Ed Peekeekoot gets his nails done professionally – but only on one hand.
The Cree musician plays so much, he’s worn away his real fingernails.
And they’ve never gotten the chance to grow back.
Peekeekoot’s a fingerpicker.
“I figured anyone can sing,” he said, over breakfast at the Skky Hotel on Thursday.
“But not many people can pick guitar.”
Playing in Prairie bars in the ‘60s, Peekeekoot soon learned being a great guitar picker wasn’t enough.
“I was playing 75 per cent instrumentals and people would say, ‘That’s good but can you sing a song?’”
Now, Peekeekoot sings a little more and has added aboriginal flute to the mix.
“I sing aboriginal songs, and legends and stories about growing up on the Prairies,” he said.
Peekeekoot was three-years-old when he saw his first guitar.
It was hanging on the wall of a cabin on the small northern Saskatchewan reserve where he grew up.
“I ran my fingers across it and instantly loved the sound,” he said.
“Ever since, I was hooked.”
Every time the little boy returned to the cabin, he’d ask if he could have the guitar hanging on the wall.
“And one day, I got to take it home,” he said.
When he was about six, his mom tuned the guitar to open tuning and handed her son a butter knife with a thick silver handle, to use as a slide.
“So my first lesson was in Mississippi blues slide guitar,” said Peekeekoot.
“It was also, like, Hawaiian style.”
His mom and uncles were in a band, playing old-time music, and Peekeekoot learned from watching the older guitar pickers, and from the radio.
“I remember being outside one day and suddenly hearing this instrumental guitar song on the radio inside, called Yakety Axe.”
Chet Atkins’ hit made a big impression on the young boy.
But Peekeekoot wasn’t a one-trick pony.
As a teenager he was also into track and field and the pole vault.
“I did pole vault all over Saskatchewan, until my cousins beat me,” he said with a laugh.
“Then I thought, this is not for me, I better go into something else.”
So Peekeekoot started bodybuilding.
“I wanted to make myself healthy,” he said. “But it was hard on the reserve where there was a lot of poverty and we didn’t get fruits of vegetables, except in the summer.”
Peekeekoot’s health kick kept him away from smoking and alcohol, something most of his friends got caught up in.
“I tried it, but it tastes awful,” he said.
Even when he was older, playing in bars fulltime, Peekeekoot stayed away from alcohol and drugs.
“I was a square,” he said.
Now, Peekeekoot is watching the younger generations struggle with addiction.
“Lots of kids grow up in families that have problems,” he said. “And sometimes I try to talk to the kids, and tell them how important it is to listen to their heart, and not be tempted by what their friends are doing.”
After working in a mill as a teen, Peekeekoot dedicated his life to music.
But it hasn’t always been easy.
“I got turned down plenty of times,” he said. “But I read lots of books like The Power of Positive Thinking, and that helped me. Plus I didn’t drink.”
It also helped that Peekeekoot was a great fingerpicker.
“It kept me in jobs,” he said.
Peekeekoot lives with his wife on Vancouver Island, but still spends much of his time on the road.
He’s just finished playing a month in Saskatchewan and is now in the Yukon for several weeks, playing shows all the way from Watson Lake to Old Crow.
Although most of his songs are old time legends and instrumentals, Peekeekoot has written a couple about struggling through hard times toward success.
“I used to play on Hastings and Main,” in Vancouver’s East End, he said. “And I saw all sorts of terrible stuff.”
Now, he plays an instrumental, Hastings and Main, as well as a song he wrote called Beat of the Drum.
“I don’t set out to write songs about changing the world, like John Lennon,” he said. “I like to write songs about what happened long ago.
“But if I could write more songs about changing the world, I would.”
Peekeekoot was in Watson Lake on Thursday night. He’s in Teslin November 25, Atlin on the 26 and Carcross on the 27.
Peekeekoot is playing Whitehorse on November 29 and 30. He’s in Haines Junction on December 1. Then he’s back in Whitehorse on the 2 and 3.
On December 4 he’s in Pelly Crossing, on the 6th he’s in Dawson and Peekeekoot’s in Old Crow December 7 through 9.
All the shows are house concerts, as part of the Home Routes series. For more information on the location of each show contact Tim toll-free at 1-(866)-925-6889, ext. 207, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Genesee Keevil at