I interviewed Jon and Roy on my radio show back in 2004, just a year after they began their gradual and impressive musical journey. I think I still have that show on a cassette tape (yes, cassette tape) somewhere in my archives (See: dusty box in attic). The radio station was 101.9 CFUV, which is on the campus of the University of Victoria, where Jon Middleton and Roy Vizer first met.
Skip ahead 13 years, Jon and Roy recently performed to a hometown crowd of about 500 at Sugar Nightclub in Victoria. There was a palpable electric energy in the room, and the place was so packed that I was not even able to talk to the promoter in person all night to ask questions – We texted back and forth a few times about the set list, as he stood only twenty feet away from me, barricaded by a throng of J & R fans ranging from age 19 to 49. The Zone @ 91.3’s Pol Plastino introduced the band, and, to his credit, emphasized “Thank-you for supporting local music!”
Jon and Roy started the show with “Riverside,” an original which reminded me of the bluesier side of Steve Earle. After that, they launched into a rollicking roots rock number called “Better Life.” Next in the set was “Road Ahead is Golden,” a refreshing ballad, and the title track of their new album. The band started to ramp it up with the funkier reggae-esque “Oh It Seems” featuring a guest trombonist, who killed. The next song in the set, for me, was a highlight – “Cuban B” was an infectious Ryan Adams-esque song which also had a hint of less-campy David Grey. Some songs throughout their set were more dynamic than others, but the variety pack of roots rock, reggae, and funk – in addition to the vocal harmonies – retained this concert’s enjoyable diversity.
Success for bands is so dependent on longevity and perseverance, and Jon and Roy have certainly paid their dues in the trenches and stood the test of time, and they are now benefitting from that endurance. I remember reading an interview years ago in which 54/40’s Phil Comparelli was asked what advice he had for aspiring musicians, and his response was “It’s just a matter of being the last band standing.” Ironically, Comparelli is no longer with 54/40, but I suppose that’s a story for another time.
— James Kasper is the president and founder of BC community record label Mighty Speck Records, as well as a voice-over artist, writer, and musician.