Gary Cable Project performs classic hits for charity in North Van

An all-star tribute to the great bands of the 1970s, by the Gary Cable Project, May 10, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $63.25, available at

Gary Cable leans on his horn section to help him rise above the grief.

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Cable is reflective, on the line from Kelowna last week.

The plan was to retire in Okanagan Valley with his wife, Melissa, he says. But they were dealt different cards.

Gary and Melissa met at a wedding in Edmonton in the mid-’80s, through musical circumstances.

He was the piano player with the band, and she the pianist in the audience.

They were briefly introduced during a break in the music and bonded over their shared love of tickling the ivories.

After the wedding, Melissa went back to Toronto where she was a piano performance major in university – but not before leaving an impression on Gary.

“I’d sent her some flowers a few weeks later, and she thought they were from someone who I guess had been fairly … persistent the night of the wedding. She had no idea it was me,” recalls Cable.

Soon the mystery was solved and a long-distance romance blossomed between the two. Cable worked up the courage to invite Melissa back to Alberta to go skiing over Christmas break.

“Shortly after that it was fait accompli, as they say. We were together from that point on,” says Cable.

Melissa relocated to Edmonton and the couple married a few short years later. It was Melissa’s passion for music that struck Cable the most about her.

“She was intelligent, she was motivated and she was musical – which for me was huge,” he says.

Melissa was a promising concert pianist and music educator, who also held a master’s degree in business administration. She would also establish a number of fine arts organizations to promote music education in schools.

Cable, meanwhile, was an entertainment lawyer by day and professional musician by night, playing rock ’n’ roll music in venues from clubs to convention centres. 

His colleagues questioned this extracurricular passion of Cable’s.

“When I started practising in 1982 it was: ‘The law is a jealous mistress, she’s going to suck up all your time,’” says Cable, a contrarian.

“You’ve got to have that thing that gets your head out of that place for a while, and takes you somewhere else. And for me [music] was my ultimate escape.”

Melissa and Gary fostered a musical environment for their two daughters from a young age.

Their eldest, Tamara, is blind, caused by a form of albinism and a lack of pigment in her eyes.

“That kind of thing becomes a relatively defining moment in a parent’s life, when you find out that your child has a disability,” says Cable.

But Tamara didn’t let blindness define her.

Harnessing her aptitude for ear training, Tamara became a concert violinist. Today she is 27 and holds multiple doctorates, including a medical degree.

Cable is a proud father, with a nagging regret gnawing at him.

His wife had been complaining to doctors about stomach pains “for at least two years, maybe longer.”

After test results showed no abnormalities, doctors tried to convince Melissa she was a hypochondriac.

But the severe stomach aches persisted.

Two years later she was again pleading her case in front of the gastroenterologist, this time pounding the desk: “No, there is something wrong with me. You figure out what it is.”

Another battery of tests was ordered to try and prove Melissa wrong.

She didn’t get the last laugh.

“Her liver looked like it had measles, there were so many spots on it,” says Cable, describing Melissa’s ultrasound.

The colorectal cancer had metastasized to her liver.

There was no time to be angry.

Melissa and Gary and their young daughters, who were 10 and 14 at the time, focused their energy on making memories.

They went to Jasper and gazed at the glacier-fed lakes and majestic fir trees.

“Melissa loved it up there in the mountains,” says Cable.

She passed away a few weeks after her 46th birthday, in 2006.

Melissa had two final wishes: that her legacy of fostering childhood music education continue, and that her family support cancer research and treatment.

The Gary Cable Project started conceptually a couple years ago, when Cable had coffee with his longtime friend, legendary Canadian pianist and composer
Tommy Banks.

Cable met Banks in the late 1970s at his first recording studio gig when he was 15. Banks became his mentor and introduced him to Canadian musical luminaries like David Foster.

At that coffee catch-up, Banks told Cable it was his time to put his musical mark on something – a benefit concert.

Cable promptly started scrolling through his contact list and landed on bassist Gord Maxwell, who Cable had played with in a rock band in the early 1980s. The band put out a album and had even booked on the Alan Thicke Show.

Cable also called trumpeter Vince Mai, who he’s known since kindergarten. Mai has come a long way since those sandbox days, having now performed with Sarah McLachlan.

Before he knew it, Cable had assembled some of Canada’s top live and session musicians, who were offering their talents for the cause.

“It’s a humbling and moving experience that people are prepared to walk this journey with me – to help me on this road,” says Cable.

Set to play Centennial Theatre on May 10, The Gary Cable Project is an eight-piece pop/rock band with full horn section, whose members have performed and recorded with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé, Joe Cocker, The Pointer Sisters, David Foster, Jann Arden, Natalie Cole, Neil Young and Ray Charles.

The Project performs classic pop and rock hits from the 1970s – a curated collection of powerhouse and feel-good songs by acts such as Chicago, Toto, Steely Dan, Earth Wind & Fire, Lighthouse, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Carlos Santana.

“The music in that time frame is magic,” describes Cable. “[Rock ’n’ roll] wanted to become something new. The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s, the Beach Boys come up with Pet Sounds – these are probably the top two albums in the history of recorded music on most people’s list of
watershed moments.”

It’s the horn section that elevates the performance, promises Cable.

“To have a live horn section, as far as I’m concerned, that’s like saying: ‘You can drink water, or you can drink wine.’ You cannot play a song like ‘Rosanna’ by Toto without a live horn section. You can’t play Lighthouse or Chicago without a live horn section.”

May 10 will mark The Gary Cable Project’s third benefit concert to date, with the Centennial show welcoming, as a special guest, guitarist Danny McBride, who toured and recorded with Chris de Burgh.

One hundred per cent of proceeds from the concert will support BC Cancer Foundation’s Childhood Cancer Research Initiative.

Asked what Melissa would think of the musical project that carries on her legacy, Cable doesn’t hesitate.

“I know in my heart of hearts that she wanted me to be happy – and when I am making music with these musicians I am in the place that I am supposed to be.”


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