Wright returns to Dawson after making it big with punkgrass

Luther Wright once spent a summer in a condemned brothel in Dawson City. That was before he met the Wrongs - and long before he became a Canadian punkgrass country rocker.

Luther Wright once spent a summer in a condemned brothel in Dawson City.

That was before he met the Wrongs – and long before he became a Canadian punkgrass country rocker.

He was shacked up at Bombay Peggy’s, which was not yet restored or moved away from the ferry landing. His friends were living in Tent City across the river, so his abandoned brothel was considered “a palace.”

It was during that Dawson summer that Wright took the stage for the first time.

He was helping a local fisherman work his wheel, “back when there was still salmon in the river,” said Luther, who’s returned north after nearly 25 years away.

Wright was also working at the Dawson radio station – the “one-watt giant”- and goofing around on guitar with some coworkers. When the guys found out Doug and the Slugs were coming to town and needed an opener, someone volunteered the radio-station crew.

The next thing Wright knew he was onstage at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s warming up a crowd of Doug and the Slugs fans.

Now, after garnering fame with Weeping Tile and Luther Wright and the Wrongs, he’s going to play Dawson again – but at a smaller venue. And he’s going to stay at Peggy’s, in the new digs.

Wright is on a northern house-concert circuit, playing intimate rooms from Watson Lake to Old Crow.

On Monday, a crowd of roughly 20 gathered at a Porter Creek home to hear Wright and one Wrong, Jason Mercer on upright bass.

Drinking wine and munching on crackers and edamame dip, the group sat around in the living room while Luther and Mercer played a couple of acoustic sets.

“The difference between a club and a home is that in a club, part of our role is to bring people in to drink,” said Mercer.

“Here there’s a lot less pressure – it’s all about the music.”

From a stage it’s hard to connect, the sound is often chaotic and the lights are blinding, added Wright.

“It’s easier to make a show of it in a small room.”

Plus, the hosts give the band dinner and often put them up for the night.

But in Whitehorse, Wright and Mercer have been sleeping at Music Yukon on a blowup mattress, watching zombie movies way too loud.

The first night, the guys didn’t realize there were neighbours downstairs, until they heard the broomstick whacking the floor while walking dead screamed on screen.

Mercer and Wright have been friends for years, touring together with Weeping Tile and Mercer’s old group The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir.

Before that, Wright used to be a “vigilante vegetarian” in a garage punk band called The Mugworts.

“I was natural, healthy and totally angry,” he said.

The Mugworts wrote tunes like, I Love my Compost Heap, Life’s Much Sweeter as a Vegetable Eater and The Meat Song.

They didn’t last.

“You’re hanging out with your friends and next thing you know you’re a band,” said Wright. “Then your producer fires your drummer, and it’s a drag because he owns the van. So you don’t have a van, but you have a drummer who can play in time. Then you’re off to the races.”

After The Mugworts, Wright joined Weeping Tile. When that group fell apart a lot of the same musicians reformed as Luther Wright and the Wrongs, playing “rocky, country, folky stuff”- including a country version of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall.

Now, Wright wants to leave music behind and start a career as stand-up comedian.

“The perfect show is where we don’t actually play any songs,” he said. “We get up there, fumble and tune, start something, then stop and tell a story.”

Why are Wright and Mercer playing together?

“Because we don’t like each other,” said Wright.

And are the stakes higher at a house concert than a club?

“It’s usually caribou steaks,” he said.

This is the Yukon’s first winter house concert tour, and the boys are prepared.

“We’ve been walking around town in our Snow Goose (parkas)” said Wright.

“Everyone else is in hoodies with their sleeves rolled up.”

Then things got a little more serious.

The conversation had turned to the death of live music.

Clubs that used to see lineups down the block, can’t even fill the room by booking big name acts anymore, said Wright.

Mercer blames technology.

“Socially things have moved indoors behind the screen,” he said.

But, watching his stepson buy songs online for his iPod, Wright is hopeful.

“The accessibility of musical choices will hopefully breed a generation that wants to see it live,” he said.

When that same stepson found out Wright “hangs” with Feist and Broken Social Scene, he was stoked. Mercer, who moved to New York, also tours with Ani DiFranco.

Both guys make a living as full-time musicians.

“Some jobs, you do something you’d prefer not to be doing with so much of your time,” said Wright. “You make the money to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, and on weekends you exchange the cash and get back some happiness.

“But if you’re doing something you love doing, you don’t need to make up for unhappy times.”

Wright, who used to work as a film grip, lugging cables around for Bruce McDonald during shoots like Dance Me Outside, makes less money now.

“But I don’t need as much money because I’m really happy all the time,” he said.

“And Lou has a jet,” added Mercer.

“Yah, it’s four inches long and sits on my desk,” said Wright with a laugh.

Luther and Mercer are playing Haines Junction tonight, Whitehorse on Thursday and Teslin on Friday.

The band is back in Whitehorse for another show on Saturday, then plays to Carmacks on February 15th.

On the 16th, they’re in Dawson and the next night they’re in Old Crow. Then Luther and Mercer are back at Peggy’s in Dawson.

For more information on any of these shows contact Music Yukon at 456-2490.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com