A country kid sings for a blue collar crowd

Gordie Tentrees admits he’s a show-off. The Ontario farm boy just can’t get enough limelight.

Gordie Tentrees admits he’s a show-off.

The Ontario farm boy just can’t get enough limelight.

“I’ve learned to save myself for the stage,” he said over coffee last week.

“So I don’t drive my family and friends crazy.”

Since he could walk, Tentrees has sought the spotlight.

And as a young boy, he put his energy into acting.

But he soon traded this in for the boxing ring.

“I liked its high intensity — sitting under the spotlight for lots of people,” he said.

When this wore thin, he headed north and began playing music.

He was 24.

It was a late start, and Tentrees had lots to learn.

“I knew six chords and one tempo — fast,” he said.

Eight years later, Tentrees is releasing his second CD, Bottleneck to Wire, and heading out on yet another cross-Canada tour.

“People who’ve seen me from the beginning have watched me evolve,” he said .

“I’ve obviously spent a few hours alone trying to make this sound better.”

In a small town like Whitehorse, musicians have to keep improving, he said.

“It gives people a reason to come see you again.”

Tentrees doesn’t want to make it big.

His mentors are “workin’ man’s musicians” like Fred Eaglesmith who don’t play stadiums, but have steady, long-lasting careers.

“I have no ideas of grandeur,” said Tentrees.

“None of my heroes are in this position.

“But a Fred fan is like no fan I’ve ever met.

“They’ll plan their whole summer vacation around his tour schedule.”

Like Eaglesmith, Tentrees would be happy playing the same places 10 years from now — as long as he’s still playing about 200 shows a year.

“The only difference is, I might be charging $10 more a ticket by then,” he said with a laugh.

Tentrees sees himself peaking at 50.

“I want to be that guy — that lonely folk singer. And I hope I’m damn good at it by then,” he said.

Although he pegs himself folk, Tentrees’ music is more indie country rock, masking melancholy vocals behind catchy riffs.

Too many songwriters get caught up in their own sad stories, and Tentrees, who has his own fair share, wants to avoid this.

“I try to make my songs more universal,” he said.

“And I make them sound happy or groovy through musical arrangements, even if they’re about death or someone being murdered.”

That said, Tentrees’ second album is full of darkness, brooding and melancholy.

It’s about friends he’s lost, a mother whose children died in Indonesia’s tsunami, the woes of being an indie musician in Canada and about hardships growing up on a small Ontario farm.

It’s music with an edge, designed for average, working-class, blue-collar farm folk.

And Tentrees brings this working musician persona onstage with him.

“You can be a great songwriter,” he said.

“But people will fall asleep if there is no connection to the person.”

Unfortunately, it’s hard to package stage presence.

And Tentrees’ CDs are always a step behind his live shows.

Although, Bottleneck to Wire has one track that was recorded live off the floor, lending it that extra performance energy.

The track, Make Me Spin, features the late Aylie Sparkes, who wanted it recorded live.

Already ravaged by cancer, Sparkes insisted that if Tentrees recorded the tune, he’d come get him.

So, two months before he passed away, Tentrees brought Sparkes to the studio, propped him in a chair with pillows, and had him lay down tracks.

“He wanted to make sure he got it right, and made me promise that no one else would play on that song,” said Tentrees with a laugh.

Sparkes was another mentor.

“I had no real musical background in my upbringing,” said Tentrees.

“And Aylie made me push myself.”

Sparkes also played with Tentrees during his first live show at Steve’s Music.

“I was so damn nervous, I don’t even remember it,” said Tentrees.

“Just that it happened.”

Now, six years later, he’s playing at Steve’s again, including Sparkes in spirit and on the CD.

The show will kick off another national tour for Tentrees, who plans to start the trip playing 23 shows in 15 days.

“The main reason for touring is I like meeting people,” said Tentrees, who is sponsored by Air North.

“I’ve forged relationships with people right across the country. And there’s lots of like-minded people out there.”

Tentrees books his own tours, and enjoys wearing both hats.

“I didn’t expect to like the business side of things,” he said.

But now he spends upwards of 20 hours a week doing publicity, promotion, radio tracking and booking.

“To make a living, I have to learn where to book myself,” he said, noting the folk club in Winnipeg pays $2,000 for a show, while a good bar will only pay $500.

“I want to make enough money to tour, play music and afford the hydro bill,” said Tentrees, who works with special needs students at F. H. Collins.

“I want to be a middle-ground artist with a steady career that just keeps going.”

Tentrees is releasing his CD Saturday at Steve’s Music. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

Tentrees will be playing Atlin’s Globe Theatre with Romi Mayes February 15th, and the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction on the 16th.

He is also playing at Frostbite Music Festival February 17th with Mayes and Chad van Galen.