A musician-trucker from Parksville goes Solitaire with Neil Diamond as an alter ego He ain’t heavy … He’s Doug Kew

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2004

A musician-trucker from Parksville goes Solitaire with Neil Diamond as an alter ego He ain’t heavy … He’s Doug Kew

He’s a singer and his songs are sung blue. Sometimes they crackle with emotion. They ain’t heavy. You find out he’s not who you thought he was only after you see him. But by the time your eyes do size him up, it doesn’t matter that he’s not Neil Diamond. The voice is. Familiar, deep, soothing.

Enough people have a craving for Diamond that they are bound in droves for the Funny Bone restaurant in Parksville to hear the message.

You could say Doug Kew is a trapped truck driver. He’s not real happy about those big old wheels leading him on, driving his life. Oh, overall he’s content with his lot. A kind and beautiful, loving wife. A house in paradise. Three vehicles and a boat in the driveway. But highways have a way of turning into hypnotic ribbons, and traffic jams confine him to that truck cab for hours, away from that woman, that serenity.

So many songs are written about trucks, loneliness, the blues. So he wants out. And Kew’s long time love for Neil Diamond may be just the ticket.

At just 45, he’s already lived a multitude of lives, travelled a galaxy of miles from his roots in north east England. Talking, he sounds a little like Mark Knoffler of Dire Straits, a little Don Henley of The Eagles. Gruff. His non-singing voice, the non-Neil, is disarming. The accent is there, just not instantly noticeable.

“When I moved here you wouldn’t have been able to understand it,” he says with a smirk, one of many he serves up when comfortable. “Mine’s modified now.”

To say Kew has modified or changed over the years is clearly an understatement. Growing up in County Durham with two older sisters, he described himself as “shy but happy.”

His mother was a nurse, father an air force veteran, a mechanic, a tool setter. With that bloodline he fits his truck driving creed like a comfy chair.

But the resume of an ex-pat is often filled with quizzical shifts and Kew has a scroll of his own. He has been a brick layer, a snow remover, a taxi driver, a poet. He has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, from Trimdon Village (British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s hometown) to Calgary, Moose Jaw, Swift Current. Along the way this curly topped gypsy has lived in trailers, on buses, and in rental homes in Nanoose and Parksville.

The one constant has been music.

“I used to give little concerts to the family,” he confesses. “The Beatles, shaking all over and stuff.”

His father played piano, his mom “was always singing with that beautiful voice.”

“Dad made me a little cardboard guitar, with elastic bands. Then later he gave me a Beatles guitar – but I never learned to play it. It was plastic, covered with little pictures of the Beatles. It was red or orange. Neat. Wish I still had it…”

Two older sisters purchased the vinyl 45s, filling the house with the sounds of their Motown records. It was contagious and Doug caught it.

His influences are all over the map. .

Rod Stewart is the first of his idols that comes to mind.

“His attitude, passion. I loved his stuff, loved his voice. A gruff voice.”

But there was also Led Zepplin. Bad Company. Bread. James Taylor. The Eagles. Paul Simon. Well rounded, he also grooved to songs by John Denver, Tom Jones. Frank Sinatra.

And oh yes, Neil Diamond.

“I liked his stuff too,” he says, nodding in a what-are-you-kidding me fashion. “The first time I saw him on TV he had on this silver suit for Sweet Caroline. It was kind of cool to sing along. He sang in a low octave. I always liked his stuff. Happy, love stuff. Then The Jazz Singer came out and whew The critics panned it but I loved it. Did you know he also wrote the score to Jonathon Livingston Seagull? My favorite book by my favorite author (Richard Bach).”

Kew bought his first drum kit when he was 17 and taught himself to play. Shy or not, he was a natural. Hiding behind the snare and bass drums, he kept the beat well enough to earn his first professional gig within two years. “I made a good living at it, six nights a week. I went from band to band.”

He spent the next 10 years playing the north east England club circuit. He lived the rock and roll gypsy fantasy, drumming and or singing harmony with a multitude of bands, opening for the likes of The Marmalade, and Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch – who drove the hits Bend it and Xanadu. He drummed for artists Rene and Renato, was one of the voices in Shaabu.

At age 27, Kew found himself playing in a British-Canadian singer’s band, one with fateful links. Gordie West was a well known country singer who had latched onto a sweet contract with Air Canada, and was in the UK on a two year gig promoting the airline to ticket agents and hoteliers across England. By working with West, Kew scored himself a free plane trip himself to Canada out of the deal and in June of 1988, he was Alberta bound. He landed in Calgary the week before Stampede.

“It was breathtaking,” he said. “The roads were huge, the cars were huge. I was picked up at the airport by a friend and his Lincoln Continental. It was awesome.”

