Chas Guay is one of the most popular sidemen on P.E.I.
The Montreal-born guitarist has played with everyone from P.E.I.’s Nathan Wiley to former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor.
He adapts his style to fit the needs of each gig whether it’s playing with The Dogs, for Charlottetown Festival musicals or in a trio with the late jazz keyboard player Sonny Caulfield.
And every once in a while he shows his solo side.
This month he is doing just that with the launch of his new CD, Promises.
“After a year in the making, I’m very passionate about it. Reg Ballagh, James Carrier and I worked as a team, so we were able to generate that excitement together,” says Guay, whose CD release parties are tonight at The Guild in Charlottetown and Nov. 17 at the Trailside Café & Inn in Mount Stewart.
Recorded at Reggie’s Recording Palace in Crapaud and engineered and mixed by Carrier, Guay penned all the songs on the nine-track CD. With influences that include Steely Dan and Paul Simon, he takes the listener on a musical journey.
Remembrance Day, with its exquisite opening chords, is a story song looking for a dance floor.
“It’s a series of little vignettes (about a romance). Once I felt like a narrator in the song I was able to take on the journey as a writer... Each verse is about a different moment,” says Guay.
I Dared Myself is filled with distinctive guitar riffs and harmonies.
“When you’re crafting a song (like this one) you may have a germ. So you work and chisel away on it. Some of the lyrics may seem cryptic so you mix it up with common stock R&B clichés like, ‘you, baby.’ Then you hear the tone,” says Guay, hoping that listeners will write themselves into the lyrics of the song.
“Music is not entertainment. It’s supposed to reach the soul,” he says.
The title track, Promises, is a lively duet featuring Guay and P.E.I. singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan.
“She’s a good friend and so generous with everybody. Catherine is our greatest musical ambassador on the Island. So, it was just a matter of getting together for a couple of cups of coffee and it was done,” says Guay, who is happy with the results of this soulful romantic song.
“Again, each of the verses are done a little differently,” he says.
Besides MacLellan, he draws on the talents of sessional musicians Ballagh, percussion; Remi Arsenault and Devin Hornby, bass; Chris Corrigan, guitar; Sean Ferris, keyboards; Barry Sorenson, saxophones/
arrangements; Michael Mooney, background vocals; Tian Wigmore, background vocals, guitar; Chris Gauthier, side guitar and Peter Bevan Baker, trumpet.
“I’m very fortunate to live on P.E.I. where there’s a wonderful musical community ... As a result there are some great soloists in the band.
“When we play these songs live, they often go on for 12 minutes ... Once you get people up on the (dance) floor, you don’t go from song to side. You just have to find that groove,” says Guay.
After working so hard to get the music out there, he’s looking forward to sharing it with others.
“At the launches I will be performing with the full band, showcasing the album as well as songs from my earlier CD, Little City,” says Guay, adding additional musicians such as Caroline Bernard and Dan Rowswell will also be featured.
And what’s next?
“After playing the major venues this month, I have someone helping me develop an online presence (and arrange bookings). So we’ll see what will happen with that,” says Guay, adding touring is a possibility.
“I’m a terrible one for planning, so I’m happy to have people doing these things for me ... And after working at Hillsborough Hospital and at the Confederation Centre for the past two years I don’t have time to deal with the learning curve of (bookings). I’d rather get on my bicycle on go for a ride.”
Sally Cole is a features writer with The Guardian. She welcomes comments about her column as well as suggestions for future columns from readers. She may be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 629-6000, ext. 6054.