“I Don’t Want to do Bluegrass Covers of the Beatles”

A Programmer Profile of Catfish Willie:

Caileigh Morrison: Let me make this a little louder….

Catfish Willie: 1-2-3-4….This is Catfish Willie, your host at Trent Radio!

CM: Excellent. What is your programme called?

CW: I host the Swingbilly Round-Up Show.

CM: When does that air?

CW: Every Tuesday morning at 11:30 AM until noon. It’s a history of western swing music and rockabilly and hillbilly jazz.

CM: Lovely. What are some of your favourite artists to feature on the show?

CW: I like to play Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, and other radio-popular bands from the 1930s, back in those days, that came out of Fort Worth, Texas.

CM: How long have you been doing the Swingbilly Round-Up?

CW: This is my fourth year here at Trent Radio, and before that I was involved in community radio out of Campbellford, CKLL Radio, doing a show called Catfish Willie’s Radio Hour for the Next Thirty Minutes. That featured local and regional artists, mainly Canadian Content, singer-songwriters, and acoustic guitar playing – mainly, but I would go outside of that genre once in a while. I figured it was community radio, and it was part of my job as a programmer and a host to promote local and regional music and artists.

CM: You are a local and regional artist yourself, aren’t you?

CW: Well, yes, I’m a bandleader, singer-songwriter, recording artist. I’ve been doing this for almost forty years. Not productively – I’m not that ambitious. I started playing music because I loved it and didn’t really start out to become rich and famous and that’s worked out pretty good for me!

CM: I think you’re pretty Peterborough famous.

CW: Well, thank you.

CM: And probably central Ontario famous.

CW: Well, possibly. We’re getting out there, we’re getting out there. Right now, we’ve been three years together with this band, Catfish Willie and the Bucklebusters, and we play a strict genre of western swing music and hillbilly. Music from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, a little bit of the 1950s, and it stops there. That’s the kind of music we love, and we love to play it. We’re not going to do bluegrass versions of a Beatles song or anything like that. We’re not trying to imitate these bands. We’re just trying to recreate the music, the enthusiasm, the energy of western swing.

CM: Why the interest in western swing? Where does that come from?

CW: Oh my goodness, I’m not sure. I’ll tell you the story of when I first heard it – it would be 1974. A friend of mine who worked for Capitol Records at the time sent me a couple of LPs. One of them was Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, The Last Sessions, and the other was a contemporary band recreating the western swing sound, a band called Asleep at the Wheel. Those two albums – I just couldn’t stop playing them and I wanted more and more. I kept searching back further….where did they find their music? And that led me to looking in deleted bins at record stores and yard sales for old 78s and just old music. And that was about 1974, and I’ve loved that music ever since. I took a few guitar lessons to learn how to play that kind of music, and I practiced that for the next ten years. I worked with other bands and small combos trying to play this music, but still playing a lot of country music and Beatles and Bob Dylan, that kind of stuff, but always in my mind I wanted to play western swing and have my own western swing band. So when I moved back to Peterborough in oh-nine, after having lived on the west coast for twenty-three years, I was reacquainted with my old friend Washboard Hank and said, “I want to put a western swing band together. I don’t want to do bluegrass covers of the Beatles or anything like that, I just want to play western swing music and I think I can do it now because I’ve been practicing for thirty years.” And he said “I love that music too!” We started going through our record collections and we had the same records in our collections that we’d been listening to and trying to play. I think we took that long to master the genre, and we play it competently and give it the energy it deserves and people really respond to it in a positive way.

CM: That’s wonderful. What do you like about Trent Radio? How has Trent Radio helped you integrate into the Peterborough community after being away for so long?

CW: Well, I really believe in being a part of the community and knowing my neighbours, so coming here to Trent Radio really gave me that opportunity to connect both with the community and with Trent University itself. That goes way back to when I went to Trent, back in the….well, way back then….[laughing] Connecting with the community was very important to me, and this was the way to do it. I had some experience in community radio, and I thought this is how I can make a contribution to the community and create value and I really enjoy it. I like the spirit of Trent Radio. You’ll notice the Trent Radio sign out on the building….well, I painted that sign, when was that….

CM: Eighty-four or eighty-fiveish?

CW: Yes, that’s right, before they changed the call letters, I painted the original sign that is still there. So I have an old connection that goes way back.

CM: Did you do a show then?

CW: No, I didn’t, but coming back it just felt like home.

CM: So, it’s changed, but it hasn’t really changed.

CW: That’s true. Some of the same faces are still here! And new faces. It’s great to see young people getting involved in this old-school radio. It’s a launch to bigger and better careers in communications and radio. I think it’s really a good opportunity that Trent Radio is giving to students and people in the community, this opportunity to host a programme, learn about radio. For me, that kind of youthful energy keeps me going, keeps me young. I’m not hanging out at the Manor, playing dominoes and drinking tea. I’m not ready to do that yet. It’s so great to see young people active. You know, you hear all the negative things about young people, hanging out at the 7-11 and smoking and getting into trouble, and they’re not doing that here. So, if any young people out there are listening, come on in and check out Trent Radio!