That’s me on the keys. This photo always makes me feel a bit sad because it reminds me that I’m no longer able to play the piano. Apparently it was a skill that I had when I was younger but lost somewhere along the way. I could even read music back then—it’s hard to believe, but, as you can see, I’m actually playing a hymn from a hymn book! Pretty incredible, but pretty sad, too, for the reason I mentioned.
I’m probably about six or seven in this photo, which was right about when I took up the cello. I started playing acoustic guitar and writing songs in the tenth grade. The first song I remember writing was about a fishherd who loved a girl with a tentacle on her head. I played it at a church coffee house to polite but muted applause. Some of my songs from this early period addressed themes of violence (e.g., “Playing with Power Tools”), and a few were deemed offensive by audiences (e.g., “Bearded Lady”). A number of my songs were surprising in the depth of human feeling they evinced (e.g., “Playing with Power Tools,” “Bearded Lady”).
I bought an electric guitar in grade eleven and formed a short-lived band called “Megamegadeth.” I don’t remember what we played, but the reception mustn’t have been that encouraging: we split up after our inaugural gig at the school talent show.
I left Vancouver in 1991 for the University of Toronto. It was a good year, musically speaking. I joined the Trinity College Blues Society, where I met Judd Palmer (who would, in time, become a member of the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir). Judd turned my ears onto folk and acoustic blues music. I’d heard this music before—my dad had albums by Fred McDowell, Taj Mahal and Mississippi John Hurt—but it had never really impressed me until that year. Judd also taught me to play the harmonica (though, sadly, not as well as he played it).
I returned to Vancouver in 1992 and started hanging out with a guitar-playing friend from high school, Steve Dawson (who would, in time, become a Juno award-winning musician and producer, as well as my brother-in-law). He taught me to play slide guitar and weissenborn (though, sadly, not as well as he played them).
Another friend of mine named Steve—Steve #2—emceed a coffee house that I played at, and whenever it was my turn to take to the stage he’d invite people to put their hands together for “Bone Man Slim,” referencing the title of one of my songs. I never really loved the handle, but eventually I went with it and started billing myself as Bone Man Slim.
In 1994, another friend named Steve—Steve #3—started a label, Azimuth Records. He invited me to record the songs I’d been performing, and Bone Man Slim’s first album, “A Retrospective,” came to be. I played music for a few years, both in support of my album and with a couple of different theatre companies.
Time passed. I dropped the “Bone Man Slim” moniker. I travelled, worked, went to art school, played music, got married, did graduate studies in philosophy at the University of Toronto, had a kid, played more music, moved to Lethbridge, had another kid, moved to Saskatoon (where I live today), became the leader of the L’Arche Saskatoon community. And I kept writing songs.
By 2010, I had over 50 songs wanting to be recorded. I called Steve Dawson and he agreed to produce my second album. Recording happened, and “Foggy Breakdown Mounting” came to be. I hope you like it, or at least parts of it.