Mad Dogs and Vancouverites pay tribute to classic Joe Cocker album live at Kay Meek

Q&A with Steve Dawson

Mad Dogs and Vancouverites, Kay Meek Arts Centre, Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $56/$53.

Mad Dogs and Vancouverites, the latest musical extravaganza collaboration between musician Steve Dawson and Capilano University’s Fiona Black takes place this weekend over two nights at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre.

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Both huge influences on the Vancouver music scene, Dawson and Black have made it an annual tradition to produce live performances of classic albums by favourite artists featuring an all-star cast of musicians. They’ve tackled the likes of the Rolling Stones (Exile on Main St.), David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust) and Tom Waits (Wicked Grin) in the past. This year they’ve chosen Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen album, released on A&M Records in 1970.

Dawson, born and raised in West Vancouver, now based in Nashville, talked about the upcoming shows at Kay Meek from the road last week where he’s touring with Birds of Chicago.


North Shore News: How did these special tribute shows come about?

Steve Dawson: Fiona Black and I have been working on stuff together for about the last 10 years, basically. I think the first thing, in any form, was a concert we did at the tail end of the Olympics in 2010 where we celebrated the music of the Mississippi Sheiks – they were a string band from the ‘20s. We just had a blast putting on these multi-artist shows and then I had the idea of doing something like that on a somewhat regular basis at the Electric Owl.

For a while there we would bring in an artist every three months and without rehearsing put on a unique show and that kind of evolved and we decided to start doing this thing at Kay Meek. We do it once a year now and we sort of have a little discussion about what record we want to do and then we just go for it. We pick the artists. The idea is to play the entire record – if the record is short, like it was a couple of years ago when we did Ziggy Stardust, there wasn’t enough songs for an entire evening - we go deeper into the artist’s repertoire, as well. In this case, the Joe Cocker Mad Dogs album is pretty long and actually the iTunes version has all these extras on it so there’s a ton of material. It’s kind of a perfect record to do in this setting.


North Shore News:  Some musicians have followed you from show to show and new ones join in as well. Do you choose artists with the particular album in mind?

Steve Dawson: Sort of, but I think the clear distinction we have with this show is I don’t think of it as a tribute show, which I think immediately comes to mind with some people. We are not trying to recreate the album and I’m certainly not looking for people who sound like Joe Cocker. That’s always been the point – not to recreate it. I tell all the artists if they want to reinvent the song – like if they want to do “Honky Tonk Women” as a polka I’m down with it. We take the repertoire and do whatever we want with it. In this case, I feel the record was so perfectly done and the band is what I’ve always looked for in a band. We’re kind of going for a similar vibe to the actual record.


North Shore News: What’s your take on the history of Mad Dogs and Englishmen?

Steve Dawson: The band to me was like my dream band. When they did this record it was 1970 and they were all young. Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon were both drummers on the record, two of my favourite drummers of all time. Jim Keltner’s gone on to be on thousands of records and is one of the most recorded drummers in history but at the time he was just a kid from Oklahoma. Jim Gordon the other drummer would have been up there with him but he killed his mother and is currently in jail. But some of the other guys – Carl Radle on bass, played on all the Eric Clapton stuff in the ‘70s, and Bobby Keys, the horn player, went on to play with the Rolling Stones for 25 years. Rita Coolidge is in the band and she’s just a kid. It was a remarkable band and it was all brought together by Leon Russell, who’s another Oklahoma native and to me was one of the great bandleaders of all time. Just a very creative guy.

What’s so great about the record to me is it’s on the verge of chaos. In the movie of the tour one of the backup singers has a baby in her arms and another is carrying a dog. They are great players so it’s tight and it’s great sounding and everyone looks like they know what they are doing but it’s pretty chaotic. That was always the big appeal to me the fine line between chaos and structure that the album represented.


North Shore News:  Leon Russell, known for sitting behind the keys, played a lot of guitar on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.

Steve Dawson: He’s a real cool guitar player. I love his guitar playing. There were two other keyboard player so I guess at some point they were just switching off. I’ve rarely ever seen him play guitar other than that tour.


North Shore News:  Do you get much rehearsal time?

Steve Dawson:  I write charts for the band, the horn players get together and throw the horn charts together. I don’t want it to be a slick, ‘Vegasy,’ kind of cover band thing where everything is kind of perfect. I love the chaos of it. This is something I feel we’ve established from past shows: We show up the day before and run everything once and then we do a show and then another show. It gives it a nice little life span,. It’s under-rehearsed, it’s rough around the edges but that’s always worked in our favour. We’re prepared, everyone knows what they’re doing, we’re not making it up as we go but it’s not a tightly finely tuned machine. That would be boring. In this show in particular we’re just trying to capture that chaotic energy and it will be interesting to see how the show evolves from night to night. Each night has its own character – they are going to be quite different. It’s always fun to bring these people together and see what happens.

















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