For all the countless changes that Peterborough has seen over the decades, one thing hasn’t changed and, in remaining a constant, has uniquely defined the fraternity at its centre.
Musicians helping musicians. We’ve seen that time and time again via high profile benefits such as those that were held for Buzz Thompson and Bobby Watson as well as the families of Al Black and Brent Bailey.
Each of those fundraisers was well publicized in an effort to rally people to the cause. That they did, bringing in thousands of dollars for the benefactors as well as serving as a grand show of support. Since the mid 1990s, an ongoing like gesture of kindness, quietly undertaken and nurtured by one man, has flown under the radar — but is no less indicative of the infectious spirit of helping that permeates the local live music community.
“It’s all based around ‘What would Phil do?’ Any situation that we come up with, that’s our mandate,” notes John Punter who, with Lylie Ryder, co-owns and operates The Pig’s Ear Tavern on Brock Street.
It is the Peterborough Musicians’ Benevolent Association (PMBA) and Phil is the late Phil Marshall, a singer and keyboardist who was best known by his stage moniker, Mr. Deluxe.
More than 20 years ago, Marshall quietly gifted his share of the proceeds from local bar gigs to those in need and various causes he identified as important to him. In his trademark white dinner jacket, the flamboyant entertainer was a sight to see and hear; a bigger-than-life personality whose magnetism drew people close and kept them there.
When a December 2013 heart attack silenced him forever, friends and admirers, and there were many, resolved to honour his life by keeping his spirit of giving to others alive.
“I’m Not Done Yet” – written by Phil Marshall and performed by The Blue Tones at the Pig’s Ear Tavern
The result of that effort has seen $8,540 raised and handed over to 22 recipients since the first Deluxe Blues Jam was held in January 2014.
Held since on the third Saturday afternoon of each month at Punter’s historic pub, the event — and it really is an event — sees all proceeds go to the PMBA. With no cover charge, the gathering relies on donations from those taking in the music as well as a percentage of bar sales.
“We started the Blues Jam with (singer) Wayne Guppy,” recalls Punter.
“I didn’t know Phil (a member of Guppy’s band), but he showed up and that’s how he became a buddy of mine. Because of health issues, Wayne had to step down from his post as host. Phil, being Phil, took over command of the situation.”
Today, the PMBA is overseen by Punter along with Al Black, Don McBride, and Norm Kastner.
“Our meetings are pretty loose … no gavel or anything,” says Black, noting, “We do keep minutes. Otherwise we’d forget everything.”
“We’re not an insurance company,” adds Black.
“We get together, have some beers and get right to the point. If somebody needs help, it’s usually unanimous (that we help).”
“There are not many musicians who make a good living playing music. If something happens to a musician, they’re usually living pretty close to the line. It might mean cutting down the groceries next week or putting the rent off. I don’t think anyone yet has come to us on their own behalf. We’re always looking for advocates.”
While the Deluxe Blues Jam — the next will be held August 20, 2 to 5 p.m. — is the most visible face of the PMBA’s efforts, there are other fundraisers to support the organization — including the Bobby Watson 70th Birthday Bash, set for this Sunday (August 7th) from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Market Hall (140 Charlotte Street, Peterborough, 705-749-1146).
Presented by SLAB Productions, all net proceeds from the show will go to PMBA, and organizers are urging those who can’t make it that night still buy a ticket — as it helps the PMBA and pays the musicians performing.
The musical celebration will feature Bobby Watson and the trio Jackson Delta Electric (drummer Black with guitarists Rick Fines and Gary Peeples) along with bassist Andy Pryde, as well as The Session Hounds, featuring Andrew Affleck, John Crown, James McKenty, and Steve O’Connor. More performers will be announced on SLAB Productions’ Facebook page.
Tickets are $30 for general admission, or $45 for cabaret-style seating, and are available from the Market Hall box office, online at www.markethall.org or at Moondance (425 George Street, Peterborough, 705-742-9425).
Organizer Norm Kastner points to “the generosity of live music fans” being key to the PMBA’s efforts.
“I remember one of the first people we helped out,” says Kastner. “It was when we didn’t have a ton of money. I would see him in here every time after and every time it was 20 bucks, 20 bucks, 20 bucks. He has given back way more than he got — and he’s not a rich guy.”
With Black noting Punter “has gone above and beyond” by hosting the Deluxe Blues Jam and handing over a percentage of bar sales, the affable Punter wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel very honoured to be part and parcel of this organization,” says Punter.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way but I don’t feel obliged. In terms of other people (bar owners), they do what they want to do. This what we want to do and we do it.”
Kastner, while delighted the Deluxe Blues Jam continues to pack The Pig’s Ear one Saturday afternoon each month, is wary of the event becoming something it wasn’t intended to be.
“We are a little cautious; we don’t want it to get out of hand … we want to keep it fairly simple,” he says.
“We certainly want more people to come out all the time, because it makes it more fun. But it’s a not-for-profit and there are certain rules around how much money you’re raising.”
That said, Black recalls an encounter that served to remind him of the impact the PMBA’s efforts have on the lives of those in need.
“We helped somebody awhile back … it was like a double whammy as he was having serious health problems and his daughter was too,” recalls Black.
“I’m packing up my drum kit at the end of the afternoon and this guy comes up and thanks me for helping him out. Sometimes I forget we’re doing that because we just get together to have fun and play music.”
For more information on the PMBA, or to bring attention to someone who needs assistance, call John Punter at 705-745-7255.