Brent Fitz was sitting at a cafe in Luxembourg when he had a moment of déjà vu that brought him right back to Winnipeg. He was taking in the sights of the public square when he noticed an outdoor stage that felt familiar.
Slash ft. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
July 23, 8 p.m.
Burton Cummings Theatre
"The first time I had been to Luxembourg was actually on a John Taylor Collegiate band trip in the summer of 1988," he says "I’ve played on that stage... I played here with my high school band."
Fitz grew up in St. James and cut his teeth in Winnipeg’s music scene. He packed up and headed to Los Angeles in his 20s to try and make it as a professional musician — a goal he has since achieved, and then some.
"When I ended up moving to California, which was like moving to Mars… I didn’t have anything to build off of other that naivety of, ‘What if?’" he says.
Today, the 49-year-old lives in Las Vegas and has a stacked resumé that includes playing with the likes of Alice Cooper, Vince Neil, Union, Gene Simmons, the Guess Who, Econoline Crush, Theory of a Deadman and Brad Whitford from Aerosmith. Fitz attributes his success to dogged networking and a more-is-more attitude.
"If someone calls me up and asks, ‘Hey do you want to play on a record?’ The answer is, yes," he says.
"I really enjoy playing with lots of people and different personalities."
His recent trip to Luxembourg was during the European leg of a world tour with Slash ft. Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators (SMKC) in support of the group’s 2018 album, Living the Dream.
"The tour has been to five continents and over 40 countries and we’re kind of on the wind-down, which is good and bittersweet," he says.
Fitz got his start with SMKC in 2010 when guitarist Slash — of Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver fame — reached out to see if he wanted to play drums on a new solo project.
In those early days, the band — made up of Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy on vocals, Todd Kearns (Age of Electric) on bass and Frank Sidoris on guitar — was a casual ensemble with no long-term expectations.
"It’s the same thing as when I was a kid, you get together with your friends in the neighbourhood and you play some (music)," Fitz says.
Nine years later, SMKC has released three albums and criss-crossed the globe multiple times.
Despite his jet-setting lifestyle and well-earned celebrity status, Fitz’s identity remains rooted in his hometown.
"I’m from Winnipeg and I’m proud and I love when I experience something that relates to Winnipeg, especially when I’m on tour in a foreign land," he says. "It happens to me all the time, I don’t know if it’s just the kinetic energy of our great little city."
The Free Press spoke to Fitz while he was travelling on a tour bus from San Francisco to Seattle — just a week out from a long-awaited return to Winnipeg. The Living the Dream Tour wraps up this summer and includes a stop at the Burton Cummings Theatre on July 23. The show sold out months ago.
The last time SMKC was in town was in 2012 and Fitz is looking forward to the homecoming.
"The thrill of coming into the place that gave me everything that I have musically, the career that I’ve been fortunate to be doing for the last 30 years, it’s an affirmation of how I got to do what I’m doing today," he says, noting that playing in front of childhood friends also makes for some added pressure.
"People who know me (are) like, ‘Alright you’ve been around the planet, so what? You’re still from St. James.’ It’s a bit of a reality check."
The tour rolls in on Monday and once he is checked into the hotel, Fitz will be making a beeline to his parents’ place so he can spend the day catching up.
What makes this visit extra special is that Slash will be celebrating his birthday in Winnipeg on the 23rd. Fitz is planning on showing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist and his bandmates some hometown hospitality.
"We all love to go for dinner so I’ll take him to a great Winnipeg place," he says, adding that Johnny G’s remains his favourite local restaurant after it became a regular haunt during his days of playing at bars around town.
"I have some of the best memories of going out after the clubs and drinking coffee there until 4 a.m."
Those headed to Tuesday’s show can expect a high-energy set that kicks off with The Call of The Wild, a song from Living the Dream.
"It’s not like we come in and build the show, we come out with a bomb, it’s like an explosion, and it sort of never let’s up," Fitz says. "It’s like going to battle for two hours."
SMKC finishes touring next month, but the schedule doesn’t slow down for the drummer. Fitz is preparing to release a new album and tour with his band Toque — an aptly-named celebration of Canadian classic rock that he describes as the "greatest thing that I’ve done in the last few years." Never Enough drops at the end of August and includes original music inspired by the sounds of Harlequin, Streetheart, Orphan and Loverboy.
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.