The band survives because the music survives

There are bands with bombastic personalities that outshine their music — and then there’s 54-40.

There are bands with bombastic personalities that outshine their music — and then there’s 54-40.

The Vancouver-area group’s attained near iconic status in Canada for producing a string of radio staples over 30 years: Ocean Pearl, Baby Ran, She La, Love You All , Lies to Me, One Gun, Casual Viewin,’ Since When, One Day in Your Life and others.

Perhaps the best known 54-40 tune, I Go Blind, was covered by American band Hootie & the Blow Fish for the soundtrack of the TV series Friends. It climbed to No. 3 on U.S. Billboard charts, and royalties from it are said to have paid for the B.C. band’s recording studio.

Yet even after three decades of radio play, some people hear I Go Blind, or Ocean Pearl and express surprise that it was written by 54-40.

“We get that a lot,” admitted singer/guitarist Neil Osborne, who explained that cultivating a rock-star image was never the band’s MO.

Let groups like Guns N ’ Roses or Motley Cru be known for out-sized egos and off-stage antics. “We’re the opposite of that. Our songs are what we’re about,” said Osborne, who performs an acoustic concert with his band on Monday, February 1, at Red Deer’s International Beer Haus.

He admitted 54-40 tunes were crafted with longevity in mind — even though neither he nor his band mates ever imagined when they were starting out in 1981 that they would still be performing together nearly 35 years later.

“I remember thinking, if I’m still doing this when I’m 30, kill me!” said Osborne, with a laugh.

“Then I thought, if I’m still doing this when I’m 40, I’ll kill myself!

“Now that I’m over 50 and still doing it, I think, f—in’ A! … Now I learn as I go …”

Fans will hear 54-40 songs played like never before when Osborne and his band mates, Matt Johnson, Brad Merritt, and Dave Genn, perform unplugged in Red Deer.

Osborne feels the re-interpretations of familiar tunes will make fans consider them in a whole new way.

When Genn “toyed” with Crossing the Canyon, for example, he found that transplanting it into a minor key and adding piano made it into a powerful ballad. “One thing led to another,” said Osborne, and soon there were enough acoustic remixes to make up the album, La Difference: A History Unplugged.

Listeners will find there’s more lyrical focus on Lies to Me as a ballad. Baby Ran was “hillbilly-ed up” with the introduction of some banjo and mandolin, while the sound of Ocean Pearl was enriched with a horn section.

Although band members looked back at former hits for La Difference, this was only half of their “future/history” project.

The other part will entail coming up with an album of all-original material. There’s no title for this new CD yet, but Osborne said the eclectic release will run the gamut, from folk to synth-rock influences, and will be out in the fall.

One of the most fulfilling things for Osborne about being around for so long is hearing fans say things like “Ocean Pearl is the first song I learned on the guitar.” Or hearing from musician Kevin Drew of the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene that One Gun was playing the first time he kissed a girl.

It’s rewarding to have created music that’s become the soundtrack of so many lives, said Osborne.

“Our songs resonate with a lot of people” — and that’s a good indication the tunes will live on, long after the personalities are gone.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $42.50 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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