Bob Wiseman — not Prince — comes to Hamilton

The most famous story about Bob Wiseman is also one of the most entertaining. In 1993, he was almost Prince.

Former Blue Rodeo member performs one-man show this weekend

Bob Wiseman will tell stories of his adventures with the legal twists and turns of the music industry in Actionable, to be performed Friday and Saturday at The Pearl Company. (Christa Treadwell)

The most famous story about Bob Wiseman is also one of the most entertaining. In 1993, he was almost Prince.

When the real rock star named Prince announced his plan to change his name to an unpronounceable symbol, Wiseman called his bluff. The venerable musician and former Blue Rodeo member sent out a media release saying that he would now be known as Prince.


Feb. 8 at 9 p.m.

Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.

The Pearl Company, 16 Steven St.

Tickets: $15, 

Order online or by calling 905-524-0606

A flurry of media coverage followed. CNN. USA Today. MTV. Two weeks later, lawyers for the real Prince sent Wiseman a letter. Wiseman still remembers the wording.

"It said that 'any attempt by Mr. Wiseman to utilize our client's valuable trademark will be actionable,'" he recalled.

The phrase gave birth to a play that's showing as part of the Pearl Company Winter Festival this weekend. Actionable is a one-man multimedia show about Wiseman's colourful legal run-ins as part of the music industry.

Wiseman tells this story using video and images.

"It's a comedy, so there's laughter," he said. "Some of the pieces are dramatic too. I think a lot of people get tickled in a certain part of their brains that doesn't often get tickled."

Wiseman is a longtime musician who has played on numerous albums, as well as releasing a few of his own. He's contributed to albums by the Barenaked Ladies, Ron Sexsmith and By Divine Right, and has made guest appearances for Robbie Robertson, The Wallflowers, and Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians, among others.

The founding member of Blue Rodeo has released several solo albums and contributed to the scores of films and TV shows, including Splice and Saturday Night Live. Actionable is his sixth play.

Another misadventure: Warner Music destroyed the first thousand copies of his second solo album because the company worried the song Rock and Tree was libelous to the people it mentioned.

A tale of two Hamiltons

Wiseman is no stranger to Hamilton. He's played here numerous times. He spent nearly 10 years living in Haldimand County and often frequented Hamilton. He was a member of Hamilton Artists Inc. and "practiced piano at the library," he said.

The city has a dual nature, he said.

"There were parts of Hamilton that were tough and even hostile at times, I thought," he said. "Then there were parts of Hamilton that were kind of sentimental and beautiful and yesteryear-ish."

Meaningful doesn't always pay well

The veteran musician keeps a sense of humour about the music industry.

"It's a narrow fold that three people can fit through when 10 million are lining up to do it," he said. "There's not really a middle class. A few artists are wealthy and the rest are below the poverty line."

He chases work that's meaningful, he said, which often doesn't pay well. But it means he can stand back and look at the absurdity of it, which is really why he announced that he was going to be Prince.

Bob Wiseman was a member of Hamilton Artists Inc. (Christa Treadwell)

"It just didn't really make sense that this guy wanted to become a symbol," he said. "It was so ridiculous that I said, 'OK, I'll be Prince then.'

"There's a lot of it that's hollow and pointless and stupid. But on some level, with the work that I do as a songwriter, it nonetheless puts me in the orbit of celebrityism. I was making a joke in Toronto. I was just fooling around."

Not just a comedy

Hamiltonians who check out Actionable are in for a treat, said Gary Santucci, owner of the Pearl Company.

"Bob Wiseman's honesty in his songwriting and storytelling as it relates to the music business is extraordinary," he said. "He balances serious issues as well as humourous issues."

Actionable has "some serious messages about how we have messed up the world, with some hilarious and real examples of life's ongoing challenges," said festival producer Lee Fairbanks.

"Many of the true stories he tells may be fleeting, as most comedies are, but beneath that storyline is some truly beautiful music that stays with you for a long time after."

The festival, which began last weekend, has also featured Bruce Gooch's Trashman's Dilemma and Krista McNaughton's 11 Times.

Actionable is at 9 p.m. on Feb. 8 and 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 9. Tickets are $15. Order them online at thepearlcompany.ca or by phone at 905-524-0606.