P.E.I.'s Dennis Ellsworth shares special memory of Gord Downie

P.E.I. singer-songwriter Dennis Ellsworth says he has a special memory of Gord Downie that makes performing in the tribute band the Fabulously Rich even more special.

Band donates proceeds from shows to the Downie-Wenjack Fund

Members of the Tragically hip tribute band Fabulously Rich include Dennis Ellsworth, Mike Montigny and TJ Lewis . (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

P.E.I. singer-songwriter Dennis Ellsworth says he has a special memory of Gord Downie that makes performing in the Tragically Hip tribute band the Fabulously Rich even more meaningful.

Ellsworth sings lead vocals in the band, which he formed with Mike Montigny and TJ Lewis in 2016. Greg Stapleton and Trevor Campbell also play in the band.

A fan of the Tragically Hip since he was a teenager, Ellsworth said he had hit a roadblock in his career. 

"I was kind of stuck on things, it was before I made Hazy Sunshine and I took at look at his book of poetry and I found a poem in there that the melody presented itself in my head." 

At the time, Ellsworth was working with Josh Finlayson of the Skydiggers who was a friend of Downie's. 

"I threw this idea at Josh and said, 'Is this insane or what?' and he said, 'No, I think it's a great idea. Let's just send it to Gord and see what he thinks.'"

Ellsworth said from there a dialogue began between with Downie over the material.

"Over the course of six or seven months leading up to making that record we stayed in touch and I sent him demos and he sent ideas back to me." 

Kept in touch

Ellsworth said they ended up making Hazy Sunshine at the Tragically Hip studio in Bath, Ont. He added that after that he kept in touch with Downie and hung out with him whenever they crossed paths. 

Gord Downie died Oct. 17 from an incurable form of brain cancer. (CBC)

While he admits he was intimidated when he first met his musical hero, Ellsworth said he learned quickly that Downie was a generous, humble human being. 

"He was wide open to this idea, I let that wash over me and I ran with it." 

Ellsworth said he last had contact with Downie about a month ago after he sent him a copy of a record he made and received a note of thanks. 

The tribute band performs music of the Tragically Hip and donates the majority of the proceeds to the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. 

"It's a cause Gord's quite passionate about and we think that it's a great cause," said Lewis. 

Montigny said the band has a big catalogue of Tragically Hip music to chose from to perform. 

"There's a lot of fan favourites but we've also picked some back catalogue stuff that people may not necessarily expect to hear."