Feature Article by Michelle of the Led Zeppelin Ultimate Fan Page.
Photos provided by Rick Mercer.
Original publication on: http://www.ledzepufpinterviews.blogspot.ca/2015/01/rick-mercer.html
For over thirty years, Rick Mercer has been on numerous stages throughout Ontario. Whether it's been playing in a friend's basement, to local bars and hotels, and even at annual summer festivals, Rick has experienced more than some can only dream about doing. When he can strap on a guitar and play, you'll find him doing the thing he enjoys the most. His love of songwriting and composing is evident in his original material while his love of playing emerges during his countless performances.
I was first introduced to Rick, after I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Canada's very own, Coda~The Raw Led Zeppelin Experience. Watching him on stage with his band members, I was captivated by his ability to channel Jimmy Page, but with the addition of his own style and personality. His playing seemed to come effortlessly. But it would be his original material that truly explores and highlights his impressive range of talent and musical aptitude. After a show one night, he gave me a cd of his original material. The songs on the disc are musically diverse, including hints of bluegrass, country, and rock. It is a collection of his work, what influences him, that personally, I feel reveals who Rick really is. He's not just a guitarist in a Led Zeppelin tribute band, or a cover song guitarist. He's an accomplished song writer, singer, composer and musician. The material on his cd emphasizes those traits. Lyrically, Rick can convey a story through a song. While they may be straightforward, the vivid imagery depicted in his lyrics complement the catchy melodies backed by his strong guitar playing and impressive solos. The instrumentals on the album are powerful yet elegant at the same time.
It's an honor to have been given this opportunity to explore Rick's musical history and shine a well deserved spotlight on an incredible musician. While researching for this piece, I become aware of his experiences and accomplishments, which is why it's indisputable that he truly is a hidden gem in Canada's music scene. So without further ado, I give you a glimpse into Rick Mercer's career.
Calling Barrie Ontario, home for many years, Rick grew up in a musical home with family members who would eagerly pick up guitars, mandolins and banjos to jam. It would prove to be an incredible asset to young Rick. Hearing the sounds of Bluegrass being played throughout his home, it would be no surprise that Rick picked up the banjo at a young age.
Despite that being the first genre of music he would learn, Rick would not limit himself to one particular type of music. As he would grow up and master his craft, his repertoire would grow to include songs from many genres, including but not limited to: blues, classic rock, country, bluegrass and straight up rock and roll. In 1976, he received a guitar from his mom Edith.
Being left handed, he would learn guitar as a south-paw, but then decided to learn how to play right handed. Not taken any formal guitar lessons, Rick is completely self taught. Even more incredible is that he has learned every song in his vast catalogue, all by ear. Receiving his first electric guitar at age fifteen, he credits his Uncle John as the one who taught him how to play guitar.
"As a kid I just couldn't wait to go visit my aunt and uncle as I knew John would have his guitar plugged in, amp cranked and riffing out some early Eric Clapton, Cream tunes, or Hendrix."
Bands like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith,The Rolling Stones, just to name a few, were all becoming influential to Rick. Legendary guitarists like Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Joe Perry would be some of his favourites, and soon he was playing their songs.
Not limiting his influences to just the Classic Rock legends, Rick also continues to be a fan of bluegrass artists such as Tony Rice, Norman Blake and the Soggy Bottom Boys. Combine those influences with such Blues greats as Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, it's no surprise that Rick's original material would draw from those greats and the result would be an eclectic range of music.
In 1979, Rick played the Cookstown Steam Show. Strapping on the guitar that his Uncle John passed down to him, an early 1960s Aria hollowbody, they performed the AC/DC classic 'The Jack'. Strangely, the older crowd that was there, would not be as receptive as the band hoped. It would also be at this time, that Rick received his first Gibson Les Paul from his father Ron, which he still cherishes to this day and makes it a point to take to most of his gigs.
With family members who also enjoy playing, Rick had opportunities to hone his skills. Family 'jams' would become a fun, yet integral part of his budding career.
Always playing whenever he could, would afford him the valuable experience that would not only improve his guitar playing, but strengthen his confidence of being in front of audiences. Although at times demonstrating a shy demeanor, that diminishes once he straps on a guitar and steps on stage. Within a few notes, he appears completely comfortable in the spotlight.
