On Friday, March 23, The Wolfgang Brothers will be performing in a special concert at The Barn in Meaford, with opener Bill Monahan.
Brian Wakelin (a.k.a Wolfgang) and Delbert Metherel, who form the duo The Wolfgang Brothers, have evolved a performance style over the years that combines great musicianship with a dry laid-back humour, mixing their own originals with songs selected for their pleasure rather than pandering to jukebox tastes. The result is always a fun night.
They have been playing together since the mid-1970s. Through all those years their groove has solidified into something unique, a special communication that shows every time they play. They’ve gone through several phases, including show bands, rock bands and jazz, settling into their own brand of 'hillbilly jazz' combined with 'comedy songs'.
“We were in our early twenties,” says Delbert. “We did go to high school together but we played in rival bands. It was about 1974 when we first started playing; the Wolfgang Brothers took off about ’76 I guess.
“I came back from the west coast about 1974 and played in a show band called Tucker with Virgil Scott. It was my project basically and I just lined everybody up. There were two fellows from the west coast that I had played with out there, a fellow named Mike Bush on keys and Terry Murphy on guitar.”
Brian played bass in Tucker and when that project finished, their management recruited them as the rhythm section for a Rolling Stone cover band, Hot Roxx (not to be confused with the more recent Hot Rocks Rolling Stones Tribute out of Chicago).
“Delbert quit the Hot Roxx a couple of weeks before we got together as a duo,” says Brian, “and Kid Carson was a replacement for Delbert.” He adds with a chuckle, “and then they started making money.
“I did a solo at the Gamebridge Inn as Wolfgang. Delbert soon joined me. We both had beards at the time and people kept asking if we were brothers. We starting saying yes and changed the name to The Wolfgang Brothers.”
“We were both living in Cannington,” Delbert adds, “probably about the only two musicians living in Cannington at the time. That’s when I started playing bass and it was a duo, kind of a folk/comedy duo, bass and harmonica.”
“We spent most of the summer at the Gamebridge Inn, just working it up and having fun mostly. We played a lot before the Gamebridge Inn, but that’s where we learned a lot, especially paring everything down to two pieces and still making that connection. It eventually evolved into a band, initially with Mitch Lewis on guitar and Kid Carson on drums.”
They both changed instruments when they became The Wolfgang Brothers. Delbert switched from drums to bass and Brian from bass to guitar. This versatility holds them in good stead as a duo. Although they often have others sitting in, they will augment their duo performances with a high hat and kick, which Delbert plays with his feet while plucking the upright bass, and Brian’s harmonica is on a neck rack while he plays jazzy guitar runs.
“We played the Horseshoe quite a bit for a while in that period,” says Brian, “almost once a month. I’d say it was probably half originals, and the rest of the stuff covers that you wouldn’t hear.
“There was a period of maybe six, eight years when we pretty well always were a band,” says Delbert. “A lot of it in Calgary days we were a 3-piece most of the time with a drummer. We were in Calgary from ’80 to ’84. All through the late '70s, into the mid-'80s, we were always just playing music.”
“Back in the day it was road trips, northern Ontario trips of course. We were always on the road for the most part.
“We still play regularly but nothing that constitutes a living by any means,” he adds, with a refrain echoed by many veteran musicians. “The market’s not there now.”
Opening for The Wolfgang Brothers will be Bill Monahan. That’s me. You may know me as the guy who writes about local music, or the guy that shows up at your home to solve your electronics problems, wearing a work shirt with his name embroidered on the pocket, but for as long as I can remember, through whatever other pursuits, I’ve always been a compulsive songwriter.
I met Brian and Delbert when we were all in our twenties. At that time they were already professional musicians and I was just a kid who never put down his guitar. They jotted down a few of my songs that they liked and I was pleased and flattered that years later they still retain them their repertoire, which had grown not only with countless covers but with their own originals.
It was all the more flattering considering that Brian is a very prolific songwriter himself.
“I just downloaded my original songs and I’ve got, I think, 200 tunes in the last couple of years either half done or done,” he sayid. “I have a regimen of doing song writing every day and practising every day.” But the songs aren’t really finished until he’s run them by Delbert, and all of their originals are credited to the both of them.
“I’ve never written a whole lot on my own,” says Delbert. “I’m never very happy with anything I write. I tend to be more of the rhythm end of the process here with Brian. I’ll write a verse on a song sometimes or something like that. Most of the inspirations I’m usually too far away from an instrument and then it’s gone.”
The essence of The Wolfgang Brothers is in their live performance.
“If you don’t have that live audience, it’s not the same,” says Delbert. “It’s hard to put a finger on it but the performance is just focused in a different place and I think that’s what makes it lively. I’ve never really enjoyed the studio process much, that sterile kind of do it right or don’t do it at all kind of thing. It puts a whole different stressor into it than a live performance. It takes it somewhere else.
“Even when we’re in our home studio, it will always start with what we generate in our live performance, our kick and hi-hat and stand-up bass and harmonica. And then if things need tweaking, we go from there.”
Brian explains, “When we perform we don’t really follow a song list usually. We take turns. When we finish a song it’s the other guy’s responsibility to have a song ready. So we’re playing to the room more and responding to the audience too. You kind of read the audience to get what would work for them. Or the crowd too, whether it’s a dinner crowd or it’s boisterous.”
All of this promises a fun, friendly evening of music, very easy on the ears. The Barn, with its warm quiet ambience is an ideal setting. The music starts early on Friday at 7 p.m., and will probably run until around 10 p.m. Chances are the old friends will end the evening with a bit of a jam.
Tickets for this all-ages event can be bought in advance for $10 at The Barn or Stuff To Read, and they will be $12 at the door. If you’ve been to The Barn before, you know the room can fill up quickly so arrive early.