By Chet Greason, Staff reporter
“Once a Stonetowner, always a Stonetowner,” says Tim “Smiley” Smythe, St. Marys native and lead guitarist for The Chris Brine Band. The group, booked to play the outdoor family street dance at the Stonetown Heritage Festival on Saturday, July 14, has its roots in St. Marys, and has played together in various combinations over the years and under a number of names, including Orion 321, Doug Peart and The Power Project, and Chris and the New Boys. The Journal Argus met up with the band at one of their practices at a home along the Thames River.
Their collaborations over time have always revolved around the town of St. Marys. Though bassist Barry Walls now lives in Fullarton, drummer Wayne Brown is in Stratford, and keyboardist Tony Rozic is often out at sea playing on cruise ships, the band insists they all have “limestone in their veins,” and promptly break into an improvised rendition of “Like a Limestone Cowboy.”
Saturday’s performance will be a reunion of sorts for The Chris Brine Band. In 2007, the band’s namesake developed a brain aneurism. As a result, her eardrum was pushed up against her skull and she found herself unable to sing. A slow recovery, including a 10-hour groundbreaking surgery, resulted in Brine’s impressive vocal range returning with a vengeance. This will be the first time the full band has played together in public since the aneurism.
“I was very lucky,” says Brine of the trauma, which can often prove fatal. Brine says one of her biggest fans, her grandmother, keeps tabs on her to insure her singing voice remains in tip-top condition.
“After I’ve done a show, she’ll make me sing Danny Boy to make sure I haven’t blown my vocals singing rock and roll,” laughs Brine.
The band, which plays a wide range of genres from classic rock to bluesy renditions of disco favourites, will be switching things up somewhat for Saturday’s performance. Keeping in mind the family aspect of the show, plus the high number of youngsters in attendance, the band will be including covers of artists like Pink, Mel C, and Better Than Ezra. “We’re keeping it fun and danceable,” says Smythe, who adds they’ll also be playing older favourites by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Tom Petty, and the Doobie Brothers.
Brine, born in Wales, came to Canada when she was three years old. “It was all Irish music growing up,” she says of her influences. A songwriter as well as a singer and guitarist, she currently has a single playing in rotation on Stratford’s 107.7 MixFM called “Label Town.” She’s also sung back up for artists such as Michael Earnie Taylor, Yeager, and children’s performer Eric Traplin.
Smythe, an incredibly dextrous and soulful lead guitarist, can be heard on recordings by country artist Perry White, as well as Doug Peart’s recent album “So I Had a Life.”
Brown has been a professional drum teacher for the past 25 years. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a local drummer who hasn’t learned under him. A founding member of the acclaimed children’s group The Magpies, “Brownie” has performed extensively throughout Canada and the US with a number of professional acts. As well as drums, Brown sings back-up vocals in the current incarnation of The Chris Brine Band.
Smythe calls bassist Walls “the best bassist in the world,” with not an ounce of sarcasm in his voice. Anyone who’s heard Walls play live knows that he’s definitely in contention for the title. Walls’ busy fingers evoke such powerful funk that even the stiffest wallflower will find their hips gyrating. Influenced by the likes of Jack Bruce (Cream), Jaco Pastorius, and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Brine says Walls is a heavily sought after sideman by other bands.
Keyboardist and back-up vocalist Tony Rozic is a former musical director for The Second City touring company and has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, among other famous venues.
“We’ve wanted to play the Heritage Festival for a long time,” says Brine. The show, which packs hundreds of people onto a closed-off Queen Street, will be an impressive addition to their already stellar resumé, which includes closing parties for the Stratford Festival, fundraisers, and various performances at almost every pub and hall in the area.
“We’re all here, and we’re all still alive,” laughs Walls. “We’re a musical family,” adds Smythe.