Rockabilly and horseshoes: Calgary’s Peter and the Wolves make their own luck

Sweet. Charmed. Some might say enchanted. Others might say you don’t just have a horseshoe up your ass, you have the whole horse. Or in the case of Calgary’s Peter and the Wolves, there might even be a whole six-horse hitch up there.

What else would explain renowned rockabilly radio personality Tom Ingram seeing you live at a festival in Brockville, Ontario, and inviting you to play his Viva Las Vegas festival that attracts 20,000 people annually? How about having Ingram sign your band to release a CD on his brand new label, VLV Records? And what if it turned out that your album was not just another release on said label, but that label’s first release ever, making you the label’s premier release and the band that all others would follow?

Not good enough, you say. Horseshoes up the ass, obviously, and maybe even the whole horse, sure, but this is no six-horse hitch. Oh, wait.

Speaking from his Parkdale home, singer and core band member Howlin’ Pete Cormier explains what it was like actually seeing a hard copy of this VLV debut album, the kind you can hold in your hands, for the first time. Peter and the Wolves had already released two studio albums in 2015 and 2016, so Cormier was no blushing bride when it came to his songs being on disc.

“I hadn’t actually seen a hard copy yet because Tom brought them in from California to let me take home. I hadn’t even seen it and I went to a vendor there at the festival. I looked at the CD rack labeled ‘Artists Playing the Festival,’ and there was Jerry Lee Lewis and The Stray Cats and Duane Eddy — all these amazing artists on the rack — and then there was me on the same rack. It was super exciting!”

Sure, OK, maybe a four horse hitch with all those horseshoes attached and embedded firmly up the posterior, but still not sold on all six?

How about when it comes time for the official album release gig, which was supposed to be a short set in a bar downstairs from the main festival stage, things ramp up and take off.

As Cormier explains, “What was even cooler (than seeing the CD racked with the greats) was then on Saturday, the day we played, we actually weren’t initially on the lineup for the festival other than this one shorter set in this bar downstairs, not like on one of the main stages. (Then) this band had to drop out on very short notice so Tom wanted us to take the spot. It was unbelievable — 10:45 on Saturday night. You couldn’t ask for a better spot.”

A fabulous spot, no doubt, but not without its pressures. Especially when suddenly those heroes were now the de facto opening acts for Peter and the Wolves, even if merely by virtue of Ingram inviting them to fill in for the artist that unexpectedly dropped out of the festival.

“So Saturday, it was Duane Eddy,” Cormier continues. “Then Jerry Lee Lewis, followed by The Stray Cats. This unbelievable lineup! I couldn’t believe I was seeing it with my own eyes, and then just as The Stray Cats finished I look at the time and I’ve got to get changed and get ready for my set on the main stage.”

Ca-ching! All six horses on that six-horse hitch, delivering horseshoes up the ass at full gallop, no less!

“I had more energy than I’ve ever had in my life, just trying to let it all out for thousands of people.”

That energy is also apparent on the new album, Howlin’ and Prowlin’, which continues Peter and the Wolves’ established path of rockabilly with a healthy shot of rock, R&B, and straight-shooting vintage vibes somehow recorded without sounding stale. It’s an album that holds an old-school sound deep in its heart without trying too hard. Put it on and try not to sing or dance along to several of the tracks by its third spin – go on, try.

The album is a triumph, which makes it a bit surprising that the lineup that recorded it has already changed, although the departed drummer has already been replaced. Replacements have become a bit of a specialty for Cormier. Asked what the story is, he replies, “I guess it’s just a bunch of little stories. It’s hard to find the sort of people who really want to commit to being in a band full time.

“And even this lineup that we recorded this new one with, still, we have a new drummer since then. I was hoping that was going to be a permanent lineup but he still quit right after. It’s like, ‘Wow, you can’t count on anyone!’

“Though the lineup’s changed I don’t think it makes the band sound too different. You just want a rhythm section that’s simple, really tight and blends right into the groove.”

Cormier, who grew up in Bowness and cites its small-town feel and musical moments like watching bands play on the roof of Angel’s drive-in or hearing musicians in Bowness Park as influences, says as a full-time musician, he has no typical days. While he might practice piano, teach guitar, or go out busking when the weather is fine, he reserves a private place for writing songs.

“I have to be by myself. I’ll just sort of be playing around on an instrument until I get an idea for a melody or a hook — even in a dream — maybe a catchy hook, just a tagline for the end of a chorus or something. Sometimes I whip one (song) out in 10 minutes, sometimes I’m working on one for a few days or a week. Most part I’m just making up stories, the sort of things that never actually happened, or are very loosely based on the truth. Sometimes I do have things in my life that are interesting enough to be writing about, (but) not as often.

“Limits are boundless when you’re not writing about true stories. I don’t really write songs to talk about my feelings. I just write ‘em to make people wanna sing along and dance.”

From listening to Howlin’ and Prowlin’, that seems to have worked. Now time to turn that six-horse hitch out and let ‘em graze as a reward for offering up all those horseshoes.

(Photo courtesy Aron Diaz.)

Peter and the Wolves Calgary CD release is at the Nite Owl on Friday, May 25.

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer. Nothing here to see, just keep driving on by.