Singing With Icons Like Uriah Heep Is What Rick LaBonté Does

Rick-LabonteWindsor has known the music of Rick LaBonté for years. The local singer/songwriter, who was born with a hearing impairment, has been performing in bands since the early 90s and has enjoyed sharing the stage with Uriah Heep, Tallan Noble Latz and many great local musicians throughout his career. He released his debut album On A Mission in 2016 and is a regular in current performing bands like The Formula, The Blues Side and Rick LaBonté
and the Band of Brothers.

Rick sat down and filled us in on his life and career in an exclusive and in-depth interview.

Being born with a hearing impairment is something Rick has had to deal with all his life. His hearing is impaired in both ears, but is mainly found in his right ear. He can be found using hearing aids in a classroom or at a movie, but he never uses them on stage:

“The bands I play in are loud enough. I also own decent sound gear to address my needs on stage, if my band was supplying the sound as well as the entertainment. Frankly, everywhere I perform they provide a sound engineer such as Cosmos Lounge in Caesar Windsor – they usually take care of my needs. My personal monitor will be dialed in to exactly what I need to sing in key and to clearly hear the instruments. As a front man, I can move around and find my sweet spot where I can perform without compromising my pitch. When it comes to listening to music, I generally use headphones or play it fairly loud in my vehicle. As a singer, I have to double my effort to learn the lyrics, pronunciations and phrasing.

There is no doubt that I have to work harder on my musical journey than some, due to my hearing disability.”

The hearing issue has never stopped the performer. His lists of bands throughout the years is impressive. Some of the bands Windsorites might remember could include Sensational Sixties Woodstock Revue, Jukebox Heroes, The Force, Secret Formula, Centerpeace, Shady Characters, Feedback and Soundstorm.

When he released his 14-song album On A Mission in 2016, it was the culmination of years of songs and an abandoned recording from Soundstorm.

“I recorded ‘On A Mission’ at Polaris Recording Studio in Windsor, On. This project was originally a ‘Soundstorm’ album in the late 90’s and it was abandoned with a few tracks ‘in the can’ due to the fact, the band had broken up. I felt it was unfinished business. Needless to say, I put this on my bucket list to release an album. In 2014, I decided to preserve the songs that I wrote or collaborated with and complete the album with new songs. The best of both worlds of technology was used to record this album; using analog tape and digital recording process with Pro Tools software.”

Check out Rick live throughout the Windsor-Essex region. The Blues Side will be performing with The 519 Band at Rockstar Music Hall on Friday, November 2 for an evening of awesome local blues music.

Here’s the complete interview:

Please provide a small bio about your music career
I was raised in the 70’s and in my house, music was played often, whether on the radio or my father’s records. I would later become a music collector especially CDs. My mother would often sing in the house and encourage me to sing along. Though my immediate family were non-musicians, we all were music lovers. In my family, I am the only musician. I am a self-taught harmonica player since my early teens. I participated in high school musicals such as GREASE and GOD SPELL in Riverside Secondary School. I’ve learned how to play the guitar in my early 20’s. I ‘ve learned and still dabble on keyboards especially in songwriting. I am a singer, songwriter on the local scene, since the early 90’s. Every band I was in I was the lead singer. Often as a front man, I would be the booking agent and spoke person for the group.

Just so we get it right, let’s mention all the bands you play in.
Presently, I am in a couple of bands. The FORMULA formed in 2010 – still is going strong. This band plays a variety of music mainly classic/modern rock and dance music. The Blues Side formed in 2014 and continues to keep the blues scene alive. The band consists of Michael Hereford, John Kersey, Matt David, Denis Bastarache and I performs traditional to contemporary blues, R & B, Motown and Rock and Roll.. Each band performs some of my original songs. When I perform strictly original songs from my album then I am billed under Rick LaBonte and the Band of Brothers.

In the 21st century, the bands I was in, were SENSATIONAL SIXTIES “Woodstock Revue”, JUKEBOX HEROES, The FORCE, and SECRET FORMULA. In the 90’s, I was in bands such as CENTERPEACE, SHADY CHARACTERS, FEEDBACK, and SOUNDSTORM.

Tallan Noble Lutz selected you to sing at his Windsor gig. That’s quite the honor.
Yes, I received an invitation to join him on stage in August of this year, to sing a few songs with Tallan’s band at the Walkerville Theater. Of course, I was delighted he is a great player and a real good person. I saw him perform the year before and he has lot of passion on stage and that is something I could relate to. He asked me to sing and bring my harmonica for “Roadhouse Blues” and “Rocking In The Free World”. So I did, and it was a good show. Tallan has a bright future ahead of him. I had a great time. I have a soft spot for Walkerville Theater where the show was held because that is where I held my CD release party in 2016. It was a full house. Another great memory.

