Canadian children’s entertainers The Skalywags not only have the kids laughing and dancing to their music but they keep the grown-ups entertained too.
The Skalywags are Steve Ofner of St. Clements on bass and Kitchener residents Duane Lipskie on guitar and Ed Wahba on drums.
The three men began playing as a rock band in high school when they were known as ‘The Nuts,’ performing cover songs while touring the beaches and local bars. They even released an album of original work in 1995.
Eventually those high school boys would grow up, get married and began to raise families.
“Some of us have kids now and it can really take a turn when you are playing bars until 3 a.m.: your kids don’t care what time you get home they expect you to be ready the next morning when they wake up,” said Lipskie. “I personally started to take a back seat to the band as I couldn’t really focus on it as much as I use to with my family waiting for me at home.”
In 2005 Lipskie began to explore writing children’s stories and sat down with Ofner one day to discuss the idea.
“Being musicians we just automatically started putting catchy melodies to the words and it just seemed like a natural evolution for us,” said Lipskie.
The two men kept their new music a secret, even from bandmate Wahba, as they wanted to flesh out more ideas and tunes. Eventually they told Wahba about their new direction, and he was on board instantly.
“(Wahba) embraced the new music right away and started to help with the arrangement of the music, revamping them with his unique style, dissecting them and making the music better,” said Ofner.
Constantly singing songs in his head, Wahba is always trying to find ways to make a song listenable.
“I don’t like things that repeat too much so in my mind I like to break up continuity and create little catches that will keep people interested,” said Wahba.
The band began writing songs together and recently compiled the music into their first CD release called simply The Skalywags. The album was independently produced in Ofner’s home studio and boasts 10 original children’s songs.
“We don’t dumb down the music, because we don’t think the kids want that kind of music: we hit them as adults interacting with kids, and we don’t take them for granted,” said Ofner. “We personally feel that a lot of kid’s music out there is dumbed down.”
This approach to making children’s music comes from having their own children and realizing that kids are smarter than most adults give them credit for.
“We don’t do any hokey songs, it can be silly and there is a difference and you can tell when kids are into the song that they like it for the music not because it is hokey,” said Ofner.
Still working on their shtick the band makes sure shows flow by telling stories between songs and explain any hand gestures or movements that the audience should make while they play.
“It’s all about being a kid and what it is like to be a kid, like brushing your teeth, getting dirty or losing your first tooth,” said Lipskie. “We hear back from parents too and they like the music just as much as the kids do and that is very rewarding knowing that we are making music for everyone to enjoy.”
The band has played small parties with an acoustic set up to larger events like the Hillside Festival in Guelph and Square to Square in Waterloo, where they have their full group performing including extra bandmates Tammy Stinson (Ofner’s wife) on vocals and the melodica, Shelley Fluri, on vocals, Trevor Fluri on guitar and Chris Brenneman playing percussion.
Stinson has recently taken on a larger role with the band, helping to promote the group and ensures the audience gets up and dancing during concerts.
“We needed an element to engage our audience, the music is not complicated but it is busy stuff and at first we were finding it hard to engage the kids to get hopping and clapping and (Stinson) is that element that we were lacking. Plus, three middle-aged men are not really appealing to kids so (Stinson) is the engaging factor of the group,” said Lipskie.
Over the last six months the band has been on a high, releasing their first CD in September and is performing the first Skalywag Holiday Hop Clap on Dec. 3 at the Waterloo Arts Centre starting at 1 p.m. The band will be playing their songs as well as a bunch of Christmas songs. There is a $10 fee per family and that includes the show and a copy of the new CD. Donations for the Waterloo Region Food Bank will also be accepted at the show.
“It’s great to play to a crowd that is listening to your music, coming from the bar scene where no one is paying attention or you are playing to the guy sweeping the floor at the end of the night to have 20 or 30 kids jumping around in front of you is just amazing,” said Lipskie.
Tickets to the December show can be purchased at www.theskalywags.com.