Guitarist extraordinaire to pull up stakes

A consummate showman, guitarist Ivan Zenovitch is not sure what song he will end his final performance as a Yukoner with. "It depends on who's there," he said. The six-string virtuoso has just a few more local gigs before moving back home to Vancouver next week.

A consummate showman, guitarist Ivan Zenovitch is not sure what song he will end his final performance as a Yukoner with.

“It depends on who’s there,” he said.

After 27 years in the territory, performing with countless musicians in “every type of music,” the six-string virtuoso has just a few more local gigs before moving back home to Vancouver next week.

“I’ve played thousands and thousands of songs in the Yukon territory – I don’t remember them all, but every type of music imaginable,” said Zenovitch.

“I’m leaving on good terms. I love this place and I want to come back and play. I want to have the Ivan Zenovitch Band and people will have to pay to see me.

“If I could make enough money to just sit and play, and not have to go anywhere, I would.”

Zenovitch first came to the Yukon as a touring musician in 1981 and then moved here two years later to join his now ex-wife. Beginning with a house band at the Capital Hotel, Zenovitch went on to playing with a long list of bands, most recently playing with the Sophisticated Cavemen.

He has also become the popular host of open mike Thursdays at the Gold Pan Saloon, where his skill on the axe almost makes him an illusionist, picking up songs so quickly you would think he’s been playing them for years.

Zenovitch admits that his prowess as a back-up performer was acquired while playing with former Yukoner Teri-Lynn Puckett.

“She started playing acoustic, so I’d sit in with my acoustic – I had never really played acoustic,” said Zenovitch. “Somehow we just clicked and we sounded so good places were hiring both of us. So for a year-and-a-half we were playing five, six nights a week.

“That’s where I learned accompaniment, opposed to playing in a band. Accompaniment is a whole different bag from playing in a band. You go with the singer – the moves, the grooves. In accompaniment there’s three things I do: I listen to their voice, I watch their right hand for the rhythm and I watch their body for the groove.

“If I lock my body in with theirs, somehow it melds the playing – you become one.”

Not that he only wants to be a back-up musician, Zenovitch does see potential in being a “sideman” to a performer, comparing himself to Tom Petty’s long-time guitarist Mike Campbell. However, being a sideman extends beyond knowing the songs and staying in time.

“I want to be a right-hand man, someone you can rely on, that I’ll be there,” said Zenovitch. “A really important part of being in a band is being a cheerleader, meaning, within the band, you pump people up to play. And troubleshoot: talk to the sound men, the monitor guys, be a buffer between (the band and) the guy running the bar.”

His decision to move back to Vancouver did not come over night. Not only is his son moving south to attend the Vancouver Film School and his contract at the Whitehorse Liquor Store is ending, after returning from Vancouver as part of the artistic contingent from the Yukon for the Olympic Games in February, his Cavemen band began to peter out.

“We came back and a couple people went on vacation for months,” said Zenovitch. “All of a sudden, the momentum totally stopped – you can’t do that in the music business. By the time everyone came back, nothing was happening.

“I’ve got some gigs lined up and people to play with in Vancouver. But there are no delusions of grandeur – I know that I’m going to have to work hard, but I know I have the tools.”

Zenovitch’s tool of choice will be his slide guitar, on which he has crafted a unique style, with complicated techniques and riffs quick enough to make Eric Clapton drool.

“I think it’s going to be my ticket,” said Zenovitch. “Playing with the Sophisticated Cavemen I learned how to get chords with the slide – minors, ninths, sixths and diminished and stuff.

“So when I went down (to Vancouver) last September, I went to different jams – country jam, blues jam, jazz jam and a rock jam – and all I had was my slide guitar. Everybody was going, ‘Holy shit, this is crazy,’ and the guys are like, ‘There’s nobody here that plays like you.’

“So in a way, it’s what sets me apart. Not that I play slide, but how I play slide.”

For a few more lightning licks and some fluent slide, Foxy’s Cabaret is hosting a farewell party/open mike night tonight starting at 8 p.m. Zenovitch will also be hosting his final open mike night at the Gold Pan Saloon Thursday and will be playing an acoustic show at Antoinette’s on Saturday evening.

“The stuff I’ve learned over the last 27 years, I never would have learned in Vancouver,” said Zenovitch. “It’s cliquey in the big cities – and I know I’m going back to that – but I know what I need to do.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com