Good ol’ boy comes home

When Alberta’s booming economy brought more “urban” problems, such as drugs and gangs, Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson figured it was time to get the heck out of Dodge.

When Alberta’s booming economy brought more “urban” problems, such as drugs and gangs, Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson figured it was time to get the heck out of Dodge.

In 2004, Johnson left Central Alberta, where all three of his children had been born at the Red Deer hospital and where his family had been residing on his in-laws’ ranch. He moved his wife and kids down to Texas, of all places.

But the singer and guitarist — who’s returning to his old stomping grounds to perform on Saturday night with his resurrected reggae-blues-rock band at Cowboys nightclub — still doesn’t see any irony in relocating to the fabled land of big guns.

Texas didn’t come with the kind of crime that “smug” Canadians assume comes with a gun culture, he maintains. “When even an old lady with a beaded purse can pull out a Colt revolver,” a chuckling Johnson added, there’s less likelihood that anyone’s going to steal her bag.

In all seriousness, he believes the down-home U.S. state retains more of the neighbourly 1950s values than Alberta did when he left. But that doesn’t mean Johnson isn’t looking forward to heading back to Central Alberta, where he expects to see a lot of familiar faces at the Cowboys concert.

“My kids were all born in Red Deer, although they’ve grown up in Texas . . . we still have a lot of ties to Red Deer.”

As it turns out, Big Sugar has also forged a strong connection with fans across the country, who were disappointed when the band broke up at around the same time as Johnson headed to the U.S.

Over the next seven years, while Johnson played with the “red-neck rock/heavy metal” band Grady, he kept hearing requests from Big Sugar fans to reunite his old band.

He kept saying no — especially to record industry offers that Big Sugar reunite for a “greatest hits” tour.

Then, one day in 2010, Johnson woke up and suddenly felt a hankering to play with his former bandmates.

After talking to the other Big Sugar musicians and realizing they were also interested in reforming the band — not to do a nostalgia tour, but to cut a new album and continue creating original music — he was thrilled to give it another go.

And the result is a new album called Revolution Per Minute, which has been praised by fans and critics alike.

Johnson is obviously pleased with the reception Big Sugar has been getting across Western Canada, including playing to two soldout houses at The Commodore in Vancouver. “We’re just enjoying playing music together. We have lots of laughs about old times and new times . . .” said the musician, who describes Big Sugar as a “living, breathing entity” that’s finding new audiences even more receptive to its hybrid sound of reggae, soul, rock and blues than listeners were a decade ago.

He attributes this to the Internet exposing people to all kinds of new music. “I believe it’s easier to be a creative person today than ever before. . . .

“If I wanna make a record,” said Johnson, who also produces other people’s music, he just goes into his home recording studio and makes one. “If I wanna make a video, I shoot it with my iPhone, edit it on my laptop and post it on YouTube. . . . If I wanna make lunch, I go into the kitchen to cook it. If my horse is sick, I fill up a needle and poke it.” He laughs.

“I can do anything I want to.”

If he wants to play with a band like Wide Mouth Mason, Johnson just picks up a bass guitar and plays with the group.

Really, he does.

This means the crowd at Cowboys in Red Deer will get two doses of Johnson — when he plays bass with the opening band, Wide Mouth Mason, and later when he sings and plays guitar with Big Sugar.

He admitted “it’s a long, long night” when you play in two bands, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Tickets are $20, available at the Bell Fever Lounge downtown. For more information about the show, call 403-341-6060.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Loblaws store is seen Monday, March 9, 2015 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
In absence of mandated paid sick days, some companies are stepping up

Only 42 per cent of working Canadians say they have access to paid sick leave

President Joe Biden waves after holding a virtual meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Evan Vucci
New emission-cutting goals called ‘aggressive,’ ‘ambitious’ and ‘illogical’

Canadian industry is being compelled to cut methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2025

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference Friday April 16, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
$18B Indigenous spending in Budget 2021 meant for short-term gaps: Miller

Includes a three-year investment to improve access to justice

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Brooke Henderson, of Canada, watches her tee shot on the 17th hole during the final round of the Tournament of Champions LPGA golf tournament, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Canadian Brooke Henderson vaults into tie for fourth at LPGA Tour event

Henderson is sixth in the world women’s golf rankings

Switzerland’s skip Silvana Tirinzoni makes a call during a women’s curling match against Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Natacha Pisarenko
Previously unbeaten women’s teams suffer setbacks at Grand Slam curling event

Top six women’s and men’s teams qualify for the playoffs.

FILE - Gal Gadot arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Gadot is using her Hollywood star power to spotlight remarkable women from around the world. The “Wonder Woman” actor is host and executive producer of a new documentary series “National Geographic Presents IMPACT with Gal Gadot,” premiering Monday, April 26. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Gal Gadot spotlights women’s stories in new docuseries

First episode follows a young Black figure skating coach in Detroit

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino listens to speakers during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday October 2, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Retaking language test unfair during COVID-19: applicants to new residency pathway

New program aims to grant 90,000 essential workers and international graduates permanent status

LtE bug
Letter: Questions around city funding for Westerner

The Advocate article on April 21 on page 3 “Council to discuss… Continue reading

Toronto Maple Leafs' Nick Foligno (71) and Mitchell Marner (16) celebrate Marner's goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Taylor Pendrith from Richmond Hill, Ont. salutes the crowd after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole to come in at five under par during first round of play at the Canadian Open golf championship Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Most Read