Thursday, October 06, 2005

What's in a band name?

As I sit here I'm listening to Blurtonia, the second, self titled album by the band of that name. Blurtonia was Ian Blurton's group after the breakup of Change of Heart in 1997.(Geez, 8 years already!) His current group is C'mon, who recently played Saskatoon, although I wasn't able to see them. I can sort of see why he dropped the Blurtonia name, as C'mon is a power trio versus the bigger Blurtonia with its more varied instrumentation. But in any case I wonder why he dropped the Change of Heart name in the first place. The interviews I've skimmed indicate he probably thought its day was done, which I can understand. Sometimes a name outlives its usefullness.

On the other hand there's something like Grady. This is Gordie Johnson's, of Big Sugar fame, current band. In his case I'm a wee bit skeptical of the name change. Johnson was Big Sugar. So why drop the name and pick up a new one? Its not as if Big Sugar didn't go through a number of sound changes over the years. The early Big Sugar releases were pretty straight blues versus the rock-blues-reggae-dub mix that made Big Sugar a big time act in the late '90s. I suspect in Johnson's case dropping the Big Sugar name may have been a way to get free of a record contract he didn't want any longer. I remember reading after Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready?, the last Big Sugar release, came out that Johnson had been having troubles with the record company, such as wanting a song that mentioned Alberta changed or replaced. It would hardly be the first time an artist has reluctantly dropped a moniker to ensure his escape from a problematic contract.

The practice sometimes goes the other way as well. The late bluesman John Lee Hooker had material released under a variety of names in the late '40s and '50s because he would record for a record company even if he was contracted to another record company at the time. So the recording would be released under an alias, some of which were not particularly concealing, such as John Lee Cooker.

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