Five Questions With… Mike Plume
The veteran Albertan country-rocker has just published More Than A Game, a hockey-themed kids book based around one of his songs. Here he talks about its creation, the collaboration with artist Curtis Irving Johnson, his passion for hockey, and a memorable encounter with Wayne Gretzky and the Stanley Cup (pictured).
By Jason Schneider
“We play hockey on the streets, we play shinny on sheets of ice, when the weather starts to change.” Those words open Mike Plume's song More Than A Game—originally released on his 2009 album 8:30 In Newfoundland—and now they open his first book for kids bearing the same title.
Lushly illustrated with original paintings by Curtis Irving Johnson, More Than A Game captures all the joy and excitement that comes with putting on a team jersey for the first time, while for those a little older it's sure to conjure up memories of early mornings with their own parents, and dreams of becoming the next Gretzky.
Plume has drawn inspiration from Canadian culture ever since he began putting out music in the early 1990s. Born in Moncton, New Brunswick and now based in Edmonton, Alberta, Plume's catalogue includes more than a dozen releases, the latest being this year's Lonesome Stretch Of Highway for Edmonton's Royalty Records.
Although he boasts an international following through years of playing shows with the likes of Steve Earle, Levon Helm and John Hiatt, Plume's sound remains staunchly rooted in the Canadian iconography he knows best. At no time was this better displayed than when he was invited to play his song So Long Stompin' Tom at the Canadian legend's funeral.
Now with More Than A Game, Mike Plume has added to the great tradition of hockey books for kids, alongside Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater and Matt Napier's Z Is For Zamboni. More Than A Game is available through mikeplume.bandcamp.com, with all orders also including a digital download of the song.
You've said that when you originally wrote the song More Than A Game, you could see it being a book. What made the timing right to do it now?
It’s kinda like that question, “When is a perfect time to plant a tree?” The answer is, “Ten years ago and right now.” The seeds for this book were planted back in 2008 when I wrote the lyrics. Curtis started the paintings back in May of 2019. He finished the last of the paintings in September of this year. So, we couldn’t have released the book any sooner than right now. Timing-wise, publishing something “just in time for Christmas” is not necessarily a bad idea either.
How was it collaborating with your illustrator Curtis?
Curt and I have been friends for years. I’ve been a fan of his work forever. As far as collaborating goes, I pitched the idea to him a couple of years ago. I sent him the lyrics and he started painting. Everything he painted captured the song perfectly.
What role has hockey played in your own life?
Other than occupying every waking moment of my life until I discovered the guitar at 16 years old, not much… All kidding aside, I played hockey all through school. Then I retired from hockey and hit the road to be a musician when I was 19. I laced ‘em up again when I was about 36 and started playing “Beer League” hockey. Then when my daughter started playing hockey in Nashville, I was the coach. The way I see it is, a kid’s gotta learn to swear at some point. Why not from a professional?
There's a great photo of you on stage with Wayne Gretzky and the Stanley Cup. What's the story behind that?
It’s a crazy story. The 1984 Edmonton Oilers were named the “Team Of The Century” and I was invited to sing More Than A Game and This Is Our Home, which is also on my 8:30 In Newfoundland album, at the banner raising celebrations in Edmonton. I stood on stage and sang More Than A Game with the ’84 Oilers standing around me as they raised the banner. After I finished the song, Wayne stepped up to the microphone, gave a little speech and thanked everyone for coming to the festivities. I’d moved off to the side and was watching Gretzky give his speech when I realized that I was standing RIGHT BESIDE the Stanley Cup. My buddy Corb Lund, who was also performing at the event, snapped the picture.
What can you say about your plans for 2021 at this point?
I am releasing a book of my stories, a memoir of sorts, in the spring of 2021. Curtis and I are planning another book, this time about Remembrance Day. Of course, I am also actively writing the next album. Hopefully at some point, we can go out and play for a live audience. That’d be fun, now wouldn’t’ it? Safe to say, but I’ve made a lot of lemonade this year. I think we all have—lemonade stands as far as the eye can see.