There aren't many people who grew up in the 1970s and 80s who haven't mentally drummed along to a song like the Doobie Brothers' Long Train Running, or twanged an imaginary guitar to Dire Straits' Sul...
There aren’t many people who grew up in the 1970s and 80s who haven’t mentally drummed along to a song like the Doobie Brothers’ Long Train Running, or twanged an imaginary guitar to Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing. We’re all sometime-rock stars in our own minds, but a group of engineers in Newfoundland has real musical skills and has found a way to play their rock n’roll favourites together in public.
Every few weeks the amateur musicians meet in a small pub in downtown St. John’s to “jam” together on guitars, drums and any other instrument they can find. Gary Kennedy, P.Eng. started the ball rolling a couple of years ago. He is a member of the eastern chapter of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland, and one day they were looking for new ideas to bring people together. Kennedy jumped at the chance to engage all the other musician-engineers he’d been bumping into over the years who had told him they would love to get together to play.
Derrick Hickman, the landlord of the Rose & Thistle pub on Water Street, agreed to give the engineers’ jam sessions a try as long as they held them on a week night and they didn’t put off too many of his regular customers! The landlord needn’t have worried. The Wednesday night sessions have turned out to be a great success, filling the small establishment with engineers and their friends as well as the passersby who hear the music through the open window and come in off the street.
The core group consists of Kennedy on drums, engineering technician Todd Lindstrom on bass guitar, and Jim Millan, P.Eng. on lead guitar and vocals. Millan, an engineer with the National Research Council, once played guitar semi-professionally and has the confidence to play the crowd. “I enjoy getting up and singing [lead] as much as the next guy,” he says, “but I also like to sit back on the side and try to play an instrument that I don’t play a lot like the bass guitar, or doing voice harmonies.” Like Kennedy, he has been playing an instrument since he was a young boy: “It’s in my blood,” he says.
The best thing about the sessions, they say, is the camaraderie. They encourage everyone to participate, and have had visiting professional musicians from the U.S. and across Canada join them on the small stage. Some of the local engineers were shy at first, Millan says, “But they came consistently, and after a little while we’d get them up on stage and it turned out that they shine.” A well known senior engineer in the community arrived one night with his guitar and thrilled them with his repertoire of country music songs. On other nights someone comes with an accordion, and one of the engineers’ girlfriends does a great imitation of Patsy Cline.
They try to do a range of traditional Newfoundland, country and contemporary music, but the music that’s dearest to Millan and Kennedy’s heart is classic rock and roll. Millan shrugs off any thought that it might be outdated. Everyone has their own era, he says, and points out that in the loose setting of a jam session the players can improvise on the familiar songs in interesting ways. Besides, in the end he doesn’t really care if the music is aging. “I keep thinking about it and trying to reconcile it in my head.” he says. “And you know, I don’t think I’m going to change.” Bronwen Ledger