The musicians in Big Sugar are bound as tight as family after surviving tragedy and success.
After an eight-year drought, the Canadian rock band is together again, with new music and a cross-Canada tour.
Despite their separation, gig offers kept coming over the years, and one day frontman Gordie Johnson decided to call up his old band to gauge their interest.
“It gave me an excuse to call everyone up because I hadn’t talked to them in years,” Johnson said.
He was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm and genuine interest in playing their old music.
“Nobody asked how much money we were going to make,” Johnson said. “It never came up.”
Things have changed, though, since last the band toured, in maturity and experience. So much so that Johnson felt comfortable bringing his seven-year-old daughter on parts of the tour.
“It felt better than old times,” he said. “It feels more like a family than business.”
Like any family, the band weathered the depths of tragedy – drummer Walter ‘Crash’ Morgan died of a heart attack in 1995 – and the height of success, with chart-topping hits like Diggin’ a Hole and Turn the Lights On.
“We lived through some things together,” Johnson said.
After the band parted ways, Johnson moved to Texas and formed Grady, a country-influenced rock band, which still jams regularly.
Johnson is also playing bass as a regular member of Wide Mouth Mason, touring with Big Sugar this fall. It’s fitting because Johnson gave the original trio their first big break when he invited them to open for Big Sugar – with just a day’s notice. He then invited the band on tour.
“We took them on tour and just never lost faith in them,” Johnson said.
After original bass player Earl Pereira left to lead his own band, Johnson stepped in during rehearsals, then recording. After joining Wide Mouth Mason during their opening slot with ZZ Top, he decided to stay.
“They’re like family to me, too,” Johnson said.
Wide Mouth Mason, originally from Saskatoon, Sask., are another bluesy rock band, which created such songs as Smile and Change. The new album, No Bad Days, features Johnson and was released earlier this year.
Rather than having talent like Wide Mouth Mason’s Shaun Verreault and Safwan Javed sitting backstage, they often join Big Sugar’s set. It leads to a spontaneous night on stage – some nights it’s a reggae vibe, others it’s a blues feel.
The band may pull out some album cuts or B-sides, but fans don’t have to worry about whether Johnson plays Diggin’ A Hole.
“I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to hear the hits,” he said.
Fans might also hear a dirty Christmas ditty the band recorded called If Santa Don’t Bring You No Funk at the Port Theatre Sunday (Oct. 23) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $32. Please call 250-754-8550 or visit www.porttheatre.com.