Le phénomène country, c’est le surnom que certains lui donnent. À l’ombre des médias, Irvin Blais attire invariablement des masses de fidèles qui s’entassent dans les arénas de Sainte-Anne-des-Monts à Wendover, de Rouyn à Caraquet. Et qui chantent par cœur, en chœur, les succès de son répertoire, riche d’une centaine de compositions originales. Une vraie communion.

L’histoire commence sans cérémonie. « Je devais avoir 10 ans quand j’ai trouvé une guitare à la maison, raconte-t-il. Mes parents avaient joué du Elvis dans leur jeunesse mais tout ça était loin. Mon père m’a montré trois accords, et j’ai continué. À l’époque, j’écoutais les 33 tours de ma mère, ceux de Tommy Hunter, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard. J’ai l’impression que la musique, c’était son rêve, un rêve qu’elle a dû abandonner pour élever ses huit enfants. »

De Port-Cartier, la famille Blais emménage à Bonaventure, puis dans une trentaine de villes du Québec, du Nouveau-Brunswick et de l’Ontario, au gré des emplois de contremaître dans l’industrie minière, la construction ou la foresterie du père d’Irvin. « J’ai établi beaucoup de liens, et ça m’aide aujourd’hui, lance Irvin. Partout où je vais, je me sens chez moi. »

« J’ai établi beaucoup de liens, et ça m’aide aujourd’hui, lance Irvin. Partout où je vais, je me sens chez moi. »

À 17 ans commence le pèlerinage des bars, à la faveur duquel il fonde Nashville Québec, son premier groupe. La Brasserie Pie-IX, Chez Fernande, La Gaspésienne, le Bar-Salon Rachel des Daraîche sont alors des stations obligées. Pour fuir l’aura négative qui entoure le country francophone, Irvin ne jure que par les standards américains : « Guitars, Cadillacs » de Dwight Yoakam, « Okie From Muskogee » et « Mama Tried » de Merle Hoggard, « Drivin’ My Life Away » et « I Love A Rainy Night » d’Eddie Rabbitt, « Act Naturally » et « Tiger By The Tail » de Buck Owens… En parallèle, il gère pendant quelques années une quincaillerie du Plateau Mont-Royal et honore des contrats de menuiserie, tout en entretenant sa flamme.

La décennie 90 annonce l’avènement des trames électroniques. Notre chanteur n’arrive pas à se convertir. Il part pour Sept-Îles et y rencontre Michèle C. Pinet, professeure de danse country, qui deviendra sa femme, sa complice, et plus tard sa muse, « la mélodie de ses chansons ». Ensemble, ils ouvrent le bar-salle de danse Le Nashville. Michèle enseigne, Irvin joue, toujours en anglais. Jusqu’au jour où il entend parler de Paul Dwayne, star du country francophone originaire de Bouctouche, qu’il croise ensuite à Saint-Tite.

. « Les paroles, la musique, tout m’arrive en même temps, explique-t-il, n’importe où, n’importe quand. » – Irvin Blais

Révélation et point tournant : Irvin commence à créer ses propres pièces, rien qu’en français s’il vous plaît. « Les paroles, la musique, tout m’arrive en même temps, explique-t-il, n’importe où, n’importe quand. Un mot, une phrase peuvent ouvrir le tiroir de ma mémoire. Mes textes parlent d’amour, heureux ou malheureux (“Elle”, “Juste entendre ton cœur”, “Je r’viendrai pu”). Et beaucoup de famille (“Une mère”), une institution qui, je crois, se perd de plus en plus. Les mères célibataires, la maladie, l’intimidation que j’ai connue étant jeune, tout ça me touche et rejoint le public. J’ai aussi écrit sur les régions que je visite en tournée. Les gens s’y reconnaissent, ils sont fiers que quelqu’un parle d’eux. »

