Big Country from Small-town Alberta
Finding a Good Place to Start with Drew Gregory
Throughout all the years I’ve spent listening to and writing about music, one thing that never fails to impress me is the power a few simple chords can have. Music possesses this unique ability to bring people together in song and dance. It creates communities, stirs passions, and lift spirits. It galvanizes movements, fueling the sort of change and excitement that can lead to amazing, incredible results. Most inspiring of all, though, is that music can come from anywhere – even a small village on the Canadian Prairies.
Now, that village could be any small settlement in western Canada, but in this story, it’s Standard, Alberta: population 353. In addition to having a nigh-unbeatable 1A Girls’ Volleyball team (go, Rams!), Standard is the hometown of Drew Gregory – one of Canadian country’s brightest rising stars and 2019 Alberta Country Music Male Artist of the Year, who just so happens to be performing right here in Langdon at the Firehouse Bar and Grill on March 6 (don’t miss it!).
As big a name as Gregory is in country music now, though, he started out from humble roots, growing up on the Prairies like so many of us did, surrounded by golden fields of wheat, big open blue skies, and a love of all things musical.
“We’d have dance parties when we were kids,” Gregory told me when I got the chance to sit down with him and talk about where his passion for music came from. “Dad always had a huge vinyl collection, and mom always had the radio on – I think it was 66 CFR back in those days (the golden oldies!).” Gregory laughed as he reminisced, and I could practically here the classic sing-song “66 CFR” soundbite playing in my head, taking me back a good couple of years.
“They always loved music,” he went on. “Neither one of them played an instrument or anything, but there was always that love of music as a family.” I couldn’t help but wonder, then, how Gregory had made the leap from enjoying music to playing it. As it turns out, it all went down during the summer before Gregory started high school.
“I’d been over at a friend’s house quite a bit,” he told me, “and he had a guitar in the corner, and I always picked it up and played it. Finally, he said, ‘Why don’t you get a guitar?’ and I thought Hey, that might be an alright idea. So, I saved up some money, and my parents helped me out a little bit, and I bought my first guitar. And I could. Not. Put. It. Down. I’d play it from the minute I got home from school right until I went to bed.”
There it is: the power of music. It really is incredible how strong a grasp a simple six-string can have on the soul. Gregory didn’t just pick up the guitar and start strumming songs about pick-up trucks and broken hearts, though. No journey is ever a straight line, and his was no different.
“I was probably a little bit more of a rock fan originally,” Gregory confessed to me with a chuckle. “Mostly because my parents listened to so much classic rock. Dad always loved his southern rock – and there are country roots in that, for sure. I’d say the country really came along more when I started getting into songwriting maybe a few years later, kind of after college. You just start writing what you know – and growing up in a small town and on the farm, it was pretty hard to write anything other than country music, so that’s kind of where that came from.”
If you’ve listened to anything Gregory’s written, this bit of info will likely come as no surprise. Gregory’s music – while it is, without a doubt, country through-and-through – is dripping with southern rock inspiration. In fact, the very first track on his most recent album, Good Place to Start, opens with a wailing slide guitar, giving way to a raucous country LP full of big, boisterous guitar licks that give a nod to that underlying rock-n-roll influence.
“With a lot of my albums, I kind of worked that classic rock feel in with more country-style lyrics and really developed my sound through that, which is definitely the tone I want to set, for sure,” Gregory told me as we dug into the details of Good Place. “Country’s how I grew up, and it was an easy choice to fall into that genre.”
It’s that authenticity – that lived experience – that I believe truly causes Gregory’s music to resonate with people. Gregory’s no pretender to country. He IS country, right down to his bones. So many “country” artists out there seem to be dabbling in the genre just to cash in on the sound and make a quick buck. Gregory’s music stands apart in no small part due to that real, genuine understanding of what it’s like to grow up in the country.
“I love singing songs and hearing songs about the Prairies and farming – that’s my day job, after all,” he mused as we came to the subject during our conversation. “That’s where I come up with a lot of my ideas. You get a lot of time out there to just drive back and forth and a lot of time to think. Some of the first tractors we were driving just had the AM radio, so you’re out there all day listening to some of that classic country, and you’re just singing along, and that’s actually where I developed a lot of my vocals. The farm’s been a big influence that way. It also very much keeps me grounded. You go on tour and then you come back for seeding season, and you’re kind of just back on a tractor again! I worked in the oil patch for a little while, too, and there’s a couple songs I’ve got about that – being in Alberta, that kind of hard-working, blue collar mentality has found its way into the music big time. In this business, talent is important, but who you are as a person counts just as much.”
The way Gregory ended that thought really struck me. I’d done my homework before we got together to chat, and I had learned that Gregory embodies that very Albertan spirit that he admires so much (and then some) by recently taking part in a charity concert to raise money to help support those affected by the devastating Australian wildfires.
“I’ve been partnered with Cervus for a few years on the farm, and they’ve worked with me on my music a little bit, too,” Gregory began when I asked him to tell me a little bit about that selfless benefit show. “The guy that runs the Calgary office is actually from Australia, and it was his whole idea to put this night together to see what they could do to help everyone suffering from the wildfires. They called me to play music, and that was no question. I’d gone to Australia in college to do some backpacking, so it’s got this special place in my heart. I know it seems like every year, you hear about wildfires, but obviously this year it was substantially worse. I just actually found out that they raised over $40,000 (!!!) that night during the show. That’s exactly what I love about Alberta: even when times are tough here, we recognize that there are still people who’ve got it worse out there in the world, and we’ll open up our wallets and give and help out. I love that spirit of this province, for sure.”
There it is, in full effect: the extraordinary power of music at work. What else but music could rally a community to a cause to such great effect? A cause – to Gregory’s point – that isn’t here in Alberta, or even here in Canada, but halfway around the world? It truly is incredible, which might be why Gregory was able to kick off 2020 by adding two more awards to his already-impressive list of accolades: 2019 Alberta Country Music Awards Male Artist of the Year and Song of the Year.
“It’s kind of funny,” Gregory began modestly when I brought these stand-out achievements up. “I had six nominations the year before and we didn’t won anything, and I’d put so much music out and done so much – and then this year, I put out just one single and pushed it pretty good, and I wasn’t really expecting too much, and then I ended up winning.” He paused for a moment, considering. “It’s not that I’m in it for the awards or anything, by any means. But at the same time, when I think about that night and the celebration we all had, and the joy from the whole team – because they’ve all worked so hard all year for me – and my family, for all the sacrifices they’ve made for me…that to me is the coolest part about it. You’ve got physical proof that all this is for something, and it drives me to be better. It motivates me to go onto the next thing, knowing that we’re on the right path.”
Luckily for his fans, that exciting ‘next thing’ isn’t too far off now: “There’s definitely new music coming!” Gregory told me eagerly when I asked him if we can expect to see a release in the near future. “That’s the big thing we’re working on this winter: just writing like crazy and making sure that what we’re putting together is the next level up. We’re taking our time with this one and just making sure it’s a project that we’re really proud of. It’s getting harder and harder to top the last one because it feels like we’re setting the bar that much higher every time, but like always, we’re just loving every minute of it.”
Don’t miss Drew Gregory when he tours through town to visit the Langdon Firehouse Bar and Grill on March 6 with his signature, award-winning brand of authentic Albertan country. Visit the Firehouse Page on Facebook to learn more – don’t miss your chance to experience one of the biggest acts in Canadian country today, right here in Langdon!