In 1983, Rick teamed up with, Chris Gogos (Bass), Doug Weir (Vocals) and Randy Osborne (Drums) to form 'Miss-iles'. A year later, Doug would be replaced by James Grant and the group began working on original songs, which they ended up submitting to Q107's Homegrown Contest. While they were not selected for the radio station's contest, that didn't discourage the guys from continuing to play and get on stages.
Despite being young men, they knew that success and fame wasn't going to just be handed to them. It would take perseverance and dedication to hit the big times, and they made it a point to give it all they had. When not recording, they would play local venues around Barrie, such as Embassy Hall and the Clifton Hotel. The setlist would consist of original songs as well as covers of other artists' songs.
While recording at Sollory Sound Studio in Barrie, in 1985, a photographer from the local newspaper captured a photo of the boys that would appear in print, alongside the history of the band and quotes from band members. Throughout his time with 'Miss-iles', Rick saw a few lineup changes, but that didn't stop the determined guitarist from continuing to play.
During 1986, Rick and percussionist Randy Osborne, along with Troy Smith teamed up and formed 'Ragtop'. From 1986 to 1988 the trio would continue to write and record original songs, all while continuing to play gigs whenever they could. In 1989, Rick took a break from 'Ragtop' and began playing with 'Hot Lyxx'. That partnership would go until 1991. During a trip out West, Rick had the exciting opportunity to get on stage with the legendary Jerry Doucette and members of Colin James' band. Upon Rick's return to 'Ragtop' in 1992, they welcomed bassist Gary Sharma to the group.
The trio would form a friendship that continues today. They would continue as a trio for a couple years before the group would add an additional member. These early years in 'Ragtop' would strengthen Rick's playing and songwriting abilities that prove beneficial throughout his career. In 1995, Randy stepped out from behind the drum-kit and took over vocals. The band welcomed Gordie Emms on drums and 'Ragtop' became a quartet. A year later, there would be another lineup change for 'Ragtop'. Gordie would leave the band, but the guys welcomed Grant Bonsant. Like previous years, they continued to play and record. There are many more videos of Rick's times with 'Miss-iles' and 'Ragtop' on his YouTube channel. 'Ragtop' would officially disband in 1998, but the friendships that Rick built with Randy, Gary and the other members would continue. Throughout the years the guys would get back on stage with each other on various occasions.
As the '90s came to an end, Rick continued to be as enthusiastic as ever about music. He continued to compose and record songs, play gigs with his buddies and was never far from being on a stage. The first half of the new millennium saw Rick performing in acoustic four and two piece bands. Including performances between 2001 and 2003 in Barrie, billed as 'Unplugged & Ugly'.
For the next couple years, 'have guitar will travel' as Rick found himself in various cities throughout Ontario playing whenever and wherever he could. Maintaining his friendships with previous band members and acquiring new contacts would be beneficial, especially when it came to jam nights and finding fellow musicians to play with.
A couple years later, he teamed up with lead vocalist Gail, bassist Bruce, and drummer Mitch, better known as 'Lordy Mama'. The group would perform cover songs by such artists like Janis Joplin, Lenny Kravitz and Led Zeppelin to name a few, the band would have fun playing throughout 2005. The friendship with drummer Mitch, continues to this day and the guys always have a blast playing south of the border on vacations.
Throughout 2005 and 2006, he kept active with various projects, including 'Dr. Guitar' and 'Tailgunner'. His guitar playing strong, attitude stronger, Rick took advantage of any opportunity to grow as a musician and songwriter. He remained focused on learning more songs, which made him marketable for jam nights and gigs, as well as writing original material. The latter which would result in Rick recording a demo CD of his material a few years later.
Ready for a change of scenery, Rick decided to pack up and relocate to the Toronto area in 2007. Always one to show up for jam nights, he began going to 'Schuey's Bar & Grill' in Etobicoke. He would meet a fellow musician named John Barone, with whom he would often share the stage with at weekly jam nights at 'Schuey's. Since then, the friends can often be found jamming and playing such classic songs from Zeppelin and the Stones.
