Prolific West Coast drummer Chris Nordquist wasn’t always called “The Wrist.”
He garnered the moniker in the ’80s when he was the house drummer in Vancouver. He and a venue owner, along with some other musicians, would go through Billboard Magazine ads and “pick their heroes,” to come play.
“It was a neat gig, playing with some really great blues piano players from Chicago, guys from Kansas City and New York. They would come up and it was an education for me for sure being 40 years younger than some of these piano players,” Nordquist said.
He learned to play quietly with a sensitive touch in the acoustic venue and a nickname was born.
“I got the reputation, they called me ‘The Wrist’ because I was not animated, you know? I could play and it would barely look like I was doing anything but it would sound great. I guess it’s the economy of motion or something,” Nordquist said.
Nordquist has been the house drummer for the last three years at the Dream Music Festival and a mainstay at the Dream Café for years.
“I feel it’s a real honour to be asked to do it. It’s really challenging and rewarding at the same time,” Nordquist said.
The musicians spend the afternoon before the first show night rehearsing the collaborative efforts in a jam-packed couple of hours. Nordquist said the day is “intense,” putting together the jam between all the artists, which has become a signature of the Dream Music Festival.
“We play through the show all afternoon with each artist and we talk and work out the details of each song so that it does look seamless when we get up there on the Friday night,” Nordquist said.
With some musicians meeting for the first time that day, it’s fortunate they all share one thing in common aside from immense talent.
“Music is like a language. If you haven’t seen anyone for awhile or whatever you can kind of lock into that language pretty quickly. We’re all quite experienced, but it’s true, it’s a unique situation where you get people coming from far away, guitarists from Nashville, people from out East,” Nordquist said.
House drumming is not a new experience for Nordquist, who plays a similar role at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival and the Pender Harbour Blues Festival, where he is also the artistic director.
With decades of music under his belt, starting in the ’60s with what he called “hippy bands,” its hard to pick out which memories stick out the most. Though Nordquist did recount a time when he opened for Led Zeppelin.
“That was kind of normal at that time. I met all those guys and we used to rent our PA to them back in the ’60s,” Nordquist said. “I’ve played with a lot of people. I think the list is just too long to get into.”
While he has a lot on his resume, he holds an old saying in the industry close to the chest.
“It’s not like falling off a log. In this business there is an old saying, I think it’s from Vaudeville, you’re only as good as your last gig. You can be hired to do a job 10 times and be great every time, but on the 11th time if you’re not so great that’s the only one people will remember,” Nordquist said.
Paul Pigat, who has been a musical director for the Dream Festival in the past, and pianist Michael Kaeshammer, a two-time Dream Festival performer, are coming to town for a performance in the summer after the festival with Nordquist joining on drums.
“I’m really looking forward to that this summer,” Nordquist said.
Nordquist joins the Dream Music Festival line up on May 12 and 13 at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. For tickets, a full line up and more information visit www.thedream musicfestival.ca.