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The Sadies

an interview with Dallas Good

(originally published at Oct 8/10)

by Lisa McDonald

Live Music Head

July 2011

The Good Brothers,

a Canadian country, bluegrass and folk music group

originating from Richmond Hill, Ontario

won the Juno Award for Best Country Group or Duo

for eight consecutive years beginning in 1977.

Somewhere along the line,

Bruce Good became the father,

and Brian and Larry Good became the uncles

of two boys, Dallas and Travis;

two boys who grew up to be

phenomenal musicians in their own right.

Following an Alice Cooper tribute show

hosted by the Brothers Good,

Dallas and Travis formed their own band,

The Sadies;

a name taken from the hillbilly comic strip by Al Capp.

Since completing their first record Precious Moments in 1998,

the band have been categorized as everything from

spaghetti western surf music, honky tonk

electric bluegrass, heavy rockabilly psychedelia,

and the world's most wickedest band.

The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers also come to mind.

Bloodshot Records quickly signed The Sadies to their label

and their follow-up album,

Pure Diamond Gold

was recorded between studios in Chicago,

and Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo’s farmhouse.

Their second release also saw the beginning of

songs recorded with vocals.

1999 brought collaboration with Detroit-born

R&B-punk-blues musician, Andre Williams

which resulted in Red Dirt,

and 2001 brought Tremendous Efforts.

Stories Often Told hit the market in 02,

and their 2003 collaborative work

was recorded under the name

Jon Langford and His Sadies.

Favourite Colours was recorded somewhere between

Greg Keelor's farmhouse and a studio in Tucson,

and 2006 found the band signing with Yep Roc

to release Tales of a Ratfink,

the instrumental soundtrack for

a documentary film based on a 1960s cartoonist.

The band were sent to Spain in 2007 for New Seasons,

the album which contains Anna Leigh,

a song inspired by Gordon Lightfoot.

New Seasons garnered the band a 2008 Juno nomination

for Best Roots & Traditional Album,

and despite not taking home the trophy,

2009 did get them a Country Club.

The Sadies continue to be obsessive collaborators

with a renowned reputation as musicians’ musicians,

working with such a diverse mix of talent,

the likes of which include

Mary Margaret O'Hara, Garth Hudson, and Gord Downie.

They’ve also been spotted as the backup band for

Neko Case and John Doe.

After spending time at the Tragically Hip studio,

the Sadies released their latest effort in May, 2010.

Only two months after its release,

Darker Circles was nominated for

the 2010 Polaris Music Prize.

In performance,

the Sadies have covered songs by Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley,

Johnny Cash and Pink Floyd, to name but a few.

And despite having toured the world extensively,

the Sadies are still a mainstay on the Toronto music scene,

playing the Horseshoe Tavern every New Years Eve

for the past ten years.

While this writer listens to the Sadies,

her mind goes on vacation with The Munsters,

as they travel to the outskirts of Bonanza.

Anna Leigh is her favourite Sadies tune,

And Stories Often Told, her favourite album.

Not only does she admire Dallas Good as a musician,

but this intelligent, well-spoken, talented individual

also carries deep knowledge of really good music.

And with a presence so striking,

Live Music Head found it hard to take her eyes off of him...

The Sadies (Dallas Good in suspenders)

Tom Jones was on the Late Show with David Letterman last night fronting a power trio with his new gospel stuff.  It bloody rocked.

(laughs) Tom Jones is constantly re-inventing himself.  I have three of his albums.  (Dallas pulls out one of Tom’s more obscure records and drops the needle on the turntable).  There’s a Welsh men’s choir based in Burlington who brought Jon Langford here from Chicago.  The Welsh men’s choir recorded a bunch of Jon’s songs that not only have a Welsh twist to them, but are also about Tom Jones. The Sadies joined Jon and the 40-piece choir and covered songs like Delilah. (laughs) It was really fun.

The Sadies are known for their far reaching and endless collaborations.

Through Jon Langford’s bands, the Mekons and the Waco Brothers, many doors were opened for The Sadies in Europe, and all over the United States.  We’ve been very lucky.  Jon Langford is the king of collaborations himself.  Of all the collaborations the Sadies have done, I would say Jon is the most obvious.  He’s out there in the same way we are.

How did you meet?

We were on the same label. Andre Williams is also from Chicago; an amazing musician, incredibly accomplished and a huge influence on us.  (Dallas now discards the Tom Jones vinyl and drops the needle on Andre Williams’ first record). 

I know Margaret Atwood only as an author, but the Sadies apparently backed her up on a song, performed on the CBC Radio program Q with Jian Ghomeshi.  What was that all about and how did it come to be?

I suppose you could say Margaret Atwood’s latest novel has songs written into it.  We were both in the studio on the same day and were asked to do it.  Margaret Atwood is a great woman.  We got along very well, and it was a blast.

