A few years ago, I lived in an office on Eglinton Avenue, one block from Yonge Street in Toronto, and I heard the music loud and clear. It was (I thought) a recording of Johnny Cash and June Carter singing their raucous country and western hit, “Jackson”. I walked over to where the musicians were playing in a street store, joined the audience of about five, and settled in for a concert of a nice series of country and western classics and some original songs. The singer and guitarist wore a cowboy shirt. He was a bit neglected and sang in a duet with a young woman named Mélanie Brule. I bought their CD, went home and listened to it intently.
They were a country and western band without a doubt. But it was not a cliché. The band had a grainy, small town sound, like I imagined Neil Young had to ring before he left for America and fame. The lyrics of the song dealt with love, death and suffering like so much of the genre, but I could hear traces of English ballads in the lyrics. A song let me sing its lyrics:
You had nothing to do
When the rent is due …
Must be cruel
To tear out a heart, with deep and deep roots
I liked what I heard and wanted to know more about them. So, having taken the guitarist’s card, I called him. We agreed to meet and chat after his Sunday show at Opera Bob’s, a small club in downtown Toronto. There, Darcy Windover sang his own songs and those of his friends, accompanied by top notch playing from Kevin Neal (steel pedal), Stacey Dowswell (guitars / vocals), Kurt Nielsen (bass) and David MacDougall (drums) .
Windover is a young man in his forties who when we first met I thought he was Albertan, or some kind of western cowboy, which to me would have explained his musical inclinations. except that it is not. Darcy was born in Sarnia, Ontario, in 1977. If you consider country and western music to be largely the artistic expression of the English, Scots and Irish who came to America after Columbus, then Windover comes honestly about his musical vocation. Her family still owns the farm they operated just 89 years ago. His paternal ancestors emigrated from Britain to what is now New York State in the 1600s, stayed there and eventually ended up in southern Ontario, in Peterborough and the surrounding area.
“I was told that my grandmother sang like an angel and that both my parents were very musicians. My first guitar, which I got when I was 12, was my father’s. He was beaten. It was supposed to have nylon ropes, but instead there was steel. It was difficult to play but that didn’t stop me from learning. A few years earlier, as a reward for my diligence on my paper journey, Papa had brought home two sets of cassettes: Western Gold Country and a similar series of early rock and roll classics. Dad would take me to concerts. I must have been six or eight at the time and the one I remember best was Johnny Cash. And then of course there was the radio!
Darcy’s memories of growing up in Sarnia in the 70s, 80s and 90s are those of someone who had the love and respect of his parents, as well as the camaraderie and friendship of his brothers and friends. His music is the expression of many stories. Here is only one; let’s call him Andy Fitzgerald.
Darcy told me, “I had no idea Andy’s family background was different from mine. I guess if you’re as lucky as I am, you assume the other families are just as tight-knit, happy, and supportive. This is not the case with Andy. His father had left him when he was very young.
“One day, when Andy was a grown man and still my guitar teacher, his father came out of nowhere. He hadn’t done much for himself. He was down. He stayed with Andy then stole all the money from the house and disappeared. Some time later Andy saw him in the parking lot of a supermarket and hit him with his car. I lost the contact with Andy, but years later I tracked him down. He didn’t say anything about his father. I suspect the psychiatric authorities and the justice system figured out what he had been through. lucky man and I haven’t written a song about it yet, but it could be a classic country and western piece.
Unlike Dolly Parton and so many American country and western singers, Darcy didn’t grow up in poverty. Her religious origin, although Protestant, was neither practicing nor evangelical. Musically, he was not exposed to the ballads of the Appalachians, but Cash and other former country music singers marked him from an early age and seemed to have held in reserve, until he crosses and digests the styles of his youth.
“The first songs I heard were old English lullabies sung by my babysitter when I was a baby. These were followed by Christmas carols organized by my principal, who filled the school rooms with us the children, played the piano while the school echoed from a wall of sounds from “Deck the Halls ”. Radio, records and cassettes were at the heart of my listening, and I went through different stages, including the Monkees and the Beatles, rap in fifth (Ice-T in particular), the heavy metal that I learned. playing, grunge and bands like Nirvana, followed by a variety of singer-songwriters. Perhaps the most important was Neil Young, and then some like the group, whom I discovered while working in the woodworking workshop at Western University where I learned violin making skills from an influential professor who played classics from the 60s in his studio non-stop.
“When you ask why I devoted all of my time and musical energy to my band Ole Fashion over the past eight years, I think it has to do with my late father. He died young from a brain tumor. . Before he died, he bought Gold Country again and listened to these songs once more while in hospice. I would visit him and listen to them with him, then slowly learn to sing them to him when he could no longer speak. The last memory I have of him is lying in my bed and winking at me, almost to say right before I die ‘I understand you, and now it’s time to go.’ ”
As I left, I asked Darcy, “what about the future?” he replied, “Kiefer Sutherland (who has a band) came to Opera Bob’s where I performed in Toronto every Sunday night because he has a house nearby. He came back six months later and asked me to go on his tour of western Canada. I joined his tour during the summer before COVID-19 hit. I played for a large audience who had never heard of me. I think they liked me. I had my own bunkie on the tour bus. I spent time with Kiefer and the other musicians. It was what it should be like on the road. It was kind of like a country and western song, per se. It was good.