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Big Sugar will bring reggae-rock to River Rats festival - The Athabasca Advocate

Article by Joel Wittnebel

A band with a history almost as unique as its music will be rolling into Athabasca on June 30 to headline the first day of festivities at the Magnificent River Rats Festival.

The Advocate had the chance to speak with Big Sugar lead vocalist and guitarist Gordie Johnson, the man who has become the linchpin in a band formed in 1988 in Toronto.

Big Sugar has had countless hits, including “Diggin’ A Hole,” “Turn the Lights On” and “Better Get Used to It.”

“Big Sugar was never like four dudes who grew up together, went to high school together and jammed in their parents’ garage and then made it,” Johnson said.

The group started out as a band for hire, playing as a support group for other artists who rolled into town. In 1991, the band released its first, self-titled album. Since then, the band has grown and seen members come and go and even come back again.

“I’ve always been the guy that connects the dots and gets people in the room. Once I get those people in the room, I let them do what they do,” Johnson said.

Johnson also produces and mixes records, working with such bands as Wide Mouth Mason and The Trews.

Along with Johnson, Big Sugar is Garry Lowe on bass, Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe on harmonica and saxophone, DJ Friendlyness and Stephane Bodean on drums.

“I had a vision as a producer for a band and surrounded myself with people that could fulfill that vision,” Johnson said, though he has always considered Big Sugar a band and not his solo project.

The members have come from across the globe. Johnson was born in Manitoba, and others have come from Jamaica and England. The result is a conglomeration of musical backgrounds, talents and influences that comes through in Big Sugar’s electric rock-reggae sound.

The band has seen two of its albums go platinum and three go gold in Canada. In 2014, the band released its 10th album, titled Yard Style.

“The whole concept of the record was just to get all our closest musical family together and just get in the studio,” Johnson said, speaking of the “organic” nature of the songs on the album, some of which have as much as 12 different vocalists involved.

The acoustic album reached number one on the iTunes reggae charts in the first week of its release. The band plans to tour the album later this year.

Big Sugar also has a new electric album in the works, though Johnson couldn’t say when they aim to release it.

“We’ve always got something in development. We’re always cooking up some new ideas,” Johnson said.

The band is excited for the upcoming festival season.

“As soon as the weather gets nice in Canada, it’s nice to get out there and play for folks. We’re really looking forward to it,” he said.

Tickets for the River Rats two-day festival are $30 or $15 for one day. Day passes are available at the gate.

Read more at The Athabasca Advocate

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