For several years now, I’ve joined singer/songwriter Jerry Vandiver on stage during his performance at Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve dressed as a cow and played the cowbell during “Too Tired to Start a Fire,” played drums on canoe barrels for “Headwind” (and then pulled a Keith Moon and tossed them out into the audience), had his attractive fiddle player seductively remove my PFD during “Don't Paddle Today,” danced with random bewildered audience members to the “Bear Barrel Polka” in a bear costume, mimicked a crazed loon during “Mister Loon,” tossed papier-mâché rocks at a couple of helmet-clad kids for the song “That's Why The World Has Rocks,” and even had my daughter help write and perform Jerry’s “Canoeing With Daddy.”
It’s been a blast, and after each performance I wonder how he’ll ever be able to think up yet another way to get me on stage with him. But he does. This year’s Canoecopia Jerry has me playing harmonica to “Blue Bandana Blues” from his latest album The Middle of Somewhere.
Jerry came up with the idea months ago, giving me plenty of time to learn the tune (and the instrument). Playing the harmonica was a first for me. I played drums in a band back in high school and college, but I never went beyond that. However, I thought playing a simple mouth organ wouldn’t be too difficult. I was wrong!
I must have watched every single YouTube “tin sandwich” tutorial available. I even took lessons at the local music store on how to play the “Mississippi saxophone.” None of it helped. I sucked.
I met up with Jerry a couple of weeks ago at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show and he took the opportunity to have us practice his blues song at a local bar after the show. I panicked and told him that after months of practicing, my harmonica skills were beyond dreadful. We played anyway, and after the little music ditty was over, he concurred that I definitely sucked!
Of course, Jerry knew I’d be horrible. That’s why he asked me to play the “hobo harp” on stage with him in the first place. Heck, how funny would it be if I aced a drum solo to one of his tunes? Having me floundering on stage, blowing and sucking uncontrollably, sounding way out of tune, would be our best performance yet.
Jerry knows talent when he sees it. He’s been in the music business a long time. He’s a big deal in his home of Nashville, playing regular gigs at the infamous Bluebird Cafe. He has songs on over 15 million records, two of which are hanging on the walls of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He scored a Top 5 single on Gene Watson’s “Don't Waste It on The Blues,” a Top 20 on Wild Rose's “Go Down Swingin'” and #2 on Tim McGraw’s “For A Little While.” He’s also written songs recorded by such artists as Phil Vassar, Lonestar, Barbara Mandrell, Lee Greenwood and The Oak Ridge Boys to name a few.
But writing hit songs for music legends isn’t how I know Jerry. I know him from his incredible recordings about his passion for paddling. To me, he’s the guy that writes albums about wilderness canoeing, like True And Deep: Songs For The Heart Of The Paddler (2012), Every Scratch Tells A Story (2014), Paddle On (2018) and his latest release The Middle Of Somewhere (2020).
I’ve reviewed all his paddling albums through the years and loved them all. Jerry has hit it out of the ballpark again. The Middle of Somewhere is fantastic!
Some of my favourite songs include “My Other Car,” which speaks to the simplistic lifestyle of canoe tripping; “Those Who Came Before,” which gives praise to 2,000-year-old petroglyphs; and “Float Down the River with Me,” which rejoices the beauty of river paddling.
The bonus of this new album is that each song has its own flare—even when there are two renditions! “Out There with My Dad” is a song about a boy loving an early morning paddle/fishing trip with his father. The first recording features young Charlie Ward singing the tune and the album ends with Jerry signing the same tune. Both songs are two totally separate and unique recordings.
Check out Jerry Vandiver’s new album The Middle of Somewhere.
You can also watch my attempt at playing “Blue Bandana Blues” at this year’s Canoecopia on my YouTube channel.