by Fraser McCallum
While watching Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm boys jam out a high-octane live show, one can’t help but grin. It feels like, through a haze of home brew and hand-rolled cigarettes, you’ve stumbled into some late night kitchen session between the fiddler and his gifted bandmates. The attention to the craft is first-class and the on-stage synergy is the best.
During the recent Music PEI week, pride in the budding local music scene seemed to be at all time high. Many spoke of a “critical mass” of talent brewing here. Within this development, Roots music has hit its own growth spurt and Charlottetown’s Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm boys are smack dab in the middle. “Roots music certainly has taken off in recent years,” says Rhythm Boys drummer Mark Geddes. “It feels like the right time to be doing this type of act.”
Geddes (a one-time member of both Nudie & The Turks and The Grass Mountain Hobos, along with MacKeeman) has been an instrumental cog in this growth in the roots scene. Last winter he began developing a small recording studio in downtown Charlottetown, engineering for Katie McGarry, Ward MacDonald and co-producing the Rhythm Boys album with MacKeeman.
MacKeeman, originally from New Glasgow, NS, has been playing Down East music (i.e.: Don Messer, Ivan Hicks) since he was just a grasshopper and is still a key member of The Hobos. “I’ve always played a lot of these tunes, myself, but it was great, when recording the album, for them to be arranged for a band. Mark, with his extensive music knowledge, made the arranging easy.”
When they began the project Geddes was new to Down East music but the partnership with MacKeeman made for a graceful transition. “Gordie’s been really great in helping me identify stylistic differences within this genre. He’s got a whack of Down-East fiddle records by Ned Landry, Al Cherny, Graham Townsend, etc, which were in heavy rotation when choosing tunes for our record. The selection process went really fast though, partly because there were tunes that we already played together and were comfortable with, and partly because we like a lot of the same stuff.”
The finished product, Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys, picked up a pair of Music PEI Awards recently (for Roots/Traditional Group Recording and Instrumental Recording of the Year) and an ECMA nomination in the Roots/Traditional Group category.
For MacKeeman, it’s a change of hats moving from lead instrument (with the Hobos, Turks, Meaghan Blanchard) to frontman with his new project. “I have enjoyed it, but I don’t know how much of a frontman I truly am. The rest of the boys are such talented musicians that it makes it an easier role to take on.”
Geddes too is quick to share any praise with the other Rhythm boys (Thomas Webb on bass, Peter Cann on guitar, other guests). “We work on everything together, from song selection to set lists. It’s a real collaborative process. If there’s singing Tom and Peter do the majority of it for the group so they bring most of the vocal numbers to the table. Gordie is always introducing us to old Down East tunes that are logged somewhere way in the back of his brain. Me, I just play train beats.”
Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys will be in full-gear during the 2011 ECMAs.