Although Jay Case will be debuting his first solo album Foundation at a CD release event in late December, this is far from his first album. His musical story of the past 20 years reads like the history of the local music scene.
Case was born into a household of music and musicians.
“My mom was a touring musician. All of my uncles, who are now in Alberta, were touring musicians. My Uncle Mike Case, who people in Sault Ste. Marie know, was a huge influence on me.”
Despite having a musical family, it wasn’t until he was 17, that he actually showed interest in playing music.
It was at the opening of his uncle Mike’s music store where he heard something that made a lasting impression.
“My Uncle Pat and Uncle Terry played this song I had never heard before. Pat belted it out with the biggest vocal I had ever heard. My uncle Terry wrote this special guitar solo just for this tune and it was absolutely shredding and badass.”
The song in question was the classic House of the Rising Sun. “I used to try to learn it the way they did it and that solo. My family is my biggest musical influence by far.”
His mother, Karen Case, bought him a guitar as a gift. “I got this cute guitar which was a knock-off of a knock-off. It sounded and played good to my 17-year old, inexperienced ears. I played that guitar for 8 hours a day.”
Case played songs like Little Wing by Hendrix and Bell Bottom Blues by Derek and the Dominoes/Eric Clapton, a song that can easily bring him to tears.
It was also at Case’s Music, that the younger Case met local bass player George Ravlich.
“I was hanging around there just being a little guitar bum,” Case laughs. “George he had just finished playing with local band Rainhorses. I was learning Hendrix, Clapton, and Vaughn on guitar.”
Despite the age and experience difference, Ravlich asked Case if he wanted to start a rock band. Of course he jumped at the chance.
Ravlich introduced Case to other experienced players, drummer Glen Thomas and singer Jason Gasparetto, and they founded a band called The Crank Shop.
“I was 17 or 18, and I was playing in a band with three adults, grown-ups,” he laughs. “At that age, I had the hubris to think that is normal. But these guys had all been playing for 15 years or more, had toured and were amazing. It was trial by fire and it turned out to be amazing for me.”
Although still in high school, Case began playing 15 nights a month.
“In sports, if you are playing against someone who is better than you, it makes you better. In music, if you are playing with someone who is better than you it makes you much better. It elevates you. So I was super lucky. For three years, we were bouncing around Northern Ontario and Michigan.”
Back then, bands would still play a “front end” and a “back end” – or Monday to Wednesday run of gigs at one establishment, and then a Thursday through Saturday run at another.
“Those were the glory days,” laughs Case.
“There were about 30 bars in the twin Saults at that time and they were packed every Friday and Saturday night. Back then, those bars were the main meeting place for people. I am not sure that is the case anymore. It was just a different time.”
One memorable establishment was a place called Sky McFlys in Kinross. “That place was like Narnia to me. It was always jam packed with people and it was a town of less than 10,000, with 1,600 or so inmates at the Kinross Correctional Facility. We always wondered if the inmates were allowed in the joint,” he jokes.
The Sault circuit included places like Stonewalls, the Riverrock, the Canadian, the New American, Jimmy Joe’s Café, and later on the reopened Eastgate and Oscar’s Den.
It was when Case was in his early 20s that he met this writer
“You had a couple of albums out with Rainhorses. I dug your stuff and thought it was cool. Working with you, I was like, wait a second, maybe I will write a song.”
Case began playing with myself, George Ravlich, Brian Oja and Ed Young in a rock and roll band called Crankshaft.
“It was really good fun and we’d play a lot. I was hanging out with you and you helped me with the craft of songwriting. I had other friends who wrote songs, but you and I hung out a bit more than anyone else. I learned how to write and capture lyrics.”
Case says the experience created a ‘bit of a monster’.
“I began jotting down notebooks full of lyrics. I’d go to open mic nights and jam nights at Loplops and Bottom’s Up just to try out the songs. I still had 4-5 gigs a week in a rock and roll band but I was also this coffee house songwriter for a little while.”
An early tune Case/Belsito song called Grabbing Smoke showed up on SooCoustic, a compilation album of Sault artists. Later down the road, Case would join the Chris Belsito Band for the Fade Dissolve record and shows.