Au rythme des années, les petits miracles se sont enchaînés. Avec Elle, lancé en novembre, Irvin Blais a fait paraître son huitième opus en partenariat avec Distribution Plages et vendu à ce jour plus de 100 000 abums. Il faut dire que Michèle et lui aident un peu, beaucoup la Providence. « Nous avons notre maison de gérance (Les Productions MCP) et nous faisons tout de A à Z. Je produis mes disques sans subventions, et nous nous déplaçons dans notre motorisé. Nous vivons du country parce que nous avons su semer notre jardin. Mon patron, c’est le public, des plus jeunes – dont certains vont jusqu’à se faire tatouer mon autographe – aux plus âgés. Je fais mon métier avec beaucoup de respect. Et tout ce que je livre au public, il me le redonne. Partout, mes spectacles, qui ne durent jamais moins de trois heures, se tiennent à guichets fermés. Je ne fais pas du “western quétaine” mais du “country que t’aimes”. Le country, c’est la musique de tout le monde, du PDG à l’ouvrier, en passant par Carey Price et la famille Dion, que cette musique a bercée. »

Ces jours-ci, Irvin Blais se prépare à enregistrer l’émission de Noël de Pour l’amour du country, après avoir chanté ce printemps dans La Victoire de l’amour, diffusée à TVA. Mais surtout, il continue à battre les routes, en compagnie de Sébastien Dufour (direction musicale et guitare), Pascal Castonguay (basse), Guy Gagné (violon) et Martin Bélisle (batterie), avant de se poser au Buffet Antique de Montréal le 16 novembre, le temps d’un spectacle mémorable. Porte-étendard du country francophone, Irvin Blais est plus que jamais en mission.


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Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2013 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

In 2012, Lindi Ortega was nominated for a JUNO Award for New Artist of the Year. Despite that tag, this country-rooted singer-songwriter is no novice. Her debut album The Taste of Forbidden Fruit came out in 2001, and Ortega has patiently honed her craft on the Toronto scene.

Career ups and downs along the way include a short-lived stint on Interscope imprint Cherrytree, prior to signing with Toronto label Last Gang. 2011’s JUNO-nominated Little Red Boots and its equally-acclaimed follow-up Cigarettes & Truckstops have announced Ortega’s arrival as a powerful vocalist and poetic songwriter, and international audiences are now embracing her original yet retro-tinged sound and vision.“I love the fact it has been a long struggle for me to get to where I am,” says Ortega. “It makes me really appreciative of things like sold-out shows at [Toronto club] The Rivoli. It took me ten years to do that. When it happened, I felt genuinely sentimental.”

Now selling out venues double that size, her profile has been boosted by appearing in, and having her music played on, the hit TV series Nashville. That’s fitting, given Ortega’s relocation there in December 2011. “Music City is just a very productive town,” she says. “It kicks your ass into gear. Returning to Toronto after a tour, I’d go ‘OK, I’m just going to sit and watch Netflix and pig out on Doritos and hang out in my pajamas.’ Here, you realize everyone around you is constantly creating.”

: “I’ve started to really concentrate on coming up with meaningful lyrics, thinking about the story you want to tell in a song.”- Lindi Ortega

Ortega is now co-writing with such Nashville songsmiths as Bruce Wallace and Matt Nolan. Her current goal is to write a song a day, and she’s aiming to release another record by year’s end.
Ortega credits Nashville with changing her outlook on songwriting. “I’m much more appreciative of the art of song now,” she says. “Early on, I’d just strum some chords and words would come out. It was haphazard, but I could create a song. There is a beauty to that, but I’ve started to really concentrate on coming up with meaningful lyrics, thinking about the story you want to tell in a song.”

Helping fuel that process is her own increased musical knowledge. “Through my exploration of country music I’ve come to love blues, and all kinds of folky and rootsy music,” she says. “It’s important for me to really learn and evolve as a songwriter, and listening to people like Townes van Zandt, old blues singers or Hank Williams can really teach me.”

Track Record
• Ortega won the Best Music Video Award at the 2012 iPhone Film Festival for her self-directed clip for “Cigarettes & Truckstops.”
• She has opened for acts as diverse as Keane, Social Distortion, and k.d. lang
• Colin Linden, who produced Cigarettes & Truckstops, is credited with boosting her love of blues.


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Dallas Good and Travis Good have performed and recorded with Neil Young, author Margaret Atwood, Randy Bachman, Buffy Sainte-Marie and actor Gordon Pinsent. But it was another Canadian icon – one with whom they’ve yet to collaborate – who offered some crucial wisdom.

