North

Bringing back the music of 'true artist' Aylie Sparkes

Friends and supporters of the late Yukon musician Aylie Sparkes have re-released his long-unavailable record 'Beautiful and Deranged,' 15 years after his death.

Late Yukon musician's lone record gets long-awaited digital release

The late Aylie Sparkes lit up the Yukon music scene in the early 2000s, and his debut album was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award. That album, long unavailable, has now been re-released by some of Sparkes's friends and admirers. (Submitted by Gordie Tentrees)

It's been 15 years since Whitehorse musician Aylie Sparkes died of cancer, but memories of his frenetic slide guitar work live on.

Yukoner Gordie Tentrees said Sparkes was "the first real musician who ever played with me."

The two toured together, and Tentrees said Sparkes would give him lessons in music, and the music business, while they drove to the next gig.

"I was really lucky I had someone who showed me that's the way you do it," Tentrees said.

Sparkes lit up the Yukon music scene, but was ill by the time his debut record, Beautiful and Deranged, was released. It was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award in 2004, but Sparkes couldn't hit the road to tour and support the record, and it's never been released digitally.

Until now, that is. Tentrees and others have made the record available online, and it's bringing back a lot of memories for Yukon music fans.

The cover of Sparkes's album, 'Beautiful and Deranged.' (Bandcamp)

Lonnie Powell of Whitehorse first saw Sparkes playing in front of a market in Nelson, B.C. He was impressed with his talent and the two wound up in the same band. Sparkes was called Peter Thiessen then, and Powell said he was looking for a new home.

"He came up to visit me around '99 just to check things out," said Powell. "Nelson, although it had the same population as the Yukon, it didn't have nearly the same amount of opportunities and gigs."

Sparkes moved to the territory for good in 2001 and had an immediate impact on the local scene. He played hundreds of shows every year, from festivals to regular house gigs at places such as The Pit in Dawson City.

'He just brought this fire'

Sparkes's ability to sit in and make anyone sound better made him a popular sideman for artists such as Yellowknife's Pat Braden.

"He just brought this fire and I described it that way at the time," said Braden. "I think anybody would describe it that way when he turned up the volume and went for a solo."

Sparkes's sound may have been aided by some of his unique instruments, homemade guitars put together from bits and pieces he had collected and modified over the years.

Sparkes and one his homemade guitars on stage at the Alsek Music Festival. 'Whenever I think of Aylie I think of a true artist and a true human being,' said his friend, musician Lonnie Powell. (Gordie Tentrees)

It may also have something to do with Sparkes's unique personality. People still talk about his ability to get along with anyone, and diffuse a situation when it was late at night and the gig was getting rowdy.

"He was a real artist in so many ways," said Powell. "He connected with everyone. I never found him very judgmental, he never thought he was too good, or too afraid to jump into any situation.

"Whenever I think of Aylie I think of a true artist and a true human being who wasn't apologetic about who he was. One of the things I remember most was him reinventing himself and becoming Aylie Sparkes. When I met him he was Peter, and he shed his skin and became the person we know in the Yukon."

Tentrees said Sparkes's personality is one reason his friends are working to see that his songs are available again. Another reason is the music is good and needs to be heard. 

"The most exciting part about this whole thing is his kids are going to get some money from some people who love their dad's music," Tentrees said.

"And also people are going to get to hear it for the very first time and understand why we lined up around the block at the Taku to hear him play."

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