In Depth: A Conversation with Bruce Good of The Good Brothers
Here’s a good test of your Canadian country music acumen. Name the Richmond Hill-based band whose hits include “That’s the Kind of Man I Am,” “Homemade Wine,” “Truck Driver’s Girls,” “You Won’t Fool This Fool This Time,” and “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young.” If you can’t figure it out using those titles, here’s another hint: they also sang “Hot Knife Boogie,” “Honk on Bobo,” “Tight Ass Nookie” and “I-95 (The Asshole Song).”
If you guessed correctly with the first hint, you’re probably a long-time fan of the rootsy, blue-grass infused side of Canadian Country Music Hall of Famers, The Good Brothers. If it took “Hot Knife Boogie” and “Honk on Bobo” to trigger your memory, than you’re probably one of the hard-partying Q-107 and 97.7 HTZ-FM listeners who remember The Good Brothers when they were skirting with rock-radio fame thanks to their many on-air appearances with legendary DJ, Scruff Connors.
Ultimately, fans across the country know The Good Brothers for what they’ve been doing for the better part of five decades – writing better-then-good songs, delivering great live shows and releasing new music, including their latest full-length CD, Wide Awake Dreaming. And while the band may not be racking up Juno Awards like they did in their heyday, when they won an unprecedented eight Best Country Group or Duo Junos in a row, they are still racking up the tour miles across Canada and through Europe, where they’ve toured a remarkable 41 times.
The Good Brothers’ latest tour sees them heading to Niagara May 24th (The Sanctuary) and back again in June in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Founding member Bruce Good (father of Travis and Dallas Good of The Sadies) took the time to chat with GoBeWeekly.com about touring, the band’s impact on Canadian country music, and the wisdom of Gordon Lightfoot.
GoBe: You’ve been around long enough to hear a lot of stories from fans who have the music of The Good Brothers as part of the soundtrack to their memories. Do you ever get tired of hearing how your music has impacted your fans?
BRUCE: It’s funny you mention that because my wife has been at me for years trying to get me to write down a lot of these road stories. So for the last couple months I’ve been doing that. I’m at about 115 pages. There’s a lot of road stories. I didn’t know how many I had until you start thinking about the past. It’s coming along great and there are some really good stories. I never get tired of the road stories. As of next year my twin brother Brian and I have been at this for 50 years, and Larry for about 47. Over that period of time you can conjure up some pretty good stories.
GoBe: 50 years on the road. I guess next year’s Good Brothers tour will be Rolling Stones sized.
BRUCE: You know, next spring we’ll be heading over to Europe for our 41st tour. It’s great that Canadian acts have Europe. As we all know the U.S. is tough to crack. You might as well put a wall up between Canada and the U.S. We’ve managed to find success in other places, but we’ve been a mainstay here in Canada for 50 years. We’re still doing most of our work here in Canada. We’re senior citizens now, but as Gordon Lightfoot says so eloquently, we love what we do. He’s a perfect example. He doesn’t have to work. It’s not about the money. He’s still touring 70 or 80 shows a year, he loves what he does and so do we.
GoBe: You’ve also been around long enough to see vast changes in the country music and bluegrass music scene, and Canada’s music industry as a whole. From your perspective, what’s the state of the union these days in terms of Canada’s country music scene?
BRUCE: That’s a really good question. We do what we do. Our music is really rootsy. It’s not what you hear on the radio today. We’ve gone that route when we were on major labels, trying to fit in with what was happening on radio. We had some success here in Canada, there’s no question we did and we’re glad about that. But the music we play is music from the heart, really rootsy stuff. We don’t have a drummer on stage, we have fiddle, mandolin, dobroes, banjo, guitars and so on, and a stand-up bass that carries the rhythm for us. Our music is mostly roots music. There may be the odd radio program that programs roots music but it’s not mainstream. We play our music because we love to play it. We’re at a point in our lives and careers where we have nothing to prove. We’ve had the accolades and honours. In fact, this May we’re going to Ottawa to be part of the Country Music Association of Ontario where we’ll receive the Impact Award, presented to an artist or group that has made a significant impact on country music in Ontario. Gordon got it, Prairie Oyster, Michelle Wright, Blue Rodeo. We’re entering with some pretty good company.
