Essentials… with Lonnie James
Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them. Here are the choices of a veteran indie rocker with a new project.
By Jason Schneider
Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them.
You may not immediately recognize the name Lonnie James, but if you’re familiar at all with the Canadian indie rock scene of the 1990s, he was a ubiquitous presence, playing drums for a seemingly endless array of artists. From iconic Vancouver punks D.O.A. to Toronto cult heroes The Lawn, and from Montreal legends The Nils to Halifax’s Super Friendz, James was an important contributor to what remains the most vibrant and influential period of Canadian rock and roll.
However, James’ artistic vision always extended beyond playing drums, and before the end of the century he began releasing his own music under his own name with the Toronto-based label Teenage USA. The songs on the albums This Land Is Your Land and Dee-O reflected a love of traditional folk and country anchored to an unwavering indie rock foundation, an approach that has since become commonplace among a new generation of troubadours.
After a lengthy hiatus, and back home near Calgary, Lonnie James has now returned with a new project dubbed ModernFolkRevolution. Its 10 tracks are, on one hand, a throwback to more innocent pre-Internet days, and, on the other hand, a reminder that an organic approach to making music still packs an emotional punch. With James on lead vocals and guitar, ModernFolkRevolution also includes Lindsay Sorell on co-lead vocals, Craig Galambos on guitar, Nick Caron on bass and Leroy (Tic Tok) Jones on drums. Together, they present James’s songs in all their rough-hewn glory, recalling in the process the lo-fi majesty of The Vaselines and Guided By Voices, coupled with Byrds and Kinks-style paisley-tinged flourishes.
ModernFolkRevolution is available Oct. 22 on all digital platforms and on Bandcamp here.
Essential Album: The Beatles, Abbey Road (Capitol/EMI 1969)
Rock and roll music in all its forms is my religion—Little Richard is my savior and I worship at the altar of Jerry Lee Lewis. But I can easily say Abbey Road is forever my #1, followed always by everything else. I was seven years old when I first heard my older sister’s copy that I ended up stealing, and I still have it. In so many ways it’s the perfect record. The songs, the arrangements, the vocals get better with each subsequent listen. It’s the Beatle record where Beatle George flexes his songwriting prowess like never before; I’m always the fan of the underdog and as a songwriter that’s what Beatle George was. All In all, every time I listen to Abbey Road it fills me with an unexplainable joy that I don’t really get from too many records. Sometimes when I listen to it I am even convinced that the Beatles were space aliens that came down to earth and left these gifts for us to show us just how amazingly beautiful our life on Earth could be if we just simply loved each other.
Essential Book: Woody Guthrie, Bound For Glory (E.P. Dutton, 1943)
This is definitely one of those books that I can re-read anytime. Bound For Glory is a “real life as fiction” autobiography of folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie, in which he recollects his childhood, his travels across the United States as a railroad hobo, and towards the end his beginning to get some recognition as a singer. His vivid descriptions take the reader back to a time when poverty, dust, rust and hard work were the norm. His words make the gruff underbelly of America during the early 20th century seem human and real. It’s a story that transcends time, and I’ve never known anyone who doesn't like this book. You don’t even have to be into Woody’s music, it’s that good. And I haven’t even mentioned the illustrations that appear throughout the book to emphasize certain points in the story. Woody's drawings are beautiful and would easily stand alone in a gallery, but they belong in the book. That’s his superpower. Steinbeck would have loved to have invented Woody Guthrie, only Woody got there first.
Essential TV:SCTV (1976-1984)
When I was a teenager, I remember discovering Monty Python's Flying Circus on PBS, then a few years later I started hearing people talk about this new show called Saturday Night Live. Both were a revelation. Fast-forward a few years, to when I was living in Toronto. I was hanging around with a few friends that were always talking about this show SCTV and how insane it was. This was a point in my life where I didn’t have a TV, so I didn't get a chance to keep up on all the latest shows. I eventually saw some episodes of and quickly realized that all my friends were right—SCTV was hilarious. It took the sketch comedy template laid down by Monty Python and SNL and blasted it all into the stratosphere.
Essential Movie:The Wizard of Oz (1939)
It is undeniably one of the most iconic and important films ever produced, and it has been in my stream of consciousness my entire life. I remember seeing it on TV as a young boy and thinking it was a kind of odd. Later, when I was 17 or 18 it was a great movie to watch on whatever drugs we were doing that day, or while trying to perfectly cue up our Dark Side of The Moon to really blow our minds. These days, The Wizard of Oz takes on a much greater breadth and depth as a film. Even in this CGI age the cinematography and choreography are still brilliant, even on the small screen. Add some masterful fantasy storytelling and a brilliant musical score, plus a very strong ensemble of actors, the movie has got it all. What I get from it is that it is a story of human potential. Even though the gifts the Wizard gives to the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow boosts their confidence and makes them feel alive, ultimately the main characters realize that true talent and dignity come from within. They had it in them all along. And in the world we all live in where advertising teaches us that the right car, deodorant, or smartphone will ensure our popularity and success, that is a very important lesson. It's just the most poetic justice in the end.