by Dan Brisebois
As a part of one of Canada’s greatest exports ever, keyboardist Jim Gilmour of Saga has no problem voicing his opinions on just about any topic. Since joining the group in late 1979, he’s become part of one of the longest running acts overseas, as well as put out three outside projects, including his second solo lp, GREAT ESCAPE in 2005.
DB: Think back to when you first joined the band, did you ever think Saga would still be around now?
JG: No. I thought I’d only be in the band a year or so.
DB: How’d you end up in Saga?
JG: I left University, taking a year off. Some friends of mine from the U of T formed a progressive rock band. We played around for about eight months or something. It wasn’t going anywhere, and I was about to go back to university to finish my degree, and then got a phone call from Saga’s manager at the time. They’d fired their keyboards player. And they heard about me, they met me, and there you go. Never went back to university.
DB: What’s kept it fun for so long? What’s been the key?
JG: You enjoy doing it, and they’re good guys. It’s fun. If we didn’t enjoy each other, and we weren’t having fun, we definitely wouldn’t be doing it still. A lot of it is we don’t see each other all that much, except for when we’re touring or recording. Then when we get together it’s like a family reunion almost.
DB: You just played the US for the first time in 20 years recently. How come? Conscious decision … what?
JG: It was mainly management that we had that couldn’t be bothered, and agents that we had that couldn’t be bothered. They wanted us to concentrate just on Europe. It was easier on them.
DB: Any regrets with that?
JG: O ya, big time. Obviously, it would’ve been nice if we’d built up our fan base in the US, and in Canada. By ignoring it, we’ve lost some opportunities.
DB: What Saga album has been the most satisfying to you, musically?
JG: The new one actually. There’s a lot of neat solos I do, and a lot of neat stuff with Ian (Crichton). It just sounds fresh to me.
DB: Why so long between solo projects?
JG: Just no time. It seems like 9 years is a long time, but it goes fast when you’ve got other stuff to do.
DB: On GREAT ESCAPE, “Wasteland” seems to be the most personal track. What’s the story behind the song?
JG: It’s about a friend of mine that’s battling cancer. We had a falling out five or six years. We didn’t speak until I found out he was very ill. Then you just put the past behind you. Now we’re back to being great friends again.
DB: Are these new songs, or songs you’ve just collected dust for awhile?
JG: They’re pretty much new. There may have been a chord progression here or there, a couple of little feeds, but they’re pretty much new.
DB: Did you specifically set out to have 5 instrumental, 5 with vocals, or does that just kind of happen that way?
JG: Pretty much. That was kind of the plan. An all instrumental album can get boring, and I’m not a full time lead singer, so I thought I’d better not do the whole thing. But you never know what will happen next time.
DB: What are the plans for the next solo project, or should I ask you in 9 years?
JG: Hopefully it’ll be quicker than that. I’ve got a bunch of ideas already now. Once things get settled down with Saga again, I’ll spend a couple of months organizing ideas, and finishing ideas, things like that.
DB: You’re a Leafs’ fan. Why? Or, to phrase it like most Edmontonians do, what do you have to live for? Care to defend their chances of ever winning a Cup?
JG: Ya, well, you just grow up that way, you just don’t know any better.I’m not holding my breath. I was 9 years old the last time they won.
DB: Beethoven or Mozart?
JG: Well, they’re both different. So you can’t really compare apples to oranges. They both have their place in history.
DB: Why did you pick keyboards/piano?
JG: I didn’t actually start playing piano until I was 17. So I had a lot of catching up to do. I played accordian. I went to U of T, I was a voice major. And we had to have a certain proficiency in piano, so that’s why I started learning piano.
DB: Nothing says chick magnet like an accordian …
JG: Believe that if you want to …
DB: Let’s badmouth Canadian radio’s lack of interest in Canadian rock. Does radio give homegrown talent the play it deserves?
JG: No, I don’t think so. They have to play the 30% Canadian
but they’ll play the old Saga stuff, but none of the new stuff. And it’s not like they play something different of the old stuff – I’d like to think we did more than a couple of good songs over the years. There’s others with the some complaint.
DB: Any inside thinking on why that is?
JG: No. I very rarely listen to rock radio anymore, just because it pisses me off so much.
DB: Saga’s got lots of keyboards in its music anyway, while doing the CD, was there added pressure to make it sound ‘original,’ and not just another Saga album?
JG: I knew it wouldn’t. The members of Saga make up that sound. When you do a solo album, there will be some influences there. I just wanted to do what I wanted to. No pressures, no nothing.