TEHKUMMAH–Every year the Northern Ontario Country Music Association (NOCMA) inducts Northern Ontario country music talent into the Northern Ontario Country Music Hall of Fame which is headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie. This year’s inductee is Manitoulin’s own Jeff Pyette.
Mr. Pyette has been a fixture in the Manitoulin country music scene since he started playing publicly with Barry Williamson and Larry Karn back in 1981. They took a leave for a while but the three have reunited and play together these days in Double Barrel, with Jeff Gilmore and Greg Wilkin rounding out the band.
Even earlier, at 17, Mr. Pyette played a few dances with his first band, Random.
Mr. Pyette is a long-time member of Island favourites Down Yonder, where he plays with Debbie Robinson, Maurice Labelle, Tim Shaw and Doug Hore. He has also played with Country Gold, Country Pride, and some unnamed groups put together for events and get togethers.
“We’ve all played together for many years,” said NOCMA district representative Ben Lentir. “We are one big happy family whenever we’re up on stage together.” Mr. Lentir was emcee for a musical inductee celebration held last Saturday, June 23 at the Tehkummah Triangle Seniors’ Hall. Mr. Lentir played bass with Mr. Pyette and Down Yonder. Down Yonder’s set also featured special guests Gord Lapierre from Timmins and Wiikwemkoong’s Eugene Manitowabi; Double Barrel took the stage after a brief intermission.
Saturday night’s performance was both celebratory and emotional. It was the first time since the loss of band member Glen McDougall last November that Down Yonder had played in Tehkummah, a regular venue for the group. In a special moment, Mr. McDougall’s wife Beth, accompanied by their daughter Sherri, presented Mr. Pyette with Mr. McDougall’s Hall of Fame ring. It was Glen McDougall who spearheaded the campaign to have Mr. Pyette recognized with this award.
Mr. Pyette was taken by surprise by the presentation of the ring. “That was totally unexpected. I’m really very honoured by that. Glen did a lot of work, he bent over backwards for everybody,” said Mr. Pyette. “He went for it all. He believed in anybody who was a musician. I’m really fortunate to have known him. Now we have his memory.”
Fans of both bands know what to expect at a show: good music, a little dancing, some laughs and an easy banter between bandmates. Mr. Manitowabi had the crowd laughing at his jokes before he became serious. “This is the heartbeat of country music on Manitoulin Island,” he said. “Jeff is worthy and I’m definitely going to be in Sault Ste. Marie (for the induction) in November. I wouldn’t miss it. “
“I hope the next generation of country music players will keep this going,” continued Mr. Manitowabi. “I know you have big hearts. Keep it going.” He laughed. “My shoes keep walking back to you people no matter where I’m at.”
The show was an emotional milestone for Mr. Lapierre also. “This is only the second time I’ve sung since I lost my wife and my son last year,” he said. “Let’s hear it for Jeff.”
Mr. Lentir reflected that “It’s tears that keep us strong. That man kept us laughing too. But tonight’s your night, Jeff.”
“Glen made his wishes known back in the fall,” said Mr. Lentir. “We talked it over before last year’s trip to Sault Ste. Marie.” Mr. McDougall felt strongly that Mr. Pyette should be Manitoulin District’s next NOCMA Hall of Fame inductee.
“We all felt the same way and thought it best to fulfill Glen’s dream,” continued Mr. Lentir. “Before the nomination, we all get together and talk about it. It wasn’t just Glen’s decision, it’s not just my decision. It is quite an honour to be inducted. It completes the accomplishments of what we do as musicians. Jeff is really excited.”
The Expositor caught up with Mr. Pyette between sets. “It is an honour,” he said. “I am humbled at the same time. It’s truly special to have all of my family and friends show up repeatedly, show after show. I’m so appreciative. This is the highlight of my (musical) life. It’s awesome to have an evening like this.”
Mr. Pyette has been playing music publicly for “you might say 40 years,” he said. “First with Barry and Larry back in 1981. We took a leave for awhile, we all had children. We got back together again in Double Barrel.”
He couldn’t be happier to be sharing the celebration with friends, family and bandmates. “Down Yonder are my brothers and sister,” he said. “My gal, Connie, is a big part of it. She puts up with all the clutter, the guitars and amps.”
Mr. Pyette simply enjoys playing music and performing. “It’s just that I’m having fun doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m happy to entertain at this level.” When he has time he does some songwriting but doesn’t see any recording in the near future. “Who knows?” he said. “It’s getting simpler to record, so that may be coming sometime.”
He was more nervous about the Tehkummah show than the upcoming induction ceremony and show in November. It was the recent loss of their band member and playing to all of his friends and family that set the butterflies in motion. “It feels like getting married all over again,” he laughed. “I want to say the right things. I’ve got all of my friends and family around and they’re so supportive. It’s really terrific.”
He might be surprised about the NOCMA show, noted Mr. Lentir. “What Jeff is going to experience, it will certainly be more memorable than in the past.”
He wants Islanders to think about going. “It’s quite an event with wonderful entertainment. It’s good for our Northern communities. Our talent is being recognized.”
For more information on the bus trip to ‘Northern Ontario’s longest running annual country music event’, the NOCMA awards weekend November 2 to 4, contact Ben Lentir at 705-210-0807 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NOCMA was established 29 years ago by Dave Patterson for the sole purpose of recognizing country music talent in Northern Ontario. “It’s the same as the Canadian Country Music Association, but on a smaller, regional scale,” explained Mr. Lentir. The association hosts the annual country music awards as well as the Great Northern Opry. Mr. Pyette was inducted into the Great Northern Opry in June 2010.