Gary Comeau and the Voodoo Allstars’ soul seems to have taken a long and inspiring detour through Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta.
Comeau, born and raised in Nova Scotia as a French-Acadian, discovered the New Orleans rocking roots and blues in Alberta, from a Oklahoma musician nonetheless.
“I really didn’t discover that style of music until later in life,” admits Comeau, who has three gigs at the Dream Cafe this week. “I think it was part of my ancestry and that is why I gravitated to it in a big time way. It was something that resonated with me.”
Having played in bands for years, Comeau was touring in Alberta when they took a break at a truck stop and came across a rack of tapes.
“This fella from Oklahoma playing in the band found this one that was all this Louisiana, history of cajun music and he bought it. It ended up being the only thing played in the van for two weeks,” said Comeau. “That is when it really stuck with me in a big time way.”
But New Orleans music isn’t all they are about. Comeau and the Voodoo Allstars take the rhythm of the Maritime Acadian music, zydeco swamp, bayou blues, swing and whatever else they are feeling when the moment hits to sync with their impressive showmanship on the stage. The Voodoo Allstars consist of Tim Hearsey (guitar/vocals). Jerry Cook (saxophone/percussion), Larry Church (bass/vocals) and Gord Osland (drums). Comeau sings and plays a handful of different instruments. For him it all started with simply strumming on a guitar with a buddy.
“I had a friend that was a good singer/songwriter and what happened is we were both 17 and decided it was springtime and we were going to hop on a train across the country from Nova Scotia. Our parents didn’t even know, my mom found out the night before we were leaving and she figured if she let me go I would come back a month later with my tail between my legs,” said Comeau. “We came out to Vancouver and started troubadouring and street singing in Gastown, which was a real artist scene at the time with poets, writers and musicians. It was 14 years before I went back home.”
As free-flowing as his life is, so is picking up other instruments in a moments notice. He saw a fiddle sitting in the window of music store and decided it was time to learn the instrument.
“I started playing the fiddle, squeaking and squeaking and all that stuff. At the time I was living with my brother who worked on night shifts and it took about a week and half and he came out of the bedroom screaming at me, ‘get out.’” said Comeau. “I came back to the coast and the fiddle player in the bluegrass band had left. I knew one tune on the fiddle and that is when I started, otherwise I would have never made that jump.”
Then came along the mandolin, piano, accordion, banjo and the trumpet.
“I bought it and went on YouTube. I tried that for about an hour then I couldn’t feel my lips anymore,” said Comeau. “Three years later it’s sitting in the corner and every once and awhile I will pull it out and the geese fly away from under it. I would love to play it all, there just isn’t any time. I love it all. In some ways music has been a blessing for me. It’s like travelling, there is always new places to go and things to discover.”
Since 1997, the band has released three CD’s and Comeau’s song Marianne was featured in the film Double Jeopardy starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones. Another song, I Think About You All The Time, was featured in the movie Wise Guys.
Comeau and the Voodoo Allstars are mainstays at the Dream Café in Penticton having playing there well over a dozen times. They love the place so much the band are considering putting together a new album at Blue Frog Studio in Vancouver with a potential for some of the live tracks they have recorded at the Dream Café being included on it. The band leader said the Dream Café is a special place where people come because the music brought in is so varied. He said musicians also come from all across the country just to say they played there because of the audience and atmosphere the venue has built.
“Music is a conversation. There is this interaction between the players and the audience. Every night is different which makes it very fun,” said Comeau. “Our show is like a Mardi Gras experience and is all about fun and interaction.”
It is exactly what he hopes to bring to Penticton.
“Hopefully the sky will be blue, the ground will be white and the music will be hot. That is all I can ask for, oh, and the roads will be clear.”
Gary Comeau and the Voodoo Allstars are performing Dec. 26 to 28 at the Dream Café. Tickets are $30 and reservations are made at 250-490-9012.