Singing for your supper is not a strange concept to the Ira Hayes Band’s Bill Heye and Rick Blackwood.
These two veteran, old school musicians have been in the music game for years and know that a good gig for a starving artist is one that pays in quality food. That’s why the two of them, for the last few years, have served as the unofficial house band for CJ’s Southwestern Grill every other Friday for the restaurant’s Prime Rib Buffet.
Heye was born and raised in Prince George almost 65 years ago now and said that he has been singing all his life.
“My dad said I was singing before I could talk and music has already been rattling around in my brainpan,” Heye said.
Blackwood, the manager of The Guitar Seller, said he was born and raised in Williams Lake and after some time away has once more called it his home for the last several years. He’s toured across Canada, produced a few records and played with a few rock’n’roll and country bands but enjoys jamming with friends like Heye.
The two had known of each other for a few years but only started playing together back in 2015 at the Rock Stock festival after a band Blackwood was with kind of “fizzled away.” The two took to playing around Likely for a bit and played gigs at New Year’s and Halloween celebrations before landing their current gig at CJ’s.
Their band name, meanwhile, is based on Ira Hayes, a native American U.S. soldier who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima during the Second World War, and the song was written about him by Johnny Cash entitled The Ballad of Ira Hayes. The two will sing the song from time to time and decided upon the name in part because of the similarity to Heye’s own name and also the fact it was his nickname while working in the mines.
A big part of their show, Blackwood said, revolves around entertainment as the two banter back and forth on stage discussing their lives, careers and trivia about music and famous songs. They also tend to change their song list on the fly, depending on who is in the audience and how they feel.
Both of them enjoy the casual feel of playing at CJ’s and the chance to have fun together. Heye said performing music is all about being up in front of people and entertaining them. Blackwood wryly observed feeding musicians for their music is also always good too.
“You can get musicians to do a lot of things if you feed them,” Blackwood joked.
“I’ve been singing for my supper for many, many years,” Heye added.
As far as music goes the pair plays a little bit of everything and anything depending on their mood. When Heye first met Blackwood he said he played a lot of country and blues music whereas Blackwood did a lot of rock’n’roll and blues.
Since then the two of them have been teaching each other their own styles and improve themselves as musicians. Blackwood said that both of them also “happily sing for God” and both are familiar with gospel music.
Blackwood thinks it’s important to have places like CJ’s that support local live music and gives lakecity residents a place to go on an evening and enjoy some entertainment. Both of them feel that technology has changed the entertainment scene, as you can now search YouTube for any musicians, but still feel there is something special about taking in music in a live setting.
“A lot of it is what you do on stage, you can play a song but if you can’t entertain anybody they’re just watching you play a song. There’s always going to be another guy who can play the guitar way better than you anyways but if you’re entertaining people and they enjoy it, that’s what it’s all about,” Blackwood said.
To any young upcoming artists, both of them said the best advice they can give is to not quit. Both of them would love to see more people pick up instruments and start playing, young and old.
“Sing like nobody can hear ya,” Heye said. “It’s a universal language, eh, music and everyone can relate to it.”
The two invite the lakecity out to hear a “couple of old goats” play at their next gig on Friday, Dec. 6 at CJ’s Southwestern Grill and support both local music and local business.