Stony Plain Records, Canada’s most successful independent record company, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with a special double-CD/DVD set full of blues, jazz, country, bluegrass, folk and gospel gems. For label founder and president Holger Petersen (pictured), the date is a major milestone.
“It makes me stop and reflect on how lucky I’ve been to work with so many great artists and people in the industry that really care about music,” Petersen said.
Over the decades, Stony Plain has become Canada’s most enduring independent record company while making a name for itself with a specialization in roots music. For the label, its 30th anniversary is icing on the cake. Stony Plain has already won several Juno Awards and Canadian Country Music Association Awards while also being nominated for two Grammy Awards in the United States.
On top of overseeing all things Stony Plain, Petersen is the director of SOCAN, Canada’s performing arts society, holds an active role in the Canadian Independent Record Production Association and helped found the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Nevertheless, the label has always been his top priority, he said.
To celebrate the milestone, Stony Plain recently issued 30 Years of Stony Plain, a two-disc set with 36 tracks from label favorites like David Wilcox, Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Witherspoon.
“They are all great compositions and performances,” Petersen said. “Several have an anniversary theme. I also went with a flow-I’ve been doing radio shows for years, so [I] really enjoy the sequencing process.”
The set also includes four previously unreleased tracks by Ronnie Earl and Duke Robillard, King Biscuit Boy, Billy Boy Arnold and Robert Nighthawk-“tapes [that] sat on a shelf for over 40 years,” Petersen said.
The last part of the set is a free bonus DVD of what Petersen calls “odds and ends”-music videos, a feature on Jay McShann and an interview with Petersen himself.
Although the DVD is an interesting diversion, the highlight of the two-disc set is of course the music, a mix of Stony Plain “roots” like bluegrass, country and folk. Of the 36 tracks, many are remarkable and few are dull. Highlights are as varied as the material on the collection: while “Switchin’ in the Kitchen” by Asleep at the Wheel is notable for its smooth-as-butter vocals and five-man horn section, “The Truth Comes Out” by Corb Lund is just as good, even though it’s a simple song against global warming. Similarly, “I Hear You Talkin’ To Me” by Jay Geils is a spunky mix of rock and swing, in stark contrast to “Goodbye” by Steve Earle, an eerily beautiful and melancholy combination of yearning vocals, heart-heavy lyrics and a jazzy, Western style-regardless, both songs are phenomenal.
Just as good are the four previously unreleased tracks included for the first time in this set: “Kansas City Blues” by Robert Nighthawk, “Don’t Take Everybody For Your Friend” by Ronnie Earl and Duke Robillard, “Ain’t Gonna Do It” by King Biscuit Boy and “Woman Stealer” by Billy Boy Arnold. Each song is unique in its own way: Nighthawk’s work is an original gem from 1965; “Don’t Take Everybody” is an eight-minute long jam session; King Biscuit Boy showcases New Orleans style and “Woman Stealer” is one solid groove.
For the abundance of great songs, though, there are some that just don’t fly-especially “Just the Other Day” by Jr. Gone Wild. The song almost sounds like “American Pie” by Don McLean, but the clichéd lyrics just don’t fit with the rockabilly feel and the track never seems to take off.
Now that the two-disc set has been released and the 30th anniversary of Stony Plain is well underway, Petersen is looking forward to another three decades of success.
“As a label, I think we continue to get better at what we do-the production, packaging, promotion and marketing,” Petersen said. “The focus has always been on quality music.”