Wilson Williams is not your typical touring musician. A Motown-style soul singer, he makes one thing clear about his Yukon tour: “I won’t chase the girls, but I will chase the moose.”
A self-described country guy who likes “small towns and small town folks,” Williams anticipates being right at home in the Yukon, though he couldn’t be further from his Florida home base.
Mark and Paddy’s Wondrous Music Emporium has lined up Yukon musicians Annie Avery, Bob Hamilton, Fred Osson, and Patrick Singh to join Williams for the next week to perform a revue of Motown and soul hits for Whitehorse, Atlin, Haines Junction, and Dawson City.
Williams, a child of Motown, began his recording career in the 1970s. His 1978 album Up the Downstairs is widely regarded as the last album to use authentic Motown arrangements, musicians and background singers.
More recently, he’s performed with the legendary Platters, who had chart-topping hits with songs such as Only You, The Great Pretender and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
Audiences can anticipate hearing classic, passionate ballads at his upcoming shows, but should also be prepared to twist the night away.
“Expect to have fun. In fact, I insist on it. As cold as it is there,” Williams laughs, “let it do what it do!”
Williams is not the first soul singer to visit the Yukon.
In fact, many people would be surprised to discover soul’s strong presence in the Yukon, given its geographic and psychic distance from the genre’s southern birthplace.
In Dawson City, however, Fred Osson considers soul music to be the perfect remedy for the cold climate.
“Soul is the sunlight you need to carry you through the Yukon winter,” he says. “It’s a breath of some place hotter, and a great way to while away the long hours.”
Osson has played the saxophone in Dawson’s Soul Sunday band for seven years.
Each spring, the band learns as many new songs as possible, with the goal of playing funky, danceable jams along with lesser-known soul gems.
Come summer, the band thrives on making its weekly shows at the Midnight Sun an engaging, funny, positive experience – an “unpretentious good time”.
“It’s a place of connection, a thread to draw summer experiences together, as year by year goes by,” Osson remarks. “It’s resulted in many people meeting, and at least two couples getting married.”
At the Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF) in 2010, these local soul heroes had the opportunity to perform on the main stage with Chicago’s JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound (who returned the favour by joining the Soul Sunday band at the Midnight Sun).
For DCMF producer Tim Jones, booking JC Brooks was a “no-brainer”.
“The audience reaction was incredible, especially when they closed with Shoutby the Isley Brothers. Energy levels were through the roof – the tent hasn’t been that crazy for years,” Jones recalls.
DCMF presents the Dawson City segment of William’s tour this week, along with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. Jones says the festival is thrilled to showcase the “universally crowd-pleasing” genre of soul in an area where it is not as strongly represented as, say, fiddle or folk music.
Starting with this concert, Williams’ Motown Revue will be one of the five to nine concerts that DCMF puts on annually in addition to its summer Festival.
Whitehorse-side, Patrick Singh says the idea for bringing Williams North came from a local jazz group he’s in.
“I play with a bass player who’s a colleague of Wilson’s, and it seemed like everything aligned to make this tour possible,” he says.
“Also, I’ve always wanted to play in a Big Band, and I don’t think there’s been a bona fide Motown show in the Yukon before.”
Osson, who has performed with several members of the Williams backing band in various configurations before, says he’s honoured to be playing with such luminaries. “I’m definitely approaching this from a place of gratitude,” he says.
Williams promises something for everyone on this Yukon tour.
“For the folks who lived it when it was new, it’s a chance to go back to their youth for a couple of hours.”
And for the younger audience members who perhaps first heard the Motown classics on the oldies radio stations in their parents’ homes or cars, Williams guarantees a good time as well.
“I do ballads – don’t get me wrong – but it’s pretty much party on.”
Wilson Williams performs in Whitehorse December 9-11, Atlin on December 12, Haines Junction on December 14, and Dawson City on December 16. Tour info: Mark and Paddy’s Wondrous Music Emporium, 456-2480.