This year the Jack Richardson London Music Awards opened a new category to the voting public: filling in each position to create a dream band with your choice of local musicians. From Lead Vocalist to Utility Player, 8 artists were selected and given awards at the JRLMA gala on April 9th. Notably, all of the recipients of the Jack's Fantasy Band award were up for nominations with their bands in other categories as well.
Who were the chosen musical talent among us this year? They all deserve a moment of introduction, which collectively spans genres and decades - a picture of London's musical diversity and potent fuel for the music industry. Thanks to everyone who voted, attends concerts at local venues, supports musical events and festivals, purchases the songs and albums, and requests spins on the radio! Our lives are enriched by music each day, and may we find ways to sustain this dynamic soundtrack of our home town.
BLAIR HEDDLE - Utility Player
Blair Heddle is arguably the most versatile musician in the Forest City with a repertoire that swings from Classic Country, Folk, Jazz and Bluegrass to good old fashioned Rock n Roll. For over four decades, he has been the go-to guy for strings: banjo, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, bass, electric and acoustic guitar. But he is also the guy you call when you need a button accordion, a concertina, tin whistle or harmonica. His driving and inventive instrumental stylings, fine tenor singing and energetic stage presence make him an audience favourite.
Blair regularly plays in several bands including New Cumberland, The Rizdales and Rev.Freddie & Friends and has also been a member of the legendary Dixie Flyers. Over the years, he's performed with Mae Moore, Jackie Washington and a host of others including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Wanda Jackson. He's also appeared on countless albums from a host of bands.
"I am extremely honoured to have been able to perform around London for such a long time in so many situations," he said. "I hope to continue to do so for some time to come."
Blair Heddle appreciates being recognized with this award for 'Utility Player' in the Fantasy Band category. "As a side man, you don’t always get a lot of praise," he explains. "I'm thrilled to be honoured by my peers. This means a lot to me."
CHRIS MURPHY - Horn Player
Saxophonist, Vocalist and Composer, Chris Murphy has a reputation as one of Ontario's top entertainers. He has been fronting his own band since 1985 and has released three recordings: Blowin the Horn, I'm a Happy Guy (produced by Jack Richardson) and Hotwired. They have all been played on CBC, Jazz and College radio stations. Radio Western recognizes Chris as co-host for the radio show "The Blues Never Die" on CHRW FM 94.7 weekly from 1996 - 2005.
His four piece band performs Saxophone Driven Party Music (Blues, R & B, Classic Rock, and Originals). Over the past 30 years they have developed a loyal fan base. The band is unique because they feature three strong lead vocalists. They have been the house band at the Wortley Roadhouse on Sunday afternoons since 2005. Bandmates are Ted Leonard, Ryan Spong, and Ted Peacock.
Besides leading his own band Chris tours with the Canadian All Star Ensemble the Maple Blues Revue and with the Last Waltz Live. He toured and recorded with the Jack de Keyzer Band from 2003 - 2008 (including 3 CD's and a DVD). He was the leader of the Old Chicago Blues Band (five nights a week) from 1992 - 1998. He has also toured with American blues artists: Chicago Pete and Detroit's 'Queen of the Blues' Alberta Adams.
Chris Murphy has been nominated twelve times for the Maple Blues Award and was the first winner (2003) of the Lifetime of Blues Award. He received the Jack Richardson Award (for Blues / R&B) in 2008 and in 2010, and has several nominations. The Chris Murphy Band played the London Music Club during the Blues Showcase for the inaugural Jack Richardson London Music Week this year.
"I am honoured to be included with such fine musicians in the Fantasy Band. Thanks to the Jack Richardson Awards and the people who took time to vote. Hopefully the Fantasy Band will get an opportunity to perform together, hint, hint, hint."
TARA DUNPHY - String Player
"It's very meaningful to be recognized for my musicianship by my peers and the music fans. I truly appreciate it, and I'm so grateful for the people that come to shows, support my different musical endeavors and enjoy what I do. And I'm so inspired by the incredible talent I get to surround myself with, including the other members of the Fantasy Band that are real life members of my own band! I feel very fortunate to live a musical life, doing exactly what I love."