The endless opportunities to jam at various clubs never stopped Rick from always being on the look out for exciting, new opportunities. Soon, with the help of his friend, Mark Guldenstein, the pair would come up with the concept of a two piece acoustic band. In 2009, Rick and Mark would perform as 'Double Shot'.
'Double Shot' would provide the opportunity of playing various cover songs as well as some of Rick's own original material, all while presented in a stripped down setting. No bass, drums, or electric guitars. The duo would alternate on vocals, covering songs by Tom Petty, Steve Earle, ZZ Top and more. Their individual guitar playing styles would complement each other, resulting in an overall superb sound. This would also be the ideal occasion for Rick to showcase his talent on mandolin and harmonica.
In 2010, Mark and Rick, along with Dave Greer on bass and drummer, Mike Pokinghorn, performed a set of cover songs by such acts including Blue Rodeo, AC/DC, Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughan and more at the Mansion Night Club, billed as 'The Federales'.
The friendship and working partnership between Rick and Mark would continue over the years. When not on stage, their alter egos, Billy Bob and Billy Bob Joe take over, and you can find the two fishin', pickin' and grinnin' all while enjoying a Maclays. You can watch that cinematic masterpiece here: 'Billy Bob & Billy Bob Joe' - 2011:
They would, on occasion get on stage together at various clubs. Towards the end of 2014, they performed a special show at the Legion in Rick's hometown of Waterford.
In addition to being a phenomenal guitar player, Rick can proudly add singer and songwriter to his musical resume. Throughout the years, Rick has written many songs, for the purpose of publishing. He decided in 2011, with the support of his friend and producer, Steven Henry, to record these songs on a CD. The demo disc would contain twenty-four songs, some of which were instrumentals. The disc would be an opportunity for those who were fortunate to be given a copy, the chance of hearing the wide range of music that inspires Rick, and that he enjoys playing. It would be this disc that would introduce me to Rick's original material.
When he's been in the studio, Rick gets some assistance with instruments from Steve.
An accomplished musician himself, and sharing the similar sense of humour as Rick, the guys can get the job done in the studio, as well as leaving time for the occasional hyjinks, all caught on video of course by Rick. Including Steve's humorous 'Columbo' impersonation.
When he can't make it into the studio, he's content on playing and recording songs at home. Rick, essentially a one-man band, is not intimidated with the intricate process of layering all the instruments, be it, the guitars, mandolin, bass, banjo or harmonica. Accompanied by a drum machine, the tracks are played and recorded on his home studio. He will then take on the task of editing, and once it has met his approval, it gets posted on his various social media sites. When the mood strikes, he will set up his camera and film as he 'noodles' around on his guitars.
His extensive knowledge and guitar experience has also been shared via instructional videos that he has uploaded to his YouTube channel. Rick has never professed to be a guitar teacher nor made it a point to give lessons; nevertheless, his tutorial videos may be beneficial for aspiring guitarists of any level to learn something new.
As mentioned, YouTube has become a terrific way for Rick to share his assortment of videos. You can find many of his original songs, as well as cover songs, many live appearances from shows over the years, the aforementioned tutorials, and even the entertaining 'goofy' videos (more on that later). Rick's video collection continues to grow as he regularly records at home. His interest in video production is noticeable in the following video links. Finding locations to shoot videos, and editing afterwards, is another hobby of Rick's. Whether he's filming on a pier in Port Dover or the beaches of Cuba, his creative projects are anything but mundane.
Apart from writing songs for the purpose of publishing, he had the incredible honour of having airplay on a radio station in the States. On May 21, 2012, Rick was interviewed by KBON 101.1FM, a radio station based in Louisiana. The short interview was followed by the playing of his original songs: 'Never Again Until the Next Time' and 'Louisiana Cajun Girls'.
While playing at Schuey's, over the last six years, he would naturally form friendships with the bar's owner and other regular musicians who would come out for the weekly jam nights. During this time, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, called 'Coda-The Raw Led Zeppelin Experience', began to also play occasionally at Schuey's. Rick, not being a stranger to Zeppelin's music, being a fan for many years, and proficient in playing a large percentage of the material, took interest in the tribute band. After requesting that his contact information be passed on to the band, the phone call came and Rick was
soon auditioned. He was then hired on as Coda's newest guitarist. The rest as they say...is history.
