Fred Eaglesmith will bring his “rock-and-roll-show-meets-Johnny Carson” performance to the Tidemark Theatre on Wednesday

On the phone with: Fred Eaglesmith

Catching up with singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith riding his famous biodiesel powered bus on the road in New Mexico

The Mirror caught up with singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith riding his famous biodiesel powered bus on the road in New Mexico, heading to a gig in Albuquerque that night. Friends of the Tidemark Theatre on Facebook might remember a few months back a call went out for a supply of used vegetable oil to help fuel Fred’s bus. Well, he’s still on the road and will be arriving here in time for a Wednesday, Feb. 25 show at the Tidemark Theatre at 7:30 p.m.


Campbell River Mirror: Have you ever been out to Vancouver Island before?


Fred Eaglesmith: Many, many times. Yeah…probably…yeah, many, many times.


CRM: How about Campbell River? Been out our way at all?


FE: You know, I don’t think I’ve been to Campbell River. I think that one time I think I was supposed to play in Campbell River once and the ferry got cancelled. I think that was about 15 years ago.


CRM: So where do you call home?


FE: I live in southern Ontario when I’m home.


CRM: So you’re touring around right now. You’re riding in the famous vegetable oil-powered bus right now, I assume?


FE: Yeah, I’m driving it even as we speak.


CRM: Can you tell me about that? How did that come about?


FE: Well, you know, when fuel was really expensive about three years ago, we switched the buses to (vegetable) oil and it was pretty good for a long time. It’s getting harder to get now because the oil companies started buying it instead of taking it for free. So we don’t get to burn it as much as we used to but we still burn it when we can.


CRM: You converted this bus yourself? You’re mechanically inclined?


FE: Yeah, I’m mechanically inclined. I converted it with a friend of mine. It’s not that hard to do. We tweaked it over the years. We’ve got it now that once we get it going, she runs pretty good.


CRM: What kind of a show can people expect from you?


FE: It’s a rock and roll show, sort of steeped in the 60s, although it’s original music. It’s steeped in the idea of entertainment and suits and, ah, it’s serious but its funny. Sort of like the Rolling Stones meet Johnny Carson.


CRM: So what makes it fun?


FE: You know, I have a lot monologues in between. We sort of poke fun at ourselves. We’re not so serious about ourselves but we’re serious about what we do. So that really makes it a good combination.


CRM: So what kind of band are you performing with?


FE: I have the band that I always have. You can see it on Youtube. It’s drums and bass, guitar. I have myself singing and I have a side singer as well. Accordion. Banjo.


CRM: And are you kind of focussing on a certain period of your music or do you play, you know, a whole sampler of it all?


FE: Yeah, you know, yeah, I’ve been out there for 40 years. I play all the stuff. I play everything. I play the whole gamut.


CRM: When you’re not playing your guitar or whatever other instruments you play, what music do you listen to?


FE: I listen to mostly jazz. I listen to Chet Baker a lot. I listen to rock and roll. I listen to the Rolling Stones a lot. I don’t listen to much modern unless I find some esoteric or something. Something that I find that’s under the radar. I listen to Eminem once in a while just to see what’s up but not too much.


CRM: Basically rock and roll, rootsy kind of music?


FE: I don’t listen to rootsy as much as I listen…I listen to the Stones because I’ve always loved the Stones. I sort of refer back to that time. I listen to a lot. I listen to ELO, 80s, you know, Electric Light Orchestra. I listen to a little bit of Neil Young some times, Tom Wait. But mostly a lot of jazz. A lot of real cheesy, sort of, cheesy jazz. Steve Tyrell and those guys. I like songs. I like songs. And I don’t care what kind of songs they are, as long as they’re good.


CRM: Do you like ones with deep meaning or do you prefer stories or what do you look for in a good song?


FE: I really just like well-written song. One of my favourite songwriters is a guy that everybody hated back in the 60s. I like Burt Bacharach. I like any good songwriter from any era so it doesn’t matter if it’s Gordon Lightfoot or Burt Bacharach, I like them all.


CRM: And what about your own songwriting? Is there generally a theme to any of it, would you say?


FE: You know, that’s changed over the years. I started out sort of as a folkie, sort of bluegrass, country guy. And then I sort of become sort of an alt. country guy and now it sort of gravitates towards rock and roll. You know country’s got so polluted. I have sort of moved away from that a little more than I might have if it hadn’t got so polluted.

CRM: Do you think rock and roll has got the same way at all?


FE: Well the thing about rock and roll is it went to sleep. It got totally polluted and it was totally awful and everybody quit it. So nobody’s on that highway right now, for me, which is really nice. Everybody’s either playing pop music or they’re playing new country music or whatever else they’re playing but nobody’s really playing that straight ahead, good songs, you know, interesting music. Nobody’s doing that right now and it’s real easy for us to fill that void. It’s really fun ‘cause it’s fresh. You know, I’m using the term rock and roll loosely. I’m using it sort of the way they used it in 1969 when a whole bunch of styles was called rock and roll. It was mostly blues, country and gospel mixed together to make rock and roll. That’s what I’m doing.


CRM: Any other musicians that you admire?


FE: Oh, tons and tons. I like the Texas guys. Texas songwriters. You know I like the Canadian guys a lot that I grew up with. I was a little younger than them. The folk musicians that I grew up with were stellar musicians, you know, they were stellar writers and I’ve always had a soft spot for those guys, you know. That was sort of the best period of time for me in songwriting, was sort of when I was 16 and those guys were 26, you know, 30 or so. They were fantastic. Still to this day I can refer to that time.


CRM: When you’re performing what are you trying to do out there?

FE: I’m really just trying to make people, ah, I’m trying to make them do two things: I’m trying to make them have the time of their life and, literally, I mean, the time of their life and, at the same time, be provocative, make them think about it, make them think about their life and what this is. I really believe that rock and roll is the last bastion of liberation. And especially for older people. I really believe it is liberating and I think a lot of seniors and what we call seniors right now were steeped in rock and roll and they had to leave it behind or they did leave it behind for economics. I sort of remind them a lot of times: “hey this is what we were doing.”


CRM: You take them back to their youth in many ways?


FE: Well, I’m not trying to take them back to their youth. I’m trying to take them back to what their ideals were. It’s not nostalgic. It’s provocative. And most of them like it and some of them don’t.


CRM: Some of them want to relive those ideals and some want to put it behind them, keep them back there.


FE:  Some want to put it behind them because, you know, I was fortunate to be on the tail end of the 60s movement. I was just a kid but I was fortunate enough to be there. I was one of the last hitchhikers out there on the road. I was fortunate to hitchhike all across Canada when I was 15 years old, 16 years old. And you know right now, we’re one of the very last full time travelling rock and roll shows in North America and I sort of get to sweep up every time. It’s sort of interesting, I get to sweep up.


CRM: And how did it all start for you?


FE: I saw Elvis on television and I decided that was what I was going to do. I was about 10 years old, 12 years old. I quit doing all my school work and started playing out. And when I was hitchhiking across Canada, I played everywhere. I played in every lumber camp, fire camp and youth hostel I could find. And then by the time I was 20, 22 I started getting gigs.


CRM: You’re still at it. You obviously still enjoy it?


FE: Well, you know when I was a kid everybody wanted to do what I am still doing so it’s fantastic. It’s fantastic.