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Gutterboys in Ottawa on Saturday!


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If you're in Ottawa and are looking for something to do this Saturday, November 21, there's a cool event happening at the Canadian Legion at 330 Kent St. A pair of musicians (Ray Lavoie and Pat Calnan) are doing a "retrospective" concert, featuring reunitings of all (or most) of the bands they have played in, one of which is The Gutterboys, whose bass player was and will be Todd Snelgrove, known 'round these parts as Velvet.

The doors are at 8pm, with the music starting at 9pm; The Gutterboys (which is the main band of the evening, as far as I know) should start around 10pm, and I think the cover is just $1.00 (yes, a lone loonie).



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Listen to some Gutterboys here.

How It All Got Started

In The Beginning

Personally, I've always marked the birth of The Gutterboys as taking place on May 6th, 1989 although as with any musical group, the roots of the band precede this even further. That night, at a private party I was holding at my house in Nepean, Richard Bugatsch, Jean-Pierre Côté (commonly referred to as J.P.), Ray Lavoie and myself dragged everybody down into the basement and ran through a dozen tunes we had been jamming with the previous few weeks. Most of the crowd seemed to like the music but we were rough enough that we didn't change the mood of the evening yet not so obnoxious as to offend (or so we thought). After putting up with our antics for about an hour, the crowd clapped politely and headed back upstairs.

One person in particular took notice of what we had done. Her name was Kim McGilchrist and she told us that if we practiced and actually formed a group instead of a loose jam, we could perform at a benefit concert she was trying to organize for the fall. While we never repaid her for the impetus she gave us, Kim McGilchrist was the catalyst that got The Gutterboys together.

The four of us had been friends for years as Rich, Ray and I had gone to high school together in Richmond, Ontario. In grade twelve, the three of us (along with another friend named Terry Cross) formed a cover band called Random that hacked and coughed its way through four years of obscure existence. Even after the demise of Random, Ray and I continued writing songs together and jamming every now and then with various musician friends. Using Ray's portable multi-track recorder, we wrote and recorded songs and Ray went so far as to record a cassette by himself using the name Random as a solo act, playing the role of a mystical muse.

In 1984, Rich helped me to get a job for the summer working at a local lumberyard where we met the irrepressible Jean-Pierre Côté. As a guitarist who had been in high school cover bands, J.P. immediately made an impression and it wasn't long before we made mutual invitations to various jam sessions. Rich went off to the University of Waterloo in the fall to obtain a Planning degree but J.P. and I continued getting together and the jam sessions evolved into a songwriting partnership similar to (but very different from) the relationship I had with Ray.

When Random finally kicked the bucket, the way stood clear for a new group to form but this didn't happen at first. Married and with a baby girl to look after, Ray temporarily withdrew from the scene leaving J.P. and I to continue writing and recording new songs. Using Ray's multi-tracker, we compiled several cassettes' worth of material and I made up pretentious band names like Theory and Maenad.

Several years (and a messy divorce for Ray) later, Rich and I both graduated from our respective universities and the four of us began jamming regularly again. In the fall of 1988, Rich, Ray and I were goofing around in my basement complaining that heavy metal songs were too simplistic and easy to write. Before we knew what was happening, we'd written eight purposefully-obnoxious tunes that we promptly recorded and released locally on cassette using the not-so-subtle nom-de-guerre Överdöse.

Having played together for years (7 with Rich and Ray and 3 with J.P.), we decided it was time to do something a little more serious. We took a handful of what we considered to be our best songs along with a couple of comic relief cover versions and began serious practicing. Rich, J.P. and Ray were guitarists by inclination and so they decided to take turns playing bass for different songs. We were quite proud of our musical flexibility and imagined that the switching routine would look impressive from an audience's perspective. At first we called ourselves Four Drunk Guys but J.P. suggested we use a name he'd come up with for one of his high school bands - The Gutterboys. Shortly thereafter we played at my party and Kim's encouragement pushed us even further.

The First Live Performance

Realizing how rough we were, we spent the rest of the summer practicing and preparing for Kim's benefit concert. In mid-June, she brought over a few friends from work to audition us and it was then that we met singer-songwriter Lyle Burwell. The audition went well and we became officially booked to play the First Annual Benefit Concert For Youth in October at Barrymore's. The event was sponsored by Nepean Youth Employment Services and was to be held in Ottawa's largest live-band nightclub (a venue with which we were to become extremely familiar).

Kim had big plans for us and we agreed that she would make a good booking agent. She knew a lot of people in the Ottawa entertainment scene and she really believed in our music. That was the kicker because in my personal experience, no one had ever believed strongly enough in our music before to want to work at promoting it. Kim became our agent and immediately booked us to play at Barrymore's in early August along with another local band, Visions of the Sky. We thought this would be a good opportunity to hone our act before the benefit.

Our first formal performance as a group was on a Monday night, August 7th to be precise, and we had a fourteen song set list we'd been rehearsing solidly for weeks. Visions of the Sky went on first and performed a number of cover versions, reminding me of my old days with Random. J.P. was feeling nervous and jogged over to The Lockmaster Pub to have a few beers to calm his nerves. By the time he got back, he was far beyond the definition of calming his nerves and was well into the realm of incomprehensibility. The performance of the songs themselves went fairly well but the scene on stage was pretty tense. J.P. would incoherently ramble into the mike and hack at his guitar while Ray would glare at him and pout. Between the two of them, the band didn't come across as very polished or rehearsed and Rich was especially pissed off.

