Some Tunes for that Mother of Mine

Some Tunes for that Mother of Mine (2006)
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The long awaited new album, released in the spring of 2006, was recorded in five hours on June 3, 2005. It is a wonderfully austere collection of 11 covers and one jaw dropping new original that pays tribute to the songs Roy grew up listening to.

1. I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash, Roy Cash)
2. Singin’ The Blues (Melvin Endsley)
3. When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again (Gene Sullivan, Wiley Walker)
4. Bluebird Island (Clarence 'Hank" Snow)
5. The One Rose (That’s Left In My Heart) (Del Lyon, Lani McIntyre)
6. I Saw Your Face In The Moon (Otis Elder)
7. Dark Moon (Ned Miller)
8. Waiting For A Train (Jimmie Rodgers)
9. I Remember You (Johnny Mercer, Victor Schertzinger, Marc Shaiman)
10. Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young)
11. Spider (Roy Forbes, Terry Emslie)
12. About My Broken Heart (Roy Forbes)

Roy Forbes has a new album, a wonderfully austere collection of 11 covers and one jaw dropping new original that pays tribute to the songs he grew up hearing in his snowy Dawson Creek hometown in northern British Columbia. It's called Some Tunes For That Mother Of Mine and in a very real way, in some subterranean place in his musical heart, he's been putting this thing together since his mom turned the family radio on one winter's day in 1956 and they were playing Marty Robbins' "Singin' The Blues".

Pushing the Alaska Highway through was big news for the north in the early 40s but come the 1950s Dawson Creek remained pretty much the same little town it had always been. A few more cars in the streets, yes, but those streets were still lined with wooden sidewalks and the local Co-Op was still the big store in town. Nobody had TV yet, just radio. And fast food? That was when mom skipped the jam on your peanut butter sandwich.

But it was a good life, isolated and not especially prosperous, but everybody was in the same boat, mostly, so nobody noticed. You could buy records at the Dawson Music Shop where they stocked racks of the thick, fragile 78s with Glen Miller on the cover, the newer 33 rpm LPs and the very new, little 45s. Those were for the kids and their rock & roll.

Roy Forbes would have been too young to be buying his own records just then but he was lucky, he had a passel of older sisters who brought home all the rockin' platters. The baby of the family, they called him Bim.

Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and, of course, Elvis - little Bim absorbed them all like a sponge. Later it would be the Beatles, the Stones, the enigmatic Bob Dylan, Neil Young. There was a black plastic Motorola combination record player/radio in the front room that became the centre of his universe.

When he wasn't spinning records and memorizing the very look of the labels - Columbia, RCA Victor - his mother had the radio on CJDC Radio 1350 and the Western Hour. The singers - Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline - and songs - "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", "Tangled Mind", "He'll Have To Go", "Crazy" - would hold him in thrall for a lifetime.

Fast forward a decade or two and Bim has become Forbes' professional name, he's moved down to the big city and turned his hand to making his own songs and records. He left Dawson Creek days after high school grad and years of practicing guitar, playing in bands, writing songs; years of prepping for the inevitable trip down the Hart Highway to Vancouver.

Over the next three decades he would forge a significant Canadian music career. Usually filed under folk and/or singer/songwriter, Bim - he later reverted to Roy Forbes - nevertheless played his acoustic Gurian with the grit and aggro of a rock & roller and was preternaturally blessed with a unique voice, part Hank, part Billie Holiday, part Robert Plant and startlingly soulful.

From the early Kid Full Of Dreams and Raincheck On Misery through The Human Kind and the career spanning compilation Almost Overnight, there would be eight solo albums plus two collaboration CDs with Bill Henderson and Shari Ulrich as UHF. Punctuating innumerable concert tours and festival performances were a couple of Juno nominations and a nice handful of West Coast Music awards as Forbes branched out into producing for other artists like Connie Kaldor and Susan Crowe. But home is always home and now, 35 years on, Roy Forbes is heading back north - at least on CD - to revisit his musical heritage.

One sunny day last June he decided to make a musical present for his mother and went into a studio with Vancouver guitar ace Robbie Steininger, laying down 14 tracks between 10 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. Of those he kept 12 and had enough time at the end of the session to lay a blush of harmony on Hank Snow's classic "Bluebird Island".

