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Jr Gone Wild revisited: first, an introduction November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.

Their reunion’s been going for a year or two now, there’s new music, there’s a documentary in the works. This is all good news. Shame I got rid of my Well account because now you have to go to the Internet Archive to see my JGW website from 20 years ago. So, for the hell of it, I’m going to post one or two items from that old site. I don’t even remember writing this one, but apparently I did.

Jr. Gone Wild, 1983 – 1995

They’ve been called “the Sex Pistols meet Hank Williams.” Lead singer and songwriter Mike McDonald once joked that the band had progressed: they were now a cross between the Clash and George Jones. The opening minutes of the new album, Simple Little Wish, make that more obvious than ever: a sample of the marching sound from the Sex Pistols’ “Holiday in the Sun” fades into the definitely country-sounding “The Guy Who Came in From the Cold,” Mike’s song about the joy of not drinking, and the pleasure of knowing he’ll still be alive five years from now.

The band’s history begins in 1983. In 1993, the Edmonton Journal interviewed Mike on the eve of a tenth anniversary concert/party. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“My very first band practice with Jr. Gone Wild was on my 20th birthday – June 26, 1983,” McDonald said in an interview this week at his “office” at Rose Bowl Pizza on 117th St.”That’s how come I know I’ve been in the band for 10 years, because I’m going to be 30 next month.”

The band’s first incarnation included St. Albert musicians Graham Brown, Kim Upright and Mark Brostrom.

McDonald said he and Brown went into the group heavily under the influence of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and The Byrds.

“But what happened was for the first year or so we ended up sounding like a drunk Buffalo Springfield.”

The American alternative music magazine Option named Jr. Gone Wild a promising new band eight years ago, and the promise has been fulfilled for several years. Nationally the band is not as high-profile as, for example, the Barenaked Ladies, but their albums, live shows, and tenacity have earned them a growing core audience.

In Edmonton the band seems to be popular enough: they played the national anthem at an Edmonton Eskimos football game. They’ve been mentioned in the Edmonton Journal dozens of times, often profiled in depth. When Simple Little Wish was released, the paper devoted most of the front page of the entertainment section to the band. And last May Jr. Gone Wild won an ARIA award (an Alberta music award) for “best rock/heavy metal artists on record.” (Apparently there’s no cowpunk award.)

And their fame is steadily increasing outside of Edmonton. Canada’s “national newspaper,” the Globe and Mail, has glowingly reviewed their last two albums. As if that’s not enough, reviewer Chris Dafoe criticized alternative rock gods Pavement by saying “Pavement’s perversity wears thin. In the words of Jr. Gone Wild, Less Art, More Pop please.” And the Globe‘s Arts Ink column reported a recent band mishap. As columnist James Adams says, “While walking to Toronto’s MuchMusic to promote the band’s fifth recording, Simple Little Wish, bassist Dove (a.k.a. Dave Baker) slipped on the ice in the Much parking lot and broke his left hand. As a result, Jr. Gone Wild has had to postpone its national tour and Mr. Dove is sporting a T-shirt that reads ‘I Got My Big Break at MuchMusic.'” (For the record… Dove’s last name is Brown, not Baker, and he says the t-shirt is apocryphal.

Jr. Gone Wild is very much Mike McDonald’s band. In fact, he’s the only original member still in the band. Bass player Dove joined before the first album. Guitarist Lance Loree and drummer Larry Shelast have been around for a few years. (Of course, by the time of the last Jr. tour, Lance was gone, and Anne Loree was in.)

A number of musicians must be getting used to being described as former members of Jr. Gone Wild, including Chris Smith, Lance Loree’s predecessor as guitarist, who has a new album out. Country singer/fiddler Jane Hawley, who toured with the band a few years ago, also finds the Jr. connection popping up when she gets some press coverage.

But it isn’t only former members of the band who have a burgeoning musical careers. Mike himself keeps busy in a variety of contexts. Just as he served his muses in different ways in the early ’80s by playing in a punk band and doing Neil Young songs as a busker, he continues to explore new modes of expression.

In February, the Edmonton Journal‘s David Howell reported on a band called Hookahman, a band that plays ‘”post-industrial folk- fusion acoustic-nebulous trouser rock.’ […] Hookahman’s lineup,” Howell continues, “includes Joe Bird and Wes Borg of the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie plus Jr. Gone Wild members Larry Shelast and Mike McDonald. Other members are Page, Jason Kodie, Frank Bessai and Joel Finnestad. Rootsy songwriter/guitarist Bill Bourne is Hookahman’s musical guru and frequent sit-in guest.”

This band, which has released an album, doesn’t represent the only Jr. Gone Wild/Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie crossover. The band has done music for several shows by the comics, including one last Christmas called Messiah. The Journal headline read, “Un- immaculate Messiah radiates daffy good nature; Musical’s rock band at least as funny as comedy troupe.”

Mike also often does solo acoustic gigs, like the Saturday afternoons at the Black Dog pub. Not living in Edmonton, I don’t know whether he’s still playing there, but I’ve heard that it’s not too difficult to catch a Jr. show or a solo Mike show in Edmonton. (Well, a Jr. show would be pretty difficult to catch now.)

And of course there’s the Rose Bowl Pizza, a Mike hangout for a good fifteen years now, and the place where Mike anchors a Sunday night acoustic session, but the Bowl deserves its own page. It’s appeared in Jr. videos, and it was where Mike was interviewed five years or so ago by CBC Midday.

And now to close with some words from Mike. On Saturday, November 5, 1994, the Edmonton Journal asked a number of local luminaries the question, “What is the most important thing you’ve ever learned?” Answers came from Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, Company’s Coming cookbook author Jean Pare, convicted murderer Colin Thatcher, millionnaire philanthropist Francis Winspear, University of Alberta Hospital director of dermatology Kowichi Jimbow, and Mike McDonald.

Mike’s response:

– “The most important thing that I learned is to analyse information that you receive, be it things you see or what people tell you… any input, before responding to it, just make sure you know what you’re talking about.”

“I learned this through many, many, many horribly embarrassing situations I would like to go back and fix.”




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