I noticed you had a great experience on stage and forming a friendship with Uriah Heep. Tell us about that.
Talk about living the dream. I have been a fan of Uriah Heep since I was 17 or 18. As a huge record and CD collector, I’ve studied the whole history of rock music from 50’s to the modern age. I know my albums inside and out whether its Beatles, Who, Led Zeppelin, Styx, Rush, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep etc. Therefore, it has definitely played a role in why I became fast friends with the band. I knew their anthology and their history. Another thing to know about me, I attend many concerts. I saw Uriah Heep in Windsor in 1990 at the Capital Theater for the first time. They shook my hand when I was in front row. It would be another 28 years before they would tour near Windsor again. In February of this year, Uriah Heep was coming to Ontario. The closest gig was in London. I arranged with their management for a ‘meet and greet’ and the plan just got better and better. I was invited to their sound check. We became fast friends when they met me and learned I have all their CDs. I sang “EASY LIVING” with the band. It went so well that they called me back up that night to perform the song on their encore. I was already on cloud nine to meet them and have them sign my CDs let alone perform to a full house with them. My friends and I were invited to the backstage party after wards and I kept in contact with the band ever since. In fact, Mick Box (Founder and guitarist for Uriah Heep) wrote about me in his blog calling me Super Heep Fan. I got to hang out with Bassist Davy Rimmer and Drummer Russ Gilbrook till the wee hours. We are Facebook friends today. In September, I received an autographed copy of their latest CD release “Living The Dream” in the mail. I highly recommend it. Long Live Uriah Heep !!

Is there a highlight in your career so far?
Many great memories that could be considered a highlight. I was invited to join the TEA PARTY on stage once. I have performed on Beale Street in Memphis when I visit there in 2016. I have performed some blues on various occasions with artists such as Scott Holt, Tom Lavin (Powder Blues) and the Queen of Detroit Blues, Thornetta Davis. In 2017, I was honored to be inducted in Windsor’s Musician Hall of Fame. It was a humbling and overwhelming experience. Other highlights are making videos to support my CD release. Another highlight was seeing my album under the best local artists section at Sunrise Records in the Devonshire mall. Another highlight is hearing my song “I’ve Been There” and “Me Time” on the radio.  I think just the fact that I have a large following in all my musical endeavors feels pretty special. But most of all, I am playing with the finest musicians that Windsor has to offer and hanging with the greatest friends you could ever ask for.

You released On A Mission in 2016. What was your process recording that album?
I recorded ‘On A Mission’ at Polaris Recording Studio in Windsor, On. This project was originally a ‘Soundstorm’ album in the late 90’s and it was abandoned with a few tracks ‘in the can’ due to the fact, the band had broken up. I felt it was unfinished business. Needless to say, I put this on my bucket list to release an album. In 2014, I decided to preserve the songs that I wrote or collaborated with and complete the album with new songs. The best of both worlds of technology was used to record this album; using analog tape and digital recording process with Pro Tools software. It was recorded and mixed at Polaris and sent to SLR (Sound Lab Recording) to master the album. I literally got by with a little help from friends. The FORMULA (Chris Van Lare, Wayne Bracewell, Al Kenney, Dan Laframboise then later Kevin Gagnon) was the core band that recorded many tracks. However, I had guests from other local bands sharing their time and talent. To name a few, Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party), Mark Chichkan (United Snakes), Pete Palazzolo and Jim Bonventre (Greatest Hits Live), Dale D’Amore (Guitar Army) Jack Lehoux and Nino Maniaci (The Source), Lee Amlin (Soul Minor), Michael Hereford (British Beat 66), Jeff Leboeuf and Brian Higgins (Mr. Please) and many more friends from the community. The album running at 70 minutes, has 14 original songs with a lyric booklet inside. The album entitled “On A Mission” was because it was my mission to release a CD as a bucket list item. Plus, when Jeff Burrows agreed to perform on the record I wrote the title track that week. Within two years that album was released on Earth Day April 22, 2016.

Is there new music on the way?
Yes currently, I am recording a new album at SLR (Sound Lab Recordings) using all new songs that I have written since 2016. There are a few songs that did not make it on the first album, I revamped 70 % of the album with new material. I have 4 songs completed out of 12 so far. Once again, I am using the great talent that Windsor has to offer. For instance, Jeff Burrows has recorded drums on three tracks so far. There are many other musicians like Jim Kickham (The Mixx) and Mark Stevens (SPMG) that I did not use on the first album, however, I will be reaching out to them. It is equally important to me to record these personal songs, with many friends that I have in our music community.