GoBe: So if you had to sum up the Good Brothers impact on Canada’s country scene, as a band that sort of helped shape Canada’s early country rock genre, what would you say? Where do you fit in? Clearly the industry sees your impact.
BRUCE: We feel as those we have made an impact. We meet a lot of younger groups who come up to us and say, ‘my parents used to play your music. The Good Brothers used to be played in our house, that’s why I got into music.’ Anytime I hear a young artist say something like that, it really makes me feel good that someone was listening and it made an impression.
GoBe: And you’re still making an impact with new music, including your 2017 release Wide Awake Dreamin’. What was the motivation to lay down new tracks after such a long period since your last album.
BRUCE: We had some songs that my twin brother Brian and I had written. We needed an outlet for them. We’re not the kind of guys that write songs and pitch them for other artists. We like to write songs and perform them and if possible record them. The opportunity came along with an old friend Stacy Hayden, who was actually guitarist for David Bowie for a while, a Canadian boy from Windsor. He was in Ontario and listened to the songs and said ‘let’s record these.’ He cracked the whip to make it all possible. We went in the studio and recorded it in about a week.
GoBe: I was listening to some of the tracks today. They hold up to the best of The Good Brothers. You’ve also always taken a fun approach to your music, with your Restricted Goods album being a great example with songs like “Honk on Bobo,” “Hot Knife Boogie,” “Tight Ass Nookie,” “Big Pig Jig,” and “I-95 (the Asshole Song).” What was your record company reaction when you delivered that album.
BRUCE: (Laughing) We were lucky enough that we had our own record label, so we didn’t have anyone to answer to except ourselves. It was just a case of getting distribution, which we did get. It was one of those things that we knew it wasn’t suitable for airplay. We just wanted to do it for our fans. A lot of our fans look to the fun side of The Good Brothers. I’ve never taken myself too seriously. I know I’m speaking for my brothers when I say, we’ve taken our music much much further than we ever dreamed we’d take it. We were just three brothers playing music in our kitchen with our mother. Next thing you knew were playing in a church basement, or wherever there was a party they’d invite The Good Brothers. We never dreamed that we’d make records and tour and make a career out of something we love. Like the Grateful Dead said, what a long strange trip it’s been.
GoBe: Well, you certainly took it farther than most. From 1977 through 1984 The Good Brothers won eight straight Junos for Country Music Group or Duo of the Year. That ties you with Bobby Orr’s streak of eight Norris Trophies, and beats Wayne Gretzky’s record of seven straight Art Ross trophies.
BRUCE: (laughs) I love that. I have to use that. Never put it that way before.
GoBe: What was the state of mind of the band at that time given that kind of consistent recognition?
BRUCE: That’s a really great question. Nobody asks that. I’ve often said we were either doing something right, or it underlined the state of country music in Canada, the sad state, if we kept winning. We always had good competition. It wasn’t’ a case of we were the only ones people wanted to vote for. There were really good choices, Prairie Oyster, The Mercy Brothers, Family Brown was always in there. For some reason, we were always in there, perhaps because we crossed over into rock a little bit. Of of our 10 nominations for Junos, we came home with eight.
GoBe: Was there a time in that stretch of eight straight wins where you were like, just give it to The Rankins or something.
BRUCE: I did feel that. Our buddy Lightfoot said it at the Junos once and he caught some flak. I guess he had won about his 13th Juno Award. And when he went on stage to accept, he held the statue in hand and said, ‘this I don’t need.’ There was kind of a gasp from the audience, thinking what an ungrateful guy to say that right now. What he meant was, ‘I don’t need this as much as the young artists that were there,’ the Murray McLaughlins and Dan Hills. That’s what he was saying. There was the odd time I felt the same thing. Winning five was a great number, six was pretty good, seven was a little weird, eight was ridiculous.
