Q&A: Dave Bidini on hockey, tunes, more

New Jersey Devils right winger Claude Lemieux (right) celebrates during second period NHL Stanley Cup game 1 action in East Rutherford, N.J., on Tuesday May 30, 2000. (Frank Gunn/CP)

When he’s not writing books (Tropic of Hockey, Keon and Me: My Search for the Lost Soul of the Toronto Maple Leafs) his column in the National Post, rocking stages (Rheostatics, Bidiniband) or tweeting opinions on our game through his @hockeyesque account, Dave Bidini has been busy recruiting musicians and players for Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada.

With Halifax ready to host the Feb. 14 event, we caught up with the multi-talented artist and well-informed member of Leafs Nation to discuss road-tripping with Wendel Clark, why Leafs Nation is ready to rebuild, and how the angelic Claude Lemieux could have been a Quebecois pop star.

Side A: MUSIC TALK
Side B: HOCKEY TALK

SPORTSNET.CA: How did you first get involved arranging the musical portion of Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada?

They had Randy Bachman do a show for the Stratford event (in 2010), and after it happened, I called (CBC Sports executive producer) Joel Darling and said, “If there’s going to be a musical element to the event, maybe you want to try something more hockey-specific.”

He asked what I had in mind, and I said, “What if you had a bunch of bands come up with original material and everybody premieres the song on that day.”

That’s what happened in Whitehorse maybe five years ago. I just called my fiends, and Ron (MacLean) hosted. It was super fun.

“Claude Lemieux and Jose Theodore: two guys that in an alternate universe would’ve become Quebecois singing sensations.”

Each year has been a bit different. Bryan Trottier has headlined the past three years, but he got a job with the Sabres, so we had to fill that void.

Every year I ask Jim Schoenfeld and Claude Lemieux and somebody suggested Theo Fleury. I thought he might not do it; maybe it is below him somehow, but he’s totally psyched to do it. So he’s the de facto hockey player doing music this year. The rest of the bill is musicians doing hockey (songs).

This year (the Stanley Cup) is going to be piped in by Frankie Beaton, who is a lovable guy, but a goon. He was a fearsome brawler in the WHA in the ’70s, and he’s an amazing piper. Frank was also a stock-car driver after he retired. He’s kinda the most interesting man in the world. He was also a repo man in Alabama.

Anyway, after a golf tournament, he drove us out in the country going 150 km/h in the middle of the night, and he pulled up at his cottage. He pulled out his pipes and started playing in his living room, and all these young girls got up and started doing traditional Scottish dancing. Amazing guy. He’s going to lead the pipers when the Stanley Cup comes in the room.

How are Bryan Trottier’s musical chops?
He’s a guitar player and singer but traditionally a bassist. Right up until he joined the Penguins, and maybe after that, he would head home in the summertime and he and his family band – the Trottier Family Singers – would play 40 dates across the Prairies in the off-season.

His dad, Buzz, is a legend in southern Saskatchewan. I actually went to his shrine there a couple years ago. He was a famous rodeo dude, a wrangler. But he was also a singer-songwriter. So the Trottier band would go across the Prairies, and Bryan – since he was a toddler – had a guitar in his hands. He would play bass, and then once his dad passed on, he picked up guitar to lead the band.

They still play rodeos in the summer, but not like they used to.

“I kinda had to talk Bryan Trottier off the ledge, and it was six ways stupid. Here I am trying to talk this six-time Stanley Cup winner into doing this show.”

When I first contacted him to play, he didn’t know if he could do it. It was a legitimate show. The first time was Charlottetown, and the venue held about 1,200 people, and he’d never played in a concert hall before. I kinda had to talk him off the ledge, and it was six ways stupid. Here I am trying to talk this six-time Stanley Cup winner into doing this show. F—. You’ve played in front of a kajillion people, were able to do this thing only a handful of people have ever done, and you’re scared to do a Johnny Cash song? It was interesting.

That anxiety is a different kind of anxiety for him. And he did it, and he was amazing. Came out on stage, the last act, and he said, “Gotta tell you, folks. I’m really nervous.” And this old Maritime woman’s voice cut across the silence from the back of the hall: “You’ll be fine!” Everybody laughed, we did the song, and it was great. He did two Buck Owens songs, and two Willie Nelson songs.

What do you think of Theo Fleury as a singer?
He just sent us two demos last week, so we’re going to learn them up. They’re original songs that he wrote. He can totally pull it off. He can sing, he can play the guitar, and he can write songs. Brian doesn’t do original stuff. Theo’s more of a triple threat. (Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada) is not a dog-and-pony show, which it could be. But those (ex-NHL) performers are by no means out of place on those bills.

You haven’t been able to recruit Claude Lemieux yet. Why do you want him to do it?
One of these days…. He’s got a phenomenal voice. Really beautiful. Him and Jose Theodore are two guys who are spectacularly talented. Two guys that in an alternate universe would’ve become Quebecois singing sensations.

When he was part of Battle of the Blades, he wanted to skate to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” So they tried to get rights to a recording of the song, but Cohen had gotten bilked out of a ton of money through rights by his manager, so they didn’t get the rights to the recording.

Claude Lemieux said, “Forget it. I’ll just record my own version of the song.” And they said, “You can do that?”

He said, “Yeah.”

He went out and ice-danced to his own version of “Hallelujah,” and it’s really good. Kinda too crazy to be true, but it is.

What do you make of the NHL’s selection of musical acts for its marquee events?
If it was the Italians, they’d pick Andrea Bocelli. Your boy Jeff Marek there, we played together at a tournament in Peterborough. Our team was called the Flying Zambinis, and we all had Italianesque names on the back of our sweaters.

Marek said, “I’ve got some great music for us to skate out to… Andrea Bocelli.” Wow. It was amazing to hear that cranked in the rink as we skated out onto the ice.

The NHL doesn’t think outside the box enough. God bless (Winter Classic headliner) Billy Idol, but you really get the sense it was test-marketed. They did focus groups: safe, ’80s, recognizable. There are glimmers of hope in some of their promos. I’ve heard some cool stuff. But they should’ve called me a long time ago.

I’m still waiting for the phone to ring. But it does leave room to grow. I tried once to reach out to the NHL, but it’s so corporate. It’s like dealing with the Royal Bank. I was talking to them about doing a show like (HDIC) for the Winter Classic or opening day of the season, but I never heard back.

Check back on Jan. 28 for Side B of our chat with Dave Bidini: HOCKEY TALK