Saskatchewan musician embraces busy career

Perry Bergson
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Jeffery Straker performs at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19.60.

Jeffery Straker is living proof that you have to be careful what you wish for.

The Regina-based singer began his career hoping to be active.

"It's a mixed blessing and curse," he says. "I'm so busy that I'm almost pulling my hair out. I will never complain about that because when I set out to do this as my full-time thing about five or six years ago, my wish was that I would be really busy ... I've got a really busy musical touring life but at the same time sometimes it's too busy. I have a difficult time saying no so maybe I'm my own worst enemy but I won't complain."

Straker performs at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Oct. 28 at 7:30.

Tickets are $19.60.

He was last in Prince Albert in April 22, during his Secret Spaces tour in which he performed in non-traditional venues. In Prince Albert, he performed at Keyhole Castle, one of the city's historic homes.

The second floor has a ballroom with high ceilings and a nine-foot grand piano, which was ideal for his show. He partnered with Birch Hills chef Jenni Willems to offer a concert plus dinner.

"It was sold out quickly and people had a really good time," he says.

"It was a neat way to get up and do a show in P.A." Straker says that he and Willems have discussed doing it again. But for now, his focus is the E.A. Rawlinson Centre.

"Everyone says that it's just a fantastic room to play and that the acoustics are great and that it has a nice intimate feel in spite of it being pretty big," he says. "I'm excited about it; it's always exciting to graduate to bigger rooms in different communities around the country. It's been a room that I've wanted to play for a little while so it's a treat."

Straker does about half of his shows solo with just a piano but his Prince Albert concert will feature his band as well. Some things don't change, whether the band is along or not.

"I try to establish a rapport with the audience. I talk about the songs and where they came from and little anecdotes about growing up in small-town Saskatchewan," he says. "I've found over the years that people like that, they like to understand ... They like to get to know you a little bit."

Straker describes his music with a chuckle as "piano-driven-folk-pop-cabaret," adding that he has had people compare him to everybody from early Elton John to Rufus Wainwright to Harry Chapin to Murray McLauchlan.

His tour starts in Regina on Oct. 10 and his 20 shows take him across the west and then into Ontario. He's currently putting together an East Coast tour for the new year.

The classically trained pianist does more than 100 shows per year. With the Internet-induced plunge in CD sales ravaging the industry, it's how most performers make their money.

"I don't sit around moping about it; that's just how it is," he says. "If that's what the universe has thrown at music, then I'm not going to rage against it. I'm going to embrace it."

Straker says the flip side of so much music being so readily available online is that people can be exposed to it and choose to attend a concert.

He has now released five full albums, including Vagabond, which came out on Oct. 2.

Straker says the latest album was lyric-driven, but adds the melodies usually come at the same time.

It's the arrangement that he experiments with, he says. For instance, the song Burn The Boats started as a waltz in three and was later a double waltz in six.

"I muck around with those to see what actually serves the song and the story and the message the best," Straker says. "The melody usually stays the same."

Straker says he once heard a songwriting expert say that no hit song is ever written, it's rewritten. Because his songs are often allowed to grow and change in his live show, what he records can be very different from where the idea started.

It's a process that has its own hazards.

"The watch-out is suffering from rewrite-itis," he says. "Creating any kind of art form is such a funny thing. It's ultimately up to the creator to decide when it's done. That's the trickiest part."

Organizations: E.A. Rawlinson Centre

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Prince Albert, Birch Hills P.A. Regina Ontario East Coast

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