Sherman Downey, from fan to Paul Simon tribute performance

Danette Dooley
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Seven years ago, Sherman Downey quit his job, packed his suitcase, hooked up with a buddy and took a road trip to New York to see Paul Simon.

"He was performing with Bob Dylan. It was a fantastic show. They did a couple of songs together, 'The Boxer," "Like a Rolling Stone," Downey says during a telephone interview from his home in Corner Brook.

Sherman Downey will be performing on stage in a provincial Arts and Culture Centre tour with a group of musicians paying tribute to the music of Paul Simon. The tour kicks off in Grand Falls-Windsor Saturday and ends in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Oct. 12.

Seven years ago, Sherman Downey quit his job, packed his suitcase, hooked up with a buddy and took a road trip to New York to see Paul Simon.

"He was performing with Bob Dylan. It was a fantastic show. They did a couple of songs together, 'The Boxer," "Like a Rolling Stone," Downey says during a telephone interview from his home in Corner Brook.

A true Simon fan, Downey didn't only attend the concert, he also visited some of the places Simon made famous in his songs.

"I got to see lots of places he wrote about like the 'whores on Seventh Avenue,'" Downey says.

Simon's lyrics in The Boxer are:

Asking only workman's wages

I come lookin' for a job

But I get no offers

Just a come-on from the whores

on Seventh Avenue.

Downey had no idea at the time that he and several other musicians living in Corner Brook would one day pay tribute to Simon's music by performing his songs throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

The provincial Arts and Culture Centre tour kicks off in Grand Falls-Windsor Saturday and ends in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Oct. 12.

Originally from the Codroy Valley, Downey relocated to Corner Brook to attend Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.

He then moved on to St. John's to finish an education degree at Memorial University.

Downey taught in Taiwan for two years before moving back to Corner Brook where he works as a substitute teacher and plays music whenever the opportunity arises.

"Paul Simon spans so many generations. He's touched so many people with his music. I'm just delighted that Wilf (Pardy) asked me to be a part of this tour," Downey says.

Pardy took the lead in producing "The Sound of Silence: A Tribute to the Music of Paul Simon."

Other musicians that will be on stage are Andrew O'Brien, Kevin Hamilton, Paul O'Brien and Tommy Basha.

The multi-talented musicians range in age from 23 to 57 which speaks to the diversity of Simon's music.

A drummer and producer, Pardy - the eldest of the group - has performed throughout the country and in Europe.

He is a founding member of the Humber Road Greasers and the Louis McDonald Quartet.

"Paul Simon is so rhythmic and his lyrics are so strong. How he says things with words is just incredible," Pardy says.

Older folks will remember Simon from his early days while others will remember the songs he made popular during the years he performed with Art Garfunkel.

Touted as the most popular recording artists during the 1960s, the duo's hit single "The Sound of Silence" was featured in the movie "The Graduate."

"Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and "Mrs. Robinson" were also among their most popular songs.

Simon's music also includes his self-titled 1972 album, "There Goes Rhymin' " which he released the following year and "Still Crazy After All These Years" which hit record stands in 1975.

"The Sound of Silence: A Tribute to the Music of Paul Simon" will feature a variety of Simon's music from his early days before Simon and Garfunkel to his monumental "Graceland."

Released in 1986, "Graceland" was inspired by a visit to Elvis Presley's Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee.

The album won a Grammy as album of the year while the title song took record of the year.

Andrew O'Brien - the youngest in the group - makes a living from his music and can often be found on stage in and around Corner Brook.

Originally from Mount Pearl, O'Brien moved to Corner Brook five years ago to attend the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.

He describes Simon as "one of the most profound songwriters of the 20th and likely the 21st centuries."

"When you hear his music, you feel like a part of a scene that he was in because he takes you with him in the songs. I try to write thoughtful songs that have something meaningful to say as well," O'Brien says.

Kevin Hamilton is from Corner Brook. He's married with three children. It's only recently that he's been able to dedicate much of his time to his music, he says.

"I'm one of the older guys in the group. When I finished high school, Andrew was only four," Hamilton laughs.

While in high school, Hamilton studied Simon's "The Sound of Silence" in a literature book.

"I was really impressed that a popular recording artist like Paul Simon could write such great poetry," Hamilton says.

"It's such an honour for us now to be given this opportunity to pay tribute to Paul Simon's music. I hope we can do him justice."

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Simon's, Rolling Stone

Geographic location: Corner Brook, New York, Seventh Avenue Newfoundland and Labrador Happy Valley Goose Bay Codroy Valley St. John's Taiwan Europe Humber Road Memphis, Tennessee Mount Pearl

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  • Frances
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    I am anxiously awaiting this show!! I just heard a snippet on the radio about a Paul Simon tribute concert...I didn't realize all the performers are Newfoundlanders - that makes it even more special. Congrats to all...I'm as excited to see this show as I am to see Elton John tomorrow night!! WOW!!

  • Frances
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    I am anxiously awaiting this show!! I just heard a snippet on the radio about a Paul Simon tribute concert...I didn't realize all the performers are Newfoundlanders - that makes it even more special. Congrats to all...I'm as excited to see this show as I am to see Elton John tomorrow night!! WOW!!