These days, it takes an awful lot to surprise Jeffrey Hatcher and Billy Cowsill.
After spending a combined total of 40 years taking their lumps in the music business, the two Vancouver-based singer/songwriter/guitarists have suddenly found themselves travelling across Canada together in a promising, new country-rock hybrid by the name of the Blue Shadows.
“The old you get the less things often strike you as strange,” says a philosophical Hatcher over a de-alcoholized beer in a local pub. “A lot of the best things land in your lap, and that’s kind of what’s happened here.”
The Blue Shadows are set to perform their first-ever regular club dates in Winnipeg in early September.
Not long ago, Hatcher had far fewer reasons to be upbeat. In the 1980s, the transplanted Winnipegger was an integral member of The Fuse and The Big Beat – two bands that hovered on the brink of continental success before folding prematurely.
“I felt that we could have gone to all four corners of the Earth,” Hatcher says of The Fuse. “I wasn’t brutally surprised when we didn’t – it was just like reality hitting us.”
After the Big Beat was placed on indefinite hold in 1989, Hatcher headed to Vancouver, where a Winnipeg-bred music writer named John Mackie introduced him to a well-travelled former teenage idol by the name of Billy Cowsill.
Cowsill, as you may remember, was one of the crooning teenagers in the Cowsills – the 1960s family-based band that served as the real-life model for the Partridge Family. After furthering his musical education in L.A. and Oklahoma, as well as drinking away the profits of an Austin, Tex., bar called the Depot, the golden-voiced crooner “felt a little landlocked” so he headed for Vancouver.
Once a Lotusland, he cleaned up his act, toiled in the likes of Blue Nort6hern, and eventually hooked up with standup bassist Elmar Spanier, drummer J.B. Johnson and, most recently, Hatcher.
Needless to say, the two veterans hit it off rather well.
“When I started singing with Jeffrey it was just ridiculous,” recalls Cowsill, who claims to be extremely fussy about with whom he sings. “It was quite – for lack of a better term – magical and revitalizing for me, because I ended up literally singing harmonies.
“It was just such a joy not to have to sing every bloody song in the world alone. I had not heard a blend like that since I sung with my brother Bob, or with myself on tape.”
Oddly enough, Cowsill is not exaggerating. On the album On the Floor of Heaven, the Blue Shadows’ Sony debut, Hatcher’s tonic notes and Cowsill’s high end interlock like fine machinery, paying homage to the band’s primary inspirations – Hank Williams and The Beatles.
But even beyond the vocal element, it’s much easier to label On the Floor of Heaven a country album than a country-rock album – especially in an era when many country bands are using lots of crunchy, heavy guitars.
“Yeah, rhythm and blues is really infiltrating country, and rock ‘n’ roll, too,” agrees Cowsill. “If the Eagles were to come out right now, they’d be a country act.”
Well, perhaps. But all of this genre-crossing is definitely not hurting the Blue Shadows’ accessibility.
“A lot of young people are buying and listening to country music nowadays because of the infusion of rock ‘n’ roll, I’m convinced,” Cowsill says. “We have that strain going through our little project, too.”