Entertainment Music

Remaining humble in the face of the infinite

Rick Wharton

By Rick Wharton, Special to The Daily Observer

Legendary Canadian guitarist Rik Emmett performs An Acoustic Night of Triumph and More... Saturday night at Festival Hall in Pembroke.

Legendary Canadian guitarist Rik Emmett performs An Acoustic Night of Triumph and More... Saturday night at Festival Hall in Pembroke.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Rick Wharton (actor, comedian, radio host, Space TV's Conspiracy Guy, and Festival Hall director) brings The Daily Observer readers exclusive interviews with some of the big name acts coming to Festival Hall. Instead of traditional story format, these pieces will be brought to you in the question and answer format in the same way the interviews took place. So let's be a fly on the wall and see what Rik Emmett one of Canada's notable singer songwriters and one of the world's favorite guitarists had to say during his '10 minutes with Rick'.

Rick - Hello old friend. Good to connect. I see 60 is the new 40. Looking good and sounding better than ever brother. Any tips?

Rik - Sip room temperature water. Have a cup of tea instead of booze. Adjust, evolve, morph and mutate. Apparently you get brownie points simply for surviving.

Rick- Thanks for coming to Pembroke this time with your amazing show An Acoustic Night of Triumph and More.... a show that captures what you are all about - singer, songwriter, storyteller and guitarist.

Rik - Is there a question in there? (Laughing). These kinds of gigs take me right back to the Thursday Night Coffee Houses in the basement of the West End YMCA in Toronto when I was in high school in 1970 or so. I would play some Paul Simon and James Taylor, an original or two, and then bring down the house with my half-assed version of Roy (Hee Haw) Clark's 'Malaguena'.

Rick - This show is wonderful because it attracts all types of music lovers. Triumph music, guitar pieces, ballads and more. There's something for everyone. Young and old. Ladies and Gentlemen. Many may know your success, with one of Canada's most successful hard rock bands, Triumph. Yet, you have never rested on your laurels. You then went solo releasing jazz, blues, folk, rock and instrumental recordings. I know it drove the cookie cutter marketing people at the labels nuts cause they could not keep up with you. Thoughts Mr. Emmett? (Question asked with Brian Linehan voice impression. Laughs)

Rik - One funny thing about show biz is the ambiguity and the glaring contradictions. Every TV talent reality show judge will tell contestants, "Make it your own! Be the very best you that you can be! Be original! Be fearless!" And then a few minutes later, they'll tell you that you're not cutting it. (That) you MUST fit into a shoe box, MUST conform to the shape of this cookie cutter, MUST fit through this pigeon-hole, if you want to have success. For me, eventually, it was a question of forget about success on someone else's terms. Just keep paying dues. I think 'laurels' are lovely things. They make for decent copy in a bio but chasing artistic, creative work is an infinite challenge. I remain humble in the face of the infinite. That's between me, and The Work. Triumph gave me opportunities to reach wider audiences with my work. I was a younger man, and I enjoyed that challenge. Then the work led me to other things. I never got into it to become rich and famous. I got into it because I love making music, and I just want to have fun doing it. It's actually a very simple market strategy. Audiences seem to enjoy a musician who is humbly trying his best to make honest music, and not twisting himself up into phony knots to deliver a version of what someone else considers the flavour of the minute. Eclectic is not a dirty word. It comes naturally to me. It's one way that I cope with the ambiguities of show biz. I keep my own centre of balance by chasing the work that's in my comfort zone, regardless of stylistic market constraints.

Rick - The latest CD An Acoustic Night of Triumph and show is a nice homage to the songs and spirit of the band. Hold On, Fight the Good Fight, Never Surrender, Magic Power. Thoughts on how you wanted to refresh and renew the songs with an acoustic feel in your concert performance.

Rik - Audiences still want to hear those songs. I am obliged to honour that. But I don't travel around with a convoy of tractor-trailer trucks any more, or roadies to set up a wall of amplifiers, and flash pots and laser lights. The creative dynamic was, what might the songs sound like 30 years later? As I wrote on my website - here and now, we're looking back on 'then'. But there seems little point in simply trying to repeat history so we came at it from a different place, the place where Dave Dunlop and I deal with these songs now, on smaller nightclub and intimate listening room stages. Honouring the endurance of these songs, but giving them a fresh, stripped-down and 21st century D.I.Y. perspective, these are new thoughts that occurred to us. Then again"¦

Rick - There are many who have seen the show that say they love the songs better this way. No turning the amp to 11. The songs and vocals are still alive and it's the soundtrack to their lives. Great singing and great songwriting. Not to mention you rock even on an acoustic.

Rik - Yes, well, thanks. No question in there either, old bean.

Rick - I know just saying...

Rik - No one gets any younger, so the intimacy of an acoustic-based gig probably works as much for aging fans as much as it does for the guy who no longer has spandex tights and a mullet hairdo.