And what about playing with the band Heavy Trash?

Jon Spencer is a huge influence on me and our bass player, Sean Dean.  I love John’s band Pussy Galore and listen to them all the time.  John saw us perform with Neko Case in New York when he was working on a new project.  We were hired as their touring band for a while and played on Heavy Trash’s second album, but basically The Sadies don’t set out to work with anyone exclusively.  We have to make our own band the priority. Even having done that, it doesn’t always take priority.  But we have to think that way, in order for it to remain.

The keyboard playing you do in the Sexified video is way cool.  The word crunchy comes to mind.

(laughs) When I took piano lessons, my teacher basically taught me to play by ear because she knew I was never going to practice.  I don’t know how to explain my keyboard playing other than... I make a big racket.  (laughs) None of my classical training has held true or strong to this point.  But I guess I have enough to express myself because half way through a Heavy Trash tour, I’ll hear, “the keyboard player was really good!” (laughs) But the first half is always pretty bleak.

Speaking of New York, do you enjoy playing there?

We’ve played New York a lot; usually at the Bowery or the Mercury Lounge. The audiences respond well to us.  Our drummer Mike Belitsky lived in New York for some time.

Did anyone specifically give you music lessons?

The guy who taught Travis to play was Red Shea, who played with Gordon Lightfoot for years. But I only took one lesson from Red, I think.  He taught me a c major scale on piano when I was eight years old, but I never applied it to the guitar.  I have grade 5 conservatory piano and it’s all ingrained, but I rarely put it to use. I’m completely self taught on guitar. 

Tell me about your early musical beginnings.

I was born in 1973, and grew up in Aurora, Ontario.  My folks played music all the time and I went to a lot of shows.  (Dallas shows me a Bluegrass Canada magazine with a picture of him as a toddler, getting washed in a bucket by his mom at a music festival). I have a lot of memories of musicians growing up, but I didn’t want to become one.  I didn’t really give a shit for country music or bluegrass, until I was much older.  Our parents were ultra liberal and pretty much let us do what we wanted; never encouraging or discouraging, but made it clear that surviving as a musician was next to impossible. At seven years old, I was already a huge fan of the Ramones.  I had seen Iggy Pop, Killing Joke, the Go Gos and the Specials all at the same festival.  One of my favourite memories was when my father was opening for Gordon Lightfoot at the Universal Studio Amphitheatre in California.  Somehow my brother and I triggered the Battlestar Galactica exhibit and robots came at us throwing rocks and shooting laser beams.  We were scared shitless.  (laughs) It was awesome. 

So if it wasn’t a musician you wanted to be when you grew up, what was it?

A gynecologist. 

(laughs) My folks relocated here from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia and I grew up hearing country & western and fiddle music.  I didn’t like it.  I thought if my parents liked it, it couldn’t possibly be good.  Now I love it.  Was it the same for you?

Of course.  There was  a certain point when listening to punk music that I realized bluegrass is much faster.  And country and western is often more aggressive lyrically than punk rock.  Sometimes it’s a natural progression for bands to go this way after years of playing hard core music.  It may sound bizarre, but certain people see a connection. I’m one of those people.

Did you take music in school?

I took saxophone in high school.  But I always believed that the definition of a gentleman is someone who can play the saxophone, but doesn’t.  (laughs) I’m difficult.  I’m freaky.  When anyone asks me, “Beatles or Stones?” I’ll invariably say, “The Kinks”.

Were you difficult in school? Did they toss you out?

I’ll put it this way, I can remember the three years I didn’t get an A.  I had an A average most of the time.  My mother was a teacher, and my parents weren’t about to let me get away with shit.  But I did drop out of York University.  I was on tour and missed three quarters.  And it was then that I realized I’m a one trick pony living within a self created bubble with a very narrow course in life.  All my books are about music. 


What about music in films growing up?

I watched horror movies like Dracula and Frankenstein repeatedly as a kid.  But I also watched Yellow Submarine. The rock opera Tommy by the Who wasn’t a film I liked when I first saw it, but as an adult I find it much more impressive.

What was your first concert?

My first show was probably a Good Brothers concert.  But the concert I really remember (that my parents weren’t performing at) was the Police Picnic in 1980.

When and where was your first gig as The Sadies?

October 28, 1995, or was it 96? I can’t remember the year exactly, but it was in the back room of The Cameron House.

I attended the in-store performance the Sadies did at Sonic Boom, the record shop on Bloor St., and I saw video clips on Youtube of the shows you did there with John Doe.

Sonic Boom is amazing with their hospitality.  When we play there, we each get a record or store credit for x amount of dollars, beer, sandwiches, and a good crowd. 

Bands that play in record stores seems to bring back days of old. I really like it.  And Sonic Boom has to be doing something right to afford the square footage they take up on that Bloor St. block.

