cover Illustration by Raymond Biesinger
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Whitey Houston takes on C’mon in a live, song-versus-song rock ’n’ roll deathmatchFor once, the biggest, loudest rumble of the year won’t be found on pay-per-view. Rather, come next Thursday night, New City will become the closest thing to a sweaty Las Vegas ring that you can get in Edmonton, as the heavyweight rockstars of Toronto’s C’mon and the hometown boys of Whitey Houston share the stage to battle each other song for song in a winner-take-all rock ’n’ roll showdown.

But this Saturday afternoon, more than a week before the bell sounds, Whitey Houston’s got no time for calisthenics and raw-egg breakfasts. In fact, with the mad pace of prepping for the May 19 release of their first LP, Whitey (bass and vocals) and Gravy (drums) have only just enough space in their schedules for a little gloves-off conference call with C’mon opponent Ian Blurton. Still, in between the day jobs and outside gigs (Whitey’s been putting in plenty of hours with newfound side project the Wet Secrets, while Gravy’s been hitting the drums alt-country style with Cordoba), the two have been keeping tabs on the status of their upcoming release, a 14-song collection of the sort of raw and fuzzy bass-and-drum action that the band is known for.
The Whitey LP was supposed to be on display at local record retailers last March, but things changed course when their Edmonton label Rectangle Records’ Toronto partner, Indestructible, partnered up with Universal/Maple distribution. So now, after months of waiting, Whitey Houston’s part of what they call a “monster company,” which suits them fine, so long as their record gets into the stores.

But after five years together as Whitey Houston, one year since they went into the studio and two months since their LP was supposed to be released, the band’s understandably impatient to see the thing completed. A little more than a week from the release party and they’ve yet to see the finished CD (though the vinyl edition, Gravy notes, has arrived), which has the band working on plans for a last-minute special edition self-printed CD—featuring a few bonus goodies—in case of emergency.

Saturday afternoon, though, Gravy’s been waiting for more than his completed album. He’s been sitting around on the steps of downtown’s Vue Weekly offices waiting for his teammate to make an entrance. There’s no way Whitey’s letting him down, though; you can hear the emphysemic sputter of his giant green van wheezing from a mile back. And when he does pull into the parking lot—stumbling out of the van after a late night playing with the Wet Secrets to 14-year-olds clutching Colt 45s at the Shark Tank—Whitey’s voice is as roughed-up as his ride’s semi-deflated wheels.
But a gravelly voice is all the better to trash-talk with. By the time the band’s settled into the cluttered comforts of the Vue production office (where you’ll find Whitey most days of the week fulfilling his production manager duties), they’re ready to take on whatever C’mon’s Ian Blurton can bring, as the three launch into a discussion of their upcoming battle.

“This show’s pretty shameless,” says Blurton over the phone from Toronto. “But you know, we don’t really believe in shame, really, that much. We’re really willing to do anything.”
“You’re going to have to do anything,” catcalls Whitey, causing Blurton to start a slow laugh as grizzly as his infamous rust-coloured beard.
“Hey, we’ve got some magic tricks we’ve been working on,” Blurton strikes back, still chuckling.
“Like what? You’ve got a pyrotechnics display or what?” demands Whitey.
“Oh, card tricks,” deadpans Blurton.
“Okay, card tricks. That’s cool,” says Whitey. “I think that’s an awesome shameless thing. Sort of like hopping on a band’s CD release and headlining it.”
“Headlining it?! What are you talking about?” says Blurton with a bit of unexpectedly earnest exasperation.
“And trying to outrock a band on their own CD release show,” Whitey continues.
“That’s pretty shameless,” agrees Gravy.

Whitey takes round one, but considering Blurton’s rock CV, he promises to be quite the contender onstage. Blurton’s been the force behind now-classic CanRock bands like Change of Heart, Bionic and Blurtonia, and now, with the help of former Blurtonia drummer Randy Curnew and ex-Nashville Pussy bassist/special ladyfriend Katie-Lynn Campbell, he’s heading up C’mon. The group’s debut album, Midnight Is the Answer, came out last fall to a rapturous reception from those critics who fancy their rock straightforward and extra-special loud. And on the strength of that record—and almost neverending touring—they’ve just released a fresh EP, Blown Speaker.
Whitey Houston’s still confident they’ll give C’mon a run for their money, though—they did, after all, suggest the rock deathmatch to Blurton (who they’ve been palling around with since ’97) in the first place.

