P.E.I.'s Mitch Jay now top hired gun in country scene

Islander Mitch Jay might not have liked country music growing up, but when he moved to Calgary, that all changed. Now he's nominated for a Canadian Country Music Award.

Nominated for best steel guitar player at Canadian Country Music Awards

Mitch Jay, the "purveyor of tasty licks, and vast quantities of voluptuous facial hair," is nominated for a CCMA for best steel guitar player. (Mitch Jay Twitter feed)

P.E.I. has two people in the running for a Canadian Country Music Award coming up on Sept. 11.

One is Charlottetown-raised Steve Coady, a vice-president with Warner Music Canada, nominated for record company person of the year.

The other is an on-stage guy, one who grew up on the Island and made his way to Calgary, where he picked up an interest in country.

His Twitter site describes him as a "purveyor of tasty licks, and vast quantities of voluptuous facial hair," and Mitch Jay is up for steel guitar player of the year.

Most surprising is the fact he's really just started learning the very complicated pedal steel.

Mitch Jay has only been playing pedal steel guitar for two years, and has already earned a nomination for best player in Canada. (Mitch Jay Twitter feed)
"I've been playing guitar for a long time, and a couple of other folkie instruments, like banjo and mandolin," Jay said on CBC's Mainstreet.

"A couple of friends out here in Calgary said, 'Hey, you should buy a steel guitar and try it out.' I've always liked the sound of it, so I took the plunge about two years ago and started learning it in my basement, and I guess it's been going okay."

Not a country fan at first

Country wasn't even on his radar growing up, other than in the background.

"My dad is a really big fan of older country music, so I was exposed to it as a kid, but I never really liked country much, I didn't really come around to it until I was in my 20s," Jay admitted.

He made up for the inexperience with a good work ethic.

"I haven't been playing it that long, but I did really work hard at it when I first got into it, and I almost forced it into some of the gigs that I was already playing on electric guitar," he said.

"I just told the guys, 'Hey, I'm going to bring my steel and play it on a few songs,' and a few more, and I guess eventually the word got out that I was playing it, and I started playing it lots more outside of Alberta."

Hired gun

What makes the nomination even more impressive is that people know his skills completely by word-of-mouth, as Jay is a freelancer, not a name from a famous band.  

He has to work hard to pick up gigs, playing for as many different acts as he can, on an instrument that doesn't have the biggest demand.

"It's considered right now an auxiliary instrument, which you could extrapolate from that word, it means extra," he said. "It's one of the things people don't have unless they have a budget for it. So it's usually not one of the most important instruments, you gotta have your bass and drums and guitar first."

Jay hopes the nomination puts his name in front of a few more sets of eyes in the Canadian country music world.

"As kind of a freelance guy, a hired gun, it's always helpful if people know you exist."

The Canadian Country Music Awards happen on Sunday, Sept. 11 in London, On., broadcast on CBC-TV.

From the Mainstreet interview