Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/9/2020 (232 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Country artist Sean Burns can’t wait to see the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club shift into high gear again.
The Main Street honky-tonk joint has been stuck in neutral since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While its website says the bar plans to weather the storm, Burns wants to help out.
His band, Sean Burns and Lost Country, are regulars on the Times Change(d) stage and he hopes a convoy of their fans will buy a new album of truck-driving covers, We Gotta Lotta Truckin’ To Do, which comes out Friday on the group’s site at seanburns.bandcamp.com.
Proceeds will go to the bar, Burns says. Times Change(d) is run by John Scoles, who has been spending the summer advising the Beer Can outdoor pop-up beer garden, just down the street, and booking bands there.
The Beer Can has provided an outlet for a variety of local performers, from country artists like Burns to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s brass section to a troupe of Shakespearean actors, to perform for several dozen physically distanced audience members sitting at newly built wooden tables.
Meanwhile, the Times Change(d), which was jam-packed before the pandemic, remains shut.
"John and the club, he’s not open and he’s not reached out to Kickstarter or reached out to the press or anything like that. He’s kind of taking it in stride. He’s given a lot to us," Burns says.
"We’re all home with not much to do, so we decided to do this big and give him all the dough. It’s a sign of support because it’s a very important place."
Burns has pulled many shifts behind the Times Change(d) bar over the years, and he saw first-hand the extra mile Scoles went for the staff after the bar closed.
"When we got shut down, he sent all the staff a dinner one night, and paid us for some shifts that we missed and that’s all out of his pocket," Burns says. "We just wanted to do something. This is all we really know how to do and now we have something to show for it."
While the bar has been closed to customers and concerts, Burns and Lost Country, which includes Marc Arnould, Ryan Dyck, Joanna Miller, Grant Siemens and Bern Thiessen, used the vacant venue to record the album in July. Burns says it’s a great place to record, but it feels weird to play songs there without the usual rowdy crowd urging the band on.
"It’s very different. It’s such an old building, it’s a little bit eerie in there sometimes at night when there’s no other bodies except for a few of us," he says.
"You get used to a little bit of a response after a song, but you kind of fall into it like you’re in the studio. You try to get good performances and capture the real sound of the band."
Music groups and truck drivers pass each other on the highway and at truckstops, and Burns says musicians can relate to gearjammers because of the long miles between gigs.
"We spend so much time on the road and those songs are really tapping into emotions like longing to be home or being away," he says. "Some of those songs have some pretty crazy stories about travelling."
Burns has never steered an 18-wheeler, but he knows a thing or two about truck-driving songs, which are a large part of Lost Country’s act. Among the tunes they’ve chosen are some country classics such as Six Days on the Road, but they switched lanes for some new material.
"I asked a bunch of friends of mine that also play truck-driving tunes to suggest some and I ended up settling on some songs I had never sung before: Tombstone Every Mile, Freightliner Fever," Burns says.
Also included is the story song Phantom 309, which Red Sovine had a hit with on the country charts in 1967. Tom Waits caught the attention of rock and jazz aficionados with his version, Big Joe and Phantom 309, from the 1975 album Nighthawks at the Diner.
"(Waits’) version is amazing," Burns says. "I never brought this up with the band because they would have laughed at me, but I kind of modelled the way that I narrate that song as much on Tom Waits as I do Red Sovine. Waits is so cool on it."
Burns and the band would normally be busy gigging in the summer, but the extra free time allowed the CKUW 95.9 DJ to release new material. Besides We Gotta Lotta Truckin’ To Do, he recorded and released a solo record in June, It Takes Luck to Get the Best of Me, and a video, My Daddy Was an Auctioneer.
"This is something we talked about doing before but we never got a chance to do it, so it’s kind of cool that it worked out," he says.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.