By the early 1970s, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show had achieved some early commercial success in their musical career, however, they had yet to mark a rite of passage that most artists of the time experienced as they became more and more popular.
Taking a song written by Shel Silverstein in 1972, the group recorded a satirical song about the trials and tribulations that artists go through in order to get an opportunity to make it on the cover of the Rolling Stone Magazine.
The song was a smash hit and the band appeared on the cover of the magazine a year later.
While it wasn’t quite the same experience for The Sheepdogs, the Saskatoon-based band went through their own unique journey before appearing on The Rolling Stone cover in August 2011—the first unsigned band ever to make it on the front of the magazine.
Since then, it’s been a wild ride for Ewan Currie, Ryan Gullen and Sam Corbett, along with newcomers Rusty Matyas, Shamus Currie and Jimmy Bowskill, who are currently embarking on a cross-Canada tour with a stop in Cranbrook on Feb. 25 at the Key City Theatre.
Speaking from Regina, Gullen said the Rolling Stone experience, where they won an online voting campaign, was a watershed moment for the group, which had been playing and performing together for seven years beforehand.
“When we eventually won, it was a crazy, crazy time,” Gullen said. “Yeah, it was a very fast climb into the spotlight where we’re on the radio all of the sudden, we’re getting interview requests and playing big festivals and all those things.
“So the trajectory of our band changed incredibly fast in that regard, but the other side of it is once that Rolling Stone cover happened, from then on, it was like, ‘Okay, what do we do now?’”
They even kept their full-time jobs until a month after winning the Rolling Stone competition, until it became clear that they were being given an opportunity that they had to seize.
“To us, people always ask us, ‘How do you define success or what was the defining success moment? Was it the Rolling Stone thing?
“And I say: ‘Well, no, it was a whole bunch of things that the moment of success for us was that moment where we were like, we can quit our jobs and we can do this full time and this can be our gig.’
“That’s what our dream was, at that point, for seven plus years, but we had never had a viable option until those things started rolling, and five years later now, we’ve continued to do this, so it’s great.”
Everything that the band had produced beforehand was self released—from ‘Trying to Grow’, their debut album in 2007, to their following two records, The Sheepdogs’ Big Stand and Learn and Burn.
The latter, recorded in their house in Saskatoon and released in 2010, caught the wave of their Rolling Stone cover campaign and went platinum, selling 100,000 copies and captured three Juno Awards for the band, including Rock Album of the Year, Single of the Year for ‘I Don’t Know’ and New Group of the Year.
“That was five years ago now and the whole thing started on Valentine’s Day—five years ago Sunday—and literally, we have done nothing, essentially, but travel around, play rock ’n roll music and make new records,” continued Gullen.
“That’s what we do and it’s always what we’ve done previous, we’re just doing it on a much larger scale and doing it obviously to greater success where people are aware of our music, but there’s always room to grow, whether that’s growing as musicians and making new records or also growing our fanbase and doing those things in other countries.”
Throw on a Sheepdogs record and you can hear how they turn back time back to a bygone era of the late 1960s and early 1970s as they draw influences from some of the legendary pioneers of rock ’n roll.
With heavy guitar riffs and soaring melodies, both vocally and instrumentally, their versatility is on full display all the while drawing inspiration from groups such as Credence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Allman Brothers Band.
“Our music is very much of that era. When we started the band, what brought us together as friends and bandmates was our love of that type of music and that era of music is very much what we listen to and what hits us and affects and what gets us excited,” Gullen said.
“Everyone has their music that they get into and that was kind of unanimously what we we’re all into when we started the band years ago.”
However, while the Sheepdogs draw inspiration from the annals of rock ’n roll’s greatest, they also look to a wide range of influences to give them their own unique sound.
“We try to draw influences from not just a specific song or a specific artist, but to kind of look at things from a broader spectrum,” Gullen said. “Having just targeting one small specific era of music to emulate or to draw your influences from kind of pigeon-holes you a bit so we try to still make it original by bringing in other elements of other music.”
When it comes to the creative process, especially with their latest record— ‘Future Nostalgia’ —Ewan Currie—or other band members for that matter—could have anything from an idea to a guitar riff or melody to a fully demo’d song.
From there, things could change significantly, or not, in jam settings.
“You bring it to the band and try it out and we put our own flavour to it and things might evolve or oftentimes it’ll be exactly the same,” Gullen said.
“It kind of goes from there, once it comes to the band and we start playing it together, it’ll oftentimes evolve into a slightly different song or other times it might be very similar to what the original idea was and that’s kind of how we’ve always done things.”
After skyrocketing to fame following the Rolling Stone cover contest, the Sheepdogs released a self-titled album, which was produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and nominated for Rock Album of the Year at the 2013 Juno Awards.
Their latest— ’Future Nostalgia’ — was recorded out at a cottage in Stoney Lake in Ontario and released under Warner Canada in Oct. 2015. After recording in their home in Saskatoon and self-releasing previous records, to getting label support with their self-titled album, ‘Future Nostalgia’ was a chance to marry both experiences, said Gullen.
“Part of the reason we ended up recording at a cottage is because we wanted to get away from some of the people that we work with—nothing wrong with them—but just kind of get away and remove that influence and make what we felt was a very Sheepdogs record and do that in a way that we’re kind of left to our own vices,” Gullen said.
“…Our previous record before the self-titled—‘Learn and Burn’—which we released independently and sold a lot of copies, it was recorded in our house in Saskatoon on our own because we had no money and no resources to actually record in a studio, so we kind of wanted to do something like that, but have a little more opportunity and money and a label and things like that, so our hope was to make something like that, but make the production better.”
The Sheepdogs will be performing at the Key City Theatre on Feb. 25. with showtime at 7:30 p.m. Hope you got your tickets, because the concert has been sold out.