Tara's been playing music since age 3, picked up the fiddle at 10 and began playing professionally at 20. She started the Rizdales with Tom Dunphy in 2003, and they have recorded 6 albums together, including 2014's standout "Blue Ain't The Word: A Tribute to the Music of Ray Price". They are excited about their new all original release coming soon. Heavily influenced by the classic country greats, Rizdales songs blend heartbreak and humour while honouring their influences, creating their own unique brand of hard core honky tonk. The Rizdales were handpicked by 'Rockabilly Queen' Wanda Jackson to be her Canadian backing band.
Tara is a versatile musician, with her own Celtic EP recorded about 11 years ago, and experience producing albums as well. She does lots of session work, and says "I play with anyone who will hire me!" Currently she works with Larry Smith, playing a variety of styles such as jazz, Celtic, and pop. "It's a ton of fun. Over the past twelve months I have worked harder than ever to become a better musician. I'm learning a completely new style of playing!"
Her skillful fiddle playing and stunning vocals have graced many a stage in Canada and the US - from Ottawa to Austin, Texas. Tara is a multi-year nominee for the Ameripolitan Music Awards based in Austin, in the Honky Tonk Female category. Tara is no stranger to the JRLMA's with the Rizdales taking home the Country award in previous years.
MICHAEL BONNELL - Keyboardist/Pianist
"Thanks for thinking of me for this award. I think I've played with or fixed the gear for most of this Fantasy Band! Gigging musicians often deal with all manner of indignities, and it's nice having a night to recognize their work. Hopefully the London music scene becomes such that more musicians can actually make a living doing what they do."
Michael's been playing and recording music for over 25 years, primarily the Hammond Organ, and vintage electric pianos like the Wurlitzer and Rhodes. He grew up listening to his grandma play piano, and remembers her being a "naturally soulful player". Other musical influences include Ray Charles, Van Morrison and The Band. A musical highlight was having his Hammond B3 signed by Garth Hudson after Garth's set at the 2015 Canterbury Folk Festival.
As a member of the Buffalo Brothers, Michael toured across Canada in support of their 1996 album Magic Incinerator. Buffalo Brothers' single 'Stone Me' reached #41 on the Canadian Charts, with a Much Music video in rotation. Twenty years later, Buffalo Brothers reunited to record 'I Love You All the Time' as a fundraiser which was released by the EODM Play It Forward Campaign.
In demand as a session player, Michael has appeared on albums by the Rheostatics, Golden Seals, Garnet Rodgers, Frank Ridsdale, the Rizdales, Great Lake Swimmers, and more. Recently he's recorded for artists such as Sarah Smith, Hiroshima Hearts, Dani Strong, Steve Rivers, Marshall Dane. He's played for several bands over the years, including the Genevieve Fisher Band, and currently plays the piano half of John Paul Jones for ZED (past JRLMA winners for Tribute band). Michael also plays accordion and piano for the folk rock band Broomsticks & Hammers.
STEVE CREW - Drummer
"What a wonderful surprise! Thanks to all that voted, my band mates, and the folks that come out to see us play, you're the best. What a great night!"
When Steve was 19 he started to play the drums as much as he could. He still does. Some of his favourite drummers include: Ringo Starr, Jody Stephens, Buddy Rich, Chris Mars, and Dave Clark. He's played in several bands over the years, such as Adam West, Tim 'E' & The Yes Men, and the legendary Sweet Leaf Garrett. Current line up: The Rizdales, The Manimals, Husky, Hunger City, and Rev.Freddie & Friends.
Steven is a solid and very creative drummer, respected for his musicality and tasteful playing. He always plays to support the song and is one of the most in demand drummers in town. Add to that his great backup singing, and more recently some lead vocals as well. We look forward to hearing more from him!
MELISSA OGDEN (MO) - Bassist
"So thrilled to be selected for Fantasy Band bassist! I think the Fantasy Band should perform a song at next year's award show! That would kick ass!!"
Growing up in small town northern Ontario, MO played in cover bands since age 13. She started on drums and then picked up the bass. Moving to London to attend recording school, she discovered her passion was to make music her career. MO started writing her own songs and put together an original band called Stutter, becoming the lead singer. They recorded an album with Producer Richard Chycki (pink, sum 41) and signed an indie deal.