Fortunately, Barrymore's management, in the form of Gord Kent, didn't seem to notice and asked both bands to come back the next night as he had to fill a gap made by a cancellation by Red Syren (who we would run into later). Serious chats with both Ray and J.P. seemed to resolve the stage problems and the next night's performance was much smoother. Kim was pleased momentarily as she'd been worried our first gig was a forerunner of disappointments to come.

Bye-Bye Rich, Hello Todd

Life for the band changed dramatically in early September as Rich announced that he didn't want to continue as a member. It wasn't that he was all that dissatisfied with the group but instead wanted to join the Air Force and wasn't sure if he would be around to play at the benefit. Trying to give us as much warning as possible, he gave us the bad news sending us scurrying for a replacement. What we discovered exceeded our original expectations.

Looking for bass players was a frustrating task. We even went so far as to audition our old bass player from Random, Terry Cross, which was an indication of our frustration considering the emotional baggage that entailed. One prospect appeared interesting at first but complained that we played too fast and he couldn't keep up with the rest of the group. Then we met Todd.

"C.C." Snelgrove hailed from Moncton, New Brunswick and was in Ottawa to attend the Music program at Carleton University. The first time he came to audition he impressed us as the best bass player we'd seen but he was personally skeptical about our repertoire of original songs. He'd only been in cover bands thus far and couldn't see how an original act could get anywhere at the local stage. Luckily, he decided to take a chance and The Gutterboys had their very own dedicated bass player.

Our next "gig" was the benefit itself where The Gutterboys opened for local R&B regulars, Incity Dreams. With only two weeks in which to learn a host of unfamiliar original songs, C.C. managed to pull it off and the performance went well. Minor technical difficulties plagued the overall sound but the songs were tight and the crowd receptive. Immortalized on video, it looked like we'd made the right choice.

One week later on November 2nd, we played our very first solo performance at what was to become one of our favorite Ottawa venues, The Downstair's Club. With half the audience composed of C.C.'s residence compatriots and the other half personal friends of the remainder of the band, we packed the place for what became a raucous party. The only drawback to what was a highly enjoyable show were the number of technical difficulties we suffered. I broke a number of sticks, two drum skins, my snare drum and my foot pedal while J.P. and Ray broke two guitar strings apiece. As a result, we dubbed that night "The Gig That Ate Guitars". All in all, it wasn't a bad way to precede Ray's 24th birthday which was on the following Saturday (the 4th).

Kim continued to demonstrate a lot of energy in promoting the band as we were booked to play Barrymore's three weeks later on November 22nd. It was a Wednesday night local band double-bill and we were sharing the stage with Amsterdam but despite not being paid for the gig, we wanted to play as the opportunities to do so weren't regular yet. Unknowingly, we allowed this precedent to set ourselves up for being Gord Kent's last-minute-filler band. The performance itself went well although we only managed to attract about thirty people between the two groups. We realized that as much as we enjoyed playing there, we weren't ready to fill a club the size of Barrymore's.

More Personnel Changes

What immediately followed was a long dry spell as C.C. started his exams and the remainder of the group spent time with their families for the holiday season. Problems between the group and Kim began to crop up as we no longer shared a common vision. C.C. suffered a minor calamity when he sprained his knee wrestling with one of his rez-fellows and was further removed from the scene when he went home to Moncton for Christmas. Kim became frustrated with her job at Nepean Youth Employment Services and wasn't helped by the band's growing discomfort with her representation.

1990 began with several changes.

Kim got a new job that cut back on the amount of time she could devote to the band. She also thought we were heading in the wrong direction. Sitting down with us, she explained how she felt and we decided that the business relationship wouldn't work any longer. The result was that The Gutterboys were to continue without an agent.

Kim's last involvement with the band was a return performance at The Downstairs Club on January 25th, another Thursday night. This time, we seemed to have the technical problems licked and we debuted a stage gag we called "The Rhythmatron". With a pair of electronic drumsticks beeping away, I was a blindfolded and led through the audience by J.P. on a quest for people with a natural sense of rhythm. "The Rhythmatron" picked out a few victims who we dragged onstage to play various percussion instruments during a rendition of J.P.'s party tune, "Ice Cold". The gimmick was a hit and we had another capacity crowd of Carleton residence students and personal friends yelling and screaming and writhing on the dance floor. This was the biggest kick for us (and a rare one, unfortunately), watching people go absolutely nuts to our music.

From there... the band's momentum continued to build and build.


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Cool! Out of curiosity, what are the other bands they were in that are to be oh-so-briefly re-united?

The lineup for the party has finally been confirmed with Random, Flag Of Truce, Överdöse, The Gutterboys, Formerly Unknown, and Kim & Dave, all performing along with CDs Guise.

The gig is a release party for a new compilation CD from bands that have recorded at Lonesome Studios.




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