How the Poppa Dog got its name

Rick "Poppa Dog" Halisheff heads to the Dream Café Dec. 26.

As is the case with most nicknames, Rick “Poppa Dawg” Halisheff had very little to do with the origin of his moniker.

Ross Neilsen, who at the time was the bassist of Halisheff’s former band Dogskin Suit, started calling him “Poppa Dawg”  seemingly out of thin air.

“He’d come in to the bar and say ‘Hey, Poppa Dawg,’ and I’d say ‘Poppa Dawg, what’s that?” Halisheff said.

Neilsen explained to Halisheff because the band was called Dogskin Suit and he was the father figure of the group, the name seemed to fit.

A few months went by and the nickname stuck.

“I’d be out for groceries and hear ‘hey, Poppa Dawg’ and I’d look around and think, what the hell are these people talking about?” Halisheff said. “It kind of stuck like that.”

Today, Neilsen fervently tours the country as vocalist and lead guitar for Ross Neilsen and the Sufferin’ Bastards, and Halisheff is still putting ‘Poppa Dawg’ on his concert posters, including the one that is currently posted on the window of the Dream Café.

The first time Halisheff played the Dream Café years ago, something stuck out to him that he still remembers today as he prepares to head back to the venue for a Boxing Day show on Dec. 26.

“Those people actually listen,” Halisheff said.

“There are so many distractions nowadays and that place is so unique, it’s almost like a theatre. You have a conversation with the hundred or so people in there. It’s so interesting because you talk, and they listen.”

Listening is a lost art said Halisheff who added that if you go out at night just to stare at a TV or use the keno machine, you might as well stay home. He also noted you won’t find any distracting screens at the Dream Café.

“It’s all about the music in there,” he said. “We’ve become as a society so unfocused. We have phones we have computers, I’m at my laptop right now. We think we’re so in touch because we have all this contact, but maybe we’re further away.”

Halisheff won’t be far from home or family during Christmas time. He hails from Kelowna, but he can’t concretely recall ever playing a show the day after Christmas.

He said the holidays can be unpredictable, so he’s not sure what to expect from a Boxing Day show, but he knows the Dream Café has a loyal following that always brings in a crowd.

Halisheff is an old hand at slinging the blues and as been playing with his current group, Poppa Dawg’s Blues Band, an off-shoot of Dogskin Suit, for over 15 years.

“We’ve been together longer than my marriage was,” Halisheff laughed referring to himself and his drummer.

With longtime musician friends telling Halisheff they’re retiring, what keeps him coming back to the stage?

“I have to. If I don’t I’m going to die,” Halisheff said. “If you leave an instrument, like a guitar, in the corner for years, it dies. The tonality of the wood dies. When you play it, it vibrates and the actual vibrations of playing it keep it going. Same for a musician.”

Poppa Dawg’s Blues Band will kick off a three-day set of shows at the Dream Café starting Boxing Day. On Dec. 27, Rann Berry’s Rhythm and Soul Review will be covering the Motown favourites from Stevie Wonder to the Temptations for a two-night stint.

For reservations call the Dream Café at 250-490-9012.