After more than six decades in the music industry, Larry Mercey has a few stories to tell. More than a few, in fact, and a number of them are shared in his new autobiography, Have Mercey: My First Sixty Years Making Music.
The book is now available electronically, including on Amazon, and he hopes to have hard copies in his hand for release next month. That would be the culmination of a project about three years in the making.
In drafting it, he drew on his large supply of scrapbooks chronicling his career, records that date back to the scrapbook kept by his mother following his first appearance at the CKNX Travelling Barn Dance on Dec. 10, 1955. It was a practice he kept up, along with stashing away all of his datebooks, which proved a treasure trove of dates, times and locations.
“It was every place we played over the years,” he said in an interview this week, noting the books provided plenty of fodder to refresh his memory, a link to what were mostly good times in the intervening years.
“I only kept the good staff in the scrapbooks,” he laughed, noting that the touring was mostly a positive experience.
“We were very, very lucky that way.”
Of course, much of his career has been well documented.
Born in Hanover on Dec. 12, 1939, Mercey got his start performing as a teen with the CKNX barn dance broadcast from Wingham. In 1957, he and his brother Ray founded the Mercey Brothers. The duo was joined by brother Lloyd in 1966, and the Mercey Brothers continued to record and perform until 1989. During that time, they released 17 albums and some 50 singles, many of which went to number-one on the charts. The brothers have been inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
When his brothers took different paths, Mercey continued with the music business. His first solo outing was the independent Full Speed Ahead in 1990, featuring the hit single “These Crazy Arms of Mine.” In 1991 he was nominated for Country Male Vocalist awards at the Junos and the Country Music Awards. By 1994 he had landed a deal with Rodeo Records, who picked up the tab on album number two, Let’s Deal Again.
Slowing down for a while, Mercey found he couldn’t stray too far from performing and recording, recruiting George Lonsbury (guitar and vocals) and Al Alderson (bass and vocals) to form the Larry Mercey Trio in 2004.
Over the course of decades, he’s played across the country, in Europe and the U.S., including at Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry. There are Juno Awards, Big Country Awards and the C.F. Martin Guitar Lifetime Achievement Award.
Through the ups and downs, getting out on stage and playing for an audience has never lost its luster. Even as his brothers opted for other pursuits, music remained his focus.
“I was the first one, and I’ve just kept doing it,” he said. “I never stopped the music.”
In that time, he’s seen the ups and downs of a music industry that has changed dramatically.
“I wouldn’t want to be starting today – we were at it at the best time,” he said of the band’s era.
From the wholesale changes in the recording industry to the loss of so many venues offering live music, being a musician presents so many challenges today. With an established audience and the ability to pace his own schedule, Mercey is in a position that’s a luxury to young artists today, none of whom will get to experience the industry as it was in its heyday. Even the chance to tour isn’t what it used to be given the decline in the number of spots offering live music, he notes.
He, however, has plenty of stories from the road, where the brothers spent much of their time. Despite all of the touring, he still enjoys travelling today.
“People think you’d never want to do that again,” he laughed. “I still like staying at a hotel – I still love that.”
Nice hotels weren’t always an option in his touring days, either because the town’s one hotel wasn’t exactly a five-star offering or because musicians weren’t always welcome. The image of the room-wrecking musicians wasn’t just a cliché: it happened, he said. That was a barrier to those performers who just wanted a nice place to stay for the night.
“We just wanted to be judged on us. We weren’t interested in anything other than a nice experience.”
No matter the room, however, there were always good memories from the road.
He recalls one night at a festival in Florida where Charley Pride – who passed away earlier this month – sang a song penned by Mercey, entitled America the Great, that was to be released on his latest album.
“After a minute, people started standing. A minute later, more people were standing, and by the time he finished, everyone was standing up. Charley was blown away – he’d never seen that kind of reaction to a new song,” said Mercey, noting the song became a staple of Pride’s shows.
“He was a really nice guy. He was a great man.”
Along the way, Mercey got to play with a number of country stars, the likes of George Jones, Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty.
Most were good experiences, he says, noting there were a few hiccups here and there.
Opening for George Jones one night in Moncton, the band was approached by a road manager who wanted the openers to go on earlier, with the house lights still up, so that Jones could take to the stage earlier. The band held its ground, however, noting they were a national act that would perform as scheduled, he said. Things worked out just fine, he notes in the book:
“Over the years we found some American road managers think they are God, while others were very helpful. This time we weren’t going to be pushed around. He came back and said okay, but he didn’t know how George was going to handle it; if he’d go on at all. As we were doing the last number of our set, George’s road manager came to the side of the stage, got our attention and put his finger up asking us to do one more number. It was like he respected us for standing up for ourselves. After the concert, we went to George’s dressing room and met him and discovered everything was fine. He probably didn’t even know there was an issue.”
Ego is, of course, a part of the business, even for three Canadian boys from Hanover. But they were always kept grounded by their upbringing and the advice imparted early on by their father.
“Our father told us to always remember that somebody came before you, and some is coming after you. I never forgot that,” he said.
Looking back at 65 years in the business, Mercey said he wouldn’t have much in the way of advice for his 16-year-old self.
“There’s really very little I would change. We were satisfied with the career we had,” he said, noting he has no regrets about his path, including making no compromises to take a shot at the U.S. market. That would have meant giving up on family time.
“We were happy to be a big fish in a small pond,” he laughed.
“I feel very blessed to be at it as long as I was,” he added of his career.
And he’s still at it, though there have been no shows this year due to the pandemic, a reality for most musicians just now. But he has no plans to call it quits.
“I don’t want to say I’m not doing it anymore, and then not stop,” he said, noting there are more than a few musicians who end up doing multiple farewell tours.
He still enjoys performing, and as long as that’s the case, he’ll keep at it, with the added benefit of offsetting the date on his birth certificate.
“I want to stay young. I want to think young, and get out there,” he laughed of maintaining a performance schedule.
When the pandemic is behind us, he hopes to start performing again. And this time he’ll have copies of the autobiography in town. He’s already got a list of people who’ve asked for copies, and will be making them available for $25. He’s taking orders via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.