I was recently approached by the 2015 Hamilton JUNO Host Committee and CARAS/The JUNO Awards to create a mural that would leave a legacy from this year's awards in Hamilton. While I was dreaming up ideas, thinking about the unique flavour and musical essence of the city, I started thinking about the MYSTIC HIGHWAY.
We've all gone down the MYSTIC HIGHWAY and come back with hymns in our heads and poetry tattooed on our tongues.
The MYSTIC HIGHWAY is highway 6. It runs from Hamilton through Port Dover, to Turkey Point and across the top of Lake Erie. There's an energy that comes off the fields down there. There are voices coming off the lake that sing to you.
You can feel it as you drive south out of Hamilton. It's where Robbie Robertson spent summers on the Six Nations. It's where Ronnie Hawkins fired his drunken bass player Rebel Payne and hired a young Turkey Point kid named Rick Danko.
It's where migrant workers from the islands meet Six Nations and Mohawks and sage and tobacco fields and transient spirits come together and create the Northern gumbo.
It's where Canadian rock and roll got to party in Summer Gardens.
Photo credit: Michael P. Hall
I started to think about this when in an interview with the BBC in London, England. The interviewer said my music "had a very Southern Sound." I said, "You mean Southern Ontario, right?"
I proceeded to tell him about the MYSTIC HIGHWAY, this artery out of Hamilton, Ontario that breathes and bleeds a style of music and a way of performing like nowhere else on the planet.
So when King Biscuit was a boy was growing up, he didn't look to Toronto, he looked to Muddy Waters and Buffalo for inspiration and he looked down the Mystic Highway.
When Daniel Lanois went searching for his revival he went to the banks of the Grand River's still waters that flow under the MYSTIC HIGHWAY through Caledonia. It all leaves home or comes back around to Hamilton.
In Hamilton, Ontario we have the energy of slaves and the spirit of underdogs.
Hamilton is able to live and breath on its own and if no one paid any attention to us, we would still continue to breed great music.
I think our limitations are our greatest asset. We've always had to work a little bit harder to get anyone to see us.
Music is still coming out of here that is made by individuals. It's not made for any cool factor, not made to please a crowd or critics.
We know the first rule of being a Hamilton artist is to never ask permission to create our message, so we remain as bold as the love we carry in our hearts.
Our imagination is our sword and shield and our courage comes from a work ethic that is bred into us from first days we walk out into its streets.
As an artist I have to speak up for what I believe in. Sometimes I do that with a whisper and sometimes I do it with a scream: right now, it's time for Hamilton to recognize our musical heritage with a scream.
It's important to acknowledge because there is a depth to the culture in this city that nobody has paid attention to.
Most people don't know that Hamilton is the birthplace of ambient music, from Daniel and Bob Lanois, Eno and others. Or that Conway Twitty wrote, "It's only make believe," in Hamilton. We have to acknowledge those people for their contribution to culture outside and within city limits.
So when I was asked to do the mural, the dime didn't even hit the floor. I knew it was something I had to do to represent Jackie Washington, Brian Griffith Frankie Venom of Teenage head, The Forgotten Rebels, Harlan Pepper, Monster Truck, the Arkells, the Killjoys, and my old band Junkhouse, just to name a few.
I hope to one day be good enough to be able to hang on the cross that those who came before me built.
Paying homage to Hamilton's musical history, the MYSTIC HIGHWAY mural has now made it's home at 118 James Street North, Hamilton. The mural was a CARAS lead initiative made possible through funding by hmv Canada and the Hamilton 2015 JUNO Host Committee.