By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Gord Bamford drummer and band leader Chad Melchert was at his drum kit Saturday night performing when he learned he was this year’s Drummer of the Year winner at the Annual Canadian Country Music Association Awards.
“I was on stage drumming and my phone started flashing,” Melchert said. “A friend of mine texted me ‘winner, winner, chicken dinner.’ Then congratulations started piling in after that, so I knew I had won.”
Melchert said he was both happy and surprised to learn he had won. The local musician has been nominated eight times in his career. “It’s been a long time coming, I guess,” Melchert said. “A lot of years of playing with different acts and it’s nice to get that recognition.”
The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native began his musical career at the age of 13 in a local band with his guitar-playing brother and bass-playing friend. “We played hockey and we played music. That’s what we did,” the musician said of his early days.
A career was established quite quickly as a number of older and more experienced musicians in Prince Albert took him under their wing, teaching him the business and taking him to play at gigs in the area. “I was playing almost every weekend right away,” he said. “It really was a money maker for me pretty quick.”
Melchert later attended music school in Red Deer from 1990 to 1992, and began a full time career in music after that. In those days the musician wore his hair long and his spandex tight, performing in the then-popular metal scene but slowing the beats down on weekends to play some country gigs. “I did the metal thing in the ‘90s. Eighties and ‘90s I was one of those guys,” he recalls. “I was just so passionate about music. Whether it was country on the weekends or heavy metal, I just liked it all. I wouldn’t say I discounted any of it. I just loved it all.”
Post head banger days Melchert hit the club scene and played night after night. “Six nights a week you were playing in smoky bars back then,” he said. “That’s where you learned repetition. You learned when your hands hurt how to play four more nights and then have a night off. All the tools you learn from doing something so much is so valuable.”
It is experience the seasoned professional feels is missing in the music business today, an era where economics and diversions prevent clubs from having bands play every night or patrons from being interested in heading out to hear them beyond Friday and Saturday night.
“Six nights in a club doesn’t exist, so guys are only able to play one or two nights a week,” Melchert said. “You don’t develop good muscle memory. You don’t develop mental stuff that you get from doing it six nights a week. You Tube might have changed some things but it can’t change that.”
One thing that has not changed in the music business is the need for professional musicians to travel. Melchert, a long-time friend of Gord Bamford was brought on board in January to assemble and lead the country singer’s band. “He needed a change and the guys in his old band wanted a change, so it was a perfect transition time for me and for him,” Melchert said, adding the band has recently done a cross Canada tour for Bamford’s new album Is it Friday Yet? “There’s talk, and it’s almost done, that we’re going to head to Australia in January to do about three weeks over there.”
Melchert said all the members of Bamford’s band are family men like himself and try to balance life on the road with life at home. He credits a great wife and understanding family with his ability to do what he does.
“I have an amazing wife,” he said. “I can’t say that all musicians have that luck. There’s a lot of slack that has to be picked up and, thankfully, I’m not made to feel bad. I do the best I can. They just make up for some of it. That’s huge for me. Family is everything to me and it is for Gord, too. The beauty of the band is everyone puts one hundred per cent value on their family and making sure that we make time for them.”
It is a perfect situation for Melchert, allowing him time to spend at home with his family in Morinville rather than being away from them 365-days-a-year on the road.
The drummer said he chose to call Morinville home 11 years ago as his wife’s family lives in Alcomdale but also for the small town feeling.
“Being from Prince Albert, I didn’t want to be in a big city,” he said of his decision to move to Morinville more than a decade ago. “I love Edmonton. I love the area. I just like to relax. In the business I’m in, Morinville’s perfect.”
Melchert is one of several professional musicians who now call Morinville home. Big Mike Callan and Jesse Peters Trio bass player Travis Switzer, the latter of whom will be playing at the Morinville Community Cultural centre Sept. 28, are also Morinville residents.