GRAND RIVER: A Johnny Cash tribute show will be returning to the stages of two local venues in the coming days and weeks.
The show is the brainchild of Bill Culp, a native of Ontario who moved to Richmond County two years ago after decades spent touring the globe. Now living in Grand River after moving there in July, 2019, Culp is very happy in his new home.
“I always liked it out there, and I certainly liked the people, I think people out here are real down home, real honest people, good people and I felt that I fit in pretty well with everybody,” Culp told The Reporter. “I like the music, the scene out here, the rootsy-ness of it. And certainly love the scenery, I’ve got a great place on the water, I love it.”
Before he moved, Culp had a storied career in the music business as the founder of Bill Culp Productions Inc., one of the largest tribute show producers in Canada, with over 200 shows per year in Europe, Australia, the United States, and Canada. Culp’s theatrical company specializes in musical tribute shows like “Motown Gold,” “Beatlemania Revisited,” and “Homeward Bound: The Simon & Garfunkel Story,” which performed in 300 to 1,200 seat theatres across Canada and the world.
Culp became a full-time musician in 1985 and since then, he has worked with Garth Hudson from The Band, Cleave Anderson from Blue Rodeo, Jack deKeyzer, Joan and Keith from Prairie Oyster, CCMA Hall of Famer Marie Bottrell, Donnie Walsh from Downchild Blues Band, and Hamilton 1980’s rockers Teenage Head, among others.
In his time on the stage, Culp has played famous venues like the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England (which helped launch The Beatles), the Grey Cup, the Canadian Country Music Awards, and he’s even performed at the Arctic Circle. Culp also recorded at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis Tennessee in 2007.
As a stage actor and voice actor, Culp has done narration and described video voiceovers for feature films like Marvel’s The Avengers, Spiderman 2, Bride of Chucky, Godzilla, and Independence Day.
When COVID-19 hit last March, a business and career Culp has been developing for more than three decades came to a sudden, crashing halt.
“At the time, I was certainly king of the heap, I had a 35-year career in the music business, and I was travelling the world, and playing 1,000 seat theatres every night, I was living the dream,” Culp recalled. I was forced to take a look at my life and reinvent myself, so that’s what I’ve been busy doing.”
In conjunction with the Cape Breton Partnership, Culp is writing a book about his music career called Have Guitar, will Travel that outlines his career and the effect of the pandemic on it. The book includes conversations with venue stakeholders, as well as musicians like J.P. Cormier, and it is scheduled to be released in December.
“That was a great introduction to a lot of people on the island,” Culp said of the book.
It was also at this time that Culp met some local musicians while attending jam sessions at venues like the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique and the MacBouche Restaurant & Lounge in St. Peter’s.
As part of this reinvention, Culp created the “Johnny Cash Kitchen Party,” a tribute to the late great country singer, with an east coast twist. This show features Rob Smith as Johnny Cash on guitar and vocals, Rocky Boudreau on drums, Vince Burke on bass and vocals, and Julie Murphy on fiddle and vocals.
“The crowds, obviously because of social distancing, they’re smaller but it’s still workable to play under the right circumstances,” he said. “It’s still really fun, we’re having a blast.”
The first show at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique on September 16 sold out, and because an October 16 show at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn in St. Peter’s also sold-out, a second show on November 27 was added. The show will return to the Judique venue on November 13, with the possibility of a Saturday show if the Friday performance sells out.
Culp says the show provides a “made in the Atlantic Bubble” solution for east coast performance venues including theatres, community halls, clubs, and restaurants. The kitchen party also helps Cape Breton musicians because there is an opportunity to play other venues.
“We’re putting on a theatre-type show, all with local people,” he pointed out. “We’ve taken my experience, with the musical talent that’s on the island and we’ve created something that’s a great option for the venues that are out here now. There’s an opportunity for the musicians, and there’s an opportunity for the venues.”
Culp added that he has also started working with the legendary comedy chain Yuk Yuk’s, to develop an “Atlantic Solution” that will similarly benefit local comedians and venues.
“I’m amazed at the level of talent out here, it’s unbelievable,” he added. “I think in a lot of ways, people here realize there’s a music scene, but I don’t think people in the rest of Canada realize how much talent there is and how vibrant the scene is. Music just seems to seep out of people’s pores here. It’s in their souls.”