Monday, February 14, 2011
Stan Rogers -- The Very Best of Stan Rogers
The Very Best of Stan Rogers
Stan Rogers and I were friends for the last eight years of his life. We first met and began to form our friendship at the Mariposa Folk Festival in June 1975. He was still relatively unknown – it was more than a year before he would record his first album – but I was blown away by his songs, his singing and by the performances I saw him do that year at Mariposa. I invited him to come and play at the Golem, the folk club that I ran in Montreal in the 1970s and ‘80s, and he made his Montreal debut at the Golem in February of 1976.
Stan, his younger brother Garnet Rogers, who mostly played fiddle and a bit of flute in those days (and who would always remain Stan’s constant and most-valued musical companion), and bassist Jim Ogilvie came to Montreal on what turned out to be the coldest weekend of that winter. Stan was still unknown and they played to about 15 or 20 people over the three nights. By the time of his last gig at the Golem, about six months before he died in a fire on an Air Canada plane on June 2, 1983, Stan was selling out two shows a night there (and was scheduled to return in September 1983).
Stan was a complicated and intense man. He loved to argue and be the centre of attention. But, those of us who knew him privately also knew of his capacity for great generosity and the loyalty of his friendship. I remember with great fondness that many nights I spent in Stan’s audiences, and the many late night beers, long conversations and all-night song swaps we shared in Montreal, London (Ontario), Toronto, Philadelphia, Winnipeg and other places on the great folk road of the 1970s and early-‘80s.
Stan was, in my opinion, the finest folk-rooted songwriter that Canada has yet produced. When he died at the so-very-young age of 33, he left behind a formidable body of work, but, who knows what he would have gone on to achieve in the decades since, and, to come. From that formidable collection of songs, Ariel Rogers – Stan’s widow – and Paul Mills – the producer of all but one of his albums – have selected 16 songs they consider to be The Very Best of Stan Rogers and present them on this set of re-mastered tracks.
There are, to be sure, a bunch of these 16 songs that absolutely had to be included. Among them are “Forty-five Years,” the gorgeous love song he wrote for Ariel before they were married; “Barrett’s Privateers,” the classic sea chantey he allegedly knocked off in a few minutes so that he’d have a song to sing lead on when hanging out with the Friends of Fiddler’s Green; “Northwest Passage,” a song that incomparably captures the essence of this country’s heart and history; and, of course, “The Mary Ellen Carter,” one of the most inspiring and infectious songs in the contemporary folk canon.
Although there are several songs not in this collection that I would have probably chosen – “Second Effort,” “Song of the Candle” and “Turnaround” come to mind – it’s hard to argue with Ariel and Paul’s choices.
Stan’s parents were both from Nova Scotia and no songwriter has captured the life of the Maritime fisher so authentically. Among those songs included here are “Fogarty’s Cove,” “Make and Break Harbour” and “The Jeannie C.”
There are also a couple of songs, “Free in the Harbour” and “The Idiot,” about Maritimers out of place in the Alberta oil fields after the fisheries played out.
Stan spent most of his own life living not so far from the Great Lakes and several pieces from his eloquent song-cycle about the Lakes and its fishers and boatmen are here including “White Squall,” “The Last Watch,” “Tiny Fish for Japan” and “Lock-keeper.”
Other songs include “The Flowers of the Bermuda,” Stan’s stomper about a captain who went down with his ship in a storm just five hours sailing distance from his destination, and “The Field Behind the Plow” and “Lies,” in which he masterfully captures the lives of a prairie farmer and a ranch wife.
I mentioned that Stan wrote authentically about the Maritime fisher. The fact is, though, all these other songs were just as authentic. Very few of his songs were ostensibly about himself. His research was impeccable and he wrote genuinely about real people – even when writing fictional songs.
The re-mastering job on these recordings is great. These recordings never sounded as aurally good as LPs or first-generation CDs. Kudos to Richard Hess, who restored the old tapes, and mastering engineer João Carvahlo. And, of course, to Paul Mills, who produced the original albums and played on many of the songs as Curly Boy Stubbs, Garnet Rogers, whose presence is felt on almost every song, as well as the many other fine musicians.