Lorne Jones had hoped to create a music video to promote his new song, “They’re Tearing Our Honky-tonks Down”. When he got word the historic Quinsam Hotel was going to be closed in late May after more than 97 years in business, he realized the time — and place — was right.
“We keep losing all our old places to go and play music at,” Jones told the Quinnie audience as he introduced the song. “They’ve been fading off into the past and we feel kind of sad about it. So we wanted to come tonight and play this for you.”
Teaming with Juno-nominated country crooner Jess Lee and an all-star ensemble of B.C. music veterans, Jones took to the Quinnie stage last Thursday night as James Mattila of Cumberland’s Studio Live captured the set on camera.
The song, in classic country style, laments the loss of the smoke-filled bars and clubs which served as the training ground for previous generations of musicians. From the SeaGate Hotel in Port Hardy to Vancouver’s Barnett and American Hotel, Jones said, bars the length of the Sunshine Coast have fallen victim to drinking-and-driving laws, indoor smoking bans and a general cultural shift.
“Like the lyrics say, when I was young I wanted to go play the bars,” said Jones. “There was a big bar scene when I played in the (19)70s and 80s and early 90s, a large amount of places to play. You need a place like that for guys to start.
“Jess and I moved on and became recording artists, but we needed that so we could make a living at it and perfect our craft. And it’s kind of sad that it’s disappeared.”
Lee, a three-time Juno nominee and founding member of Midnight Rodeo, says the trend extends well beyond the Sunshine Coast.
“It’s all over,” he said. “In Alberta, all over Canada and the States. When Lorne said he wanted to do a video of the song, ‘cause it kind of fits the times, I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll get behind you on that.’”
Quinsam Hotel manager Sid Tarsey noted that while the Quinsam is being closed under its current ownership, there are no plans to actually tear down the venerable building, erected beginning in 1917. The Cape Mudge Band has been seeking a buyer for the Quinnie.
Jones plans to send the completed video off to contacts in the country music business in Texas, in the hope it will be recorded by an artist there.
“We’re actually probably gonna do it a few times, because we’re planning to make a video and see if we can get Willie Nelson or somebody to record it,” Jones told the crowd midway through the first set.
Jones and Lee were joined by Savage West frontman Rob Rowan, local guitarist/producer Johnny Young, Bob Grant on drums, Blaine Dunaway on fiddle and Pete Pringle on keyboard.
They played traditional sets of songs ranging from original country tunes to country and early rock-and-roll covers. During each set, they inserted a take of They’re Tearing Our Honky-tonks Down while fine-tuning their play on a song the group had never rehearsed together.
“I’ve heard this song twice now, and obviously Jess doesn’t know the lyrics yet,” Dunaway said during the break after the first set, when Lee had to improvise a brief scat to cover a missed line of lyric. “It makes it a little difficult.”
Rowan, who joined the group for the second set and sang along with Lee, spent the break “MacGyvering” a cue-card setup involving taped sheets of lyrics to a chair back placed in front of the stage.
“Can you read in the dark?” Rowan asked Lee as they peered down at the chair from the lighted stage. “I can’t read in the dark, if it’s too far away.”
With smoking now banned inside the club, a fog machine was used to give the bar the old, smoke-filled look for the camera.
“I’d love to go back and see it all again,” Jones said of the honky-tonk heyday. “There were a lot of us who came up through that together in Vancouver. Now we see the younger generation doesn’t have that, so I wrote a song about it.”