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Big Sugar Gordie Talks New Record, Commodore Show, and Losing Garry - NightMair Creative

Big Sugar has always had their own sound, partly due to Big Sugar founder Gordie Johnson collaborating with some of the best most unique musicians around; including Garry Lowe on bass who passed away in July after a private 2 yr battle with cancer. At the time, Big Sugar honoured their summer festival commitments, but are only playing one show this fall and winter; Vancouver’s Commodore on October 20. We had a chance to chat with Gordie Johnson about Garry, the upcoming Vancouver show, and new things on the horizon!

nightMair Creative: Big Sugar is doing only one show this fall and its Vancouver.. why are we so lucky?

Gordie Johnson: The Commodore Ballroom is one of our all time favorite venues.. I’m not just chucking that out lightly. It really is a … it’s always a defining show for us. We’ve had a pretty tumultuous year, and a lot of plans changed quickly. And so getting out and just grinding and doing every show that gets offered was not of any interest to us in our current state of mind but that was one we definitely did not want to change out, that’s the one that will kind of get us back on track I think as a band. I mean there’s… without Garry there it’s a completely different presentation so this gives us something to really… you know we’re going to try and knock it out of the park here. It gives us something to set our focus on. It’s a place that we know… we’ve always had great support in Vancouver, but it’s also the room, and us in the room, and the people in the room that leads to a great combination and its really inspiring to us. Its not like a drudgery where its like, “ah! I wish we didn’t have to go and do a gig”… its one of the ones that you go “oh yes! Let’s stay an extra day, lets be there and put everything into it.”

nMC: Our condolences about Garry. He seemed to be a pretty cool guy both on and off stage when we met him the few times.

GJ: Thank you. Garry (Lowe) was my friend and key collaborator for 30 years so it’s a bit of a creative shift.. although, um.. (struggles to find the words) change is also…. change is what you make of it right? It can be good or it can be bad. I certainly have taken not only his musical influence but his view of life to heart… what would Garry have done – trying to find some positive course to take, and that’s what we’ve done with the music. We had to start over with the record; which seems like a year and a half ago we started. So we started over on that and it’s been great to dive into a new musical direction and create more music for people to hear. And we’ll do a lot of new songs at the show too… at least half a dozen or more new songs in the Vancouver set.

nMC: New music –  yes!

GJ: And it’s a different kind of Big Sugar. I remember when we used to be a “rock and roll” band (laughs). So, you know.. we’ve gone through a lot of changes in the last 3 years; there’s no keyboards, there’s no harmonica and now without Garry there…  Big Ben (Grady) is playing with us. and Ben and I go back years and years too. There is a musical connection. I could never get someone to fill Garry’s shoes – Big Ben brought his own shoes – he plays like himself. I could never get my head around someone walking in and playing like Garry – I wouldn’t want anyone to. So to have a guy who has his own music personality and we have a musical rapport, is great. There’s a little of that sympathetic musical vibration that Ben and I share, and that camaraderie, and that thing we do on stage that we loved doing with Garry for years. That has now got into the mix a little bit, so that makes for a really fun show and I got to play a lot of guitar.. a lot of guitar (laughs)

nMC: A new Big Sugar album! Do you have any approximate release date?

GJ: Well like I said, its only a year and a half late (laughs), due to band member defections and mortality and other things that have sidelined us. But we sure don’t give up. I was up at 6:30 this morning and in the studio by 7am…

nMC: Wow!

GJ: Yeah, I’m going to keep “farmers hours” until this record’s done (chuckles) I’m really determined to get it done. We hope to have a collected and bound record, but also a number of songs we can release one at a time via internet, social media and what have you, that people can share and spread around. There’s a wealth of music I have going on in the studio at the moment and want to make it available to everybody. I don’t see the value on holding back anymore in the current music ‘economy’.

Really, to keep people interested you have to keep giving them stuff… backup stuff to give –  so we’re releasing all our back catalog on vinyl next year. Universal is releasing an icon series record of Big Sugar hits and classics and stuff, so that’s nice to be celebrated that way as well. We’ll be going back in the catalog and making stuff available that’s been gone for a long time, and making new music, and keep on going. That’s what we do.

nMC: So considering the diverse Big Sugar sound.. the show at the Commodore -Rock? Reggae? Blues? Combination?

GJ: Its going to be Big Sugar (laughs). Its not going to be all any one thing and that’s Big Sugar. Anyone that’s seen us from the early 90’s to present day has never got the same show twice. Even if we play some of the same songs they never come down the same way and I think that’s what’s kept people interested over decades. If you’re going to come see us play, I’m going to make it a …special occasion.. I’m going to get all dressed up (laughs). It’s going to be wonderful.

Many thanks to Gordie Johnson for his time and can’t wait for the show!

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