In March of 2013, having the same passion and respect for the music as his new band members, Rick would take the stage with, Robert Miniaci (vocals), Kelly Mauricette (drums), and Paul Mathur (bass/keyboards). With the addition of Rick's prodigious guitar playing, 'Coda's live shows were soon elevated to a whole new level. The men played with integrity and the true Zeppelin fans would respect them for that and the band's following grew with loyal fans.
In true definition of the word, Rick is a virtuoso. His masterly ability, incredible technique and personal style have resulted in audiences being left 'dazed and confused' at his representation of Jimmy Page while on stage with 'Coda'. Including subtle Page mannerisms, to the audience watching, his playing appears to be effortless. With the inclusion of the bow and theremin during 'Dazed and Confused' and 'Whole Lotta Love' respectively, Rick and his band mates would deliver the 'Raw Led Zeppelin Experience' like no other.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, 'Coda' performed in Northern Ontario to Southern Ontario and what seemed like everywhere in between, including a show in neighbouring Quebec. Their shows, broken into three sets, would sometimes last as long as three hours, and would consist of a variety of songs taken from the entire Zeppelin catalogue. They made it a point to include both studio and live version interpretations of the songs in their sets, all of which would allow Rick the freedom to experiment with solos and not having to just duplicate what was recorded on the albums. Their fan base continued to grow and soon some were showing up whenever they would play. Without any comparable Zep tribute bands around to have to compete with, 'Coda', it seemed, was on the right track for success.
With every new year, comes new beginnings. As he began 2015, Rick decided that he had to make a difficult, yet necessary decision with respect to his current standing with 'Coda'. While his time performing with the Zep tribute band was fun and would provide him with some memorable moments, there were some obstacles that were hindering certain obligations. Unfortunately due to logistics, which included hazardous travelling conditions, as well as the contrasting visions for the future of the band, Rick would formally resign from 'Coda' in early January. With nothing but praise and respect for his former band members, he wishes them the best, but has left the door open for possible reunions in the future if the opportunity would arise. His discipline paired with his talent provides him the comfort of knowing that there's always opportunities around the next corner.
When one door closes, another one opens, and for Rick, it's clearly evident that his guitar playing speaks for itself. It will continue to flourish as he involves himself with projects that involve his original material or when he joins the next band. Where his guitar playing will take him is limitless. Having the aspiration to get into song publishing and wanting to promote his own material, Rick is currently in discussions to put on a showcase of his original music in the near future. With the extensive experience behind him, and the drive, determination and passion for playing, there's no stopping where he can take his music, including south of the border.
Does the saying "you can never have enough" ring true to a guitarist? In Rick's case, his collection has grown over the years since he acquired his very first six-string. His beloved 1979 Les Paul usually has the honour of being taken to many gigs. A cherished guitar in his collection, he is always on the lookout for what could be the next member of his stringed family.
Aside from the large collection of electric and acoustic guitars, he also owns a pair of mandolins, a banjo and bass. When it comes to deciding which of his beauties to take to a gig, Rick doesn't have any specific rule to deciding, other than bringing the ones that are most reliable. Known to have the occasional string break here and there, he's always prepared with a backup. As mentioned, the one guitar that gets taken to most of his gigs is the 1979 Les Paul that his father Ron gave him. When he's expected to perform certain Zeppelin classics, he's sure to bring along the 2003 Gibson 1275 Doubleneck.
Unfortunately, some of his live appearances don't allow him the opportunities to showcase his talents on the banjo, bass and mandolin. In addition to his guitars, Rick has also been known to play the harmonica, as well as bringing forth the mystifying yet haunting shrills and shrieks that only a theremin can conjure from its master.
Apart from music, Rick has many interests and hobbies, including history, travelling, photography, website design, video production, to name a few. An exceptionally creative individual, he enjoys spending numerous hours creating and editing photos and videos. Recently he began work on his very own personal website. Wanting a site that would best represent who he is and his talent, Rick has already accumulated countless hours compiling an impressive array of videos and photos on his website. Much like this write-up, his site has become a biography of sorts. It invites visitors to flip through the pages of his life, sharing in his experiences and accomplishments all while his original music is the soundtrack.
