Luther Wright is coming North next week to hang out with “real” people.
This is Wright’s second Yukon visit as frontman for the legendary Canadian alt-country/roots band, Luther Wright and the Wrongs. He was here last year as part of the Home Routes house concert circuit. This year’s venues are different.
“This tour is primarily all taverns, full of roustabouts and ne’er-do-wells, the real people,” he says.
Wright finds the challenge exciting.
“As a songwriter, house concerts are flattering because everyone pays attention, and my songs can be pretty wordy,” he admits. “But I’m really looking forward to playing in pubs.”
Wright got his musical start as a teen, playing punk rock guitar with his brother in the family garage. Later, as lead guitarist in Weeping Tile, fronted by Sarah Harmer, he quickly discovered the relationship between punk and roots music.
“I realized that we were really playing country songs, only faster and with loud guitars,” he says.
“With Weeping Tile, we’d play acoustic music backstage. We were all really folky-roots people. We did a lot with harmonies.”
At the suggestion of Blue Rodeo, some of the songs from those acoustic sessions became the basis for the first Luther Wright and the Wrongs album,Hurtin’ for Certain.
The band’s third and most famous album,Rebuild the Wall, confirms the connection between rock and roots. Wright and his band reinterpreted the entire Pink Floyd album The Wall as country music.
“Those songs have a straight up backbeat and chord progressions that are standard for country. We toyed with it a whole bunch and only had to write original music a couple of times.”
The result was a country-flavoured cover of the entire 26-song rock classic.
“It was a great project for us, and we sent a copy to [Pink Floyd bassist and principal songwriter] Roger Waters. He wrote back to say he liked it and gave us permission to release it. Then we could tell all the Pink Floyd fans that Roger Waters liked it.”
The person behind the upcoming tour of Yukon and Alaska is local singer-songwriter Gordie Tentrees, who finally met Wright in person for the first time during last year’s Home Routes tour.
But as Wright tells it, they had known of each other previously.
“My drummer, who’s not coming this time, has a club with live music seven nights a week, and I did the booking for him,” Wright explains. “I booked Gordie there a while back. I didn’t get to see the show, though. But we have mutual friends, like Caroline Mark and Sarah Macdougall.”
Accompanying Wright north will be Brooklyn-based banjo and standup bass player Jason Mercer. Besides being a regular member of the Wrongs, Mercer has played with luminaries such as Ani DiFranco and Ron Sexsmith.
“He’s one of a bunch of musicians who migrated to New York in the ’90s, but they’re close enough to be handy. So it’s going to be fun to pick him up on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and take him all the way up to Yukon and Alaska.”
When Wright and Mercer get to Whitehorse, they’ll be adding Yukon multi-instrumentalist Ken Hermanson to the lineup. A member of the Gordie Tentrees Band and a skilled musician in his own right, Hermanson should fit right in as a Wrong.
“I think of The Wrongs like the Mob: once you’re in, you’re never out,” Wright says, laughing.
“The Wrongs are more of a collective than a band,” he adds. “We play in lots of different configurations of the band. That’s what I like about playing roots and country over pop songs. These songs are so malleable, depending on who’s playing.”
For the Dawson City and Whitehorse leg of the two-week tour, the trio will be joined by guest performer Mitch “Stompin’ Tom Conners” Anderson from St. Peter’s Bay, PEI.
“As you can guess by his name, he does Stompin’ Tom bang on. You’d swear it was the man himself,” Wright says. “We toured recently in New York City, where he wowed ’em with songs of ketchup, hockey and of course, potatoes.”
The idea of playing in communities as small as Haines Junction, YT and Girdwood, AK appeals to Wright.
“I know what it’s like,” he says. “I live in a rural community, so any time people come to play in the town hall or wherever, I try to go, because they’ve made the effort to come and play for us.
“I imagine it’s the same up there, especially at this time of year.”