Gordie Tentrees has come a long way from his first Whitewater Wednesday Night Jam performance at The Backwater Lounge, now Flipper’s Pub. He’s released two albums, has toured most of North America and, starting in early November, has launched his first European tour.
Before leaving, Tentrees came out on Wednesday nights to jam with his band — Ken Hermanson on guitar and Matt King on bass — to perform on the same stage where he nervously played publicly for the first time.
“Back then, I could play three chords, but not very well at all,” Tentrees admits. “Eventually a friend told me, ‘You’ve got to get up and play the two songs you know.’ So I did. One was John Prine, the other was Fred Eaglesmith.
“Peggy Hanifan was really enthusiastic and spurred everyone on. So I came back. I think I played every Wednesday night for two years straight.
“I’d like to thank Peggy for pushing me on stage. I thought, ‘Who wants to hear me again?’ But she pushed me. It’s a good thing there are people like that in Whitehorse.”
Tentrees and his band, Hermanson and King, now perform 150 shows a year all over North America.
“Ken and Matt have become my best friends,” he says. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am. We’ve got to eat breakfast with each other every day, after playing together the night before, and that’s not always easy. When you can do that, you know you’ve got the right guys with you.”
Tentrees has embarked on a European tour with one of his heroes, Fred Eaglesmith. He leans forward in his chair and talks faster as he explains, “When I first heard Fred Eaglesmith, I hated folk music. But he sang songs about the stuff I knew from growing up on a farm. I looked up all his songs and learned them. For a while, I was a Fred Eaglesmith cover band,” he says with a big smile.
“I sent him a copy of our first album, 29 Loads of Freight, five years ago. Fred puts on a festival of Canadian music in Austin, Texas, every year. We played his festival last spring in Texas. We asked him, ‘Hey, if you ever go to Europe, would you like to have an opening act?’
“After he heard us again, he asked us when we were available to go. Fred goes to Europe twice a year. It’s his biggest market. We’re going in November, doing 17 shows, and so far all the shows except two are sold out.
“They’re the biggest rooms we’ve ever played, 800 people in a strange place. And we’re going to take advantage of the situation and try not to screw it up.
“We’re already getting noticed without having to do a lot. Radio DJs are calling to do live radio shows. People are wondering, ‘Who are these guys? Why are they opening for Fred Eaglesmith when he never has anyone open for him?'”
Tentrees is returning the favour, arranging gigs for Eaglesmith in the Yukon and Alaska next spring and summer to coincide with the release of Tentrees’ third CD.
“We’re booked May 14 at the [Yukon] Arts Centre for our CD release show and we’ll be opening for Fred in Dawson, Haines Junction, Haines, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Palmer. Fred normally books all his shows himself, so it’s incredible that he trusts us to help get him back up here.”
Like his other heroes, his boxing coach Everton McEwan and boxer George Chuvalo, Tentrees is persevering and working hard at his career.
“My coach always said, ‘Be like George, never quit.’ I’ve done two albums now and the band is touring lots. I’ve got distribution for my albums in 58 countries and I’ve just got an overseas distribution deal.
“Not bad for a hillbilly from the Yukon.”
You can hear more of Gordie Tentrees’ music at myspace.com/gordietentrees and www.tentrees.ca. You can buy his CDs wherever Yukon music is sold.
Five things you should know about Gordie Tentrees:
1. He is a former golden gloves boxer.
2. Last time he rode a horse, he got violently bucked off.
3. He once ate a woman’s face mask, thinking it was humus.
4. He has dressed up as a woman frequently in the past.
5. He credits the support and dedication of his manager Aisha Alwarid for his success.