I’m finally finished outside, the litter boxes have been cleaned, my lunch is made for tomorrow and so, finally, I can sit down and relax and begin our weekly “Vinyl Sunday” tradition.
Kick-starting it off is this ‘Straight North‘ album by Ted Wesley.
This was another record earned by the successful capture and release of Skittles this past Friday.
Apparently, Skittles is just “the gift that keeps on giving” this weekend.
Okay, so I like weird and interesting shit, and early 70’s folk albums about Canada’s Northwest Territories qualifies for me as “weird and interesting shit”. I mean, seriously … look at Mr. Wesley sitting there on a rock in the middle of some remote bay. How fucking Canadiana looking is this guy?
He makes Gordon Lightfoot look like a pussy.
As it proclaims itself on the back cover:
This is a record about the North, but it is also a record for the North.
Okay, whatever Relic.
However, as it turns out, this 1972 album does indeed have a rather interesting history.
Actually born in Abercomb, in northern Rhodesia (what’s now Zambia) to Polish immigrants, Ted Wesley and his family moved to England at age six, then to Fort McMurray, Alberta three years later. He moved to Yellowknife, NWT in 1961, lied about his age (still only 16 and had to be 21) to work in the gold mines. He also became known for his on-ice skills, playing for Discovery Mines’ Giant Grizzlies.
Not even knowing how to play it, he’d stolen his brother’s guitar when he moved, and within a couple of years was playing in the bar at The Hoist Room in downtown Yellowknife. He’d also met his future wife, and he and Leslie began singing duets together and competing in talent contests. Off and on over the years he’d find gigs to play throughout the north, then south after forming The Tundra Folk with Inuvik’s Andy Steen in time for Yellowknife’s Canada Centennial celebrations.
There he met Bob Ruzicka, known as “The Singing Dentist”,* who’d written a whole stack of songs about Canadian culture and arctic life, and was sidelining at nights playing music on CBC Radio. Wesley continued to perform off and on, and during the NWT centennial year in 1970, he was part of a group of performers who traveled on a barge down the Mackenzie River, stopping at every community along the way to perform.
In ’72, Wesley took a trip to Damon Studios in Edmonton and cut this debut album, ‘Straight North‘. The album release party was held in The Hoist Room, and featured a slide show of photographs taken by author and Catholic missionary Rene Fumoleau.
With Gary MacDonall producing, and along with a couple of tracks Wesley had written with friend Doug Leonard, the album’s theme was about the country way of life in Canada, and included ‘Big River‘ (about the Mackenzie, running northwest from Slave Lake, Alberta to the Yukon coast), to ‘Aklavik‘ (about one of the first Hudson’s Bay outposts in the region), and ‘Northlands Destiny‘. Although nothing broke nationally, the album did get some airplay throughout the prairies. It also featured the first version of Stompin’ Tom‘s top 40 country hit ‘Muk Tuk Annie‘, which Rusizka wrote on toilet paper during the recording sssions.
Now, how this record ever came to be found in a little drum case manufacturer in Stevensville, Ontario and leveraged as payment for the humane entrapment of local indigenous fauna… who the fuck knows?
However, it is what we’re currently chilling out to and, ya know what, it’s pretty fucking decent. It’s hard to believe that ‘ol Mr. Wesley didn’t acquire a much larger following than he did.
Perhaps he should have left the Northwest Territories once in a while because this high north okie-folkie is great.
*You just can’t make this shit up!