Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

Prairie Oyster plays Gull Lake and lives to tell the tale

Dennis "Vanna White" Delorme

Dennis “Vanna White” Delorme

Just to set the record straight, the members of the band were young back in the ‘70s, and they wanted a name that sounded western. When someone suggested “Prairie Oyster” they thought it sounded cool. By the time a record label asked them to change their name to something that didn’t involve cooked bull testicles, it was too late – they were already too well known.

So – just lay off the name, okay?

Besides, it was the music we came for.

Well, that and the food. The concert, a fundraiser for the Lyceum Theatre, was preceded by a chili supper with bread, salad and a choice of drinks – the perfect repast for a cold night that was threatening snow.

The group launched their show with “Sweet Sweet Girl to Me,” one of three singles from their most recent album, One Kiss, released in 2006. This was followed by another old favourite, “She Won’t be Lonely Long,” giving their fiddler, John Allen, a chance to show off his skills. Next it was time for the title track, One Kiss, which blended James Bond with Roy Orbison. Allen did some fine bending with his fiddle, then he and steel pedal guitarist Dennis Delrome chased each other around the tune for a while.

During an unscheduled pause in the proceedings, at which time bassist and front man Russell deCarle worked on tuning with guitarist Keith Glass, it was left to Allen to entertain the audience with stories of his youth on a farm. Fortunately, just at the point Allen was pleading, “I’m dying out here,” the problem was sorted out and the band rocked on with “Too Bad for Me,” written by a Calgary songwriter.

The playlist continued in a similar vein for the rest of the night – a rollicking melange of originals and old country favourites such as Buck Owens’ “Think of me (When You’re Lonely)”.

“We stayed the same age,” said deCarle introducing one of the band’s old chestnuts, “but our songs got old.”

After the intermission and draw, the band continued their country music journey with “Long and Lonesome Old Freight Train,” which included a rousing fiddle lead. (No train song is complete without one.)

This was followed by two songs written by keyboardist Joan Besen. The second one, “Short Time Here,” was dedicated to Dr. Clare Kozroski, who was celebrating her birthday. Throughout the night the dance floor was seldom empty and often filled to overflowing during the more energetic tunes. Dancing skills ranged from basic shuffles to some pretty fancy footwork.

Front-man deCarle tried throughout the evening to whip the audience into a Dog River display of floor-spitting hatred by repeatedly mentioning Cadillac – the next town on their tour. “I don’t care what those people in Cadillac say,” he declared in a last ditch attempt, “you’re very nice people.”

Cadillac, in fact, has been a stopping point on Prairie Oyster tours for a long time, and some members of the band even looked briefly at owning homes there. “I only wish I’d bought that house in Cadillac for $1,000 years ago,” bemoaned deCarle.

Dennis Delorme agreed. “The prices were really good, and that house really was only $1,000. But we were young… .”

The rest of the phrase, “and stupid,” is left unsaid.

Dennis and I met back in 2001 and have kept in touch ever since – although the past few years have been rather quiet. So after the show he came back to the farm house with me for some tea and conversation. But not before I’d taken him to The Advance office so he could see our historic printers.

A deeply inquisitive man, Dennis has spent his life playing music and exploring different spiritual paths. One of the most significant moments came with the birth of his grandchild.

“I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d feel, but as soon as they put that baby in my arms, it was game over.”

While the inescapable fact of time and aging affects us all, the separation between our real age and the age we feel in our minds is probably strongest among those in musical groups. This may not be as true for Dennis and the other members of Prairie Oyster as it is for The Rolling Stones, since Prairie Oyster’s music is so firmly planted in good old-fashioned country traditions, but it still poses its problems. We talk about the things we used to do, the things we can no longer do, and the things we’ve probably done but can no longer remember.

Around 1:30 in the morning we realized it was time for Dennis to return to Gull Lake. The band had rooms at the Lazy Dee motel, but Dennis planned on sleeping in the bus, a luxurious vehicle with a lounge area and quarters in the back. As we left the house, however, we faced a veritable blizzard with visibility reduced to almost zero. The drive back served to sharpen our senses as we both peered through the whiteness, praying that nothing would loom out of the unknown in front of us – a fitting situation considering our earlier talk concerning our profound lack of knowledge of what the future may hold.

After delivering Dennis safely to his sleeping quarters, I returned home with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that I would not be forever reviled as the person who killed a member of Prairie Oyster in a winter car accident.

Because we definitely need more Prairie Oyster concerts.

And if they come with more chili suppers, that’s even better.

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