Record stores need bands playing live in their store, now more than ever.

Apparently The Sadies are on a compilation covering Tom Waits’ New Coat of Paint and Pasties And A G-String?

Yes, with Andre Williams. I can’t remember the label that put it out, but Tom Waits is a huge fan of Andre, and asked him to do it. Pasties and a G-String was complicated to play. It was one of those times where we were on tour and we were given half a day in the studio to lay it down and someone else mixed it for us.  I never bothered to get a copy.  I felt it was something that had so much potential, but was only half realized. 

Have you seen Tom Waits live?

No, but Waits opened for my dad’s band at the El Mocambo sometime in the late seventies.

The Sadies also recorded a song as a tribute to Loretta Lynn?

Oh I forgot about that.  But yes, it was a 45 we recorded with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan. 

What do you think of the coal miner’s daughter playing with Jack White?

Oh it’s great.  I’ve shook hands with Jack White, and it was very kind of him to have The Sadies open for the Raconteurs. The bassist and drummer from the Raconteurs are also in my friend’s band, the Greenhornes from Cincinnati. 

As opposed to many acts who leave Canada to make it in the United States, did the Sadies actually start out in the U.S.?

Only in the sense of how are records were being perceived and distributed.  We’re a Canadian band who just happened to sign to an American label.  Normally bands would sign to a Canadian label and license to an American one, but in our case Bloodshot was interested and ready to go.  And that was fine by us. 

Today is Ray Charles’ birthday.  Any thoughts on him?

For such an important figure in country, rock and roll, gospel and R&B, I should have more to say.  Obviously he was great.  But as is the way of pop culture, Ray Charles was forced down my throat since the day I was born.  Sure I like him, but I wasn’t one of the first kids to get a Ray Charles record to play for my friends.  It was already there.  I have many of his records in my collection, but unlike other artists from his genre, Charles hasn’t touched me as personally.  Finding a guy like Andre Williams meant more to me.  And finding that Ray Charles and Andre Williams worked in similar circles proves my theory that some people just had to be kept under wraps! (laughs) Andre Williams is punk rock to me.  He has some sleepers, but stuff like Humpin Bumpin and Thumpin is raunchy shit.  The first line is, “Anybody got a raw egg?!” If my collection was comprised of only one style of music, it would be very impressive.  But I have Tom Jones in mine (laughs).  I’m not part of any said camp. 

What was it like playing with Garth Hudson and Greg Keelor at the Horseshoe?

It was great.  Actually, we just completed a session with Garth; something iTunes got us to do.  It’s 4 songs from our back catalogue along with 3 tracks from our latest album.  We did them differently with Garth. 

Are there any artists in particular who you would like to collaborate with or share the stage with that you haven’t yet?

I’ve already played with nearly all of my influences and idols.  Of course I’m exaggerating, but if you look at the arsenal of people we’ve worked with, it’s pretty drastic.  If all we talked about was my influences and how they’ve tied in with the band, it would keep us talking for some time.

For me personally, I would choose Stories Often Told as my favourite Sadies album.

That one was produced by Greg Keelor.  The Sadies are also in another band with Greg called the Unintended.  We haven’t played as a band lately; all of us being ultra busy and spaced out, in so many ways. (laughs)

Having travelled so extensively, where do you feel at home?

I’ve always lived in Toronto and always will. I’m lucky to have friends and family in major metropolises throughout the world which makes it easy to tour, but Toronto is home. The more I travel, the more I love it here. 

If you could meet anyone living or dead, who would it be?


Judas! Why would you choose the man who betrayed Christ?

I’d like to hear what he has to say; what his side of the story is.

If you weren’t playing music, what would you be doing?

Being so one dimensional for so long, I can’t really think outside of this box.

What was the best advice you ever got, and who gave it to you?

“Don’t start a band” by my father.

(laughs) Your latest release Darker Circles seems to be doing very well, not only getting a lot of press, but really good press.

I don’t know how well Darker Circles is selling compared to the others.  None of our records sell extremely well, but it’s certainly our most critically acclaimed record.

The Sadies are some of the most accomplished musicians out there today, and have certainly garnered respect from the musical community at large.  But in terms of record sales, perhaps The Sadies are just like the Grateful Dead... and you’ll go down in history as one of the most successful live bands that the masses have never heard!  (laughs)

I’m not much of a Grateful Dead fan, but I’ll take it. I’d love that, thank you.

The Sadies official website

~ photos courtesy of Starfish Entertainment.

About Lisa McDonald: otherwise known as Live Music Head, Ms McDonald is a vegetarian who enjoys practicing yoga and pilates, but it’s an enormous passion for music that keeps her tapping away at a keyboard.  A freelance music writer living in downtown Toronto, Lisa is currently in conversation with local musicians and television personalities, publishing articles at web-based magazines.  She may be contacted at:

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