Other than that, what you hear is what Forbes played, live, stripped and raw, accentuated and underscored by Steininger's tasty licks. There's Johnny Cash's sweet old "I Still Miss Someone", Elvis' "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again", a bluesy, slowed down take on Johnny Mercer's timeless "I Remember You" plus a fine "Waiting For A Train" from the granddaddy of them all, Jimmie Rodgers.

And yes, "Singin' The Blues" is here too.

But the highlight of the dozen has to be Forbes' own, new "About My Broken Heart". A classic country shuffle redolent of sawdust floors and surely one of the best realized tunes of his career, it's a love song to all the scratchy, broken hearted songs he ever heard on God knows how many record players over the years. It's going to sound great coming out of that old, black Motorola.


Songs from a son to his mother: But the selection is a fine work with a Broken Heart knockout by Forbes
By John P. McLaughlin, The Province, Vancouver BC
Publish Date: 27-Apr-2006

The record opens with a ringing, ascending country lick that sounds like Chet Atkins circa 1957.

It's actually Vancouver's Robbie Steininger on his vintage Gretsch Tennessean -- about as Chet as a guitar gets -- at Bakerstreet Studios in North Van kicking off Johnny Cash's sweet, 48-year-old "I Still Miss Someone" and parting the musical curtains for a new and long-overdue Roy Forbes album called Some Tunes for That Mother of Mine.

The idea, simple as a letter home, was to record a bunch of old songs for Forbes' 85-year-old mother in Dawson Creek, "something for her to listen to as she sat on her back step, having a coffee and a smoke," as he writes in the liner notes, "watching the Peace Country spring turn into summer."

So he did it.

A rocker at heart, a folkie by rep and a down-home country boy by upbringing, he pulled out some of the old songs he'd heard growing up, country things like the Marty Robbins' "Singin' the Blues," Jimmie Rodgers' classic "Waiting For a Train," the jazzier "I Remember You" -- the elegant Jo Stafford version, not Frank Ifield's yodeller -- and even Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" just 'cause Forbes is a Neil freak.

"My mom got a CD player from the girls, as we call my sisters -- I have half a dozen, I was spoiled rotten," says Forbes. "Anyway, they went together and bought her a little portable blue CD player she could take outside where she likes to sit when it starts to get warm.

"So my sister Judy was making her MP3 CDs of old tunes and I was pulling out my Wilf Carter 78s, things like that, and MP3-ing them up so she could burn them. Then one day I thought maybe I should just do something myself. It seemed like a good idea."

Forbes enlisted the help of Paul Baker of Bakerstreet Studio, who had a bit of recording time to spare, longtime producer/engineer Rolf Hennemann was available and even Steininger, one very busy guitar player, managed to find a few hours.

One morning last June everybody mustered at the studio, plugged in, miked up and, at Forbes' clarion call of "OK, fellas, we're making 78s!" -- hit the little red button. Five hours later, including a lunch break, they had an album.

Well, actually, they had a neat bunch of songs to send Forbes' mom. Only a little later when Forbes realized he really had something here, that this could have a life in the marketplace -- then they had an album.

All the great old covers aside, I think the highlight comes at the end with a song called "About My Broken Heart," something Forbes wrote a year ago that cracked a too-long writer's block and, as the tale of a care-worn lover finding comfort in old records, couldn't have fit better. Spare and pulsing with affectionate joy, the song -- like the album -- is a wonderfully realized, memorable addition to a fine body of work.

But what did mom think?

"Well, she hasn't gone into great detail," says Forbes. "She doesn't do that. But she likes it, sheds a few tears. She says she can't listen to it when people are around, she waits till everyone's gone. Then she puts it on."

Forbes’s New Tunes Covers Family History
By Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight, Vancouver BC
Publish Date: 20-Apr-2006

Roy Forbes took exactly five hours to make his new CD, Some Tunes for That Mother of Mine. It sounds like it, too, but in the best possible way. You couldn’t ask for a more spontaneous recording­most of the performances are first takes ­ or improve on the friendly interplay between the singer and his sole musical guest, guitarist Robbie Steininger. A bigger band or more songs would be gilding this 36-minute lily; it’s perfect as it is.

Of course, such perfection isn’t as effortless as it seems. Some Tunes might have been laid down in a single afternoon, but it’s also the product of one long, long rehearsal.

