As one of Canada’s most dynamic and animated showmen and songwriters, David Wilcox can also play a mean guitar.
His career stretches back more than 40 years and has led him across this great land of ours countless times.
On the road to becoming one of the country’s most recognized guitarists, Wilcox had a somewhat unlikely yet musically rich experience to kick off his career. After hearing that Amos Garrett was leaving the ranks of Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s band, the Great Speckled Bird, Wilcox pleaded with the performers for the opportunity to audition for their band. This was despite him, reportedly, not even knowing how to tur n a guitar amplifier on.
‘I played with Ian and Sylvia for approximately two and a half years and frankly, it was one of the most magical experiences of my life,’ Wilcox tells The Times & Transcript.
‘That was a big gig, to play guitar with Ian and Sylvia. I had begged for the audition and right around the time of my 21st birthday, they gave me the chance. I had previously had the opportunity to play in bar bands but never before had I performed on television backing the likes of Charlie Rich, Ray Price and Carl Perkins. Playing with this bunch of first-class musicians, including Ben Keith, who played with Neil Young, was such an educational and inspiring experience.’
Being only 21 years old, wouldn’t David have been overwhelmed by the opportunity to mingle with such legendary musical figures?
‘I absolutely knew that it was a big deal. Looking back on it though, it terrified me,’ he laughs. ‘But they didn’t fire me which was wonderful. It was an amazing door to have opened in my life. Literally, it was as though one week prior, I was the guy who wasn’t good at school and didn’t feel as though I had much direction. And the following week, I was playing guitar with Ian and Sylvia.’
During that time, David says that his experiences with the electric guitar had been somewhat limited. He had been jamming with a few different people and decided that he was interested in moving in a direction where he would have a little more creative input while also pursuing different styles of music.
‘It is not that I felt stifled by Ian and Sylvia by any means. It was more that I was interested in playing longer solos and different styles of music. I wanted to stretch out a little bit.’
After amicably parting ways with Ian and Sylvia Tyson, David went on to perform with Maria Muldaur. He launched his own group, David Wilcox and The Teddy Bears, in 1975 before moving onto a fruitful career under his own name in the ’80s and early ’90s. Buoyed by the radio success of songs like ‘Do The Bearcat,’ ‘Breakfast At The Circus,’ ‘Layin’ Pipe’ and ‘Riverboat Fantasy,’ Wilcox secured himself a place in Canadian music history books with a number of gold and platinum records to his credit.
David’s extensive career has allowed him to see the music industry as a kind of rollercoaster experience. He looks back fondly on radio in the ’60s and ’70s when disc jockeys could, in many circumstances, play the music they wanted.
With the rise of the Internet and music sharing, David says the landscape for both new and heritage musicians has had a drastic shift in the way that music is consumed.
‘When I started out, you could play a number of live gigs in little hotels that dotted the countryside and ultimately make a living playing cover songs while also learning your craft. You could work three to six nights a week and learn to work with an audience. That network has largely disappeared today but it hasn’t had the direct impact on my career that it might have for up-and-coming artists.
‘I wouldn’t say it is easier now for musicians by any stretch of the imagination. I was lucky to have gotten signed to a record label. But as anyone who was signed to a label knew, there were plenty of artists that were also wonderful songwriters that just didn’t have the same chance to get their songs heard. So if there is one positive that has come about thanks to the Internet, it is that it is a little more democratic for musicians to get their songs heard.’
Perhaps not surprisingly, given his rich musical history, Wilcox continues to release new music. Although his most recent effort Boy In The Boat is now six years old, he says that a new album is in the works. Rather than releasing new music to satisfy someone else’s demand, David says that he considers it more important to release new music when he is feeling inspired to do so.
In what might be a deliberate nod to his musical beginnings with Ian and Sylvia, David says that the new music he is writing harkens back to those same musical roots.
‘The music that will be on my next record is the same music that I fell in love with as a teen. It is definitely proving to be a gratifying, full circle kind of album.’ he says.