Vince Ditrich calls himself a recovering Albertan. “It only comes up during times of extreme crises like traffic stress,” he jokes. Currently living in Nanoose Bay, it seems unlikely that factors into his life often.
Ditrich, longtime drummer for stalwart Canadian alt-rock band Spirit of the West, came to the west coast be a part of the emerging music scene in early-80s Vancouver, playing with the likes of Long John Baldry, Sue Medley, Paul Hyde and Great Big Sea.
In 1990, he was invited to join Spirit of the West. “As the saying goes, if you want to win the door prize, you’ve gotta be at the dance – and I won the door prize. I’ve had a wonderful lifetime in the music business,” he says.
It has been a lifetime for Ditrich who got his first drum set on his third birthday and made his professional debut at age six. “I was a drumming foetus,” he jokes. “My dad was a musician, he had his own band and I was his drummer.”
Ditrich was paid $15 for his first show and was a full time regular drummer with his dad’s band by age nine. “It’s obvious my dad had me complete his dreams,” he says. His dad taught him the basics of music and the rest he learned through trial and error.
“I may have been a nine year old, but I was a damn good nine year old,” he says with another laugh.
His family now includes his Spirit of the West bandmates. “When we all get together there’s like 33, 34 of us. It’s like a family gathering, like a family experience … people having babies, it’s really fun. There’s a shorthand between all of us Spirit speak, we call it – it’s very difficult for a newcomer to break in – they don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. We can encapsulate an entire concept in one phrase.”
The Spirit family is now gathering around lead singer John Mann, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease a year ago.
While Mann continues to tour with the band, he now uses an iPad to help him remember lyrics and relies on the group for other support.
“He’s lost a considerable amount of capacity to think on his feet,” says Ditrich. “Which is difficult for him because he was always a magnificent performer, so clever with his lyrics – the things that will eventually go away.”
Ditrich says it’s a “completely different kettle of fish” during performances now. “There’s no racing around the stage anymore. … there are multiple sad effects.”
But fans still embrace Mann and Spirit of the West with an unwavering passion.
“The support has been so much more than I would have thought. I’m grateful, delighted, surprised at the show of support for this guy who’s going through this brutal struggle with the worst imaginable disease,” he says, adding that Mann, along with his love of music and performing, has risen to the challenge.
“It’s a magical thing to see. A lot of people wouldn’t have the macaroons to do what he does. It’s one of his few remaining unmitigated pleasures, singing and making people happy with his voice.”
And his voice sounds “glorious,” says Ditrich. “It’s like butter. It’s more relaxed now it has great tone, it’s fantastic. He’d love to keep it up, keep doing it for a while longer.”
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