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Although his name is generally first associated as the writer of “The Rodeo Song,” the expletive-filled cowboy anthem made famous by Showdown, Gaye Delorme’s career also developed into one of the most versatile in Canada, making him one of the most sought after studio musicians, live guitarists, and producer/writers.
Born in Thunder Bay, Ontario in 1947, by his late teens was already an accomplished self-taught guitarist, able to mimick all the hits of the day, and aspiring to master practically every style known. But ironically, he didn’t learn to read music until well into his fifties.
It was his gift on the guitar that made him one of the talented musicians on the scene, and other artists tapped into those various attributes through the years, whether it was flamenco, classical, country, folk, jazz, blues, or rock. His wide-range of skills often included his uncanny ability to emulate other instruments, such as the sitar and the koto. In fact, Stevie Ray Vaughan once described Delorme as “one of the best,” and “a monster” by Colin James.
After moving to Edmonton in the late 1960s, he got into trouble with the law, but soon found a way out of problems was the guitar. He formed the short-lived group The Window, referred to by some as Alberta’s answer to Jimi Hendrix. His other projects during those formative years included The Extemely Deep Guys and, during a brief stint in Vancouver, an R&B group called Django (named after his admiration for jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt).
A musical chameleon, those early experiences helped him carve out not one or two, but several niches while becoming an underground favourite. He would often also moonlight by sitting in on other performers’ sessions around town. It was during this period that he hooked up with felow cult guitar hero Lenny Breau. The two would often tour together throughout the country and make stops in the US, amazing everyone who had a ticket. His first return to Edmonton was short, as before long he was playing mostly country in Calgary for a few years.
He spent a great deal of time in the late ’70s and early ’80s living in Los Angeles, collaberating often with Cheech and Chong, including writing their anthemic “Ear Ache My Eye,” a song covered or sampled by over a dozen heavy metal, punk, and hip-hop artists over the years. He also worked on “Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie,” and scored their 1982 film, “Things Are Tough All Over.” Delorme’s natural off-beat sense of humour often played a part in Cheech and Chong’s improvised writing, and that humour translated into a rapport with his concert audiences rivalled by few. But the often-less pleasant side of the Hollywood dream was taking a toll on his health, caught up on the wrong side of the tracks, and his life was beginning to mirror the drugs lifestyle depicted in the films.
He returned to Edmonton in 1987 and to his roots – becoming a mainstay at The Sidetrack Cafe, Blues On Whyte, and elsewhere around the area with his new project, The Trailer Trash Band. At one point at The Sidetrack, he led a 10-piece band complete with horn section. His creativity and live reputation throughout Canada was to the point that in ’86 CBC TV aired an hour-long special, “Gaye Delorme In Concert.”
His albums spanned literally every genre, beginning with his 1990 instrumental debut, BEAUTIFUL GUITAR. Recorded at Randy Bachman‘s studio on Salt Spring Island, the record’s theme was obvious and aptly titled, with flamenco and jazz fused with the blues and with a hint of classical, and even reggae. A true ‘world music record,’ the musical exploration was an international journey with tracks like the lead-off “El Mountain,” “Vegas Moon,” “Celtic,” and “Tango For Tina.”
1993’s BORDERLINE was a boogie driven blues gem, heralded by many critics. With the impulsive jivin’ spurred on by the likes of the title track, “Panama Boogie,” and “Honeygirl,” it was considered as one of the best Canadian blues records in years.
A few years after its release, he moved to the west coast, keeeping busy doing session and production work, as well as writing his own material. His time on the coast was interesting, if nothing else. On one evening while walking home, he was confronted who someone who thought he wanted his wallet more than he did. Although Delorme proved him wrong, he suffered a broken shoulder, which subsequently meant he couldn’t play guitar for the better part of a year. Some of Vancouver’s finest musicians got together, including Tom Lavin (Powder Blues) and Jerry Doucette, and threw him a benfit concert at the famed Yale Hotel.
BLUE WAVE SESSIONS, released two years later was recorded at Vancouver’s Mushroom Studios, and featured a rousing cover of JJ Cale’s “Downtown LA.” Full of fast paced but controlled guitar work, it also featured Delorme’s generally regarded highly under-rated voice, such as with the stripped down ballad “Hallelujah!” The calypso-flavoured south seas adventure of “Sailor Sailor” and jazz infected “Thin Man” were balanced out with the Latin flavours of “Lucy From Lima” and the rockers “Fast Horizon” and “Hoo Doo Trail.”
On June 2, 2000, he was the inaugural Artist to be honoured in the Pacific Music Industry Association’s new “Celebrate” Series. He still made his way back through the prairies now and again, and became a regular at The Edmonton Folk Festival, hosting the International Guitar Stage. As well, he came back for Christmas concerts and usually a handful of shows around Alberta at some of his favourite haunts. But with diabetes to contend with and failing sight that had him considered legally blind, his tour schedule diminished.
He finally got around to recording his cult favourite “The Rodeo Song” himself, as the title track to his 2002 return to vinyl. RODEO SONGS was chalk full of some kick ass versions of both kinds of music – country AND western. With other tracks like “Suck Back Boogie,” “High On The Hog,” and “Mildred The Airhead,” it not only showcased his trademark wit, but also the influence living in a province with grain-fed beef can have on you. “The Rodeo Song” also appeared on one of Dr. Demento’s compilations a few years earlier, as well as in the Stephen King film “Sleepwalkers” in ’92.
In 2003, he released the album simply titled, DELORME, featuring a retooling of “Down So Long” from the BEAUTIFUL GUITAR album, this time complete with vocals by Glenda Rae. “London Town,” “The Cathedral,” and “Lompa Blues” helped continue his tradition of covering as many bases as possible on any given project.
He moved back to the City of Champions in the mid ’00s, and in ’06 a project several years in the making came to fruition, when he was accompanied by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for his performance of Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez.” It garnered glowing reviews, and a TV special was supposed to be one of the outcomes of the performance, but never materialized.
Throughout the rest of the decade, he turned his attention to helping new talent develop, acting as a quiet but powerful force behind the Canadian music scene, in all genres. During his career, Delorme played with dozens of artists, including jazz legend Lenny Breau, Jann Arden, Ian Tyson, Powder Blues, David Foster, Airto Moreira, George Blondheim, Billy Cobham, and Stanley Clarke, among many others.
He was nominated for a Grammy and received the Premier’s Award For Excellence for his lifelong commitment to furthering Alberta talent. His production work included KD Lang‘s debut album, A TRULY WESTERN EXPERIENCE, as well as with Jann Arden and others, serving as a mentor and a teacher to all.
From gut-wrenching blues and jazz-influenced improvisations to kickin’ country with a wry sense of humour, from classical to flamenco stylings that would have you put down the headphones thinking he was Latino, his musical range was unmatched, mapping every existing musical territory and helping blaze a few new trails along the journey.
On June 24, 2011, Delorme was found backstage prior to a show in Calgary, dead from an apparent heart attack. He was 64.