An eye catching site, with the assistance of a Gothic inspired black and red colour scheme, it's become a valuable avenue to share his extensive catalogue of original music, interests, influences, videos and much more. Be sure to visit it often as it's become a continuous 'work in progress', as new photos and links are added frequently.
Aside from being an extraordinary musician and song writer, Rick knows how to have fun and allows his friends, family and fans,a peek into the crazier side of his creativity. When he's not creating videos that showcase his music, you can find him creating what he likes to call 'goofy' videos and photos. Whether it's letting the inner nerd rock out, adopting an alter ego, his possessed dvd player, or putting on an ostrich suit and singing about an ex going to hell, Rick has a way of letting the serious musician side of him take a break and put something out there that just makes everyone laugh and forget about troubles even for a few moments. Using various programs with the addition of special effects, to record and edit, Rick is never at a loss for material to make his next masterpiece.
Rick is very supportive of our Country's military and its Veterans. Awhile back, through his father, he became friends with a World War II vet named Mike Nimigeon. During one visit, Rick was given a tour of Mike's priceless War artifacts, including patches, medals, weapons and letters he has received from school children after visits to speak in classrooms about his experiences while serving. Rick captured video of his dad Ron, and Mike singing and jamming during one afternoon visit.
Rick's grandfather, Reginault Arsenault, also served in World War II. He was an ambulance driver and was a member of a bugle band. Rick has generously shared some family photographs from his grandfather's time in the War for this write-up. Mr. Arsenault, was also a chauffeur for top ranking officers and government officials. As a result of this connection to the War, Rick decided a few years back to become a member of the Legion. Last year, Rick and his friend Mark from 'Double Shot', performed some original material and cover songs at the local Legion in Rick's hometown.
When it's time to recharge and take a break from the real world, it's not unusual to spot Mr. Mercer, South of the border, kicking back and relaxing. Despite being on vacation, he's never without a guitar within arm's reach. On past trips to Cuba, he has enjoyed playing music with the native residents. It's evident in photos and videos, that despite language barriers, music has no boundaries and he always enjoys playing along side these musicians.
What does the future hold for Rick Mercer? That folks, is ultimately up to the man himself. His extremely creative and ambitious qualities are sure to take him down any road that he may want to travel. With a positive and enthusiastic outlook on life incorporated with an infectious laugh and sense of humour, the future looks bright for Mr. Mercer, both on and off the stage. Since the first time hearing 'The Song Remains the Same' soundtrack while driving around with his friends in his buddy's 1978 AMC Gremlin, it was evident that Rick would always have music in his life and whether he sets out to do so or not, he has the ability to make others happy with his music. Guitar playing has always been an outlet to help Rick through any difficult time he may have experienced. His love of music and the guitar, allows him to share his passion with others who appreciate his straightforward lyrics and wonderful music. A humble man, not looking for praise or recognition, Rick has become a mentor for up-and-coming musicians to admire, respect, and who appreciates his advice and guidance.
No matter where life will take Rick, you can be sure he won't be too far from a stage. As long as he has a guitar and his cowboy boots, he will always be found with a smile and ready to rock.
I knew when I decided to write this piece, I would be faced with the challenge of presenting it in a way that would not only emphasize, but celebrate Rick's vast musical career all while maintaining the integrity of the subject. It's been presented in a chronological manner, so that the reader can travel the rock and roll journey that Rick has lived, and continues to experience. The purpose of this write-up is to allow the readers to gain an appreciation of his music and to recognize his talents. His skills have developed throughout the years thanks to dedication and perseverance. A trooper, always looking for the brighter things in life, the future can be whatever Rick wishes it to be. I'm confident that music will always be a part of Rick's future.
First and foremost I need to thank Rick for the overwhelming support and countless contributions since I began working on this project. He generously provided everything, including dates, photos, media links, and shared some great stories from his past musical adventures. Without his cooperation, the contributions and his help, this write-up would not have been possible. It's been a collaborative effort that resulted in many hours of research, fact checking, not to mention great conversations with Rick that would always include many laughs, all of which I have enjoyed immensely. I've come to not only appreciate his talent as a musician, but by gaining an insight into his life, I have the utmost respect for him as an individual. Rick is a genuine, kind-hearted, generous man, that I couldn't be prouder to call a dear friend.
I wish you all the best Rick!
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