Yesterday something I have been wishing for finally happened. the smalls (they spell their name without capitals) announced 2 reunion shows! If anyone knows me and has talked about indie bands work ethic, they’ve heard me talk about the smalls.
Unless you were in the Western Canadian music scene of the nineties you probably haven’t heard of the smalls (if you are into the Canadian country scene you may have heard of their bassist – Corb Lund). If you were, you are probably freaking out a little bit right now. I saw the post go up and in 2 hours the post had been shared 256 times. Not bad activity for a band who hasn’t been together for the last 14 years. Most bands that are active right now don’t have he fan loyalty these guys do. Their Facebook page has over 8700 likes and any post they put even hinting of a reunion blows up.
So let’s rewind and define who these guys are.
It was in Grant MacEwan Community College (Edmonton) where I was taking the general music program for guitar, along with 49 other guitar students where I met the band members before they were the smalls. In class two stood out, Mike Caldwell and Corby Lund (who now is known as just Corb Lund) – not necessarily for their talent but their hair was long and you couldn’t see their faces, and when they talked they kind of slurred, mumbled and basically were hard to understand. They were from the town of Taber which led us to think that was the accent of Taber. Terry was in the drum program and Dug was in the art program on another floor.
The school was pretty heavy on the Jazz side of things and our teacher was the worst hard ass you could even imagine. I’m not kidding. We were put into groups of 4 and each week we would have to perform an arrangement of a jazz standard prepared by a member of the group. A tough and nerve wracking experience – nothing like performing to a room of critical guitarists and a jerk for a teacher. One week, Corb and Mike’s group get up and take a bit to setup, a little longer than usual as they were using effect pedals. Part of the arrangement was to write an introduction for the song.
When they started the song this particular week, there was a washy kind of effect going on which was very non-jazzlike, and then the melody they were playing was very recognizable as AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells. Some students laughed quietly, I thought it was great. At the end, our miserable teacher walked up and pointed at the guitar pedals sneering, “What’s That!” Corb replied “a small stone” (the name of the pedal). Our instructor replied “I’d hate to see a big one… never bring that back in”. Gotta love how teachers encourage creativity!!
Terry Johnson was in the drum program and Dug Bevans was in the art program upstairs. Which became the second half of the smalls. Terry and I talked form time to time about jamming and possibly starting a band but when the smalls were starting up there was no question he needed to be in that band.
Each month one of the schools programs would hold a “pub night” in the cafeteria which was a way for students in different programs to socialize while one program has the responsibility of organizing and hosting the night. Our music program would feature bands and the smalls ended up playing, which was my first experience in seeing the band. It was a short set however as Mike pulled his pants down a few songs in and the instructors pulled the plug immediately. I think that might have been their first show. After the pub nights were done, we’d all head over to “the smalls house” to continue the party. Always a great time, always getting out with the sun up and many new stories if they could be remembered.
The band soon had a cassette tape – yes back then CD’s were rare to have for an indie band. I still have that tape somewhere but the quality has gone down as I wore it out playing it back to back. Mike’s slur translated in his vocals with songs like Dan-Diddle-Da-Na but it became his own distinctive vocal style immediately. If you watch any interviews with Mike, being the singer, he should be vocal and out front, but often he’s in behind and quiet.
The band started putting on shows outside of the college, often warehouse type shows. One great place to see them was a venue called “The Ambo” (short for The Ambassador). Those were the days were mosh pits were fairly new, allowed, and truly the most fun you could have at a smalls show was in the pit.
The band began expanding their shows by touring Alberta and the West coast. Their population grew. They began to sell out theirs shows in Edmonton, Calgary, other locations followed. They were 100% committed to the band and moved into a house together – they didn’t have day jobs, the band was all they had.
For 10+ years the band toured, wrote and released CD’s, each having their own sound but still the smalls. Their sound overall was hard to define as their songs contained obvious influences from metal, hardcore, country, jazz, and swing….No one could put a definite finger on what style they were, but that also was their strength because no one sounded like the smalls. However it also worked against them because record labels like to be able to market something that is easy to define – the labels stayed away even though the band on their own sold over 40,000 units by touring with a solid, loyal fan base.
I had moved out East to Toronto where no one had heard of the smalls. Being a fan, I always paid attention as to what the band was doing and when I saw that they were playing The Reverb (a venue that is now a furniture store at Queen and Bathurst) I had to be there. Plus their manager, Steve Smith, resided in Toronto and had become a friend. I even did some work driving the band BTK (with Hawksley Workman) around for a small Northern Ontario tour for Steve – another story.
The attendance for the smalls was quit sparse at the show.
I also saw the band at another Toronto show at The El Mocambo which was well attended.
The band kept touring, released a DVD documentary of their tour in Europe but hit a bit of a wall. They did well in the West but coming out East, where the music industry is, it was luke warm.
Getting frustrated, the band decided they were going to move to Austin, Texas. It looked like they were going to make a serious run for it and see how they could do South of the border. Instead just as they were supposed to go, they changed their mind and stayed.
It’s hard to remember if that’s when they announced their break up or if they kept going on for awhile but it seemed to be the writing was on the wall.
The band announced a final tour entitled the “Goodbye Forever” tour which included sponsored and sold out shows in Edmonton and Calgary that were filmed – fans keep anticipating a DVD release from those shows but nothing yet.
Over the years the fans have stuck with the band, posting on their Myspace page (when Myspace was the thing) and then their Facebook page. The band has been very silent and secretive throughout their career and mores after the breakup. Corb went on to success as a country artist, Dug is out in Vancouver and has been involved in art and travel (art was his program in college), Terry has been in a number of bands, and Mike …. well being Mike I heard he moved to Victoria but other than that haven’t heard a thing.
Last year Terry posted on their Facebook page a few times asking for old video footage that fans might have or any other memorabilia. Fans reacted each time asking about a reunion. Terry hinted their might be something but was very vague but nonetheless there seemed hope.
Well yesterday there was an announcement that the band will be a part of the Sonic Boom festival in Edmonton and X-Fest in Calgary in August. Their Facebook page lit up and finally the fans have something to look forward to.
Is this a reunion that may mean more shows, a tour, a new CD? All is a mystery and remains to be seen. It kind of reminds me how Soundgarden announced their first reunion shows.
I’m planning on being there – wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Please check out the videos and follow the links, I hope you like it.
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