‘A guy calling himself a ‘famous musician’ is on line 2,’” said the newsroom secretary.
Picking up the phone revealed Antoine “Baby Harry” Calaway, described on his website as the “King of Rock and Soul.” Buddy Holly was the King of Rock, James Brown was the King of Soul, but nobody has yet taken the mantle of ruling over both genres.
He was coming to Whitehorse.
Born in Iowa, Baby Harry often relates that his love of music was first kindled when, following his brother’s tragic death, his mother began taking him to performances by visiting musicians such as James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone.
“Most music I hear today is just like a formula — here today and gone tomorrow — it’s just like a McDonald’s franchise,” said Baby Harry.
“You can put a James Brown record on, a Janis Joplin or a Hendrix or Sly and the Family Stone — and in a million years from now it’ll still be just as good as when you first heard it,” he said.
Throughout his career, Baby Harry has certainly taken fewer drugs than his musical influences. In fact, he’s taken none at all.
“I’m on a natural high I’m kind of high-strung and hyper anyhow,” he said.
He credits his lifelong drug-abstinence to a lesson from his father.
“I’ve got so many stories about my parents — one day I was hanging around with some kids who were smoking pot and I came home reeking like it,” said Baby Harry.
“(My father) took me to the worst neighbourhood that you could ever, ever imagine at a little boy’s age … there was heroin addicts and all these drugged out people,” he said.
“He said, ‘Those are what the wrong choices get you.’”
After Iowa, Baby Harry’s post-secondary schooling was spent on the court.
“Before music I was a basketball star, I played university basketball — I got scholarships from big universities in the States,” he said.
Years of assorted jobs would follow until Baby Harry really “fell into” the music industry. Like many artists, making a living at music was something he had never considered.
“We were always raised to believe that a nine-to-five is what you have to do and you’re pretty afraid to venture out on your own,” he said.
For eight years, he was employed by Delta Airlines.
“I got free flight benefits and I used to go to Vancouver just to buy a pair of shoes or go to dinner,” said Baby Harry.
“That job taught me what it’s like to be free when all my other friends were working a normal job and I’m lying on the beach in Hawaii,” he said.
Soon, a woman tied Baby Harry down in Vancouver, if only briefly. But he stayed, and was soon able to engineer an unorthodox entry into the music scene.
“I love this country — I call myself a Camerican because I got my start with music here,” said Baby Harry.
He independently cut an album, dressed up flashily, and then sold the CDs, door to door, for $10 apiece.
“I know how to sell myself, and still today I still do,” he said.
Pretty soon, he was “bringing home $1,500 every two days.”
Apparently, it even garnered professional attention.
“I was working at Costco and I gave it to Rob Bachman; BTO, Takin’ Care of Business and all that … him and his wife were shopping,” said Baby Harry.
“An hour later I was on break and he woke me up pretty excited about my music,” he said.
Soon he was doing shows.
“I would get like 5,000 handbills and hand them out to everybody, a lot of girls would come out, and then my shows got known for ‘Hey man, that guy got the hottest chicks at his show that I ever seen,’” said Baby Harry.
“I would carefully select my fan base — not to discriminate or anything — but the thing about it is, if I had a house party I wouldn’t let just anybody in my house,” he said.
Word spread by mouth.
“Somebody dropped a disk on my lap with every artist you could think of I could get ahold of — their agents, their managers,” said Baby Harry.
“Through this disk I’ve opened up for Ben Harper three times, Lenny Kravitz, 54-40 — I’ve headlined for these guys,” he said.
He also got a chance to open for famed musician Leon Russell.
“He doesn’t really talk a lot to people, but his daughter and bandmates were shocked because he pulled me aside and talked to me for an hour about a lot of things and gave me a lot of good advice,” said Baby Harry.
From humble door-to-door beginnings, Baby Harry has reached a never-before-imagined state of professional success.
“Today I have a crew of people who work for me, I have my own trucks, my own trailer, I pretty much run my own show — life, whatever,” he said.
“I get paid pretty well; I’m not bragging or anything.”
No matter how famous he gets, he’ll always look to maintain his rigorous touring schedule.
“I play more than anybody — and this is not bragging, this is true — I play more than anybody, anybody, out of Vancouver,” he said.
The cities of the North are no stranger to Baby Harry, nor are multitudes of small communities in Interior BC and Alberta.
“I’ll explain to you, even big well-known acts will play in smaller communities,” said Baby Harry.
“For example, Kid Rock will play in Kelowna versus Vancouver — simple fact; you get a wider variety of people,” he said.
He plays big venues too, he says.
For many of his smaller stops, Baby Harry is a breath of fresh funk into an otherwise country-ridden music scene.
“I’ve had comments even on this tour — and this tour just started — from 15 to 20-year-olds saying, ‘Man, your music covers everything, it’s like funk rock and everything all mixed up,” said Baby Harry.
“I don’t like to put my music in a category … the bottom line is, it’s always funky, it makes you move,” he said.
He shies away from cover tunes, at least ones that haven’t received his personal signature.
“I don’t like cover tunes, and if I take a Johnny Cash song I’ll make it mine,” he said.
During the phone interview, Baby Harry’s voice sounds almost Paul Simon-y. But behind the microphone, it takes on an Isaac Hayes-esque quality — albeit not as bassy. A good compliment to cascades of wa-wa-ing guitars.
Going on four albums, Baby Harry is still without a recording contract.
“It doesn’t make a difference to me, because I probably get paid more than people who are signed,” he said.
“But if the right deal comes along, I’m no fool,” he said.
Baby Harry will be playing October 3 to October 25 at the Lizard’s Lounge.