Cook County Saloon (Oct. 18), Medicine Hat’s Ralph’s (Oct. 19), the Brooks Hotel in Brooks (Oct. 20) and two nights at Better Than Fred’s in Grande Prairie (Oct. 22 and 23).
“I think Ranchman’s is one of the biggest clubs we’re playing,” he says. “Right across Canada, it’s been a great response. It’s going to be fun. We’re all looking forward to getting into that atmosphere again and just having fun with everybody. It’s kind of a low-pressure gig. I don’t mean to say it that way, but it’s just going to be fun. Sometimes you can come to a festival and you sit way in the back and can’t see us, or come to a theatre show and the minute you stand up and somebody is upset. This is just a different concept of coming in and just having a good time.”
Dive Bar is the fourth single off of Neon Smoke, an epic release that contains 15 tracks. But, ironically, the idea behind this return-tohis-roots tour is actually tied to a relatively modern phenomenon in mainstream country. It’s the single, not the album, that’s king these days.
This requires some creativity, both when choosing what songs to put forward and how to promote them.
“It’s different nowadays,” Bamford says. “People aren’t so much buying albums, they are streaming music. It’s totally opposite here in Australia. They are still buying records. It’s a different approach nowadays in the Canadian market and obviously the American market as to how you release music. It’s so much more singles-driven that you can go deeper and deeper into these records and it’s all more about touring and getting in front of people and having hits. Typically, we would never do two tours on one album cycle, but this seems to be working really great.”
Bamford figures he writes or cowrites 80 per cent of his material — the album’s previous single, Ain’t it Grand, was co-written by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and features him on vocals — but never has been adverse to bringing in songs by outside writers.
Bamford was living in Nashville when Tebey — an Ontario singersongwriter whose work has been covered by everyone from One Direction to Big & Rich, among others — offered him Dive Bar.
“He pitched the song to me and basically said, ‘If Blake Shelton doesn’t record this song you can look into it,’” Bamford says. “I thought it was the perfect Blake Shelton song. Blake did have interest in it but ended up not doing it.”
It’s actually more of an opposites-attract type love song than an ode to the dive bar, with Bamford crooning “she’s Champagne and caviar, I’m a beer in a dive bar.” Nevertheless, the dive bar theme has caught on with Bamford’s fans, with a number of clubs already reporting sellouts.
While it may be a back-to-basics type vibe, Bamford says it won’t all be low-tech. He’ll be rolling into town in his tour bus and 13 people. The stage setup will involve fulllighting and “running video and screens in all these little honkytonks.”
“It’s going to be kind of like an arena show in a bar,” he says.
Still, some adjustments will have to be made.
“In some of these places, the staging is so small and the roof is so low that you really have to modify your show,” he says. “That’s the thing you’re dealing with. It’s not like you can extend the stage, there’s no room. It is what it is. You go in, do your thing, have a good time and hopefully people enjoy it.”
It’s going to be fun. We’re all looking forward to getting into that atmosphere again and just having fun with everybody.
Gord Bamford’s latest Canadian tour is in support of Neon Smoke, his eighth studio record.