Rick - You have been quoted saying that Rush paved the way for Triumph and other Canadian bands and they had huge coat tails. Triumph was unloved by some critics, Rush as well. Yet fans all over loved the music and shows. Triumph is now getting the respect the three of you deserved with Juno Hall of Fame awards, industry awards, walk of fames and even a street in your hometown named after Triumph. You must feel good about this chapter now?

Rik - One seems to get points for surviving. The music survived, which led to a grudging respect. The fact that the music business changed so much, and fragmented into all kinds of independent kinds of bands, who had to manage their own careers, I think, made many grumpy and cynical critical snobs realize that Triumph was a role model, ahead of its time, who had built their own niche and serviced their own fans as a priority of their business model. We ran our own ship. We helped put Mississauga on the North American map, and now it's a lovely thing that our city is weaving us into their historical fabric, too.

Rick - You have put out another release called Marco's Secret Songbook, a concept CD that combines an audio story with songs. Some wonderful new songs on this that I have played on my radio show. It a great piece of work. What was the seed of you wanting to record a concept record ?

Rik - It goes back to albums from the late 60's and early 70's, and bands like The Moody Blues, and Yes. It was just something I always wanted to try, and the story gave me a big palette to try a wide range of musical styles in one album setting. I always liked the creative energy of Pete Townshend, and his dramatic operatic ambition. I think 'Marco' could make for a decent theatre experience some day. But you'd need a pretty good guitarist to cut the lead role.

Rick - You have written For The Love of Guitar, a four volume book - almost 300 pages of how to play guitar. Congrats on being named Top 5 in the 50 Greatest Guitar books. This is what the author said, "Clever, judicious, pointed, funny, and humble, Rik Emmett's writing shines among the best of of guitar instructional material." "For all his use of seven-syllable words and pedantic rhetoric, Emmett clearly has his tongue placed firmly in his cheek. Just think of Rik Emmett as Mel Bay with a thesaurus." "Emmett's tact and thoughtfulness "¦ is an example all guitarists and teachers should follow." -Shawn Persinger, The 50 Greatest Guitar Books. These are great props your way and I just downloaded it from your site.

Rik - I admit, I have a pedantic nature. I enjoy teaching at the college level, and I believe I can engage and challenge students - and I enjoy having them kick my aging butt, too. Student for life, man. It's an attitude. I may not have the academic rigour and discipline, sometimes, but I've always tried to keep an open mind. That book grew out of almost 13 years of writing a monthly column for Guitar Player magazine. It was a mammoth editing job, and I got a lot of help from a woman in Pittsburgh named Jeanine Leech.

Rick - You got into the music business at such a great time for music. You teach music business at Humber College. The music business is the wild west right now. Any advice for the upcoming musician? Books (you would suggest) to read on songwriting or the biz, or just plain simple advice to young singer songwriters or bands?

Rik- My two favourite songwriting authors are Sheila Davis and Jack Perricone. Pat Pattison is also a modern guru. I've actually got a few books of my own in development. The music biz one is a co-write between myself and Dr. Andrew Scott PhD, as we teach the music biz course together at Humber, and collaborate on our Powerpoints and lesson plans every week. The working title is "Two Cents - Perspectives on the Music Biz from a Rocker and a Doctor". His doctorate is in jazz music history, and he's an even wildly more eclectic encyclopedic and pedantic dude than I am.

Rick - What are you listening to and reading as of late?

Rik- Just finished Springsteen's bio by Peter Ames Carlin. The latest fiction novel I enjoyed was 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry', by Rachel Joyce. But the best thing of all is reading 'Are You My Mother?' and 'Good Night Moon' to my first grandson, Henry Russell, when he comes for sleepovers. As for listening, I always enjoy Peter White's CDs, Pat Metheny, Steely Dan, John Mayer, and we play The Blend and Watercolours from the satellite radio a lot around the house.

Rick - Everyone asks me this so I will ask you. Who are your favorite guitarists, those you like or inspired you?

Rik - As mentioned, Pat Metheny. I love the stylings of Larry Carlton and Robben Ford, and for jazz I dig Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, George Benson and Russell Malone. Back in the day, the rockers that inspired me were Clapton and Beck and Page, Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, and Steve Howe. For my tastes, now, the most influential guitarists are the ones that have such beautiful touch and control and taste - Pat Metheny, and Jeff Beck. To me, they are the best 'poets' of the guitar, with physical technique that is the most lyrical. That's the kind of guitar music that still inspires me.

Rick - Thanks Rik. See you Saturday night at Festival Hall!

Rik Emmett An Acoustic Night of Triumph and More....hits the stage at Festival Hall in Pembroke tonight at 7:30 p.m. beginning with special guest Andrea Wappel. Tickets are still available.

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