“It was in Texas, eh? When you came up with the idea?” Blurton asks.
“Yeah,” says Gravy. “At SXSW I ran into Ian and Katie at an Illuminati show and told them that they should headline our show and Ian kiboshed it. So I said, ‘Let’s do a song-by-song thing.’”
“I think it’s a fun angle,” pipes up Whitey.
“I don’t think I’ve been to a show where that’s happened,” says Blurton.
“I haven’t either, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out,” says Whitey.
“It’s totally like The Dating Game or something,” muses Blurton. “We should have a barrier on the stage between the two bands so you can’t see the other side.”
“And then you’d have to pick bachelor number one or bachelor number two,” adds Gravy. “I’m thinking that I’m going to get a bleacher, and the other band can put on their warm-up jackets and while they’re not playing.”
Blurton starts a low, raspy cackle before suggesting some Gatorade should be in order, too.
“Yeah,” Gravy agrees. “And we’ll get the big bucket of Gatorade so you can pour it on the coach after we’re done.”
“We’re bringing a coach,” Blurton boasts.
“You’re going to need a coach,” snaps Gravy, leaving Blurton laughing and just a mite flabbergasted.
At this point in the conversation, it may be Whitey Houston: 2, C’mon: 0, but Blurton’s still confident that he’ll be in fighting form once he’s got a guitar in hand. Any other kind of tear-up, though, he’d prefer to avoid.
“He looks like a tough guy, but he’s a big teddy bear on the inside,” says Whitey. “Ol’ teddy bear Blurton.”
“Who, me?” asks Blurton. “I’m a teddy bear, period. I’m all about the hugging and the loving.”
That isn’t to say, though, that Blurton’s kept his combat onstage; a couple years back, Blurton says he found himself defending his girlfriend and her then-band, Nashville Pussy. “It was in Haarlem, the Netherlands two years ago,” Blurton says. “It was at a show and I was standing in the audience and Nashville Pussy was playing, and this guy, like, two feet away from me started spitting on the band. He spit on Ruyter, and then he spit on Blaine, and he tried to spit on Jeremy, and when he spit on Katie, I just lost it.”
“Yikes,” adds Whitey.
“I actually ended up being circled by numerous guys,” continues Blurton.
“Yikes,” adds Whitey again.
“Yeah, but the roadie from Nashville saw it from the stage; he was waiting for the first punch to be thrown and he jumped in.”

Blurton lived to laugh about it later, but he’s no fighter—unless, of course, rock is involved. Whitey and Gravy can’t help but agree, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the two bands negotiate a ceasefire Thursday night and combine their powers of rock for a song or two. Besides, adds Whitey, they haven’t figured out any rules for the rock-match and they sure haven’t had a trophy made up. Technically, he says, they won’t even proclaim a winner; all signs point to Whitey Houston and C’mon joining forces.
Such an alliance could be put to good use, the way Blurton sees it; he says there’s a million examples of bands that could use a good thrashing, bands that he says “call themselves rock bands but really aren’t,” and all those young upstarts of the new New Wave. With a Whitey/C’mon rock army, those whippersnappers wouldn’t stand a chance. “We’d rock them off by sitting around backstage,” says Blurton. “It’d be like they’d just see my guitar and know I’d rock harder than they’ll ever rock.” So why rock off against each other when there are bigger battles to fight? “Well, we’re not actually good friends,” says Blurton. “In fact, we’re mortal enemies. Get that straight right now.”Adds Whitey, “There’s a thin crust of good cheer over a bubbling cauldron of hate.”
“A thin crust, I like that,” says Gravy, laughing. “That, and I’d want to rock off against anyone we can beat. That’s why I planned it with these guys.” V

Whitey Houston vs. C’mon
With The Mark Inside • New City • Thu, May 19