Customs was a treat. A true rock and roll rebel, as in not exactly topped up to full in the practicality tank, Kew arrived at Calgary International with $150 for a two month visit. The officers didn’t quite buy that this Englishman didn’t intend to find work (illegally), so a friend came down and posted a $1,000 bond.

Also doing those breakfasts during Stampede week was his old pal Gordie West. On stage handling bass duties was a knock out, long haired blonde.

Already well known on the Alberta country scene (The Patti Lynn Show, Big George Moody and the Nighthawks), Patti was a singer songwriter with the voice of an angel. A separated mother of two, she knew intuitively the Englishman was just what the doctor ordered. A whirlwind romance clicked. They fell madly in love.

“By August 22, I had to go back and by then we were already engaged. We even had the date set to get married in England,” said Doug with a smile and a shake of his head.

By October they were married, and by the spring of 1989 they were headed back to Calgary, where Doug soon discovered that March in Calgary is somewhat different from June in Calgary.

“We landed in Calgary. It was 40 below. I had my little leather jacket on, and a T-shirt. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. My nose was freezing.”

The heat of romance soon gave way to the cold reality of an Alberta winter, and the pressures of earning a living. With Patti on bass, the newlyweds helped form the Cherokee Rose band and began grinding it out on the circuit across B.C. and Alberta. After six months that lifestyle began to wear on the couple. Thirteen years of traveling, setting up, tearing down, sound checks, late nights, bad meals, drunks, complaints – suffice to say the music in both Patti and Doug was flat.

They walked from the business.

“We just quit. We’d had enough of the bar scene. Playing five hours a night, nobody listening. It was different here. In the UK people actually listen and applaud. Here, people expect that there’s going to be entertainment, but it’s in the back ground, you know?”

The Kews turned their minds to business. To be nearer to Patty’s folks, they bought a trailer and moved to Saskatchewan. At one point they opened a snow removal company – a shovel each stored in the back of their station wagon. In the summer there was lawn maintenance.

In Swift Current, Doug began a four year stint as a taxi driver. Then a trucking opportunity came by, and Doug upgraded his license and began hauling fuel.

Music was the odd campfire guitar session, if at all.

The winter of ’96 was a particularly cruel to Saskatchewan and Doug had had enough. “That last winter was the worst ever. I said I’d never experience another like that.”

Patti had a nephew who said Parksville was the sunniest place on Vancouver Island. Though there was no response to 80 resumes, the Kews loaded up their old camper (a school bus) and headed west.

“We sold everything, packed up the old bus, and came to the Island.”

They arrived in Parksville in 1997.

“I felt more at home here than I ever felt at home,” he says. “It’s weird. I felt I fit in. Peace. Paradise. I love it here.”

Unable to find work, they lived on that bus for a few months before deciding to buy a job – a semi truck. Doug found work hauling wood and various building supplies to and fro on the lower mainland.

It has become a Monday-Friday career, one which he maintains to this day. He gets home one or two nights a week – “never enough, that’s for sure.”

Trucking means long hours of solitude, of waiting in traffic jams, loading, unloading. Plenty of time to write, however, which Doug did. Travellers Tale, a book of poems he’d kept inside since his teens, was published in 2000. The creative juices were flowing again, and with new friends in Parksville came regular calls to jam.

The couple’s love for music was rekindled after a long hiatus.

The Solitaire idea emerged. Last year, there were a couple of trial concerts in Coombs and Port Alberni with Stuart Mcleod of Elvis fame. And today, after countless hours of rehearsal, image altering (the hair blackened, the sideburns grown) the Neil Diamond sets are polished. The hits are all covered in the three-set show. America. Cracklin Rose. Sweet Caroline. Forever in Blue Jean. Song Sung Blue.

Patti is staying mostly in the background this time, as manager of Solitaire. She is the light and sound tech, roadie, costume selector, set designer, marketing and promo officer.

She is of course, Doug’s biggest fan.

The first Doug Kew-goes-solo gig is set for this Saturday night at Funny Bone Bar and Stage at The Chuffin Cafe (166 Craig St.) Without one paid advertisement, word spread and the show quickly sold out. The Chuffin’s owners added a second show, for the following Saturday, April 3.

It’s all coming together and Kew is ready to step out of the truck cab, move up from behind the drum kit, and take his place at centre stage.

“Richard Bach once said don’t turn away from a possible future until you’re sure you’ve got nothing to learn from it,” Doug says.

“To me (Neil Diamond) is happy. Intense. Passionate. Suave,” Kew says of his alter-ego. “He comes across as someone you could see having as a friend. Sincere.”

Funny. That’s what most people who know Doug Kew say about him.

For more on Kew and Solitaire, check out the website at www. patricialynnproductions.com

Copyright 2003 parksville

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