After 17 years, late Yukon musician Aylie Sparkes’ album has finally gotten a digital release
Aylie Sparkes was the first real musician who ever played with Gordie Tentrees. They played at Steve’s Music on Main Street (remember that place?) and charged a $2 cover. These were humble beginnings for Tentrees, who has gone on to become one of the Yukon’s best-known musicians, but his story would have been very different without the man who gave him his first break.
Sparkes only lived in the Yukon for four years. He moved to the territory from Manitoba in 2001 and passed away from cancer in 2005, but in that short period of time, he managed to make an impact on the local music scene that still lasts today. Ask any Whitehorse musician who was around back then—Aylie Sparkes was everywhere and everyone knew him.
“It was amazing to be his friend and amazing to play music with him and learn from him,” said Tentrees.
In 2003, Aylie Sparkes recorded his only album, Beautiful & Deranged. He shared production duties with Bob Hamilton and was joined by Paul Stephens on bass and backup vocals, and Marc Paradis on drums and percussion. Sparkes himself handled lead vocals, as well as several different types of guitar and banjo. Due to his health, he wasn’t able to tour in support of it, or promote it like he wanted to. This was long before the advent of digital releases. Eventually, the copies were all sold and the album was buried, until earlier this year when Tentrees came across a box of 50 unsold CD copies. He decided to release the album on Bandcamp, simply because he felt it was a record people needed to hear, or hear again. Luckily, releasing an album independently is far easier now than it was when Sparkes was alive, but Tentrees still took some extra promotional steps, like using a publicist to get the word out.
Sparkes’ music career was close to taking off when he passed away. Beautiful & Deranged had been nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award for “Blues Album of the Year” in 2004, and word of Sparkes was starting to reach outside of the Yukon and into other parts of the country.
“He was on the verge of realizing his dreams,” said Tentrees.
One of the many things for which Yukoners remember Sparkes is the fact that he never stopped playing guitar. Tentrees said some nights, Sparkes would knock on his door at midnight after being out gigging all night, guitar in hand, asking if Tentrees wanted to have an impromptu jam session. These jam sessions would often extend into the morning hours. When he wasn’t playing a show, which wasn’t often, Sparkes could be seen sitting on his porch, playing guitar.
Something else that made Sparkes popular within the Yukon’s music community was his willingness to play with anyone, and the fact that he could play any style of music. While he was a talented songwriter, it was playing that was Sparkes’ main passion. To Tentrees, he was a musician who led by example, because of his intense practice regimen and lack of ego. “A lot of people spend a lot of time taking selfies with their guitars,” said Tentrees. “But that was nowhere in Aylie’s game. He was just in love with playing music.”
Revisiting Sparke’s album after all these years has stirred up lots of cherished memories for Tentrees. He said he’s probably one of the only people who knows the stories behind every song on the record, and hearing them now takes him back to nearly 20 years ago when all the songs were coming together. Sparkes is still a huge musical inspiration for Tentrees, and one of the reasons he pushes himself to play music every single day.
Beautiful & Deranged can be purchased digitally on Sparke’s Bandcamp page, www.ayliesparkes.bandcamp.com, for $20. All proceeds go to Sparke’s children.
“I play the record and everyone falls in love with it,” said Tentrees. “It’s an example of what you should be shooting for if you really get into your art.”