Local band drops debut CD and gets set to tour

by Amber Goodwyn


The Snake Oil Salesmen
The Exchange
Wednesday 26

The gents in The Snake Oil Salesmen are thrilled. Having bottled 10 songs into their first full-length album, Take Your Time, they’re playing a release show at the Exchange June 26.  To sweeten the tonic further, they’re set to embark on a western tour that will see them hocking their musical wares all the way to Vancouver and back.

The heart of the band consists of three beating parts: songwriter Shane Bellegarde and Danny Blondeau share guitar and vocal duties, while Sterling Brass keeps the bass in check. All originate from small towns and First Nations communities in southern Saskatchewan and descend from, in their words, long lines of storytellers, musicians and healers.

“We’ve all done different things to pay for our artistic habits,” Bellegarde laughs. “I’ve had so many different jobs, whether it’s been construction or (more recently) three years as a sous-chef at Bocados restaurant.

“Sterling has been a hairdresser for 12 years — now at Salon Snax — and is a staple downtown. Everyone knows him. Danny works at Ipsco. He’s a boilermaker. It’s that story where we all work as hard as we can and save up and scrounge and try to hit the road.”

The Snake Oil Salesmen will plot their way westward on a nine-date tour with Sound Society drummer Mack Hubick. Local piano player Ray Grieves will join the band for the first few shows to help translate the album’s instrumentation to the stage.

Recorded and produced by local music maven Val Halla, Take Your Time is a country-infused blues rock record with a classic western story-telling vibe, complete with accordion and piano accompaniment. To get a sense of their genre blend, look no further than their online biography, which cites both Johnny Cash and Guns N’ Roses as influences.

The songs on Take Your Time are a unique document of the last six years of Bellegarde’s life. He first picked up the guitar at the relatively late age of 26 — needing an outlet to express the intensity of his feelings after having his heart broken. “I just wanted to be able to play around a campfire, you know,” he muses about his musical start. “But after [Danny and I] got jamming and had a couple of songs written, those goals changed and it became a lot more fun.

“Most of the songs I do are absolutely story songs,” Bellegarde adds. “We grew up listening to country music, but also rock ‘n’ roll, and I think that’s one thing we all share because we grew up in small towns, and so the story is very important to me.”

Bellegarde describes the songs on the album as personal in nature. Included are love songs and tunes about long-distance travel (a prairie staple, no doubt) and loss.

During our phone conversation, his young nephews played in the background as they do once a week when they visit their uncle’s house. The last song he wrote for the album, he says, “was for my brother who passed away. It’s called “First of December” [and it’s also] the last song on the album.”

While initially difficult for him to share, the band has since turned “First of December” into a rockin’ celebration of his brother’s life, complete with honky-tonk piano and group back-up vocals.

For the recording, Bellegarde contacted his two other brothers who were in Vancouver and Kingston and had them contribute by singing into their phones and computer microphones. As Bellegarde recalls, “we got my brothers singing along, as well as a bunch of friends, and we all just got drunk and sang for [my brother].”

These days the band is in full celebration mode and can’t wait to tour the album. “Man, it’s just so exciting,” Bellegarde says. “Just waking up and knowing that you have somewhere else to be; you have a goal to get somewhere and play a show. I can’t think of anything better.”