March 26, 2019

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Temporary becomes 20 years

Eagle & Hawk took off after a fateful phone call and continue to soar among the clouds

Two decades ago, Eagle & Hawk founder Vince Fontaine called up Jay Bodner, a singer he kind of knew from the Winnipeg music scene, and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The band was heading to Europe on tour and needed a vocalist, as their current one, Troy Westwood, wanted to focus on his football career. Fontaine asked Bodner if he would be interested in taking over.

The answer, of course, was, “Yes.”

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Two decades ago, Eagle & Hawk founder Vince Fontaine called up Jay Bodner, a singer he kind of knew from the Winnipeg music scene, and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The band was heading to Europe on tour and needed a vocalist, as their current one, Troy Westwood, wanted to focus on his football career. Fontaine asked Bodner if he would be interested in taking over.

Eagle & Hawk (from left): Gerry Atwell, Lawrence (Spatch) Mulhall, Vince Fontaine, Rich Reid and Jay Bodner. (Supplied)

Eagle & Hawk (from left): Gerry Atwell, Lawrence (Spatch) Mulhall, Vince Fontaine, Rich Reid and Jay Bodner. (Supplied)

The answer, of course, was, "Yes."

 

"One of my bands had just broke up and I was busy trying to be a 28-year-old solo guy, so I thought, sure, I’d go to Europe for one tour, and I gave them all these conditions, like I needed to open the show with my own music, it was super lame," says Bodner, laughing.

As both Fontaine and Bodner retell it, Bodner’s time in the group was always intended to be temporary; but one tour turned into an album, which turned into two albums and a Juno Award, which was enough to convince Bodner to stick around for a while.

Now, 20 years later, the two men — along with their current bandmates Lawrence (Spatch) Mulhall, Gerry Atwell and Rich Reid — are still at it, getting ready to celebrate the milestone with a performance at the West End Cultural Centre tonight and the release of their 20 Years Best Of... album.

Eagle & Hawk have accomplished a terrific amount in their long career, often being cited as one of the most celebrated Indigenous music acts in Canada with more than 35 awards in their collection including a Juno, three Western Canadian Music Awards and 10 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. Since 1997, the band has released eight albums, with a ninth expected to arrive next year.

"We have a more mature, developed idea of what we want to say; we’re going to get political, we’re going to get social, we’re going to get into the climate, about our responsibility, and we’re going to be on the lookout, in a sense," Fontaine says of the new album.

But, back to that European tour; one of the more interesting plot points of Eagle & Hawk’s early days was the amount of time they spent touring overseas. The relationship between the Indigenous roots-rock band and an oddly devoted European audience was an unexpected one, but it became a pivotal part of the development of their career.

"In Europe there’s groups of people in different countries… and they have these Native support groups. And there are different levels of support; some of them are full-on NGOs and then on the other end of the spectrum, they are hobbyists and get together once a year and do their own powwows and things like that. I guess it was late ‘96, we had been asked to go to Berlin and they were having a gathering of these groups, probably 10 or so groups, they were having an (annual general assembly) and they asked us to play," he says.

The band in 1998 included, from left, Steve Broadhurst, Jay Bodner, Vince Fontaine, Randy Booth and Wayne Stranger.

The band in 1998 included, from left, Steve Broadhurst, Jay Bodner, Vince Fontaine, Randy Booth and Wayne Stranger.

The groups at the AGA loved the band, which pushed the doors wide open for more tours all over Europe. For the next few years, Eagle & Hawk found themselves overseas multiple times a year.

It was a welcome change in scenery for the band, with Fontaine saying they were received "quite differently" there than in Canada or the U.S.

"They really embraced Indigenous culture and history," he says, adding that now, it seems as though Indigenous artists are more widely accepted in popular music in North America.

"The Indigenous shared culture is much different now. There are issues that have been brought forward, but there seems to be a commitment and movement that’s looking ahead, and we’ll use the word reconciliation as the word, because that encompasses a lot of things right now. It appears Canadians and the rest of society are more open to moving toward that... we’ve taken the first steps, the government has and the Indigenous community itself has.

"The Indigenous music community has a presence; when Eagle & Hawk started, already out of the gate were people like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Kashtin, Robbie Robertson, these guys are awesome. They’re not only great artists who went mainstream but they have an Indigenous lens and perspective, so that was kind of the thing, like, let’s take Eagle & Hawk in that direction."

Throughout their career, Eagle & Hawk has logged some pretty impressive performances. Fontaine’s personal highlights include being asked to play at Canada Day in Ottawa and the New Orleans Jazz Festival two times each, performing at the Vancouver Olympics, and their numerous collaborations with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Eagle & Hawk at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 2015.

Eagle & Hawk at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 2015.

The walk down memory lane in preparation for the upcoming show has been fun, Fontaine says, but it also brings up some important questions about the band and if it can remain relevant after so many years in the business.

"Sometimes you worry and think we’ve kind of been out of the scene for a while, we only take a select few gigs a year, and there’s succession, other great artists coming up, and you know, are we forgotten? But I think it’s nice to look back and we’re going to make a point of just imprinting this moment (the concert) and remembering and reminding folks that we were here and we’re still here."

"You know, there’s so many different lenses to look at this from. There’s the lens of, like, ‘Why weren’t we bigger?’ You know, the typical tragic beauty of the rock’n’roll business... because some of our material has such great crossover," adds Bodner.

"But then you think now that we have 20 years behind us, there’s a little bit of... it’s nice to hear some of the younger bands cite us, putting us in the same category as Seaweed, Tom Jackson and even Redbone, you know? It’s really cool."

Tonight’s concert will feature a double-set from Eagle & Hawk; the first half will mainly be acoustic renditions of their tracks, including a few special guests, while the second set will be more of a typical concert or festival set.

Surprisingly, amongst all their high-profile gigs, Eagle & Hawk has never done an arena tour. This remains one of a few things on Bodner’s musical bucket list, but whether or not the band eventually gets there, he’s grateful for every experience being in this group has brought his way.

"That escaped us, and a major-label deal escaped us, but I think for being an independent band from Winnipeg flying Indigenous causes, to be able to have the experiences we had and I had, I’m very lucky," says Bodner.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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