Petunia & The Vipers thrive on the challenge of adding Latin rhythms to a country blues tune, or gypsy flavouring to a rockabilly standard. Petunia defies convention and yet there is some conservancy to his music. His honest, cut to the heart songwriting and multi-syllabic narratives would leave a lesser singer tongue-tied and breathless. I know, I’ve tried it. One of the many themes running through Petunia’s lyrics relates to living life on one’s own terms – fearlessly and without regret.
Petunia – ACOUSTIC guitar, VOCALS, sometimes Yodeler, occasional Trumpeter.
Spending the early part of his career playing on every major street corner, subway station and park bench in Canada (and NY city), picking, grinning and singing for his living, Petunia has been a regular on the Canadian touring circuit for many years now…he has a unique, surreal style all of his own…his live performances have been likened to an Avant-Country night club scene from a David Lynch movie.
Growing up in rural Ste.-Dorothee, Laval, (Quebec) seems like an obvious connection for a sometimes country blue yodeler. Picture shady creeks with fallen tree bridges, and secret hiding spots. Part wanderer, part musician he’s been on the road for full years at a stretch at times…sometimes propelled by nothing more than his outstretched thumb alongside of the trans-canada highway. Maybe you’ve passed him by yourself? He has laid his hat and made his home in many, many spots along the way as befits a wandering troubadour…his traveling libido has led him to secure bands of musicians spanning across three continents. He has played with literally hundreds, and maybe thousands of musicians (personal highlights from recent west coast tours include Phil Alvin, Exene Cervenka, Wanda Jackson). Imagine that David Lynch and Nick Cave had a hillbilly baby. A hillbilly baby that yodeled…or Tom Waits meets Elvis at Woody Guthrie’s hobo junction.
Petunia’s music grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. His singing ranges from the most delicate you’ve ever heard to the most powerful, often within a single song. With a piercing gaze, he will look into the collective soul of the audience, and launch into some high and lonesome vocals that conjure up the ghost of Jimmie Rodgers. Not content with mesmerizing the crowd, his tapping boot will propel the band into a snarling fire and brimstone rave-up as a wave of frantic jitterbuggers compete for space on the hardwood dance floor…hillbilly-flavoured-swing inflected-ragtime-goodtime-thunderously rolling-one-of-a-kind-you-don’t-want-to-miss-this-sort-of-a-show. Though he has a huge repertoire of music to draw from, fans continue to cry out for the Petunia originals. He is a Canadian treasure that will soon join the pantheon of legendary performers from north of the 49th.
Members of The Vipers:
Stephen Nikleva – Electric GUITAR. Stephen Nikleva is a musician’s musician who’s lifted any band he’s been involved to the next musical level with his superb playing and arranging. Stephen has graced an eclectic mix of bands from the hardcore hillbilly rockabilly of Ray Condo to the real deal Romanian Gypsy music of Vancouver’s Lache Cercel, to pop folk star Sarah Mclachlan.
Teaming up with Petunia gains Stephen the opportunity to blend all these styles into Petunia’s unique blend of traditional and original music. Stephen and Jimmy were well described in the Vancouver Western Swing newsletter as the ‘Twin guitar heart of the late Ray Condo’s band’ and are carrying that spirit on with Petunia and the Vipers.
Jimmy Roy – a veteran LAPSTEEL GUITAR player, with years of playing professionally behind him. Formerly with Ray Condo & The Ricochets, he then put in years of touring and recording with Big Sandy. Prior to all that he led the much-loved Jimmy Roy’s 5 Star Hillbillies, which had a heavy influence on the European rockabilly and country scenes in the late 1980s, particularly with respect to a revival of interest in the steel guitar. With a unique and beautiful voice on the lap steel, his playing, instantly recognizable, is admired around the world. Ray Condo used to refer to JR as ‘the scholar of the hillbilly sound’, referring to JR’s lifelong interest in country, rockabilly and western swing music. He goes far enough back that he would spend his allowance buying 78s of Johnny Horton.
Marc L’Esperance – DRUMS & backing HARMONY VOCALS. From Jazz to Rockabilly to Folk to Blues, he’s the fella with the groovy sticks and brushes that makes this band really swing. His Great Grandfather was a fiddling champion back in New Brunswick, and Marc’s been known to bring out the violin now and then himself. His playing began with a Hohner harmonica at age 5, teaching himself old-time classics like Turkey In The Straw and Oh Susannah. Marc is well known for producing and engineering, and is proud of his award winning work in the recording studio with Ray Condo, Nomeansno, The Twisters, Veda Hille, Paul Pigat, Linda McRae, Headwater and many others.
Patrick Metzger – Upright BASS. Patrick is an outstanding musician who tours and records with several groups, most notably the popular Vancouver bands Headwater and The Leah Abramson Singers. He brings a solid swinging sound to his playing that instantly propels people onto the dance floor.
Sam Shoichet – Upright BASS. Sam is the consummate professional who is at home with many styles of music, and indeed, thrives on diversity. From Romanian swing to rockabilly, blues, jazz and Afro-beat, Sam can be found gigging around Vancouver most of the week, and occasionally on tour with The Vipers. Sam can be heard on most of the tracks of the new Petunia & The Vipers self-titled album.
James Lillico – Upright BASS. Young James has made quite a name for himself in just a short few years of playing around Vancouver. He grew up in a family steeped in musical tradition with bluegrass and old time country music infused in his blood. Bass player of choice with numerous outfits in town, he had his bass signed in appreciation by Sleepy LaBeef after backing him in his appearance at The Yale on a last minute call. He plays with an honesty and mature ease that belie his youth.