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'Guitar' Doug Craig - more than just music and mountain fun

"I proudly sport a bumper sticker of the Hairfarmers on my pick-up truck. I just love those guys..." A female physiotherapist in Whitefish, Montana He's a Whistler icon. Just look at him. Long, wild hair below his shoulders.

"I proudly sport a bumper sticker of the Hairfarmers on my pick-up truck. I just love those guys..."

A female physiotherapist in Whitefish, Montana


He's a Whistler icon. Just look at him. Long, wild hair below his shoulders. A mischievous grin and crinkly smiling eyes. Tall lean body. Big hands. Long fingers. He's like a kid in a grown-up's body. A happy kinetic presence at any party.

In many ways, he's a throwback to another time. A hippie in a post-modern world; a mountain mystic in a bottom-line-at-all-cost environment. Yet people love him to bits. Ask any Whistlerite. "He's the real deal," they'll say. "Our favourite musician in town." And then they'll pause. "Oh, and by the way," they'll add, "he's a real good friend too..."

Doug Craig is many things. Musician, songwriter, storyteller, entertainer, philosopher. He can turn the most blasé crowd into a swinging party scene with a couple of songs. Can transform dull to magic in a few notes. He's a gift to Whistler; a musical outlaw who continues to promote the wilder elements of our little resort community.

And he's totally engaging. I mean, who hasn't caught themselves tapping their feet and happily singing along with Doug and notorious Hairfarmer partner Grateful Greg at some local wingding after a great day of sliding on snow? Who hasn't waxed a little nostalgic at the sight of these two big kids having so much fun entertaining the masses?

I know I have. And don't try to get out of it. I know you have too. But did you know there's a lot more to Doug than meets the eye? Follow me, I'll give you the backstage tour...

More than anything, Guitar Doug is a mountain man. Skiing, hiking, mountaineering - it's all part of his make-up. Strange, eh? You wouldn't think that a guy who spends his nights playing music would have the energy to get up in the morning and hit the slopes. But he does. "Sleep? I'm still waiting for sleep," says Doug semi-sheepishly. And then he laughs. "Sleep and I are aliens. I've never been able to sleep..."

Sleeplessness aside, it's his love of mountains that really sets him apart from most other entertainers. Get him talking on that subject and the words just come pouring out. "I can't live without my mountains, man. They're my healing place. Pure. Unaffected. Wild. Sacred even. It's where my spirit lives..." He stops talking. Looks at me as if he knows exactly what I'm thinking. "Sure," he says, "it sounds hippie-dippy. I know. But until you've tried that falafel you'll never know what crunch and garlic can do to your mouth."

And on that note, we both erupt into laughter.

Things quickly get more serious though. "As a musician," he says, "I get a chance to really interact with people. And what could be better than playing music in such a beautiful natural setting? It's an opportunity to touch - to really touch - that new generation of couch dwellers in the virtual realm. Encourage them to explore beyond their urban confines and discover what the natural world has to offer. Know what I mean?"

Indeed I do. As I said, there's more to the guy than a guitar and a couple of songs. After all Doug has experienced a lot in his 45 years on the planet - from party to poverty and back again; from excess to success. He's been a ski bum and a music bum. Homeless and penniless and very, very near the edge. Yet through it all, he's never lost his integrity.

Which, when all is said and done, is perhaps his most endearing trait. The guy's a straight shooter.

Doug was born in Montreal way back in 1966. He grew up at the foot of Mont Royal. "My mom was on a fixed income," he says. "I don't know how she did it, but she managed to scrimp and save enough so that we could go skiing in the Laurentians on weekends." He pauses. Grabs a long breath. "It was so cool, man. Little French villages with crazy names and really friendly people..." A long pause. "Hmm. The Laurentians was a very happy place in the 1970's."

But it was his stint at Loyola College as a preteen that really got him going - both as a skier and a musician. "Loyola was a great place for me," he says. "That's where I first got to interact with people who loved outdoor sports."

One caveat though - Loyola didn't have any girl students. And that was a big deal for Doug. "That's where skiing came in," he explains. "Every weekend there would be a different ski trip for us and the girls from the Lycée next door. Outside of school dances, it was the only chance for us to interact with members of the opposite sex." He laughs. "So it was a great motivator to hone your ski skills."

Meanwhile, the budding skier was also quickly becoming an ardent guitarist. "I got my first electric guitar from Consumer's Distributing," he remembers. But it wasn't easy. "I begged and begged and begged and my mom finally complied. I was nine years old..."

Doug was really into the blues. But he didn't know the chord shapes. So he played open-tuning slide guitar. "By grade six," he says, "I'd have little get-togethers in my living room and blast away, People seemed to like it."

He did too. "What an amazing feeling. To get so much attention - it was a real thrill..." He shrugs. Laughs. "It was the early feeding of my baby monster ego."

His musical journey got an extra boost at Loyola. "I joined the guitar club there," he says. "That brought a nuclear-strength acceleration of my skills. There were a lot of older students in the club; one guy actually owned a Fender Stratocaster - and really knew how to play it."

He laughs. "It was the 1970's man. Everybody was into music and dance. So it was a really good chance for me to make my mark. If I could play music and get people dancing, that was a good thing."

He stops again. Wants to make sure I understand what he's saying. "Getting people up and moving by vibrating a bunch of strings - that's pretty magical you know. Waves of energy transmitted to people's ears and changing their behaviour... It was my first real experience with the tangibility of the sonic medium."

Doug's world changed forever in 1978 when he moved to Edmonton to live with his dad. "He was a ski patroller at Jasper," explains Doug. "So every weekend we'd head up to the mountains to ski or hike or climb." First impression of the Rockies? "Very big mountains. Much colder. Much bigger consequences if you screwed up. Still, it really accelerated my love for high places."

His other love --music - was progressing nicely as well. "We were living in St Albert, just outside of Edmonton," he says. "And I could hear these garage bands practicing in the neighbourhood. So I got my dad to drive me around so I could befriend them."

Did it work? "For sure. I became part of one band in particular. They were doing pretty advanced stuff. You know, the Doobie Brothers, music like that. I was the green 13-year-old. But it made my heart thump."

High School saw him studying bass guitar with the music program at Paul Kane. "But my real sanity came from skiing and mountaineering - going out hunting for grouse and rabbit." Another round of laughter. "The girls would drive me crazy. Getting out of town and heading into this beautiful environment... that was my sanity, for sure!"

A European trip in 1985 further opened his eyes to the world's alpine wonders. "I climbed the Matterhorn - a dream of mine - and did a bunch of randonnées in Switzerland. Even went to Norway and toured the Lofoten Islands." He sighs nostalgically. "Such a special place - I didn't want to leave."

Back in Alberta - and now working in Banff - Doug came across a picture of Whistler. He was intrigued. "But instead of going west," he says, "I decided to get a footing for the future and went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton."

To make ends meet, the new student worked as a bouncer at Edmonton's Sidetrack Bar - the place in town to see up-and-coming bands. "And being the doorman," he confides, "You got to meet and hang out with a lot of insiders."

Still, it wasn't the healthiest place to work. "One day," recounts Doug, "a guy came in and pulled a gun on us. For me, that was it. 'This job is stupid,' I remember thinking. 'It's just not worth it. I'm headed to Whistler.'" The year was 1989.

Next Week: Guitar Doug meets Johnny Thrash on his first night in Whistler, lands a singing gig at Citta's and never looks back (okay, maybe once or twice).