CUFF THE DUKE with Jon-Rae and the River and Meligrove Band at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (September 9). $10. 416-870-8000, 416-532-1598.
What do you do when you have no desire to be a beer-swilling, hockey-loving homophobe who's happy to work at the plant when the big leagues don't come calling? Well, if you're Wayne Petti, you follow your dream, grab your buds and get the hell out.
"Oshawa really wasn't that bad," Petti explains from his Toronto home. "It's just your typical working-class town where people pick on you if you're different, and I guess I was.
"At least there was Star Records, this cool shop where they had stuff like the Stooges, MC5 and the New York Dolls to make life a little easier for a punk rock kid. But there really wasn't much of a scene there, so the decision to move was easy - especially since I can't even skate."
Only a half-hour west, Petti found refuge and a scene all too willing to get behind Cuff the Duke's endearing blend of country and power pop.
Their debut set, 2002's Life Stories For Minimum Wage (Three Gut), created quite the buzz, but CTD still couldn't quite escape the burbs.
Landing an opening slot for York Region homies the Sadies in 2003, Cuff the Duke did their first-ever tour, which proved a major turning point for an outfit now known as a killer live act. Getting to cut their teeth with a band they held in high esteem gave them the touring bug in a big way, so if you're still pissed at having to wait three years between Cuff the Duke albums, you have the Sadies to blame
"We were really happy that our first tour was with the Sadies, but I was pretty intimidated by them. Scared, actually. I mean, we were just starting out really, and here were with these hardened road warriors who all play their instruments like masters and know all too well what life on the road is about.
"But nothing compared to the wild stories they'd tell. Travis Good would just start going on and on about the craziest shit in great detail, and we'd be hanging off every word in horror. Of course, the other Sadies would be laughing at us under their breath."
Cuff the Duke's next break came courtesy of Thornhill boy Hayden, who was so smitten with CTD he made them the first band he signed to his own Hardwood label. He even took them on the road for a few months as his backup band, the Elk-Lake Serenaders, further developing their stage prowess and allowing their eponymous sophomore set to take shape.
The highly accomplished disc tones down the country stomp a bit while opening up a whole new singer/songwriter-type deal. Petti's at home behind the piano, belting out ballads that thankfully avoid sappy pretensions, despite a few critical claims that there's a bit of an Elton John vibe going on.
So now that the critics are going apeshit and their video for Take My Money And Run is in regular rotation on MuchMusic, it would be easy to think they 're living the privileged rock star life. Yet when I hook up with Petti, the big news is that he spent the day putting together a futon frame that'll finally get him off the floor. Shit, they don't even have their own rehearsal space, which, it turns out, is actually a good thing.
"We share a studio with Great Lake Swimmers and Lullabye Arkestra, but it's not like we're tripping over each other or anything.
"Once, when we first got the place, though, Matt (Faris, CTD's drummer) and I were walking up and heard Justin Small from Lullabye playing the drums. We weren't sure if we should go in or not, and when we opened the door he was hunched over his kit with his eyes shut and his head down, playing this crazy beat. We scared the shit out of him, and he was a little pissed that we had broken his rhythm. Turns out he was right in the middle of this total jazz odyssey, but it was all in his head."
Welcome to the city, Wayne.