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Passing on the puck: Jonathan Roy forges ahead with pop music career

Jonathan Roy trades hockey for song

TORONTO — As the son of a legendary NHL goalie, singer-songwriter Jonathan Roy knows his family name offers a distinct career advantage, even in the music industry.

But his Hall of Fame father’s reputation looms over everything he does, including the release of Roy’s first major label album “Mr. Optimist Blues,” which includes several tracks written by ’80s icon Corey Hart.

The sometimes-unearned attention has made the 27-year-old feel uncomfortable at times, especially at his earliest live shows.

“I didn’t necessarily have the maturity for it,” he says.

“And I didn’t know anything about music.”

At small gigs where he expected maybe 20 people to be in attendance — and more involved in their own barroom chatter than him — he felt it was “all eyes on me.”

Even the tiniest performance flub plays a lot louder when you’re the son of a four-time Stanley Cup winner. Living up to his father — who led the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche to championships — is something Roy has been forced to contend with since childhood.

“I didn’t have a very good relationship with my dad growing up,” he says.

“We butted heads a lot…. I was a little troublemaker, man. That’s the truth.”

While he was born into hockey, he also dabbled with music growing up.

His mother bought him a guitar, piano and drums when he was a teenager, and he later started toying with lyrics about failed love.

But hockey always came first — and when he was focusing on hockey there was nothing else.

“I wanted to tell my dad: ‘Hey dad, I unfortunately don’t want to (follow) your footsteps. I don’t want to play hockey,'” he says.

“But I didn’t want to disappoint anybody, you know what I mean?”

He finally had that conversation after making headlines in 2008, while playing as a goaltender for the junior hockey Quebec Remparts with his father behind the bench as the coach.

A line brawl erupted during a game against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and despite being held back by an official, Roy skated across the length of the ice and pummelled rival netminder Bobby Nadeau, who didn’t want to fight.

The incident led to a widespread debate over violence in hockey and Roy was suspended and charged was assault. He received an absolute discharge after pleading guilty.

He finally sat down with his father to discuss his future. It became abundantly clear that whatever he did, it probably wouldn’t be pro-hockey.

“It didn’t bother me because I wanted to do something else. The timing was perfect,” Roy says.

“If hockey was the only thing I wanted to do, then maybe it would’ve just killed (me).”

He dipped his toe into the music industry with the 2009 album “What I’ve Become,” and followed it up a year later with “Found My Way,” and the French-language “La Route” in 2011.

“I tried a little bit in French. My tone is in English,” he says.

“Eventually you just end up finding something that’s you. By trying out all these voices you find yours.”

Working with Hart helped him gain the confidence to write and record “Mr. Optimist Blues,” his first record with major-label backing.

Several visits to the “Sunglasses at Night” performer’s Bahamas home forced Roy to examine his skills and find new inspiration, as did work with other songwriters.

“We must’ve done between 40 and 50 songs,” Roy says.

Seven of them appear on his new pop album, including the reggae-infused “You’re My Ace” and upbeat “Freeze Time.” “Daniella Denmark” shows up in alternate peppy and laidback versions. A cover of Paolo Nutini’s hit “New Shoes” completes the tracklist. 

Roy played some of the new songs when he opened for Burton Cummings last year, a series of concerts he says were especially rewarding because he wasn’t coasting on his family name. Most people weren’t there to see him, he says.

“For the first time I really felt like I was starting out,” he says.

It’s the start of what Roy hopes will be a successful pop career driven by values he’s learned from both his father and lessons from veteran musicians who coached him.

“Anything is possible, I truly believe that,” he says.

“But are you going to do everything to get to your dream? Not everyone is prepared to do all that. But I definitely am.”

 

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David Friend, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press