Kid full of dreams forty years on
Betsy, she's singin' just like Patsy Cline
Sendin’ shivers chasin' each other up and down my spine...
Roy Forbes is banging that battered old Gurian guitar and almost dancing as he taps his feet to the music. He’s crowding 60, but the kid can still rock.
The smoke haze is risin', the liquor goes down The feet start tappin’, let's order a round
Roy is celebrating forty years in the music business with a pair of packed concerts at the Deep Cove Theatre. Typically, the crowd knows all the words, and half of them are singing along. And typically, the two concerts are benefits for the theatre. In fact the mixing board, microphones and some other equipment being used in this concert were bought with proceeds from other benefits Roy has done here.
The music business doesn’t always treat nice guys well. It’s a racket that Hunter S. Thompson called a “...cruel and shallow money trench... where... good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
Roy Forbes grew up in Dawson Creek listening to records the way other kids grew up playing hockey. He soaked up all kinds of music, from country to torch, then spent his early teens playing twangy psychedelic rock with his high school band The Crystal Ship.
The summer after high school he headed to the coast as a solo act -- just him, his guitar and his songs. He made a pretty big splash and even caught the attention of the late Chuck Davis, who wrote in the July 1971 section of The Greater Vancouver Book:
“He called himself Bim. He was sensational.”
It’s the voice that gets your attention first – a high lonesome keening that can plunge down into a sultry contralto so fast you get butterflies. In an autotuned world it stands out as genuine and unmistakeable. His first record, Kid Full of Dreams, came out in 1975, and got a Juno nomination.
Bim played the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, lived in LA for a couple of years in the early seventies, and toured all over North America opening for megastars like Supertramp and Santana. It wasn’t as glamourous as it sounds. The rock fans were often impatient for their idols, and didn’t always appreciate Bim’s music. Things may have even been thrown onto the stage on occasion. Sometimes brevity was the soul of wit.
“We got through our half-hour set in twenty minutes and got off the stage,” Roy recalls.
On tour with bluesman John Lee Hooker, they were strip-searched at the American border. As Bim morphed back into Roy Forbes, he headlined folk festivals across Canada, played with the rock band Chilliwack and recorded with Bill Henderson and Shari Ulrich as UHF. He began producing records for other musicians. And he continued to write a prolific number of good tunes, which were recorded by other people as well as himself on his own AKA label (Roy Forbes, aka Bim).
In his travels, Roy collects old records. He’s pretty selective about the quality of the record itself, and the music on it. No K-Tel sets or Columbia Classics. Just the real thing, on brittle old shellac 78s and tiny 45 RPM singles with arcane labels. The result is that he has thousands of outstanding records in his basement – everything from opera and fado to jazz and country & western.
I got to know Roy in the early nineties, when we started playing some of the music from his collection on my Saturday morning show on CBC Radio. We called the series Snap, Crackle, Pop (for the surface noise on old records, not the three Rice Krispie elves). Snap morphed into a string of holiday specials on the CBC national radio network from 1996 to 2009, hosted by Roy and me.
It was a whole new side of Roy that had never really been tapped. The guy is a natural storyteller, just bursting with arcane information on stuff like Neil Young’s first band The Squires in the early sixties in Winnipeg. Their single Aurora was named for Young’s mother, and is an instrumental except for the whole band chiming in at the end of a phrase: “uh-ROAR-uh”. Roy now has his own radio show on CKUA in Alberta -- Roy’s Record Room airs Monday evenings from five to six Pacific time (www.ckua.org ).
A few years back, Roy came into the Hot Air studio at CBC Radio to record some jazz standards. He left his guitar at home – he’d come just to sing. His voice is perfect for the material, recalling singers like Nelli Lutcher and Little Jimmy Scott. Backing him up was a superb quintet – pianist Miles Black, trumpet player Brad Turner, sax player Campbell Ryga, bassist Miles Hill and drummer Buff Allen. The result was thrilling.
Roy continues to write and record music for films and soundtracks. He still hosts Roy’s Record Room on CKUA, tours occasionally and almost never says no to doing a benefit. Like most successful musicians, he's cobbled together a living from music, and marvels that in more than forty years he’s never had a “real” job.
Along the way he’s had a street named after him in Dawson Creek, been awarded an honourary degree from Northern Lights College and served on the board of the Songwriters Association of Canada for eight years.
“Never play anything that ain’t right,” pianist Reginald DuValle advised Hoagy Carmichael in 1916. “You may not make any money but you’ll never be hostile with yourself.”
Hoagy took that advice and did alright. Roy Forbes seems to have taken it too. He’s a man with his integrity intact, living a life of music, and never hostile with himself.