Stutter toured Canada and their single, 21, received some airplay and video play on Much Music. Stutter won Toronto music awards for Best Pop Band and Best Pop Single for 21. However, the band was never able to land a major label deal and eventually folded. Disappointed, MO took a break from music.
Fast forward to a few years ago, she missed performing and decided to find some musicians and put a cover band together to perform and have fun. Swagger was born. "I didn't have any desire to be the lead vocalist - I wanted to focus on bass which I absolutely love playing!"
Swagger plays the pop, dance, rock and country songs that get people onto the dance floor. "The support we've received has been amazing! Our shows are always packed with people dancing and having fun. A Swagger show is like a crazy house party." Swagger received the 2017 JRLMA for Fan Favorite, along with a nomination in the Tribute category. MO says the award "is such positive reinforcement that people like what we do and really energizes us." Swagger performed during the Tribute Showcase at Eastside Bar & Grill during this year's first ever Jack Richardson London Music Week.
KORY ADCOCK (KAGE) - Guitarist
"I thought it was an honour to be voted in as Fantasy Band guitar player, love the JRLMAs and was proud to be a part of it."
Kory started playing guitar around age 20, and formed the band The Crystal Kage around 2008 with Crystal Curran. They had a lot of local success playing all around Southwestern Ontario, and recorded four albums including the 2011 release Scream and Shout with Nick Blagona as Engineer. Around 2012 The Crystal Kage stopped playing shows and Kory started seeking his next project. He met Alan E. Charlebois in early 2013 and started Vultures Playing Ruckus, with Darren Fleury completing the rock trio.
VPR have had local success as well as opening at the London Music Hall for Pop Evil, and most recently for Age of Electric. They have released one album plus another one soon to drop in summer 2017. VPR records at Jukasa Studios with Juno award-winning engineer Darren Magierowski and Jill Zimmermann. Kory and bandmate Alan are also in two side projects called The World Over (reggae) and Octans Atlas (acoustic). This year Vultures Playing Ruckus were nominated this year for a JRLMA in the Rock category.
SARAH SMITH - Vocalist
A seasoned road warrior whose full-time touring schedule dates back to her days in Canadian rock band The Joys, Sarah continues to feel most at home on-stage. She plays nearly 300 shows per year, primarily in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Along the way, she has shared the stage with artists including Melissa Etheridge, Sass Jordan, Emm Gryner, Craig Cardiff, Joel Plaskett, David Wilcox, and many others. Whether it’s just her and her acoustic guitar or with her full band, she is a mesmerizing performer. The 2015 DVD 'Sarah Smith: Plugged and Unplugged' captures Sarah and her band in peak form, both live and in the studio.
Sarah's newest album, 11, was produced by Juno-winning engineer Kevin Doyle. The record features 17 new songs about love, life, and seeing the good in things – even the dark things.
"Life isn’t always easy," she explains. "Sometimes there’s pain. Sometimes we make mistakes, but there are always things we can learn about ourselves and the world. It takes courage, but there are always reasons to have hope. Writing this record helped me get perspective, again, on how beautiful the world can be." 11 follows Sarah’s previous full-length CDs, Stronger Now (2012) and The Journey (2014).
Sarah has won and been nominated for many awards throughout her career. Her video for Into the Light, directed by Stacy Poulos and shot in California, won both a 2016 Telly Award and a 2016 Akademia Music Award for Best Video in the Pop Rock category. In 2015, she won the Toronto Independent Music Award Best Adult Contemporary honour, plus the Best Rock Artist at the London Music Awards, and Best Rock Artist at the Jack Richardson Music Awards. Music from The Journey has been featured on shows including CBC’s Cracked and the movie Anatomy of a Love Seen, directed by L.A-based director Marina Rice Bader.
Sarah was on tour out west and couldn't attend the JRLMA's this year, but she generously shared her thoughts with Radio Western:
"I was uber excited to win this award!!! I just want to thank all the people on the JACKs committee for all their hard work at organizing this year's events..... all who took the time to vote, and the entire musical community. We are very blessed to be in a city that uplifts their artists. So... keep on rockin'... don't give up... be inspired by those around you and pass on a smile to the next person you meet. Hope to see you at a local music venue soon!!"