JIMMY RANKIN has probably attended as many East Coast Music Awards weekends as any musician from Atlantic Canada in the event’s 23-year history, and he’s got the balance between singing and schmoozing down to a science.
“The challenge is to stay relatively sober; I’ve become quite good at that. You have to pace yourself.
“And stay away from the strip bars,” he adds with a hearty laugh. “But I wouldn’t know anything about those.”
Ironically, the Rankin Family co-founder’s solo career began with a strip club when he filmed the music video for his 2001 single Followed Her Around at Dartmouth’s Ralph’s Place, but the top nominee at this weekend’s mix of awards and showcases has moved on to more prestigious surroundings, with Nashville as his current home base and Nova Scotia his summer getaway.
“It’s all about music; it’s amazing,” says Rankin of his new home, a city he’s been familiar with for years, going back to the earliest days on the road with his siblings, where you can’t walk a block without tripping over a songwriter.
But for now he has his sights set on Moncton, where the candle will be burning at ends it didn’t even know it had, starting with his first public show at the Cape Breton Embassy at the Crown Plaza Ballroom on Friday night around 10 p.m., with Slowcoaster, Tom Fun Orchestra, Sprag Session, Carleton Stone and Breagh MacKinnon.
The weekend continues with a Saturday industry showcase for international talent buyers, and the country stage at the Manhattan on Saturday night. On Sunday, Rankin wraps up his ECMA weekend with a spot in the 1 p.m. Songwriters Circle at the Capitol Theatre and a performance during the gala at 7:30 p.m. at Casino New Brunswick.
The odds are also in Rankin’s favour that he’ll be making at least one trip to the podium to say a few thank-you’s to those who helped him make Forget About the World, the record that’s earned him nominations for album, entertainer, video (for Here In My Heart and I’m Just Saying), country recording, solo recording and, for Here In My Heart, song and songwriter of the year.
“I can’t believe four years went by between Forget About the World and (its predecessor) Edge of Day, but I was busy, playing constantly, and I was out with the Rankins and did two records with them, and then I was finally able to make this record. It did extremely well for me. I was a little more focused toward providing songs for radio, which I’d never really done in the past.
“At least it had never been a conscious effort to produce songs that I thought would be radio-friendly. This time I was conscious of trying to come up with songs that would appeal to radio, but in my own way, and it worked. I had a bunch of singles, videos on CMT, and it did extremely well right across the country.”
Forget About the World also earned the Cape Breton-born singer-songwriter a Juno Award nomination for country recording of the year, necessitating a trip to Ottawa for the annual celebration where he was also a presenter at the Saturday awards banquet and the live TV broadcast of the Sunday gala.
“I had a lot of different people coming up to me and telling me how much they liked the record and the songs,” says Rankin, who also took part in a Juno songwriters circle with Sam Roberts and Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy.
“It was a treat for me as we get toward the end of the cycle for this record, and getting eight ECMA nominations is just the icing on the cake. Whether I win is another thing or not, but it’s nice to be acknowledged.
“I never expected to win at those things, but you never know. I just enjoyed being at my first Junos weekend since they were in Halifax. I did a show at the First Baptist Church in Ottawa €” it’s a great venue, if you ever get a chance to see a gig there. It’s an older church, about 400 seats, but when I did the afternoon sound check, it just sounded beautiful. I wish every venue could sound like that.”
When he gets back to Nashville, Rankin’s next project is corralling songs for his first Christmas album, writing original songs as well as tracking down seasonal tunes that haven’t worn out their welcome from overplay over the years. He expects this unique project will require the same rigorous schedule of radio tours, promotional appearances and intensive media work that has gone into every release since he first began going it alone.
“It’s obvious that the old formula that I started out with in the Rankin days is just not there anymore,” sighs Rankin, who’s buoyed by the enthusiastic response to his relatively recent entry to the world of social media like Facebook and Twitter.
“You have to do everything you can possibly do, from playing your own gigs to opening shows for others, and talk to everyone you can to keep your name out there.
“I’ve been an indie act since (2001’s) Song Dog. The great thing is, there are all these people out there who used to be part of the old formula, working for record companies, and they’re freelancing now so you can hand-pick a team to do your marketing, your radio tracking and so on. The one who are surviving are learning to change with the industry, which, as everybody knows, is not what it used to be.”
For more on this weekend’s ECMA celebration in Moncton, visit www.ecma.com. ( firstname.lastname@example.org)