Singer Johnny Reid wants people to know what it feels like to stand on a stage in front of 12,000 people and sing.
“People want to know about everything else, but they never ask me ‘how do you feel.’ And I feel humbled, man.”
Reid, Juno award winner, multi-platinum selling artist, and Canadian music star, will play Mile One Centre in St. John’s Saturday.
On the evening he called The Telegram he had just arrived in Barrie, Ont., about a four-hour drive from his show in Sudbury the night before, and Sault Ste. Marie the night before that.
These are towns that artists of Reid’s calibre usually pass through on the way to bigger towns.
But not Reid.
He wanted to show his thanks to all the fans who helped get him to this point by bringing his show to smaller towns.
Based on reviews that have been following him across the country, the plan worked.
“(We’ve had) wonderful responses. You really couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.
Reid’s also playing some of the biggest venues he’s ever played in, including the 12,000 people he performed for in Edmonton. It’s a far cry from his earliest shows in the City of Champions years ago.
“You know, a lot of people don’t know this but I remember playing the Palomino club in Edmonton 11 years ago singing for two drunk guys,” he says.
There’s been nothing easy about growing his fan base from those two dubious fans to the throngs that now await him.
He’s paid his dues and collected his fair share of tales.
“Ah man, remember, I’ve been down this road about 17 years now. I’ve got plenty of stories,” he says with a chuckle.
One of those stories comes from a small town north of Timmins, Ont. — and Timmins is north of everything — that Reid found himself playing one night.
“I played a place many, many years ago in a place called Cochrane, Ont., and there was a big shotgun hole in the wall. The guitar player, his name was Yvonne Petit, he spoke French, and this other guy spoke French. He asked the guy what happened, and so the guy said ‘that was the last band that played here. The guy that come in this bar didn’t like them,’” Reid cracks up, laughing as he finishes the story. “To this day, I don’t know whether — the hole was there, y’know — I don’t know whether it was a joke or what it was, but I remember thinking, I hope they like us.”
While he’ll never forget the night he played under threat of a firing squad, he’ll also remember a more regal show.
In 2010, Reid played a show before the Queen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa,
“It just took my breath away, man. It was one of those things where I’ll never ever forget.”
Before all of that, Reid was just another kid in university, and like many students, the Scottish-born singer was fond of the nearby pub.
“There was a wee pub called The Golden Lion, or the Lion D’Or, and I loved that place. I think that was when I first realized — like, I’d always been singing my whole life, singing in bands and pubs — and that was the first time I realized just how much I wanted it.”
There’s no denying that Reid’s got it now, and he’s bringing “it” to St. John’s.
Reid’s latest recording, “Fire It Up,” was approached a little differently than previous recordings.
Before going into the studio, Reid knew he’d be playing larger venues and he wanted the CD to sound as big as the stadiums he was hoping to fill with fans.
The bottom end was kicked up a notch on the drums, and the guitars sound a little bigger, like they would pumping out of an arena-sized sound system.
There’s also a horn section on the album, as well as various percussion instruments.
While some artists would choose to bring a pared-down show on the road, Reid went in the other direction.
There are 14 people on stage each night.
“Actually there’s a reason for it, because when I was in the studio I didn’t want to record something … and then people come to the show and say ‘well, you know that didn’t really sound anything like the record.’ So I just brought everybody with me.”
The stage show is his most elaborate to date, featuring a runway into the crowd and an extensive light show.
Touched by music
When there’s nobody around, and Reid is playing purely for himself, he turns to the old soul and R&B classics, the same sort of things he’d put on an album of covers if he ever had to do one.
Asked who would be on it, Reid names Tina Turner, Frankie Miller, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Etta James and Rod Stewart as all having a place on this fictional album.
But it’s not something the singer is in a rush to make, since he hates it when somebody remakes an old song and “it just isn’t what it’s supposed to be,” he says.
“If I did something like that I would have to take a real approach to it, a real different sort of approach to make it mine,” he said. “But all these songs, I love all the artists, all the old songs are amazing.”
At the top of the list is a demo of a song, recorded in 1973, that still sends chills through Reid every time he hears it.
“Well, there is one song that since I was a wee boy, any time I hear it, it just grabs me. It’s a song called ‘I feel like going home’ and Charlie Rich sings it. And it’s just one of those songs, man.”
Reid hangs up, and prepares himself for his show a few hours later where it’s possible he’ll play a song that gives one of his fans that same feeling.
There’s a part of Reid that wishes he could trade places with fans, just for a little while.
“I wish people could stand in my shoes for 10 seconds to feel what I feel,” he said. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
This is a corrected version.