Then a variation of Crankshaft became Big Suit who released a rock album. “Those were 10 of the first 20 songs ever wrote. One was a co-write with me and another with Ed Young. The album was recorded with Mark Gough at his Lone Pines Studio, which was a super cool experience.”
Then came Liquid Three, which featured George Ravlich, Jason Gasparetto and Ed Young. “It was kinda funny or ironic that there were four members.”
Around this time, Case had an accident that would have ended most musicians’ careers. He accidentally cut off the tips of three of his fingers.
“That accident laid me up for almost two years,” says Case, who was still attending local shows while recovering. “After watching local band called Patti Good and the Bads, one of the band members Frank Deresti came up to me and said he had heard about my fingers. He told me that he had a similar accident cutting his tendons on his hands and said that although things seemed insurmountable, I would get better and I’d be playing before I knew it. So that was the beginning of our friendship.”
Case checked out another of Deresti’s bands, called The Rhythm Section, with Lindsay Pugh and Cliff Alloy. “They were three guys who would back up anybody. So I went and saw them play as the backup band alone, instrumentally with no singer, and it was badass. So I said, ‘We have to do a show together.’”
The show happened minus Pugh, who had a scheduling conflict.
“There was a lot of free jamming. Big Wheel and the Spokes played together for the next eight years, recorded two albums and toured all over Ontario.”
Case was awarded Best Vocal Performance for his song Helpless from his album Spin with the band Big Wheel and the Spokes at the 2010 Northern Ontario Music and Film Awards.
Then came Honeythroat with Mark Kuntsi, Lindsay Pugh and Ed Young, whose first album was called Greatest Hits, featuring songs Kuntsi had written over the years.
“We didn’t tour it but did some shows,” says Case. “All those guys are close friends of mine to this day. Then Mark fell in love and up and moved to Australia.”
Case also toured with Pat Robataille, joined the Wild Turkeys and Huckster and others.
Case had met Shannon Moan back when he was teaching at Case’s Music when he was 18.
“Shannon has this angelic voice. She recorded a great album with Dan Nystedt and Trevor Harding as The Revue. Later on, she decided she wanted to make a more subdued album. The Shannon Moan Trio recorded a beautiful album which I am really proud of. We did a couple of videos and a CD release party.”
In recent years, Case has been a mainstay in Frank Deresti and the Lake Effect.
“We had been playing a lot of places as Big Wheel and the Spokes. We told our contacts we have this groovy, funky Big Wheel that is great when you want to party, but that we also had a more mellow act. Frank is a beautiful songwriter. We started booking some shows around Ontario and toured out to the east coast and back. We have done three records and they are all just amazing.”
And all this led to Case deciding it was time to make his solo album.
“I had a plan for this album for a long time. Some of these songs have been around 15 years or more, but there are also songs that I didn’t write until I began recording the album, including the single 'Intend To Be.'”
The direct impetus to this album was a big life change.
“I was in a state of flux. I started to reflect on where I had been, where I was and where I was going. I got into a real self-reflective place. I saw a pattern, in the songs I had collected, there was a common theme.”
Foundation was recorded by Dustin Jones at Mission Control Studios, was released through Tidal Records with Case, Deresti and Jones on board as producers.
The album’s title Foundation comes from a line in a song called “Beautiful You”.
“That is a very personal song for me. My mom sings backup vocals on it. My mom is absolutely the kindest person I have ever met. Between her and her mother, they gave me all the empathy I have and so much understanding and beauty. To have her on that song is special. It was the first time she ever recorded, which is crazy as she was a touring musician most of her life. She hadn’t heard the song. She put earphones on and just nailed it. What you hear on the record is first and only take. Top to bottom, she just walked in and nailed it.”
Case played all the instruments on the record. His first solo album circles back to where Jay Case began his life. “The song is basically about where I grew up. My ‘foundation’ is a house on Case Road.”
So what lies ahead? Jay Case and his band will be touring to promote Foundation in the summer. He is still playing with Frank Deresti and the Lake Effect and they will tour in the spring. He is still writing and collaborating with his friends.
“I just look forward to getting out there and spreading the good word with those people,” says Case. “Music is me, I am music. There isn’t even a separation. I am a musician first and foremost.”
Jay Case will be debuting his first solo album Foundation at a CD release event on December 22 at Loplops.