3 min

Pop goes the country

Cabaret star returns to his musical roots

TIME WELL SPENT. After 17 years in the business, David Ramsden releases his debut CD, The Rhythm Of The Lonely Road - it's pop, not jazz. Credit: Xtra files

In 1983 a young gay musician called David Ramsden moved to Toronto from small town Ontario to seek fame and fortune. Sure, he faced the inevitable hardships and disappointments but, by 1990, Ramsden had become a one-man musical force.

His jazz and standards concert series Quiet, Please! There’s A Lady on Stage – where he acted as creator, host, accompanist and vocalist with the likes of Amanda Marshall, Jane Siberry, Lorraine Segato, among others at the Cameron House – ushered in what promised to be a career of super stardom.

Along the way, he picked up a reputation as a wild, larger-than-life bon vivant, the untamable king of Queen Street. “I was getting known at a time when I wasn’t ready to get well-known,” recalls Ramsden. “I was going through a weird head space.”

The story then took an unexpected turn. After a few frustrating years in the music business – a “vicious industry” that never figured out what to do with this multi-talented gay man – Ramsden took time out to concentrate on a successful acting career and a more secure livelihood as a mental health worker.

But damn that music bug! More than 17 years after that fateful bus ride to Toronto – and numerous grant applications and loans later – comes The Rhythm Of The Lonely Road, a debut CD with 10 original songs by Ramsden and featuring back-up vocals from Holly Cole, Rebecca Jenkins and Jennifer Moore.

It’s an immaculate, if weakly produced, collection of introspective songs – at once highly imaginative and emotionally candid. With its numerous references to stars, changes of seasons and wilderness, The Rhythm Of The Lonely Road is the musical equivalent of a Margaret Atwood short story: A slice of Canadian art where the personal is successfully mapped onto the natural.

“I wrote a lot of these songs in my parents’ cottage,” explains Ramsden. “It’s all written out of doors That’s my dog, cottage and boat on the cover.” The CD’s overall pop feel may come as a surprise to those who think of Ramsden primarily as a jazz and cabaret musician.

“I always was a pop musician,” says Ramsden, setting the record straight. “When I started doing Quiet, I did that as a kind of a lark. I was just experimenting with jazz and standards.

“At that time there was a big focus on that, so my songwriting got lost somewhere in the mix. Every time I was in the media it was about singing standards and doing jazz accompaniment which was the last thing I wanted to be known as because I’m not a jazz player.”

Where The Rhythm Of The Lonely Road departs from most pop recordings, however, is in its sober, bittersweet approach to romance. It’s a romantic CD but, as Ramsden points out, not in a “sappy” way. “It’s romantic in a wistful, poignant sort of way.”

Love, while paramount, is an elusive, perplexing emotion – as in the CD’s gorgeous ballad “Mystery Of Love.”

“It’s a very personal song for me,” says Ramsden. “It was written about the last person I was involved with. I’m in my mid-40s and I’m still wondering what the fuck is going on with love. I don’t get it. I just seem ill-equipped for it in some way.”

And unlike closeted gay singers, there’s no mistaking the man-on-man texture of the CD. As he defiantly sings in “This Love:” “I just don’t care who knows it/ I’m happy just to be with him/ and walk down any street/ like I belong to him.”

But such emotional honesty comes at a price. “I’m a middle-aged gay man and I’m writing about men very openly. I can’t imagine a record company in Canada would want to give this old fag a contract.”

It doesn’t take long to realize that the Ramsden talking now is a calmer man, one who’s at ease with where he is in his career and personal life. If a song publishing deal comes out of this CD, that would be wonderful – and extremely well deserved – but Ramsden’s expectations couldn’t be simpler. “I just hope a lot of people will get to hear it.”

David Ramsden.

$6. 10pm.

Mon, Jun 12.

Ted’s Wrecking Yard.

549 College St.

(416) 928-9941.