Big Sugar (contributed photo).

Big Sugar: New lineup of musicians, same reggae-soul sound

The group headlines on July 1st at Tail Creek Mudfest at Nevis.

Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson will be back in his native land, celebrating Canada Day with an outdoor concert at Tail Creek Mudfest near Alix.

Although Johnson and his wife and kids mostly live in Texas these days, he’s looking forward to spending time on his in-law’s Red Deer-area ranch — and seeing “the big, blue Alberta sky.”

When you live close to the Mexico border, you don’t get that clear northern light, long summer days, or “dramatic” skies as in Alberta, said Johnson, who performs on Saturday, July 1st, at the Tail Creek Raceway in Nevis — along with Wide Mouth Mason and Lee Aaron.

The frontman, who loves the energy of outdoor concerts, said “You’d think the sky would be the same everywhere — it’s just clouds and atmosphere” — but it’s not the same.

Even the grass in Texas is less green and “more pokey. You can’t run around in the grass here…There are things that will bite you… I just look forward to saddling up the horses in Alberta, looking at the green grass and looking up at the bright blue sky,” added Johnson.

Central Alberta fans can expect to hear Big Sugar hits, as well as some new music from the band that’s undergone major changes in its lineup recently. Harmonica/keyboard player Mr. Chill has retired, and DJ/hype-man Friendliness started his own band.

Big Sugar’s new conga player is Rey Arteaga. He joins Johnson’s wife, Alex, in the percussion section. Bassist Garry Lowe, is still with the group, and he and Johnson are creating a more rhythmic, guitar-heavy sound.

Johnson believes the band has retained its blues, soul and reggae elements. The great thing now is that everyone in the new lineup can sing lead, he said.

Big Sugar’s frontman is feeling “very healthy, mentally and physically,” and looks forward to trying out some new material at the outdoor festival. By the time some of these new songs are taken into the recording studio in the fall, when the band makes its next album, they will well honed by audience feedback, said Johnson.

Live performances, “breathe life” into tunes, and help make the recording process more efficient. “I’m not one to spend months and months in the studio, experimenting. I know what Big Sugar sounds like,” he added, with a chuckle.

One benefit of having his wife in the group is that the new musical partnership has brought them closer. “I want to be surrounded by people who inspire me to do what I do,” said Johnson.

For more information about the show, please visit


Big Sugar (contributed photo).

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