I spent quite a bit of time thinking about all the people I've enjoyed and learned from as a musician and a writer, and I decided that it was best to divide them up into favorites and influences -- not that one group is more important than others, but rather there are a few who I can point to as having the most impact on the performer I am right now. So here goes.
Favorites first: There's a ton of folks who I really like in a lot of different types of music. A few friends of mine comment frequently that Canadian "sounds" show up in my songs, which is probably a direct result of how much I've listened to people like Gordon Lightfoot (especially), Stan Rogers, Blue Rodeo, James Keelaghan, and the like.
American country-sounding songs are among my favorites as well. I say "country sounding" because unfortunately you rarely hear most of these songwriters on country radio stations, yet they're among the greatest songwriters we have. Folks like Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, and John Prine -- it's a shame they're not as wealthy as they are talented, that's all I have to say.
And of course there's the more eastern branch of the singer-songwriter tradidion that brought us the likes of James Taylor, Jim Croce, Simon and Garfunkel, Dan Fogelberg (he wasn't *always* from Colorado, you know), and so many more. And don't forget the younger practitioners of the art such as John Gorka, Joel Mabus, etc.
When it comes to influences, these days I count two who have unwittingly pushed my music in the direction it travels today. One you've likely heard of, one you've likely not.
I learned to play guitar by playing along with John Denver's records. I have eleven very worn LPs by him, and at one point I think I could play at least 80 percent of the songs on those LPs. And then, like so many others I guess, I drifted away. But I was lucky enough to see two of his concerts at Detroit's Fox Theatre in the mid 1990s, and I was re-blown away by the sheer talent he had. Especially by the second one, in 1994 or 1995, when he toured with just a couple of other musicians so there was no one to hide the incredible guitar playing. I guess I still see a lot of the same tricks he used in writing songs in my own songwriting today.
Then, it was a cool November Sunday night in 1992 when I wandered into Four Green Fields Irish Pub in Royal Oak and met Jim Perkins for the first time. It was open mic night, and Jim was the host. Though I was not a stranger to performing, I was still a little nervous as it had been a long time since my last time on stage. I made it through the set and became a regular at the open mic night for the next four or five years. In that time, not only did I come to be a friend of Jim's, my eyes were opened in a way that they hadn't been before. Jim's an incredible guitarist, but I could watch him week after week and learn what he was doing. I learned more in two years of watching Jim than I had in the previous ten on my own. Not only that, I gradually became a better entertainer because of my exposure to Jim's fun, carefree style onstage. It's a double shame that the world has not bestowed fame and fortune on Jim for the musical joy he brings.
October 31, 2001
copyright 2000 Charles Montney
Photo on this page is a self portrait, from October 1997.