Big Sugar has big love for acoustic 

Reggae and roots rockers unplug the amps at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Friday, Sept. 2

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - 'Sticking to our guns' Big Sugar vocalist Gordie Johnson (seated second from the right) says most of his band's songs originated as acoustic versions.
  • Photo submitted
  • 'Sticking to our guns' Big Sugar vocalist Gordie Johnson (seated second from the right) says most of his band's songs originated as acoustic versions.

Vocalist Gordie Johnson's voice brightens as he is reminded that when his band Big Sugar reunited in 2010, its first gig was in Whistler.

"Oh! Hey! That's right. We played the ski and snowboard thing (The World Ski and Snowboard Festival)," Johnson says.

And Big Sugar is returning, this time for a free concert at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Friday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m., as part of the Summer Concert Series.

Big Sugar — known for rocking reggae, blues and roots — is bringing its acoustic incarnation to town, with 10 band members for the occasion.

"We had a rehearsal here at the house the other night and my seven-year-old even picked up an instrument and was playing along. She's known this stuff from the womb," he says.

"We're all connected on a personal level. The open communication, where it's not just me leading everybody and telling everybody what to do. I can count on people to do what they do and it's going to be great."

The song list will cover music from the whole of Big Sugar's long career, which began in 1988. The band split for seven years, from 2003 to 2010.

"We might cover a few songs that were influential to us, from the bluesy all the way to new material. Acoustic is a wonderful way to represent all the music, mainly because it's the way many of these songs originated. They were made electric from acoustic beginnings, rather than the other way around," Johnson says.

The band has released albums on a yearly basis since reforming, the most recent being Calling All the Youth (2015).

Johnson says they have two new albums in the works for the next year, one of original "funky, soul, rock 'n' roll" Big Sugar music, and the other — which he describes as a labour of love — is a reggae album sung by some of the genre's greats, including Willi Williams, Big Youth and Dennis Alcapone.

"We've been compiling it for a couple of years," Johnson says.

"They're the really classic guys, the originators of the music. Getting them onboard is very rewarding."

The albums are as yet unnamed, but as Johnson says "we didn't name our kids until they were born either."

In general, Johnson writes a lot of Big Sugar's songs, but collaboration is also important. He'll even release Big Sugar versions of songs he is producing for other performers.

"I just love to support great music. I've written with the MacDonald brothers from The Trews over the years, tons of stuff for them," Johnson says.

"Whoever has a good idea is welcome to the party."

The members of Big Sugar have generally had their own projects outside the band. Johnson is also an in-demand session performer, and joined Canadian blues band Wide Mouth Mason as a bassist in 2011.

"The work varies a lot, really. But I've gone from being a workaholic to a creature of leisure," Johnson says.

"I love all the music I do, but I was feeling like I poured so much of my life into only music that I was burning out. I've now dedicated more time to family, fitness and health. And, having done that, there has been this huge surge in musical output.

"The music is always a byproduct of what we love about life. You have to have something to write about and something to say."

Big Sugar has always had the luxury of self-determination, Johnson adds.

"Even when we were in the major label days with hit songs and videos and that stuff, we walked our own path.

"Not that I have an axe to grind, but we never really felt welcomed by the whole community of '90s Can-Rock. The radio stations weren't sure they wanted to play our songs, but we were so popular they kinda had to. Record labels didn't, you know, want to support us, but they had to because we sold so many records!

"Luckily, just by sticking to our guns and doing what we thought was cool, we could succeed or fail but it would be ours. I couldn't see us doing it any other way."


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