Barney Bentall

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Barney Bentall

I first picked up a guitar when I was in grade nine. I took a few lessons from a guy named Cowboy Slim and I started walking down a long, twisty and infinitely interesting road. I listened constantly to my records and tried to learn the songs. Drop the needle and you entered a rebellious, sexually charged, funny and dangerous world. I couldnít get enough of that world. I was growing up in Calgary in the 1970ís and I didnít really entertain the idea of a career in music because it didnít seem like that was an option in those days. So I attended university for a while, played in folk clubs, started a barbwire fence building company, traveled but as time went by it became clear to me that I didnít fancy doing anything else near as much as music. When I turned 21, I moved to Vancouver. I was following a girl Iíd met and pursuing my dreams of rock and roll. After 2 or 3 years I was married and weíd had our first child. We were scraping by but I was still playing music. I had a band and we put out a couple of independent records in what was becoming an interesting scene: The Pointed Sticks, DOA, The Payolas, 54-40 and KD Lang among others. There were studios where you could record cheaply late at night and venues where you could play original music. One tried to avoid the hinterland in those days where you were likely to get your ass kicked for singing your own songs decked out in some ĎSally-Anní newwave ensemble. The scene was diverse and a bit desperate. It was also a competitive time because we were all trying to get a record deal, and it didnít seem like there were all that many to go around. It didnít have the same supportive feel that I sense in the independent scene in Vancouver today. That may be naÔve, but thatís my impression. Somehow, we managed to get signed to A&M records in 1980, but we were too green and got dropped from the label. We licked our wounds and kept working hard for the next 5 or 6 years, writing songs, playing live and taking our lumps. By this time I had four kids and things were a little lean.

I was thinking that maybe it was time to try something else, something more lucrative, so I could look after my family a little better. With visions of working 9 to 5 in mind, I went to Toronto to give it one last shot and lo and behold I got a record deal. I signed with CBS (now Sony Music) and inked a management deal with Bernie Finkelstein. This was in 87/ 88 and we went on a great run - lots of touring, songs on the radio, gold records Ė a very different experience. Our success was by and large in Canada and although part of me was looking for worldwide adoration I wouldnít have wanted to be away from my family anymore than I was.

By 97, I was looking for a change. The music scene was different and I wasnít getting what I wanted from it, so I did a Ďone-eightyí, bought a cattle ranch and walked away. We worked it and we learned a lot. It put a lot of things in perspective. I continued playing shows, 20 to 30 a year, mainly in a stripped down acoustic format which had really begun to appeal to me. I had started as a folkie in Calgary and felt the pull, back to a simpler approach. I only wrote songs when they wouldnít leave me alone, and I knew that when the time seemed right I would record again.

Gift Horse was made over the course of the last two years. Nine of the songs were recorded in Vancouver with my band-mate Johnny Ellis producing. The rest of the CD was recorded in Toronto with Blue Rodeo, at their studio The Woodshed, with my good friend Jim Cuddy producing. I love what that band has done for Canadian music. Iíve known them for a long time and have played with them often. It felt very comfortable. The players in Vancouver were musicians I have known and admired over the years with guest appearances from some of my kids (Dustin has recently released his own CD titled Streets With No Lights), Sony artist Jeremy Fischer and a very cool band called Mother (vocals on Too Good To Be True). I collaborated once again with author Guy Vanderhaeghe on Dance For Me. I know some of the material was inspired by my life on the ranch, Back Up On The Horse and The Ballad Of Old Tom Jones come to mind, but this wasnít about making a country record. I think it was just a case of being able to get away from things for a while and then write about what I saw and felt. When youíre putting out record after record and doing lots of touring, the songs are the fuel that feeds the machine and writing is a very different process. Donít get me wrong, there was a fantastic energy youíd get from that storm but I needed a change. Gift Horse was probably the most enjoyable record Iíve made over the course of my career, due to that lack of pressure and deadline. Hope you enjoy it.