A musician of note

Published on April 8, 2011
Musician and songwriter Chas Guay is surrounded by the tools of his trade in his Charlottetown home. Guay will be presented with the Musician’s Achievement Awards during the ECMAs in Charlottetown next week.
Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

He has been called a musician’s musician.

He’s a first-call player for Island artists looking to record and for visiting artists who need to put together a back-up band that can pick up a set of charts and be ready to hit the stage without benefit of a lot of rehearsal.

He is also a mentor to younger musicians who are just starting to make their way in the industry.

Chas Guay is all of this and more, and next week he’ll be recognized for all he has accomplished so far by the East Coast Music Association with the presentation of this year’s Musician’s Achievement Award.

Guay will be honoured during the ECMA’s industry awards brunch at the Delta Prince Edward.

Word that he was to be honoured caught Guay completely off guard when he first heard the news last month.

“I really was surprised,’’ Guay said in an interview. 

“I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. But it quickly began to sink in. This truly is an honour, especially when you look at some of the people who’ve received this award in the past — Kim Dunn, Chris Corrigan and George Antoniak. I’m proud to be considered in the same company as those guys.”

Guay said he’d never really thought about himself that way before.

“You tend to not think about the business a lot or about how others see you. For me it’s not been so much about the business as it has been about the art of making music.”

Making music has been a huge part of Guay’s life since his early teens. Like many players of his time, he was inspired to pick up a guitar by the music of British invasion bands like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Zombies and by popular Montreal bands of the day like The Rabble and The Haunted. “That music really got me,” Guay said. Not long after that he acquired his first guitar, a tenor guitar. He taught himself the basics of playing bass on that guitar. He recalls buying his first real bass guitar a couple of years later. “I went to Steve’s Music Store in Montreal with my father. Steve’s was one room back then. It’s a whole block now. I was interested in a bass guitar. My dad sold cars and Steve was interested in this Plymouth.   “They talked. I got my first bass, a Winston, for about $60. And I got a little Symphonic amplifier to go with it.” As the music changed, Guay changed with it. He became drawn to artists like Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush, Albert King, Neil Young and Little Feat. In fact, he devoured their music. His appetite increased when he attended Presentation High School in Montebello, Que., where he met a number of other young players.

 

 

“We’d spend a lot of time jamming. We formed garage bands with names like Walpurgis, which we took from a Procol Harum song. We’d play university beer bashes and parties.” In 1972 Guay paid his first visit to P.E.I. Four years later he moved here for good. “I made quite a few friends here then, people like George Antoniak and Mike Mooney. We shared a lot of the same musical influences.” His friendship with Mooney led to the formation of one of his first bands here, Touch And Gone. A number of people played in that band over time, including former Rabble drummer Wally O’Reilly, but Guay and Mooney were the mainstays. Touch And Gone eventually morphed into one of his longest-running bands, The Dogs. In the years that followed, he and a core group of players that included guitarist Chris Corrigan, drummers Reg Ballagh and Dale DesRoches and keyboard player Shawn Ferris played on a regular basis at The Dispensary on Graton Street, better known as The Dip, as well as at The Playhouse and Myron’s. With the passage of time, Guay’s reputation as a bass player and guitar player spread, and many opportunities came his way. He has played with a host of musicians but Corrigan, Ferris and DesRoches have been constants, their paths frequently intersecting for one purpose or another. In some cases it’s a band gig, sometimes a back-up gig for another artist. Or in the case of Guay and Ferris, it’s working as a duo to compose music for film and for television shows like Chef At Home and Chef At Large. Along the way, there have been several recordings. With Corrigan and Mooney he recorded under the moniker Birdhouse. He also recorded with Christina Forgeron; they played together in the band Christina and the Sonic Roots. While there have been other projects, the most rewarding was his recent solo recording, Little City, which earned Guay a number of award nominations. Looking back, Guay says one of the best decisions he ever made was to move to P.E.I. “The music scene here is vibrant and exciting. There are so many talented musicians and songwriters here, so many opportunities to play with different people and to play different kinds of music.” Guay has had the chance to play with many visiting artists, most notably with former Rolling Stone guitarist Mick Taylor. He has learned from almost everybody, whether it’s about playing for musical theatre with Don Fraser, director of music at Confederation Centre, playing in a trio with the late jazz keyboard player Sonny Caulfield or playing with a seasoned veteran like Ray Sawyer from Dr. Hook.

AT A GLANCE Worth quoting One of the qualities that makes Guay such an asset to the musical community is his versatility. His peers were happy to offer some of their thoughts: Drummer Alan Dowling, who has played with Guay in the jazz trio O.S.T. and performed in the pit band with him for several Charlottetown Festival musicals, says Guay is an incredibly musical guy. “He can fit in anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a jazz trio, playing for the musical stage or strapping on a guitar and stepping out in front of a rock band he always fits. He’s got very good ears and he’s quick to pick up what’s going on around him and react to it. As a drummer it’s always great to have a bass player like that you can lock into.” Singer Terry Hatty, whose friendship with Guay goes back to the 70s, says  Guay has an extremely fine set of tools for a musician. “He’s got the timing, he’s got the intonation, the sound, he’s got it all. But what really sets him apart is his creativity. He’s creative in every thing he does. (It) doesn’t matter who he’s playing with or what kind of music he’s playing, he brings a sense of creativity and an exuberance to the gig . . . .  “He’s always an active agent in the stew, he always kicks thing up a notch. You really feel it when he plays.” Joey Kitson is another singer who has frequently worked with Guay. “Chas is such a versatile guy. We have a lot in common that way, we both appreciate so many different styles of music. With Chas it’s about the musicianship and it’s about the feel, and he’s got both. He’s also a generous player, I love to play with him. And he’s a great guy to just sit down and talk about music.”