Victoria chanteuse Carolyn Mark once sang that everything happens either not at all or at the same time. While it’s a great line in a song, living it doesn’t sound so sweet. Especially if you’re on the everything happening at the same time end of it.
That was saxophonist/songwriter Mike Clark’s experience this spring. Clark, who opened popular music venue Mikey’s Juke Joint 10 years ago this week, was set to go into Danny Patton’s Calgary Airwaves Studio to begin recording his fourth album, Forever People, as a follow-up to 2010’s Porch Songs.
For most musicians, recording an album takes over their life for several months as other things are put on hold. But not for Clark. As he and his longtime band members prepared to record, an opportunity arose to open a second venue, Mikey’s on 12th. He jumped at it because people were lined up and unable to sit down at his Saturday afternoon jams at the original Mikey’s; he needed to expand.
“For a while it was pretty hectic because when I started doing the album I didn’t know I was opening a second Mikey’s, and then that all came together and it was a busy couple of months doing that and recording the album,” Clark explains. “Danny’s great because he’s flexible and my band’s flexible, so it wasn’t that bad.” The new venue, Mikey’s on 12th, opened in May and the album will be released there on Friday, Oct. 20. Clark seems to be stretching things to suggest that completing two major projects at once wasn’t a big deal.
“I mean, I didn’t work that hard. I was a school teacher for 20 years I; worked a lot harder when I was doing that,” Clark says, adding he taught junior high band, social, and language arts at a few Calgary schools for those two decades.
“We started March. I’ve got a pretty solid band that plays with me all the time, so that part wasn’t hard, getting in there. What you hear on the album is basically what we sound like live. It’s live with a few overdubs here and there,” Clark explains, adding that engineer Patton is his “second bass player” so he was familiar with all the songs, which smoothed things along.
“Getting the songs written was the hard part for me.”
If Clark struggled with the songwriting, there is no sign of it on the 11 tracks that comprise Forever People. He mixes in tunes by Al Green, Willie Dixon and John Fogerty with six originals, some of them co-written with people like Chris Byrne of the Road Hammers or Ralph Boyd Johnson. Although the songs range from country to roots to blues, they flow along until at the end, it feels natural to press play again. In short, it’s easy on the ears.
“When you pick out good songs and put them in a good order, it flows.”
The covers were chosen mainly for being well-warmed crowd favourites, with the exception of Fogerty’s Long as I can See the Light. Clark chose to cover that song after his old friend, the late Ron Casat, who was the musical glue that held bands, venues, and scenes together in Calgary for decades, liked it. “I’ve never really done that in a set, but my old buddy Ron Casat said I sound good on that one, so I did that one as my homage to Ronnie.”
As for the originals, they were chosen by default. “Basically the originals are the only originals I’ve got going, so that was easy. I’m not really prolific, like my buddies. I’m not like a Steve Pineo or a Tim Williams — those guys are a-song-a-week kind of writers. Plus I haven’t had that much time to sit down. But I’ve got some good help on the album, like Chris Byrne from The Road Hammers, and Ralph (Boyd) Johnson.”
In spite of struggling with songwriting, Clark says a couple of the tracks nearly wrote themselves. One of them, the wistful When Gabriel Blows his Horn, was written after Clark learned that his roommate from college took his own life. “(He) basically seemed like he had everything going for him. I got Jenny (Allen) and Shaye (Zadravec) to come sing background on it, and I was driving from the studio to do my jam on Saturday and I was in tears on how beautiful they sounded together. I thought, ‘That’s beautiful. Carl would have loved that.’”
Another song, Downturn, a spare tune about recessions and things going astray, emerged in less than 20 minutes while Clark sat at the piano. “It was one of those days when things were looking bad. One of those bad business weeks when things just were wrong — it’s like a cocaine comedown song.”
Clark has no illusions about fame and riches with his album; he records because it’s fun. “If people like it and it strikes a chord with some people and people listen to it more than once … I had somebody I don’t really know I ran into yesterday at the blues challenge and she said that Downturn song made her cry. I said, ‘Great, perfect!’ ”
Mike Clark’s Forever People album release is on Friday, Oct. 20 at Mikey’s on 12th with Ralph Boyd Johnson opening.
Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer who has written about music, horses, books and other passions for over 25 years in The Calgary Herald, FFWD Weekly, theyyscene, Swerve, Western Horseman, Western Horse Review and others.