Wed, Jan 4, 2012.
Most people would be happy when people stopped calling them a bastard. But for New Brunswick's long-time blues favourites Ross Neilsen and the Sufferin' Bastards, its the bittersweet end of an era. A December ad in, of all places, Kijiji, announced to the broader world that a shake-up had happened in the group. Bastard Shawn Worden was out, and Neilsen and drummer Karl Gans were looking for somebody new.
Whatever happened, has happened, and Neilsen isn't getting into it too much, but here's what he offers: "Professionally I'd say there was a shift in priorities. Aside from being a musician and galavanting around the country I do, in fact, run a business. So, because of that, I have certain expectations that I need met. If those aren't being met, then there is an issue. After talking numerous times with Shawn, about said issues, it became apparent that it wasn't going to be a "meet in the middle situation." I think it was probably pretty typical. I pointed my finger at him, he pointed his at me. In the end though, I make the final decision about what's best for my business. When we got home from tour I excused him from the band when I dropped him off. We had a fantastic gig in Quebec City the night before (the last gig on the tour) with two standing ovations from the audience. I decided that we should end on a high note and good memory rather than drag it out for a few more gigs. Better to cut the tie and everyone can move on. There are many aspects to this that have sucked. Touring while being under duress is no fun. Losing/replacing a band member is no fun. Rebuilding after five years is no fun. For me, personally it was/is difficult because Shawn and I have been partners in crime for 13 years. We literally met with guitars on. That's hard to let go of. It will also be hard to find someone to replace him because he and I shared a musical telepathy. He's a fantastic bass player and a fan favourite. This was not an easy decision for me and I agonized over it at great length."
So, it's done and that's Neilsen on the record about it. Moving on, there's an open position to fill, and Neilsen says the Kijiji ad is getting lots of buzz. "I've had a lot of folks reach out," he says. "Some that were on my list and some that were nice surprises. Some I had never heard of before but am certainly intrigued by. At this point I want to see what the interest is and start collecting names for auditions. I plan on having candidates in to jam as soon as January. I hope the search will only last a month but in reality, it will last until Karl and I find a person that can fill all the rolls we require. Professionally and personally. We are a hard touring band. We don't make a lot of money. We live for playing live. The person who wins this contest is going to be a great bassist and must have a laid back flexible personality. We live together, in a van, for MINIMUM of four months a year. That is hard to do. Not just anyone can put up with this kind of lifestyle. We also want someone who wants to be in a band and will put that first above all else. someone who can see the possibilities down the road. 2011 was my biggest year in every way. We played some awesome festivals and I want to come out of the gates bigger, badder and better than ever."
One thing has been decided though: The new group will have a new name.. "I believe the Bastard moniker is done," confirms Neilsen. "Although Karl and I will still be making music together and that's 2/3rds of the (old) unit, we'll be a different band with a different sound."
In the meantime Neilsen has a major gig coming up, this one as a solo performer. Back in September, he won the juried showcase at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, for the right to represent N.B. at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. This is the biggest blues gathering in the world, and festivals and societies sponsor the very best players from their area to compete. Matt Andersen famously won the solo competition a couple of years back, which boosted his career in the upper leagues. That same year Ross and The Bastards happened to have gigs in the area at the same time, and Harvest agreed to sponsor them in the band category. This time, he competes solo, with the event happening Jan. 31 - Feb. 4. For Neilsen, it's more about the opportunity than the chance at winning: "No tricks," he says of his plans for the show. "I'm going down there and doing what I do. Playing some blues, telling some stories and connecting with friends old and new. It really is the biggest gathering of people in the blues industry so I just want to meet some new connections that can make our tours bigger and better. As for the contest part, I don't really like even thinking about music being a contest so I'm just gonna get up there, play and speak from my heart and do NB and Harvest proud."
There's a big fundraising concert before then, put on by Harvest to raise money for the trip. Neilsen will perform at Dolan's Pub in Fredericton on Wednesday, Jan. 18th, with tickets $10 at the door or through Harvest. The first set will be solo, and the second set is going to be full of guests. Neilsen's been hinting about some special names the past few weeks, and he's revealing them here, exclusively: "I'll be joined in the second set by Will Pacey on bass, Karl Gans on drums as well as Thom Swift on guitar and vocals and the legendary Matt Andersen on guitar and vocals. Should be a time." Yes, it should. See? He's not a bastard really.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).