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J.P. Cormier. What a great guitar player.


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I went to see J.P.Cormier last night at the Hugh's room in Toronto. What a great guitar player. Or should I say musician, he played guitar, mandolin, and banjo. His wife was backing him up on electric piano.





J.P. Cormier

by Steve Winick

[From Dirty Linen #64, June/July '96]



J.P. Cormier does it all. He's well-known as a Cape Breton fiddler, for one thing. His major influence in that department was Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald; "There's no other fiddler," he declares, and he still plays a lot of Fitzgerald's tunes. "When we go play dances," he says, "people are really freaked out, because they hear these tunes that haven't been played since he died!" Cormier's parents knew the great fiddler quite well. "The story goes that my mother almost married him instead of my father," he confides. "Imagine where I'd be now!"


So what else can he do? Irish folk music. Contemporary folk music. Songs that he writes himself. Covers of everything from Gordon Lightfoot to Stan Rogers to the Beatles. "When I was comin' up, trying to make a living playing music," he explains, "I had to get into everything in order to survive."


Cormier comes from Chéticamp on the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Acadian French in heritage, he comes from a family of musicians. "My grandfather was an accordionist and a fiddle player, and he passed that down to my father and all his brothers, and that's how it came to me. My father played, my mother played, and a couple of brothers strummed a guitar." Cormier's family has deep roots in the area. "All my people were born in Chéticamp. Although I don't speak French, because I lived most of my life in English places."


Okay, so he doesn't do everything, but he's certainly versatile. He plays the fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, piano...and probably other instruments as well. He also sings and writes terrific songs. With his longish hair, his tall and sturdy frame, and his powerful voice and playing, he is a commanding presence on stage; when he was playing as part of John Allan Cameron's band, he sang a version of his own "Gilgarry's Glen" that threatened to upstage the veteran showman he was supporting.


The song, although it's about old-time life on Cape Breton island, has a sound that comes close to country music - indeed, much of his music seems to me to have a country influence. "It's more along the lines of bluegrass," he corrects me, "because that was my first love. I played it first, and it still kind of bleeds into my guitar style. It's not hardcore bluegrass anymore, because it definitely has a Celtic tinge to it now, but the technique is a bluegrass technique."


Following the bluegrass muse, Cormier spent four years in the United States, touring as a sideman with Marty Stewart, Carl Perkins, Travis Tritt, Pam Tillis, Mark O'Connor, and other great country and bluegrass performers. He played at the Grand Ole Opry and won countless titles on fiddle, guitar and banjo. He ultimately wound up working in Nashville, but gave up that life at the age of 26 to return to Cape Breton and play his own music. His solo album, Return to the Cape, demonstrates his instrumental abilities, and another CD is in the works that will concentrate on his songs.


Cormier's current band is a family affair. He rightly calls his wife, Hilda Chiasson-Cormier, "one of the greatest Celtic pianists ever." His first cousin, Gervais Cormier, plays bass. Perfectionists who "get on each other's nerves a lot," the trio are bound to make a splash on any scene they choose to take on. Check them out if you can.





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