Much has changed in the four decades that the Good Brothers have been performing – not least of which the entire music business itself – but there’s been one constant: they’re having fun doing it.
In fact, they may be having more fun these days, removed from the daily demands of record company execs and tour promoters. That will be on display Sunday afternoon for the audience at Maryhill’s Commercial Tavern.
“The last 10 years have maybe been the most fun I’ve had making music,” said Bruce Good on the line from his Toronto-area home.
At this stage in their career, the brothers are making music for the joy of it, with no pressure or expectations. There’s no more obligations, except to their fans, of course.
Fans and fun. Central themes through it all. It’s a different kind of fun, perhaps, and a different kind of fan – more grey hair, at any rate.
Things got rolling in the’60s, with Richmond Hill-born twins Bruce and Brian Good getting caught up in the music scene. Meeting up with James Ackroyd, they became James & the Good Brothers, getting their big break in 1970 by playing their first gig at Maple Leaf Gardens as an opening act for Grand Funk Railroad. An album, which was released on Columbia and aided by members of the Grateful Dead, catapulted the group into the Canadian country music spotlight.
Then came the Festival Express tour that had them performing alongside the likes of Janis Joplin, the Band, Ten Years After, and the Grateful Dead. They also performed with Gordon Lightfoot and John Hammond.
By 1973, Akroyd had opted to remain in the States, while Bruce and Brian Good returned home, where they enlisted younger brother Larry to become the Good Brothers. In 1976, they released their self-titled debut album, which was a mix of their traditional roots, folk, and country background with a range of rock blended in. The album earned them a Juno Award for Best Country Group, an award they received each year from 1976 to 1983. They also received a gold record for sales of their live album in 1981.
That stretch was fun, yes. But also brought many pressures. Today, that’s all gone, said Good. It’s music on their own terms, made and performed for the joy of it.
“We’re still at it. We still love making music. We’ll do it as long as people want to hear our music.”
Through it all, they’ve managed to stay together as a unit, not just as family. Oh, like any band – or family members, for that matter – there are spats and blowups, but nothing that doesn’t blow over.
“We’ve been lucky on that front. It’s because we’re good brothers first, and we’re the Good Brothers second,” he laughed.
Each of the brothers knows they’re better off together – a “united we stand” mindset.
“We know our strengths. We’re simply better when we’re together.”
Just as technology has changed the music industry, societal changes have altered the live music scene; there are fewer bars and clubs doing live music, and those kinds of venues aren’t a big priority for the Goods these days. Festivals, fairs and concert venues are the place to find them, as a rule. They’ve done 37 tours of Europe, with number 38 already lined up for next spring. There’ll be a summer tour in Canada, including a stop in Calgary for the Stampede.
It’s a different world from night after night in smoky bars – the smoking also a thing of the past now – and the constant touring, says Good.
They don’t play a lot of club dates, but make exceptions for places like the Commercial Tavern; the Maryhill venue is a different breed where the music is a key element. People come out for the music specifically.
“It’s almost like a concert audience,” he said of the venue and the people who come out to the shows. “It’s a responsible audience … there for the music. It’s a pleasure to play there.
“Paul’s got a great place there. He really supports the music and musicians,” Good adds of Commercial Tavern owner Paul Weber.
For Sunday’s show, the audience can expect a good retrospective of the Goods’ career.
“We get a lot of requests for our old stuff – we do take requests – and there’ll be a few new songs that we’ll perform.”
The brothers will be joined by fiddler Dan Howlett, no stranger to the Commercial Tavern. His playing will go along with Bruce Good’s autoharp, Brian’s guitar and Larry’s banjo.
The Good Brothers perform at the Commercial Tavern Apr. 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20, available at the venue, 1303 Maryhill Rd., or by calling 519-648-3644.