St. Marys Journal Argus
It’s a weekend schedule that could put just about anybody into a tailspin: A “pub gig” on Friday, July 18 in Toronto; a mainstage slot providing beats for the Michael Schatte Band at the acclaimed Beaches Jazz Festival in Toronto on Saturday evening; another pub gig Saturday night in Port Credit; then on to Stratford on Sunday, July 20 for two distinct Tasting Tent sets during the upcoming Savour Stratford Perth culinary festival.
And Riley O’Connor eschews the technology of iPad calendars or cellphone daytimer reminders. Instead, he’s got it all in a hard-copy ringed day planner — the tool, he says, that above all else allows him to keep organized a musician’s life that’s becoming ever-more hectic as his reputation for top-level drumming builds in Toronto and beyond.
Indeed, it’s this kind of traditional approach to work ethic that has served O’Connor well ever since he parted company with St. Marys — and the hard rock bands with which he had performed through his high school years (most notable among them: Face McKenzie, which graced the stage at the Parkview Creamery on more than one occasion) — to study jazz performance at Humber College.
“I wanted to study because I wanted to be able to play anything,” said the independent musician — who now finds himself fielding calls to provide beats for anything from funk to country to wedding bands.
At the time of his departure from the area, he had begun making regular paycheques backing a Garth Brooks cover band fronted by St. Marys area resident Wes Smith. “The country gig was cool, and it was starting to look like to could have some staying power.
“But I wanted to add to the depth of my playing,” O’Connor explained. “And going to school was great for that — for learning how to read chops. Now I know that, for a lot of gigs, that’s exactly what you need to be able to do.”
During the recent World Pride festival in Toronto, he got called on very short notice to back country singer Mark Jacob. He was given one rehearsal to prepare. With his training and work ethic providing the inspiration, he secured drum scores for all the songs he could find and took them with him to meet the band. And it went off without a hitch.
“It’s not usually like that, though,” he admitted. “With most of these bands, I’ve played with them before, and I’m kind of able to just brush up on their stuff.”
While studying and after graduating from Humber College, O’Connor also became the permanent member of a succession of groups performing in a variety of genres. Most notable among them, on the rock side, was a progressive rock group called Brain Toy that enjoyed radio play on The Edge 102, and recorded a music video.
He has toured across Canada with a funk/pop band called Adam’s Rib. And the Micheal Schatte Band, a blues/rock ensemble that heated up Stratford’s Ribfest last month (O’Connor was unable to make the trip due to an Adam’s Rib commitment) has provided regular work.
“My bread and butter is mostly rock, pop and R&B,” he explained.
Set in Stratford’s “garden district,” bordered by the Avon River and downtown, Savour Stratford Perth runs Saturday and Sunday, July 19 and 20. This year’s theme is “Coast to Coast to Coast,” and features some of the top young chefs under 40 from across Canada. Sunday’s Tasting Tent is a ticketed event, and O’Connor has been signed on to provide the entertainment in two distinct time blocks.
The first two sets, from noon to 2 p.m., will feature what he described as “mainstream swing jazz” featuring Ori Dagen as vocalist and Scott Kemp on bass, along with guitarist Nathan Hiltz.
The second half, from 2-4 p.m., will see O’Connor and Kemp return to backstop the sound, while Jordana Talsky takes over on vocals and Scott Metcalfe slides in on keyboards. “It’s going to be jazzy, but it will be a little more pop-oriented than the first set,” he explained. “We’ll be playing some jazzy versions of pop songs, and some funkier versions of jazz tunes.
“Each group will definitely have its own unique flavour.”