Like many musicians, you have a “real job”. What do you do?
My “real job” I am employed by Fiat-Chrysler at the Windsor Assembly Plant since July 1995 on the midnight shift. However, I am working for my union Unifor 444. I am a trainer and teach programs to our members regarding the auto industry, labour and human rights, politics and the economy etc. Recently, I have been acclaimed as a member-at-large on the Unifor Local 444 Executive Board. I also teach for McMaster University Labour Studies program part time.

How has Windsor shaped you as a person?
Windsor has a rich history of social activism. I’ve been encouraged to be community minded and I am involved politically and socially through my union since my twenties. I always believe in helping out and will continue to participate in many charities and fundraisers as an organizer or entertainer for the events.

How has Windsor shaped you as a musician?
Geography wise, Windsor is a great city to hear great rock music. Being in a border town to Detroit, many great radio stations across the river have turned me on to so many great bands and artists of all time. I became a huge collector of music. There were many record stores, once upon a time. Also, Detroit and now Windsor offer many concerts to see your musical heroes. I learned a great deal about showmanship from the best in the business by deeply observing and attending these shows. Windsor is very blessed with many great musicians. I’ve had the chance to rub shoulders and break bread with many. They have helped to shape my musical career.

On your Facebook profile it says you’re a social and environmental activist. What causes specifically drive you?
Yes, I have been involved one way or another since I was 20. I was elected as a chairperson of Local 444 Environment Committee since 1999. I have been involved in many political elections and campaigns. I have attended many demonstrations to protect our environment, health care, labour rights, protect our sovereignty when it comes to trade deals. I think what really motivates me, is being a father of two. I want to do my part to make a better future and a better world for them. I cannot sit on the sidelines like an arm chair quarterback and watch it fall apart. I have to get on field and tackle the issues. I have to try, by getting involve. It does not matter if I win or lose, at least I know I went down swinging for my loved ones.  I participate in any way I can. I saw many positive results a long the way. Laws were improved both municipally, provincially and federally from lobbying on certain campaigns. There are also many issues that still needs to be challenged like pollution, poverty and water safety etc. So, I won’t be quitting anytime soon. Speaking about activism, I was recognized by Essex Regional Conservation Authority and was given an Environmental Award in 2013. The Windsor District Labour Council gave me an award for my social and environmental activism in 2017. I guess there are people who appreciate what I am trying to do. That is another reason to love Windsor and the 519 area. Hard work does not go by without being noticed.

If you could change one thing about Windsor and the 519 area, what would that be?
I like to see more meaningful employment return to our community and the 519 area. We have been hit hard with NAFTA since the late 90’s. Ontario lost over 800,000 manufacturing jobs. So naturally, that will affect people’s disposal income. Less money being made means less money being spent. Therefore, everyone in Ontario suffers. So, does the music community. In the early 90’s, Windsor was booming with entertainment because there were so many successful venues to perform at. People in large numbers would go and support the live music scene. So, the economy dictates the success of music industry. I am truly grateful that I manage to be entertaining as often as I am with less venues to play at, like the “hey day’s”. But I am an optimist, things can improve. Maybe this new agreement with US, Mexico and Canada can restore some of those good paying jobs again.

Lastly, tell me about your hearing impairment. Has your hearing affected how you listen to or sing?

I was born hearing impaired in both ears, mainly my right ear. My hearing loss is in the high frequency so naturally it has affected how I hear the human speech to some degree. The pronunciations can be greatly missed without hearing aids. I may wear those aids in a classroom or movie theater, but I do not wear them on stage because the bands I play in are loud enough. I also own decent sound gear to address my needs on stage, if my band was supplying the sound as well as the entertainment. Frankly, everywhere I perform they provide a sound engineer such as Cosmos Lounge in Caesar Windsor, they usually take care of my needs. My personal monitor will be dialed in exactly what I need to sing in key and to clearly hear the instruments. As a front man, I can move around and find my tweak spot where I can perform without compromising my pitch. Often, I am so well-rehearsed that I can go auto pilot and rely on muscle memory when I am in a situation where the vocals are being drowned out from the stage volume. When it comes to listening to music, I generally use head phones or play it fairly loud in my vehicle. As a singer, I have to double my effort to learn the lyrics, pronunciations and phrasing. There is no doubt that I have to work harder on my musical journey than some, due to my hearing disability. Fortunately, I continue to get great support and encouragement from my family, friends, fans and bandmates.

 

Photography by: John Liviero, Sooters