In the epitome of popular music, the 1980s represents what often seems like the last period in which bands had the freedom to express themselves both musically and visually through their songwriting and stage shows. One of the major musical movements of that era was new wave.
Headlined by the popularity of Blondie, The Cars, and The Talking Heads, new wave artists combined cutting edge musical technologies such as synthesizers and drum machines with radical attire that matched the uniqueness of those new instruments.
Joining the new wave fray from north of the border, Edmonton’s Famous Blue Raincoat took its name from fellow Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen’s song of the same title.
Famous Blue Raincoat, like most bands, never achieved the levels of success of The Cars or fellow Canadians Rush. But the experience did provide Genesis Integration founder and guitarist/keyboardist Kelly McCarthy with a lifetime of experiences to call upon when he launched Genesis Integration nearly 30 years ago.
McCarthy recalls the struggles of trying to land a major record deal and what he would have done if he had the opportunity to meet blues guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Commercial Integrator: How did you first get started in music?
Kelly McCarthy: At school the teachers put together a band and played “I Fought the Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four. That was it for me. Music lessons started the next day. Piano first and then guitar. Funny enough, Howard Steele ended up producing some of the recordings I made later with Famous Blue. He was the bass player in the Bobby Fuller Four after Bobby Fuller died.
What were your instruments of interest … guitar, keyboard, drums? What made you gravitate towards a particular instrument?
KM: I mainly played guitar and keyboards live and in bands. I played French horn in high school, too.
When I worked in the studio, however, we would do radio ads and TV jingles, and sometimes the drummer wouldn’t show up so I was the engineer and drummer. Sometimes the bass player would show up so I ran the recording console with one hand and played keyboard bass with the other.
It was a job. You did what you had to.
What musicians influenced you? What did you admire about these bands and musicians?
KM: I liked everything. Seriously. Even today I listen to classical, jazz, metal and country. Today I have a better appreciation for some of the artists that I grew up with who have endured. They were writing and performing very high-quality stuff. Dizzy and Miles, Tony [Iommi] and Geezer [Butler] from Black Sabbath … It didn’t matter, as long as it was good.
Did you find it more difficult to find gigs in Canada?
KM: Not really. Just a longer drive between venues. Live entertainment in the bars and clubs was very prevalent when I was young. It was all booze fueled. In a city of a million people there would be 20 rock bands playing on any given night.
Did the band have any kind of moment like in the early day of Rush’s career in which a U.S. market noticed the band (in the case of Rush, it was a Cleveland radio station)?
KM: No, we were not ever that good. We were offered Canadian record deals, but if you could not get U.S. distribution you never had a chance. It was a life sentence of travel and poverty. We were never offered the U.S. distribution deal.
Can you explain the name of your band, Famous Blue Raincoat?
KM: Famous Blue Raincoat was a song by the Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen. It was a moving song and not very popular except in the arts circles. After we started and gained some popularity in Canada, Jennifer Warnes released an album of the same name where she covered all Leonard Cohen songs.
You were gigging with the band during the 1980s and the look of the band appears that it was part of the new wave movement. Is that an accurate assessment?
KM: Very accurate. I was in a band prior to that called Slash and the Bleed Hearts. Blue mohawk and all.
Did you contribute to the writing process? How did the band approach the songwriting process? Is the band’s music available for purchase today?
KM: All four and then five members wrote together. The major driving force for songwriting in the band was the singer, Frank Jeskiw. Sadly, Frank is no longer with us.
There are no back catalogs for Famous Blue Raincoat.
You state that you were the guy fixing the band’s gear, if this is the case it seems unusual that you didn’t enter the musical instrument (MI). How did you end up starting Genesis Integration?
KM: I started in music stores at a very young age. I worked in music stores when I wasn’t on the road. I knew how to put rigs together and so selling for the integration division of a music store was more fun than selling another Fender Stratocaster to someone. It paid better as well.
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Do you still play today, and if so, can you describe your current rig?
KM: Zip, nada, nothing. When the business and family started I would do the odd pickup gig. It was apparent very quickly that without practice, one becomes quite rusty very fast. It got to be frustrating because my head knew what to do but my hands couldn’t keep up. Eventually, I just packed it in.
Over the years I sold all of my stuff.
What would be the ultimate bill for Famous Blue Raincoat to play? Who would the band open for, or who would open for Famous Blue Raincoat?
KM: We played some awesome gigs. We played with symphonies, we played in front of the Parliament Buildings on Canada Day to a sea of people, we toured with great musicians, recorded, did videos, etc.
I don’t really have any regrets or wish that I would have opened for anyone. I probably would have had more fun jamming with someone like Stevie Ray Vaughn over a few beers.
Learn more about Famous Blue Raincoat on the band’s Facebook page.
Commercial Integrator profiles musicians who work in the AV industry. If you would like to participate in CI’s “Industry’s Got Talent” series please submit your information to Bob Archer at email@example.com.