Four years ago, Les Walker took his guitar into his girlfriend’s bathroom, shut the door and sang his heart out.
Two weeks from now, he hopes to walk across the stage before 1,256 people at Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, with his band, to accept a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award.
Of course, a lot happened in between.
For example, his girlfriend pulled him from his bathroom guitar solo to show him the Canadian Aboriginal Music Award’s website. “Why,” she said, “aren’t you singing for that?”
Without a good answer, Walker decided to fit the CAMA’s into his bucket list.
He got together with rhythm guitarist Clancy McInnis.
The two met years ago when McInnis was busking on Whitehorse’s Main Street. They have been nearly inseparable ever since, working together at the downtown group home, Angels’ Nest and even living together a few times.
Next came Lane Currie. Trained as a fiddler, Currie caught the eyes of McInnis and Walker at a local house party. They stopped dead in their tracks when Currie’s pic-less solo work on a guitar screamed through the crowd.
Drums and bass for Walker’s growing group were eventually snagged from another local band backstage at the annual Blue Feather Music Festival. Their original drummer had to leave, less than a half hour before their first big show to rush to the hospital for the birth of his baby. Bassist Adam Cripps and drummer Mike Settle jammed with the guys in the green room for a brief 20 minutes before going out to play a seamless, sold-out show.
Since then, Cripps has been a mainstay. But after recording the group’s first studio album, a promotion at his day job forced Settle leave the group.
Walker didn’t need to look far for a replacement.
Ted Lambert has been playing drums since he and Walker were kids. They used to be neighbours, Walker used to babysit Lambert and when word got out that the group needed a new drummer, Lambert was a perfect fit.
Next came the actual submissions to the awards.
It was a long, intricate process. So much, in fact, that Walker went to his First Nation for help.
Walker is a councillor for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation and, if it weren’t for Natalie Oles with the economic development arm of the aboriginal government, the submission would have never gotten in, he said.
The unfortunately timed postal strike complicated getting the numerous CDs, lyrics, and multiple other stipulations for the numerous categories the group tried for, submitted on time.
But with Oles’ help, and contacts with a shipping service, they made the deadline.
The last, crucial, detail came last week when McInnis’ phone rang.
It was a journalist from BC hoping to get a copy of their album.
McInnis said sure, but asked why. The journalist said it was because they had submitted to the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.
They had, McInnis said, but then noted they hadn’t been nominated.
Actually, the journalist corrected him, you did get nominated.
Common Knowledge has been nominated for three Aboriginal Music Awards: best album of the year, best group or duo and best rock album.
“I was so happy,” said McInnis. “I called Les right away and pretended like I had some bad news.”
“He sounded like Eeyore on the phone,” said Walker, laughing. “He was just like, ‘I gotta talk to you man, it’s really serious.’ I’m like, ‘OK man, what’s going on? I’m here for you.’”
“I couldn’t sleep for three days,” said McInnis.
But apart from the initial shock, the group is actually quite humble about the national nods.
“I just want lots of people to see us play and to make people happy and dance,” said McInnis. “That’s all I want. An award’s just a piece of paper. It is cool and it’s nice to know our efforts aren’t in vain.”
“It’s nice to know that other people are acknowledging, and are attracted to our music,” said Walker. “And that they see something more than just a guitar riff and words on a paper. If people can connect with our music, we’re succeeding.
“And we’re loving it.”
Common Knowledge has a heavy rock sound that is harmonized with Walker’s optimistic lyrics. It’s hard rock with heart. The guys sing with their eyes closed, but still bounce on their toes and head bang at the same time.
“I just dreamed that music would just take me places,” said Cripps.
And that is exactly what the goal is now.
The CAMA’s don’t pay for nominees’ travel or accommodations and the guys – half of whom have never been to Toronto before – figure all expenses, with hotel and flights for all of them, will cost about $10,000.
“But there is no ‘not going,’” said McInnis bluntly, before joking with Cripps about what they will wear for the awards show.
“We’re all going to go down,” said Walker. “We’ve acknowledged that this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to us, as far as music, and music is our lives.
“So, we’re going to go down and celebrate a success, and being nominated is a success.”
In hopes of affording the trip – without maxing out all their credit cards – the boys have set up a few gigs and events.
On Friday night, there will be a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at Angels’ Nest with Common Knowledge CDs on sale.
Next Friday, November 11 – Remembrance Day, the group has gathered friends and fellow bands to stage another fundraiser. Comedian Graham Barnie will be emceeing and doing standup sets in between bands Off the Menu, Meet the Vegans and Common Knowledge. It will start at 9 p.m. at Foxy’s.
Common Knowledge is also on Saturday’s bill for the Blue Feather Music Festival that runs Friday and Saturday nights at the Yukon Arts Centre this weekend.
The 13th Annual Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards will be on the evening of Friday, November 18.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at