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Unusual at this tough and leathery stage in his career, Corb Lund was a little nervous playing the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville a few weeks back.
“I was a little bit weirded out,” he says over the phone from Toronto.
“The old building was the Ryman Auditorium, right?” he says of country music’s most famous venue. “That’s the mother church. And then they took a big chunk of stage and put it in the new stage in the Opry building.
There’s probably an eight-foot diameter circle that you stand in when you sing on the old boards. And everyone’s played there — like, Hank (Williams), Earl (Scruggs), Johnny (Cash) and Willie (Nelson).
“So there’s probably an eight-foot diameter circle that you stand in when you sing on the old boards. And everyone’s played there — like, Hank (Williams), Earl (Scruggs), Johnny (Cash) and Willie (Nelson).
“But I don’t know if Elvis did or not — I was thinking. Probably.”
It turns out Presley did, once, in 1954 — it just didn’t go that well, according to legend, and he was never invited back.
Lund seems to have fared better, including getting congratulations from Terri Clark, who grew up in Medicine Hat.
“The whole thing went by in the blink of an eye, played three songs with the house band. The crowd listened very close, my story songs seemed to resonate with them,” he says. “I think they liked me. They said they’d have me back.
“It was intense, a really cool experience.”
Raised in Taber, Lund spent decades in Edmonton, moving to Lethbridge to be closer to his family’s ranch a few years back.
He and I are also old friends, so we tease each other during a long interview, to the point where I’m sometimes telling him, “that one better be off the record.”
“I’m not editorializing,” he says mischievously, “but it’d be nice to have the whole article not even mention—”
Oh yes, that. That world-altering thing music reporters have brought up in pretty much every article since March 2020.
OK, so let’s just say Lund — having five (yes, five) tours canceled for ‘mystery reasons’ — had some time on his hands in the last couple years.
Never a slacker, he used the gap to record his covers album, Songs My Friends Wrote (out tomorrow), which he’d “been threatening to do for years.”
Its tracks include versions of Hayes Carll’s Highway 87, Ian Tyson’s Montana Waltz and Road to Las Cruces, Fred Eaglesmith’s Spookin’ the Horses and That’s What Keeps the Rent Down, Baby from Vancouver’s Geoff Berner.
“There’s probably going to be a Vol. 2 and Vol. 3,” Lund says. “I feel bad I didn’t get any gals on this one. I’ve got a Lindy (Ortega) song I want to do. My friend Jaida Dreyer has some good ones.
“Some of the artists are more well-known than me and some are less, so it’s kind of interesting.”
Lund’s played many packed soft-seaters with Tyson, an old friendship burning there. Eaglesmith, meanwhile, was an early supporter of Lund breaking off from the punk band the smalls. “He took me on tour years ago when I was just starting out, on his bus, playing solo.”
The politically-active Berner, meanwhile, Lund assesses with a big smile you can hear over the line, insisting, “He’s my favorite commie. He’s super politically active out there on the coast. Like, attacking the NDP from the left.”
This leads into a long discussion about Lund’s role advocating for ranchers fighting province-backed, open-pit coal mining in the Rockies, where the musician suddenly found himself as an activist leader.
“I’ve said in every interview: I’m not anti-resource, I’m not Pollyanna about it. I understand that we need to have a functioning industrial world for over eight billion people.
“But this particular idea of coal mining in the Rockies when there’s plenty of other places to get it — and it’s a sunset industry — just doesn’t make any sense. So I guess somebody’s getting paid or something.
Back to music, Lund also spent the time off revamping his picking style.
“If you play violin or classical piano, I suspect they have kind of a technique figured out for the last 400 years. But when you’re playing rock guitar, ”he says of his beginnings of him,“ it’s just catch as catch can.
“Like, ‘Here’s a guitar from Long and McQuade — go learn some Sabbath riffs,’” he laughs. “So I was working with a biomechanics-oriented guitar teacher from Chicago over Zoom. It’s just a much smoother, more relaxed picking technique.”
Speaking of lessons, if all this hustle wasn’t enough for you, Lund also starred in an upcoming feature film, Guitar Lessons by Calgary’s Aaron James Sorenson, director of Hank Williams First Nation.
“I’m an aging, successful, oil and gas operator,” Lund says of the role, “but I was a hotshot guitar player as a kid. My music career didn’t work out, so I’m kind of bitter about it. Then a 14-year-old Cree kid starts bugging me for guitar lessons, and I’m an a**hole to him, but eventually …“
Actually, let’s leave those spoilers on the floor.
Lund and the band are currently in the midst of the Back to the Barrooms Tourwhich will see them play three back-to-back nights at The Starlite Room next week. The general idea of multiple shows in a smaller venue rather than one big arena concert is to help small venues nationwide that seriously struggled during the last couple years. And playing the small venues brings back the old days.
“I think back to me and Doug (Bevans of the smalls) seeing a table where (the owner) was selling memberships to this alternative club called the Bronx. We were some of the first members.”
With the smalls and Lund’s current band, the Hurtin’ Albertans, Lund figures he’s probably played iterations of the room — from the Bronx to the Rev to Starlite Room — dozens of times, and is eager to hit that stage again.
“Three more won’t hurt,” he says. “And I can’t wait to hang out and have a drink with my old friends.”
Corb Lund Back to the Barroom Tour
where The Starlite Room, 10030 102 St.
when May 5-7
tickets sold out