Dan Reeder with John Prine at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Saturday (September 16). $39.50-$56.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Dan Reeder claims he never had any intention of being a professional musician. The father of three, who grew up in California but has resided in Germany for the past 20 years ("I met a German girl," he says), fiddled around on harmonica, clarinet, flute and guitar all his life, but only recorded what turned out to be his self-titled debut three years ago. He did it on his home computer, for fun.
"All I really wanted to do was sing harmony with myself," he says on the phone from his Halifax hotel room, where his luggage has just arrived after going missing for two days.
"It's hard for me to find people to sing with, especially in Germany, because it's not a traditional thing that they do. They don't just freely harmonize with each other. The other thing is, I've got a very quiet voice, so if I sing with people with normal voices you can't hear me at all. I just recorded absolutely for the fun of it."
There was no intention of releasing the CD, but Reeder says a friend played it at a party and people wanted to buy it.
"They started offering me money, and I'm not stupid. I started burning and selling them for about 15 euros. I sold about 700 of the things, and then I was pretty much done."
But he thought he'd send one to a list of people whose music he liked, "just sort of as a thank-you note. John Prine was the only one I could find an address for, so I only sent one to him. He contacted me and said he wanted to put it out on his label (Oh Boy)."
I can't help but wonder if this gosh-golly-gee-I-just-stumbled-onto-the-stage thing isn't just the tiniest bit an act. Is he for real?
But I don't suppose it really matters. I fell in love with Reeder's smooth, dry vocals and wry humour the first time I heard this record, and now it's one of my all-time favourites (particular singalong favourites include Food And Pussy and The Brain Is Not The Mind ), a collection of touching and hilarious homemade blues, country and folk played entirely on guitars Reeder started making himself just a few years ago. He just followed the instructions in a book. Of course, he never had any intention of playing live either.
"Oh Boy told me from the beginning that I should play live, and I said, 'I don't wanna do that. I don't wanna do that.' But what sort of forced me to do it was a call from BBC Radio to record 45 minutes live for broadcast. I said, 'I don't wanna do that,' and a friend said, 'Dan, that's fine. You can say no, but this is the BBC, and they only call once.' So I decided to try it and it worked out okay."
Reeder's second record, Sweetheart, is another gem, 15 original tracks and an acoustic version of A Whiter Shade Of Pale that's as haunting as the original was supposed to be. Of course, he doesn't think it's as good as the first.
"This one was more difficult to make. The first CD, there was nobody lookin', nobody listenin'. My doors were closed and I had no reason to expect anybody was ever gonna listen to it. The second was gonna be put out by Oh Boy from the beginning, so that's a completely different feeling."
Reeder was nervous about embarking on his first tour, sharing a bill with Prine. It's also the longest time he's ever been away from home. But now he's a bit calmer.
"I'm doin' better. I was real, real nervous, wakin' up in the middle of the night and stuff, but now I've met John Prine, I've met the guys in the band.
"I think it's gonna be all right."