GoBe: That goes back to my earlier question about the state of Canadian country music. That would never happen now in Canada given the talented Canadian country artists that are out there, regardless of how you feel about new country.
BRUCE: There sure is. Canada is not lacking in talent that for sure. It’s finding the right ones, getting them recorded, getting them the exposure they need. We’ve got a lot of terrific artists. But it’s still really tough to break in the U.S. I see so many artists who go down to Nashville, the record there and they ultimately wind up disappointed. They get a deal, they get some nibbles from people who might want to be involved with labels and distribution. They put all their eggs in one basket, and it can be a great disappointment.
GoBe: And there’s still a bias existing in Canada. I worked in country music radio, and while the station followed their Canadian content requirements, when it got down to playing more CanCon or a big American artist, the American usually won.
BRUCE: I agree completely. In the beginning of our career, I thought the CanCon requirements of 35 percent or whatever it is was outrageous. Why should you be forced to play a song. It didn’t take me long to get it. We’d be buried in Americanism if we didn’t.
GoBe: There are bands that can make it without substantial airplay. The Proud Sons out of Winnipeg are a good example, and they actually remind me of early Good Brothers. Or another band you may have heard of called The Sadies. Do you know them Bruce?
BRUCE: I’ve heard of those guys. It’s fantastic having two sons who play such terrific music. They’re really riding a wave, they have been for years. But they haven’t’ had substantial airplay ever. They kind of remind me of The Grateful Dead, who later in their career had a hit. Other than CBC and college, their airplay is limited. I’m proud of the music they do.
GoBe: So what’s kept your band on the road all these years? Does it ever seem like work or do you just enjoy being a musician?
BRUCE: There came a time when it did feel like work, when we had the big machine and the big team and management behind us, agents and record companies. It wasn’t a case of us picking and choosing, it was a case of them picking. And we kind of felt we had to oblige. But now we’re at a time in our career where we don’t have to do this anymore. We strictly do it ut of love of playing music. That’s what keeps us going these days.
GoBe: Looking back on a 50 year career, is there a moment that you’re still kind of in awe of knowing it happened, something that only could have happened by virtue of having a career in music? A performance, an award, maybe meeting Anne Murray?
BRUCE: Honestly, I keep going back to Gordon Lightfoot. He’s been such an important part of our career. We toured with him extensively back in the early and mid-80s. He always gave us a lot of advice. One of the things he encouraged us to do was to focus on original material. Being on the same stage as Gordon has been terrific. Other than that, doing the sell-out concerts at Massey Hall and Roy Thompson Hall. They were special because they were our shows, we weren’t opening. And we’ve opened for some heavies at Maple Leaf Gardens, including Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Grand Funk, Bonnie and Delaney, Roy Orbison. The list goes one. Those were great, but selling out Massey and Roy Thompson as The Good Brothers were highlights.
GoBe: So for these two upcoming Niagara shows, what can fans expect of The Good Brothers.
BRUCE: They’re going to get some old standards we’ve done, some audience favourites and lots of new stuff. We’re pretty close to audience these days,. We do a lot of talking to the audience, sometimes they talk back in a good way. We’ll have fiddle, mandolin, Larry on banjo, a mish mash of music. As far as shows go, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
GoBe: Any finally, who was the inspiration for “Honk on Bobo.”
BRUCE; Scruff, absolutely. He was the inspiration. Brian and I were driving down south to write, to get away from distractions, just renting a motorhome to isolate ourselves and write. We stopped in Niagara one night, might have been for a performance or a morning show visit. That’s when I started writing it, after hearing Scruff tell someone to “honk on bobo” on the air one morning.
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