“You know, ‘Singing the Blues’, I’ve been singing that since I was three,” says the 53-year-old Forbes, on the line from his North Vancouver home. He’s referring to the Melvin Endsley standard that’s the second track on his new disc, which also includes Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”, Jimmie Rodgers’s “Waiting for a Train”, and Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You”, among other country and pop classics. For the most part, they’re songs Forbes heard growing up in Dawson Creek during the 1950s and ’60s, songs his mother might have sung at family get-togethers or while working around the house.

In fact, the project started out as a gift for Margaret Fellers, Forbes’s mom, who’s still very much alive at 85. “The first thing she did when she heard it was have a big cry,” her dutiful son reveals. “That’s her sign of approval. But she loved it. She thought it was very thoughtful of me. And of course when she got the original disc it was just a CD in a little homemade cover. When she saw the final packaging, with the photo of all those grain elevators ­ my dad hauled grain for most of the farmers in the area ­ she said, ‘Honey, it just takes you right back.’”

It does, indeed. Some Tunes is not only a sampler of Forbes family favourites, but a capsule history of its maker’s musical upbringing. Included in the package are an early original, “Spider”, that the singer played with his teenage rock band the Crystal Ship, and a cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”.

“When I started to look at putting this record out, I went, ‘Oh my God, what’s that Neil Young song doing on there??” admits Forbes, who hosts a CD–release party for Some Tunes at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre next Friday (April 28). “But I think it all works for me ­ and it’s hard to explain what that After the Gold Rush album did to me. I think it really showed me a way to write that was spontaneous. It’s hard to put it into words, but it kind of got in there and massaged my soul.”

In addition, the disc concludes with a new Forbes composition, “About My Broken Heart”, which might be a signpost of where the singer’s going next. It’s been a while since he last wrote a whole album’s worth of material, but a new batch of tunes is on its way ­ and his aim is to have them equal the great songs he grew up hearing.

“Getting this record ready for release has made me examine my musical roots, the really deep stuff,” he explains. “You always think about your teenage years ­ you know, you’re playing in your first band and you hate country music, all of that. And I think about the early days here in Vancouver, coming here and rediscovering people like Hank Williams. But that other stuff is so deep it’s part of the blood, and I feel like it will inform my new writing. I’m not sure how, yet, but I’m always going for simplicity, anyway; the fewer lines I can use to get it across, the more I like it. ‘About My Broken Heart’ is like that. It’s really distilled. I feel like there’s not a wasted word in that song ­ and that’s what I want to do.”

And chances are that when Forbes next heads into the studio, he’s going to shoot for the same kind of spontaneity that makes Some Tunes such a winner.

“You know, I got a book last winter, Tony Russell’s Country Music Records: A Discography 1921-1942,” he says. “So I looked up Wilf Carter, and read about him going to New York and recording 12 songs in one afternoon. That’s just how it was done back then. It wasn’t like you got to take the rough mix home to listen to, the way we’ve all done it for years. So the big joke when we were doing ‘The Mom Project’, as we call it, was that I’d put on my country-boy voice and say, ‘Okay, fellas, we’re makin’ 78s. Let’s give’r.’ And we did.”

E-mail from a fan who was at the sold out concert
Date: Sunday, 30 Apr 2006
Subject: Thanks for the Concert

I really enjoyed your concert last night. I haven't heard you live for awhile and was awed at your pickin' and singing...(you have amazing breath control).

I first heard you when my dad brought home your album. He was an English teacher in a small town in Alberta and he used your music and lyrics to teach poetry and creative writing. The kids loved him...they could probably relate to hanging around at high school dances where it is still "colder than ever". In fact, so could I...I knew those boys...

I've followed your career and music ever since. My ears perked up- well actually, I melted when I heard you sing old jazz standards on Paul Grant's Hot Air a few years ago. I've been waiting for that album ever since....

But never mind, I've been playing Tunes for that Mother of Mine since I got up this morning. Love 'em all. I grew up listening to Hank, Jimmy, Johnny and Wilf. Any one of them could have had a hit with About My Broken Heart. Brilliant! You caught the essence of that era of country music.

Anyway, this is getting to be a long email and what I really want to say is how much I enjoy your singing, playing and song writing. The image that comes to me is a black, polished, river stone... real nice to hold.. to carry around, to pull out of one's pocket and admire for it's beauty.

Thanks Roy.

Marianne Pengelly.