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  • Esty Rosenfeld

Music of yesteryear

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

An interview with Kevin Hayes, a Montreal musician

Image source: Kevin Hayes

Jump Start

I had an early jump start into the world of music. My mother, Anita, was musically driven. She was a music teacher and an opera singer in Montreal. My dad was a ragtime piano player.

My parents would always be playing music with their friends and we’d listen and try to copy them. I did take one music lesson from a royal conservatory teacher but I didn’t like the idea of having to read music to play so I just ended up playing by ear.

When I was around 10 years old, my sister and I got our first guitar for Christmas from the Eaton’s catalogue.

Anita Hayes, "queen of the Fairies", worked for the Montreal-West Operatic Society for 27 years. She started as a soprano and then a mezzo-soprano. She won the Philidalphea Gilbert and Solomon award for best mezzo-soprano. She did lots of theatre and other types of music as well. She’s 91 now. To this day, she plays for my children so they can dance around and sing. Photo source: Kevin Hayes

A little bit of everything

At around 13 years old, we used to go to my friend’s house and sit and play the drums, bass or guitar. We’d try to create different riffs and songs. We’d just jam endlessly on those.

Then, a group of my early musician friends formed a band and rented a space in Montreal-West. I was playing flute all the time and we had 4-6 of us on different instruments, hammering it out.

At that time, we were just listening to a lot of music. Any chance I got to hear a musician in a park or NDG or anywhere, we’d go down and listen.

There was a music department at Marymount High School. I would just go there all day long and play whatever instrument was around. I had a couple of friends who had older brothers in wedding bands so their homes were full of musical instruments and organs. We’d go during lunch to their house and play for an hour.

When I was at Montreal-West High School, we were given access to instruments so we got together and just played. We’d swap and play different instruments every day. For the first hour, we’d just be learning how to play that particular instrument and then we’d just jam.

At 14, I started working in the piano factories. I was building, refinishing, doing actions, putting keytops on, tuning, restoring and repainting pianos.

Image source: Canva

Touring as a Teen

One of my biggest influences was Jim Pelton. We crossed Canada when I’d finished grade 8. We both had harmonicas in the same key and so we busked for months. We’d try to go into places and do little shows.

I ended up doing the Yellow Door coffee house, amongst others and playing with some very high end musicians. I’d just sort of jump in and share a song with them. It gave me the opportunity to actually play live which is difficult to do when you first start. It’s kind of challenging to play with somebody who you’ve never played with before and come up with something that’s keeping with the song they’re playing.

When I was in my late teens, I went together with Allision Brailey on my first Canadian tour. For close to a year, we lived in our car, travelling around and playing music at different events. Both of us sang and I played guitar, we really complimented each other. She was a brilliant vocalist and very encouraging. She wrote a lot of the words and I wrote a lot of the melodies.

The people who I worked with would share their expertise and experiences. They showed me how to play or do different things or gave me ideas of how I can approach different songs. I learned to play in Dorian mode from Robbie King who was one of the big names in motown and funk playing.

Globe Trotting

To date, I’ve been on tour in the Western world. I’ve worked with a lot of people doing European tours or South American tours. I’ve done 24 Canadian tours. I played in Jamaica every year in January. I only stopped because of COVID.

I was one of the founding members of the People’s Gospel Choir of Montreal which had 100 voices and 12 musical instruments players. We played for 40 000 people at the Jazz Festival. Everything just fell into place perfectly. Everybody just came together and did a great team presentation. That was one of my most successful shows, personally.

Image source: Canva

Instruments and Albums

I’m known as a guitar player and my preference is actually Flamenco guitar. I’m covering 127 and am proficient on 26 instruments.

I’ve been on 42 albums. 26 recordings that I’ve predominantly written or I had a guest working with me. I covered most of the instruments then maybe brought another vocalist.

I did a lot of background playing with singers in studios or for television. The majority of the music I’ve done has been either pop, pop-rock or rhythm and blues. I’ve studied Jazz at Mcgill. So I've done a mishmash of things.

I’ve worked with Jim Pelton.

I’ve worked with Jimmy James, the guitarist and his colleagues for years at the clubs in Montreal.

I did some of the background vocals for Gerry Boulet on the album Jézabel. We had massive singers doing that. It was one of the most successful recordings I’ve worked on as an employee. It sold millions of copies, I believe.

I did the Governor General's award when Leanoard Cohen was the poet laureate for Canada, I believe it was in ‘92.

I’ve done some vocal work with Roch Voisine on I’ll Always be There.

Where to begin

Try to play by ear. Don’t get too bogged down in the meaning and the writing of the notes. Explore your own musicality and write your own songs.

Jam with friends. Take every opportunity to play and rehearse. Broaden what you are able to play on, your styles of music and who you are able to play with. You will only make money if you keep doing it. I just encourage everybody to give it a go.

Image source: Canva

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