(WINDSOR, ON) – I made a recent trip to Phog Lounge to catch a live set of original folk music by the very accomplished and popular local singer-songwriter Ron Leary. The invite also gave notice that he was opening for Jeff Stiles and company.
Although the name sounded familiar, the time and place couldn’t initially be determined, so waiting around seem questionable.
Local music producer Mark Planke entered Phog to watch the show. He loves watching Leary live, but he disclosed that he was primarily there to see Stiles.
Stiles is not just another player. I still wasn’t aware of what I was about to be hear, see, and feel in the midst of this micro musical who’s who, in the comfort of Canada’s best live music venue of it’s size.
The wait was not long as Stiles elected to sit in on two of Leary’s last three selections. His improv stylings on the locally famous The Road In Between, the title track of his debut full length album, were remarkable and very similar to the soul stirring licks of Dean Drouillard, who played guitar on the original track.
After Leary closed with To Life, a personal favorite off his last album Tobacco Fields, the unassuming Stiles mounted the stage with his two band mates for the evening. A trio I soon after came to learn is ironically called Mrs Smith.
Immediately the trio tore into a set of about 12 of their high velocity original rock and roll, rock and blues, and even rock and ska, tunes. At first I thought, as a listener who grew up on 70s classic rock, “Okay, this stuff is really good.”
As they progressed thru their line-up, much to the delight of the responsive audience, it quickly became apparent that these take-no-prisoners rockers were of the highest caliber of the Windsor- and Detroit-area musicians.
For those who don’t know this already, be it henceforth known for the record that Windsor and Detroit has the highest per-capita musical talent in the world; bar none. Not just in reference to the CKLW Motown era, but before and since.
You need only to sit down and talk with local hall of fame guitarist Scotty “Shoes” Hughes about the pre-Motown benders, or with Jaimie Greer about contemporary artists, to test my theory.
Notwithstanding, it was all nicely summed up in the recent documentary Border City Music Project, co-produced by Jon Gillies and Dusty D’Annunzio.
Back to Stiles and Mrs Smith.
“The band was established back in the 80s by current bass player John Ashley,” Stiles explained. “Although the original band disbanded years ago, John carried on as a solo show with a of monster rack of effects and a bass. You wanna hear a one man Pink Floyd? It was just huge. It was like he could set the bass down, go to restaurant have a hamburger, come back, and it’s still going. He’s just incredible.”
The third member, and drummer extraordinaire, of Mrs Smith is Rob Mitchie.
“He’s just soo steady back their cooking,” said Stiles’ wife Lisa. “Did you notice how he just plays along nonchalantly with this drop shoulder thing that he does?”
While the drop shoulder manoeuvre was apparent on first sight, Ritchie’s steady rap of his stick on the rim of his snare drum and tom toms, to accentuate the bass and drum tempo, was signature. He also rode the high hat as expeditiously as Stiles fired out lead rifts and as deftly as Ashely danced about thumping on the bass as though he was playing lead guitar.
Why Mrs Smith?
“As the story goes [Ashley] got the name Mrs Smith from a serial killer in England in the 1800s,” said Stiles. “She used to have people over for tea and then poison the tea. Then buried them in the back yard.”
When Mrs Smith, the band, isn’t banging out tunes together, Stiles slows it down a tad and plays in a band called First Fall with his wife, Lisa. With their very approachable demeaner, which makes it easy to relate to them beyond just their music, it’s no wonder they’ve been gigging at the Walkerville Eatery since last October.