Celebrating 500 Pounds of BIG SUGAR

Celebrating 500 Pounds of BIG SUGAR

In the rock world, the 1990s were defined by Alternative Rock and its sub-genres Grunge and Pop Punk. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, and Blink-182 exploded into the mainstream, ruling both the rock charts and the airwaves for most of the decade. It makes it all the more impressive then that the ‘90s also gave rise to an enduring Toronto-based band that preferred blues, reggae, and Hugo Boss suits over sullen angst-filled grunge and flannel. The band – BIG SUGAR.

“It really was a battle all the way along because, as you can imagine with big corporations, there’s always a lot of pressure to conform,” said Big Sugar’s founder and creative visionary, Gordie Johnson. “We didn’t fit in with anything that was happening at the time. They didn’t like the way we dressed. They didn’t like our haircuts. We didn’t fit in with the Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam world at all.”

Admittedly, Johnson says reaction to Big Sugar’s eponymous 1991 debut was underwhelming, as the singer/songwriter/guitarist struggled to find the right mix of musicians to help bring the bluesy roots and reggae Big Sugar sound into focus. However, with financial and creative support from studio owner Tom Treumuth (Saga, Honeymoon Suite), a video paid for by then Much Music VJ Dan Gallagher, and sponsorship from designer Hugo Boss, Big Sugar managed to record and deliver their second album, the much more favourably received Five Hundred Pounds.

More an amalgamation of influences than an album born of original design, Five Hundred Pounds offers the foundational blueprint for the music made by Big Sugar over the past three decades. Johnson says the musical threads woven into songs like “Ride Like Hell,” “Ride On,” “I’m a Ram,” and “Sugar In My Coffee” (the song containing the lyric from which the band took its name) reflect the variety of music he and his bandmates were listening to prior and during those recording sessions.



“I just reflected what we were digging at the time. If I look back at our recorded work, every record is a bit like that. It was kind of like coming to my house and checking out my record collection. If you’re savvy enough, you can dig through Five Hundred Pounds and find surf music, ska, reggae bass lines mixed with experimental jazz mixed with psychedelic rock and old blues.”

Fans of early Big Sugar will be happy to know that on the tour that brings them to FirstOntario PAC March 27th, the first set will feature Five Hundred Pounds played in its entirety. It’s a similar format to their last tour when Big Sugar celebrated the 25th anniversary of their platinum 1995 album, Hemi-Vision, which Johnson says was a huge validation for the band.

“It was kind of overwhelming. People really appreciated that tour. To just play the songs from that Hemi-Vision record it really hit home how influential it was. I expect the same thing with Five Hundred Pounds. That’s a record that influenced a lot of people. I’ve come to find out that the guys in ZZ Top listened to that record, and it’s kind of cool to find out a young Jack White was sneaking into clubs to hear us play.”

Of course, the performance will also feature such Big Sugar hits as "Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Diggin’ a Hole,” "If I Had My Way,” “The Scene,” “Better Get Used to It,” and “Turn The Lights On,” along with a collection of cover tunes and rarities to round out the set. According to Johnson, the soft-seat FirstOntario theatre is the perfect venue for this tour.

“I think the fact we’re in theatres for a lot of this tour is beautiful because it is a much more theatrical performance, “ said Johnson. “When we perform Five Hundred Pounds, it’s different music, a different wardrobe, different guitars. We are trying to evoke the vibe of that time. Theatres are better suited to that. I think people will enjoy the show. They can get their rocks on during the second half!”