Gord Bamford is no musical rookie. He’s won about two dozen Canadian Country Music Awards (and nominated for more), picked up a mitt-full of JUNO nominations, a couple of major awards in Nashville and he now has eight studio albums under his belt.
So why wouldn’t he handle most of the work on Neon Smoke, his recently released eighth record.
“I did most of this new record on my own. I spent a lot of time on this one from start to finish,He said over the phone from Calgary.
And, all in all he’s pretty pleased with it.
Fans will get their own chance to hear all of the new disc when Bamford rolls into Centrepointe Theatre this Thursday on his Neon Smoke tour.
“We did most of the work in Calgary. I sat in on all the editing and approved all the mixes. I had more involvement all the way through. I’ve been able to learn a lot over the years from some great producers and mentors.”
That means Bamford has a lot personally invested in this record.
“When you cut a vocal and sing the same line 15 times and then you hand it over to someone in an editing suite, he doesn’t know what you’ve done. I know what I have done. When you’re more involved, nothing gets missed.”
He did have some help from rising Canadian producer Phil O’Donnell who was involved Bamford’s last record.
“Technology has changed so much, people are recording stuff in their basements. It means wee have all the resources we need in Canada. There’s no need to take it outside.
Bamford, who is a father of three, likes the idea of being able to stay close to home too.
His music has evolved, he says, to a point where he believes he has established a “Gord Bamford sound.”
“That’s the hardest thing to do. But now, when people turn on the radio and they hear me, they know it’s me.”
Stylistically there is pedal steel guitar on the record and there’s also the odd drum loop that runs through it, he said.
“I tried to make sure we covered every aspect of what is happening in country music today. There is a classic sounding song called That’s What Grandpas do. Classic country. Then there are songs like Dive Bar and Neon Smoke which are more contemporary.”
“It’s always a good idea to be true to yourself. I’ve never been a trend follower. I try to do what I think I do well. I don’t want to be flavour of month on the radio.”
When you talk to Bamford there is a definite grounded-ness to his demeanour. He credits the foundation he started almost 11 years ago that has now raised more than $3.1 million for charities across Canada, much of it for children and youth.
“That foundation has taught me so many lessons in life. When you get to go into children’s hospitals or do stuff with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Or you hand over a cheque to the Make A Wish foundation for a family … Those are life changing moments.
The foundation started with a golf tournament.
“You grow up in a small town, now I’m trying to give back some money. At the end of the day my business is driven by people buying tickets and records and downloads. Why not give back to organizations and communities that fall within the realm of what we really believe in.
“We never dreamed in a million years that this foundation would be successful. It’s so crazy the amount of applications we get for funding. We are trying to do more events.
“There are a lot things in life that stress you out and make you angry but when you can come back to the stuff we do with the foundation you check back into reality.”
Bamford knows what it means to get a helping hand.
He and his mother moved home to Lacombe, Alberta from Australia after a divorce.
“I spent my whole life in Lacombe until a few years ago. I moved to Nashville for a couple of years but we moved back to Alberta and we’re building a house near a lake.
When he was a kid his mother got him a Big Brother.
“She needed somebody to keep me under control at that point in my life and I ended up with a Big Brother who was a rodeo cowboy and a bull-rider who liked western heritage and steered me that way.”
He also has a more immediate reason for giving back.
“My youngest child Memphis had major complications when she was eight years old. The Children’s Hospital saved her life. She’s 100 per cent healthy now. When you see what those doctors do it’s just amazing.”
Bamford is also an avid athlete, especially on the ice. he’s often part of the JUNO awards hockey game.
“I grew up an athlete, so we support a lot of multi-use facilities in small communities. Ronald McDonald house too. I spent time in there when my daughter was sick.
As much money as his foundation raises, he says, “we just can’t seem to get enough to satisfy everybody. So we are trying to have more events. I think I’ve stopped in every children’s hospital in Canada to play music for kids and families.”
That grassroots sensibility is writ large in Bamford’s tour, with rising young star Aaron Goodvin, which will take him to dozens of small and mid-sized cities in Canada.
“It’s our biggest tour yet. Everybody dreams of selling out arenas but reality for me is building a fan base of loyal ticket buyers, so you can tour every two years on the album cycle and make a great living doing what you love to do.
“I ready to get going again. When you live on the road, you miss it when you are off for a while.”