It was 1996, when their band the Sadies was getting started, and Dallas’ and Travis’ father, Bruce Good, of bluegrass heroes the Good Brothers, was celebrating his 50th birthday at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern. Into the club walks Gordon Lightfoot, who’d had the senior Goods open for him during the ‘70s. “Afterwards,” Travis recalls, “Lightfoot turns to us and says, ‘The only advice I’ll give you is do your own songs.’ We took heed and started getting rid of all those traditional bluegrass murder ballads and tried to write our own.”

At first, the Sadies made their mark with Dallas and Travis as formidable guitar slingers, backed by their rhythmic accomplices of upright bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky. Mostly, they were a killer instrumental band, reveling in their love of surf songs and spaghetti western music. Although the group also embraced ‘60s psychedelic and garage-rock sounds, the brothers never entirely strayed from the country roots of their Good family upbringing.

“It wasn’t like we grew up Partridge Family-style at all, but we were surrounded by good records and lots of instruments. – Dallas Good

The Sadies members honed their chops touring, either on their own or opening for Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip. They also became Neko Case’s backing band and recorded with such diverse artists as Jon Langford, John Doe, André Williams and Roger Knox – all influential collaborations.

But it was Gary Louris, of U.S. country-rockers The Jayhawks, who had the greatest impact on their compositional skills. Louris produced the Sadies’ last two studio albums, 2007’s critically acclaimed New Seasons and 2010’s Polaris Prize-nominated Darker Circles.

“I can’t stress enough how much Gary changed my approach to songwriting,” says Dallas, “even with simple rules like ‘don’t overuse certain words.’ He really gave me confidence as a lyricist.” Adds Travis: “We’re pretty confident with guitars, but not with words and singing. Gary’s great for that and suggested harmonies that my brain just doesn’t pick up on.”

Louris has also produced the Sadies’ next studio album, due out in the late summer of what promises to be an especially busy year – even for one of Canada’s hardest-working bands. Following that untitled recording will be a rock album with the Hip’s Gord Downie.

Already out is The Good Family Album, a bluegrass affair that brings Dallas and Travis together with their father Bruce, uncle Larry Good, mother Margaret and cousin D’arcy Good, all backed by the Sadies’ Dean and Belitsky. The album features eight songs written by the family and two written with longtime Sadies cohort Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo.

“I initially rejected bluegrass for punk – until I found out that bluegrass is a lot faster and harder to play.” – Dallas Good

Dallas, who co-wrote “Life Passes (And Old Fires Die)” with Daniel Romano and another pair with D’arcy, says that recording covers like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was never an option. “That would be old hat and far too predictable,” says Dallas, who also co-wrote “Restless River” with Bruce, about his dad’s First Nations mother. Adds Dallas: “Writing with D’arcy was great, because I’ve always considered her the most talented member of the family.”

A Goods project brings things full circle for Dallas and Travis. Both were born in the bluegrass world of their father and uncles, while Travis joined the Good Brothers band after high school. “It wasn’t like we grew up Partridge Family-style at all,” Dallas recalls, “but we were surrounded by good records and lots of instruments. I initially rejected bluegrass for punk – until I found out that bluegrass is a lot faster and harder to play than most hardcore and aggressive music.”

As a kid, Travis took lessons from Red Shea, Lightfoot’s guitarist in the ’60s, and both he and Dallas remember being backstage at many shows involving Lightfoot and the Good Brothers. Another Lightfoot connection is Margaret’s “Same Old Song” on The Good Family Album: it includes the playing of Terry Clements, the folk legend’s longtime guitarist, from the song’s original demo.

The stars aligned for the Sadies in 2010, when they got to back Neil Young on a recording for Garth Hudson’s compilation A Canadian Celebration of The Band. Since then, the group has toured with Young and has lately performed with Randy Bachman, who’s written a song for the Sadies called “Canadian Garage.”

A collaboration with Lightfoot has, so far, remained elusive, although Dallas and Travis recorded a Lightfoot tribute with Keelor and Rick White, of Elevator, in a side project called The Unintended. After working with Downie and Pinsent (with whom Travis and Keelor recorded last year’s Down and Out in Upalong), an album with Lightfoot would cap an already stellar career – and complete a distinctly Canadian hat trick.

“I already have the perfect title for it – Out of Our Gords,” laughs Travis. “Now, if only we could just rope Lightfoot into it.”


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