Harlan Pepper

A ‘Last Waltz’ for Hamilton's Harlan Pepper

Hamilton Spectator
By Graham Rockingham
Sep 25, 2015

Harlan Pepper had become Hamilton's house band. The four members of the band — Dan Edmonds, Jimmy Hayes, Marlon Nicolle and Thompson Wilson — played that role this spring at the pre-Juno Six Shooter extravaganza, as well as at the awards gala in front of some 900 music industry big shots and finally, at the Warner Canada after party at Liuna Station.

Harlan Pepper would play through the night, backing a steady stream of A-listers like Jim Cuddy, Ian Thornley and George Pettit (Alexisonfire). Even in the smaller club shows, Harlan Pepper always made a point of bringing a friend up on stage with them to jam. It was a tradition the members of Harlan Pepper learned from watching their idols, The Band, in the movie "The Last Waltz."

So it's only fitting that Harlan Pepper is modelling its final two shows after that legendary piece of rock 'n' roll cinematic history. OK, they're not calling it "The Last Waltz" — they're calling it "Love, Peace and Chicken Grease" — and it won't feature Neil Young or Van Morrison, not even Eric Clapton or Ronnie Hawkins.

But the same heartfelt meaning is there — a bittersweet mix of fond memories and loss — and so is the local talent that is lining up for the honour of playing with Harlan Pepper at This Ain't Hollywood for those two final shows Saturday and Sunday. Wayne Petti of Cuff the Duke, Juno-winner Tomi Swick, bluesman Alfie Smith, singer-songwriter Matt Paxton, former Forgotten Rebel Chris Houston and pedal steel wizard Aaron Goldstein are among the special guests. Even club co-owner Lou Molinaro will get up and sing Chilliwack's "Fly at Night" ("Four men in a rock 'n' roll band …") with Harlan Pepper.

Harlan Pepper is a young band — the members haven't reached their mid-20s — but they'd been playing together on the local scene for eight years, punching far above their weight, recording two critically acclaimed albums and acquiring a national audience through touring and air play. The local fans are particularly loyal. Saturday's show has sold out and Sunday is on its way there.

Unless you're the Rolling Stones, eight years is a long time for any band. So we shouldn't be too surprised Harlan Pepper is calling it quits. At least they are parting as friends. That's more important than any creative differences or business conflicts the members may or may not have.

"First and foremost we're always going to be friends, even though we had such trauma within the clan," says Wilson. "We're always going to be friends. That's never going to change."

The initial decision to leave the band was made this summer by Edmonds, one of the principle songwriters and vocalists. He broke the news during a band meeting. It came as a shock. The record label, management and fans were expecting a third album. But without Edmonds, the other three members agreed that the band couldn't go on.

Edmonds, now a full-time music student at the University of Guelph, says he wants to focus on creating his own songs and producing records for others, like local roots singer The Vaudevillian.

"I think it's easier for me to do my own thing and be the boss of myself," Edmonds says. "I just want to try to do what I want to do, the way I want to do it … So I decided to go. I said, 'feel free to continue,' but they just all decided that it's the four of us, four pieces of the square, or nothing."

All four Harlan Peppers expect to stay in music. Guitarist Hayes, who is also completing his bachelor's degree at the University of Guelph, has been working as side man with groups like the Dinner Belles; Nicolle has been drumming with local garage rocker Billy Moon; and Thompson is pursuing a solo career, performing next at Mills Hardware on Oct. 8.

Right now, however, they are focusing on making Saturday and Sunday two memorable evenings of music.

"It's going to be wild," smiles Edmonds. "One of the reasons we formed Harlan Pepper was because of The Band. We're huge fans and they're from our area. And that movie ("The Last Waltz"), I can't think of one music fan who wouldn't call that the pinnacle of music concert footage. So it's definitely a little homage to that."