Yukon musician returns to Homer with eclectic set

If you plugged in “Gordon Tentrees” to an online music radio program, it might start out with something from his last album, “Less is More.” But, as computer algorithms go, the station might throw in songs that evoke the Whitehorse, Yukon Territory singer-songwriter: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and John Prine, all singers Tentree has been compared to. But then you might get some blues acts like Muddy Waters or BB King, straying firmly into Whiskey Tango Foxtrot territory.

As anyone who has figured out Pandora knows, if a smarty pants computer program starts tossing out musicians that sort of sound like X, but aren’t really, that can mean one thing.

You’ve discovered an original, the real deal.

Tentrees, a Canadian through and through, eh, who also has been praised for creating some of the most genuine Americana music today, returns to Homer for a show at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, at Alice’s Champagne Palace. That’s a new local gig for him, having played on his previous visits at the Downeast Saloon. In association with the Salmonfest Music Series, Alice’s brings Tentrees to town.

“I’m looking forward coming to Homer in general,” Tentrees said in a phone interview last Thursday from Whitehorse. “I love that the fact that if I drive any further I have to swim to Vancouver.”

Raised in southern Ontario in farm country, Tentrees went west to the Yukon for not gold but the love of a woman. He’s been there 20 years now, and has three children ages 5 to 15 with his wife, Kelly, also his manager.

Tentree said he considers Alaska a sister to the Yukon, “the most Canadian part of America I can associate.”

Whitehorse spawned his musical career. In university he played guitar and told rambling stories to his friends, but he didn’t have any formal musical training.

“When I got to the Yukon I realized all these people were playing music in their homes. I started feeling left out,” he said. “I thought, ‘I should get a guitar.’”

One night he went to an open mic at a club where he had to play three songs.

“I played two songs I knew. I played a third song twice. I got a free beer. I was hooked,” he said.

He said he realized he didn’t know any other songs so he started making them up.

“Somebody said ‘Write what you know.’ You can make things up you know,” he said.

Tentrees honed his craft the easy way: practice, practice, pratice.

“I learned through sports if you play things repetitively you get better at it. I learned to finger pick. If you do that 10,000 times over and over again, eventually you get friends,” he said.

Since then, Tentrees has made sixth albums, with a seventh, “Grit,” officially released on a German label this March.

Tentree will be performing songs from “Grit” and have advance copies for sale. Touring internationally, Tentrees has visited Canada, the United States, German, the British Isles, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Australia.

Each place he gets a different reception.

“In Germany, we’ve got this blues guy. In the Southern U.S., they go, ‘Oh, this is very John Priney, Americana,” he said. “…When I go to Australia, they go, ‘This is Canadian, but from Northern Canada. What is this?’”

Tentrees said he likes to mix things up. No show will be the same.

“It’s a journey. The whole show is a journey. You’re not going to see a country guy, a folk guy or a blues guy,” he said. “When I come to Homer, I have no idea what’s going to happen until I get on the stage — but neither does the audience.”

In modern music and all its ways of connecting to an audience, Tentrees said he sees the trick is to mix it up and make shows different.

“To me, that’s what draws me to music in general,” he said. “…You have to do that to cut through. There are no rules anymore. It’s great to get on the stage and see what happens.”

That can mean anything from “a blues hip-hop tune, playing the harmonica solo, to singer-songwriter folk dirges, to ‘avoid the pitfalls of being a deadbeat father’ to coming to Alaska hanging out with my brothers and sisters,” he said. “I feed off what’s going on in the room.”

Coming from a crisp minus 40 in Whitehorse, Tentrees said he’s looking forward to balmy Homer and playing for the year-round residents.

“I’m bringing it. I’m not coming to Alaska when everyone else is. I want to come there when the real people are there, the real Homerites,” he said. “…If you can let the real ones know I’m coming to town, that would be great.”

For samples of Tentrees’ music, visit his website at www.tentress.ca.

Reach Michael Armstrong at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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