This week Ears and Eyes’ contributor, J Bolds, caught up with singer songwriter and Juno nominee, John MacDonald, over some delicious nacho dip. Fresh from the Juno Awards this weekend, John was selling swag, slinging handmade guitars and passing the hat in a garage on Algoma Street.
No, not John (Angus) MacDonald from the Trews. But an accomplished musician nonetheless and a mentor and influence to Métis singer-songwriter, Amanda Rheaume. The pair met in Ottawa at an open mic hosted by the female singer, who is known for her gritty, powerful voice. Amanda was a “beam of light” for John who had at the time, left North Bay to escape some deep personal conflicts. Long story short, the two became great friends and collaborators, as one must when co-writing songs with such raw emotion like the heart-wrencher, “Write You a Letter”.
Amanda’s latest album Keep a Fire, was nominated for Aboriginal Album of the Year, and is a collection of family stories celebrating her Métis heritage. John co-wrote a number of songs on Keep a Fire which he shared during his set in the Soo, however boasts his own collection of songs about love and how life goes on. In addition to his own material, John covered classics from Canadians Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, with a little John Prine and Van Morrison to round it off.
Working with Amanda has been amazing for John who has found a renewed passion in his music. That said, going to the Juno’s ain’t cheap so he will be doing the singer-songwriter bit along the way back to Ottawa this week. According to John, the best moment on Sunday was running into Jazz musician Earl MacDonald who was sporting a tartan sport jacket (a gift from his father) which matched perfectly with the tie that John donned. What happens at the Junos, stays at the Junos, as they(?) say.
John’s style is a mix of Canadian folk, bluegrass and country with some blues and rock infused in between. Despite being a one man band, he filled the tiny garage with the sounds of a thousand guitars. And quite intentionally as John’s weapon of choice , a jumbo auditorium, full voice guitar, (which Jess got to strum) was handcrafted in his shop in Ottawa. In the past decade John has become a skilled luthier. He builds guitars that he would want to play, customizing them for musicians such as Amanda and Marc Charron. Save up kids! You too can own a JM custom guitar, or build your own by enrolling in John’s class at Algonquin College.
Or better yet keep it local and get your order in to Treehouse Guitars. Located just outside of SSM in Desbarats, ON, young musician and artist, Zachary Schryer-Lefebvre will custom build you an instrument that according to his website will, “exceed the sound qualities of even the most well-known luthiers today”. Hey John, sounds like you’ve got some serious competition.
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