With 40 years under his belt as a musician, you can be sure Roy Forbes knows something about how to write a song.
But even now, he happily admits, he is still learning.
“It’s a continual learning experience, songwriting. I don’t spew them out like I did when I was in my twenties,” said Forbes. “I am in a different place now, but I am always listening to songs.”
It might seem a strange thing to hear coming from a man who has been called the most eloquent songwriter of his generation, with a successful performing career of his own and a long list of musicians who have recorded covers of his songs, including Sylvia Tyson, Garnet Rogers, Valdy and Susie Vinnick, who recently released a cover of one of his tunes.
“She’s just done Crazy about Loving Me, a great blues tune of mine,” said Forbes, flattered that new and established artists want to record his songs. “Especially when you get someone like Sylvia Tyson deciding one of your songs is worth putting on her album.”
Along with Shari Ulrich and Bill Henderson, he is also a member of the supergroup UHF. And it’s with Henderson that he will be conducting the George Ryga Centre’s 16th annual Songwriters Workshop and Showcase Concert in Summerland next week.
While the workshop is by application only, Showcase Concert which caps off the workshop is open to the public and takes place on April 15 at 8 p.m. in Centre Stage Theatre in Summerland.
It’s also the only time Henderson and Forbes perform as duo, so it is a rare chance to see two legendary musicians work together. But before the fun, there is a lot of work with the students.
“We’ve been doing it for a long time now, but I remember when I did it in the early ‘90s, I was scared,” said Forbes. “It forced me to think about the process, because I had never done that much. It was a totally intuitive thing.”
Being forced to think about his process is something that has tightened up Forbes’ songwriting and he welcomes the chance to share that process with other songwriters, but also his passion for music.
“Between Bill and I, we’ve been doing this a long time, and maybe know a couple of things,” said Forbes. “I always hope that I can help people maybe not make the same mistakes I’ve made.”
Forbes is also hoping to inspire the students by opening them up to the roots of music, drawing on examples from his own record collection, which is so big he no longer tries to count it.
“I never count, I am not a numbers guy — but it’s pretty big,” he said. “A lot of the examples that I will pull out, they’re usually ancient. I think that is a good thing. In some ways, a lot of the really great songwriting happened before rock ‘n’ roll. I am talking about the Gershwins and Cole Porter and all of that.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that he leaves out more modern music.
“Don’t get me wrong, rock ’n’ roll is fabulous. I am a rock ’n’ roll baby,” said Forbes, adding that an early rocker like Chuck Berry would fit right in there with the Gershwins.
“He used a simpler form, but his lyrics are pure poetry, poetry of the street,” said Forbes. “Meanwhile, Bob Dylan is out studying ancient folk songs and soaks up all the blues and country,” he said. “I could go on and on, but it really does inform my own music and I bring this stuff up when we’re talking. It’s not all what’s on the hit parade now, though I try bringing in of that stuff up too.”
Forbes started performing in the late ‘60s in Dawson Creek, his hometown, before coming to Vancouver, which is where he, by chance, discovered some old records. Listening to those early 78s awakened something in Forbes and he began searching out this old music.
“I was out buying Robert Johnson and Booker White records and getting back into Hank Williams — it has continued to this day,” he said, adding that he tries to share that musical foundation with his students.
“Open up that river and feed your current stream,” said Forbes. “I try not to overdo it or I will drive them away. As you can tell, I am a bit passionate about it.”
Working with Henderson is a great experience said Forbes, who describes his longtime friend as inspirational in his willingness to experiment and try new things.
“Right now, his granddaughter is taking fiddle lessons and grandpa goes with her, he takes them too,” said Forbes. “He is fearless.”
While both of them learn from each other, Forbes adds that they don’t always agree.
“Which is perfect. I think we both want our writers to know that in the end, it’s up to them … it’s not what would Bill or Roy think.”
Advance tickets for the Showcase concert are available immediately at Martin’s Flowers in Summerland and The Dragon’s Den in Penticton.