Tuesday, June 21, 2011

35 Years of Stony Plain

35 Years of Stony Plain
Stony Plain

More than 35 years ago, I was friendly with Humphrey & the Dumptrucks, a terrific quartet, then trio, from Saskatoon that played an infectious blend of folk, country, bluegrass and jug band music. One of their LPs, Gopher Suite, was recorded at a coffeehouse in Edmonton by a friend of theirs named Holger Peterson. Holger, they told me, was a radio host in Alberta who was completely motivated by his love of music.

A year or two later, Holger, and partner Alvin Jahns, founded Stony Plain Records, a company they eventually developed into one of roots music’s pre-eminent record labels. They’ve released more than 400 albums by some of the greatest artists – including several certified legends – straddling the blues, folk, country and jazz fields, all the while maintaining a vision that remains completely motivated by Holger’s love of music.

In 1991, Stony Plain celebrated its 15th anniversary with a 2-CD set compiled from its releases to date, and they’ve followed up with a 2-CD compilation every five years since and are now celebrating their 35th anniversary with this 2-CD, 1-DVD compilation chock filled with lots of great music.

The first CD in the set is subtitled Singers, songwriters and much, much more... It’s a delight from Maria Muldaur’s opening track through contributions from the likes of Jeff Healey playing classic jazz, Asleep at the Wheel playing western swing, to great songwriters like Steve Earle, Corb Lund, Rodney Crowell and Ian Tyson (who I personally consider to be the greatest Canadian songwriter of all). Other highlights include a Flying Burrito Brothers classic sung by Emmylou Harris, and a swinging Charlie Christian guitar instrumental sublimely played by the New Guitar Summit (Jay Geils, Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin). Duke’s guitar also swings on “Strictly from Dixie,” a great track by Sunny & Her Joy Boys, a band that also features my old pal Billy Novick on sax and clarinet. And Amos Garrett is there with the title track from Get Way Back, his great tribute album to Percy Mayfield.

The first CD finishes with three previously unreleased demo tracks by the late Bob Carpenter, a fine singer-songwriter who died 15 years ago after only releasing one album in his lifetime.

The second CD is subtitled Blues, R&B, swing, jazz and even more... It’s also a delight highlighted by tracks from the late, legendary Kansas City bandleader Jay McShann, Duke Robillard, Jeff Healey (in blues-rock mode), Rosco Gordon, Rory Block, Long John Baldry, and a kind of supergroup trio of Amos Garrett, Doug Sahm and Gene Taylor.

Many of the albums from which the tracks on these two CDs were drawn remain favourites in my collection and many of these artists were staples of the programming I did on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio show from 1994 to 2007. And many of these artists – including Ian Tyson, Jay McShann, Rory Block, Harry Manx, Duke Robillard and Ray Bonneville – were guests on the show.

The bonus DVD includes a conversation with Holger and Alvin in the Stony Plain offices and 10 videos, some of them classic, featuring Stony Plain artists.

Congratulations to Stony Plain on 35 years of uncompromising commitment to great music.

--Mike Regenstreif

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