Putting some Exmas in Exile on Main Street

Exile on Main Street:

The Bushpilots’ Ninth Annual Xmas Bash for the Ottawa Food Bank

Where: Rainbow Bistro, 76 Murray St. $10, at the door.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15

OTTAWA — To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, we all need a shot of salvation, baby, once in a while. Now local musicians are serving up a shot of help with a one-night performance of Exile on Main Street, the Stones’ 1972 masterpiece.

The Ya Ya’s will play all 18 songs on Exile on Main Street on Dec. 15, as part of the Bushpilots’ annual Christmas fundraiser for the Ottawa Food Bank.

The concert will be at the Rainbow Bistro and a serious lineup of guests from the city’s music scene will join the members of the Ya Ya’s (Glen Russell, Gilles Mantha, Fred Guignion, Steve Donnelly and Rob Bennett) on stage. I chatted with Bennett about the concert, and below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Who are the Ya Ya’s?

The Ya Ya’s are five guys from umpteen Ottawa indie bands playing the music of the Rolling Stones. The band was put together as a one-off. We spent a year in denial about how much fun it was and fired it up again on a somewhat more regular basis.

You spent “a year in denial” because you had hesitations about being in a cover band?

Yup. Spend a quarter century flogging original music then start a cover band? I think most indie musicians have that fear. Our attitude is a bit different: the Stones catalogue is so vast and influential that we approach it like you would a group of blues standards.

God forbid we become a clone band. I’d look ridiculous as a 50-year-old trying to dance like a 69-year-old – oh, wait a minute. We approach the music with reverence (although) none of us tries to look like the Stones.

Well, there is your hair, which is of the Keith Richards-Ronnie Wood style …

Yeah, but I’m the singer so it doesn’t count.

How faithfully do you reproduce the music on stage? Do you take liberties?

If you were in a Van Halen or Rush cover band the note by note thing would be of the utmost importance, with the Stones it’s all feel.

I think with us, as long as we get the player’s feel – how does Keith play? How does Ronnie play? – and execute it with their swagger, it’s gonna work. You can’t play Midnight Rambler and not make it dangerous.

You see that feel when watching the Stones on stage: it’s like there’s telepathic communication going on between them and each always know what the others will play next. It’s uncanny.

See? You get it. Wanna join the band?

No thanks. Fat guys always die young in rock and roll.

Bah!

What will people see at the fundraiser?

It’ll include the Bushpilots with Miss Maureen (of Good2Go) followed by the Ya Ya’s playing Exile on Main Street in its entirety. We’ve also added Zeek Gross on horns, Tom Pechloff on keyboards and Terry Steeves on backup vocals.

There’s a who’s who of special guests: Johnny Vegas, JW Jones, Lucky Ron, Scott Amey, Slim Reaper, Rey Sabatin Jr, Shawn Tavenier and Matthew Chaffey. Hopefully, lots of money flying around, too.

Why Exile on Main Street?

I consider it a ground zero album for Americana music, from a bunch of blokes from the U.K. There’s a bit of everything in there – hard rock, gospel, R&B, blues, country. You wouldn’t believe the response, especially from the young guard of singer/songwriters. It’s a pretty huge record for them as well. I’ve wanted to play this whole thing since I first heard it over 30 years ago.

Many people regard it as the greatest album in rock and roll. Is there a high point on it for you?

I am one of those who call it that. Rock and roll is the bastard child of a half-dozen genres emanating out of the American South, and this album touches on all of those elements. The whole album is a high point for me, but I can say right now I’m enjoying the challenge of learning to sing Let it Loose.

I’d have a hard time picking a favourite between Sweet Virginia and Shine a Light.

There you go. Rocks Off? Casino Boogie? Turd on the Run? Just might as well name every song.

How many times have you seen the Stones play live?

Ten. Turned down tickets for this Saturday (in New Jersey), too. $1,700 was a bit much. I saw Keef at Massey Hall in ’93, too.

When did you first see them, when did you last see them, and how have they changed between those shows?

First time, Buffalo ’81, Tattoo You tour. Last time, Montreal 2006, Bigger Bang. Obviously the production is a lot more together, ever since the Steel Wheels tour. They show up on time, and have a music director holding things together. Not as dangerous as ’81, which I think was the last of those decadent ’70s tours, but still always great.

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