Day 160 - Chris (1st person I approached)
June 09, 2014 - Chris was sitting having a coffee and looking at his phone when I asked him to chat. He said yes, adding
“My life story? That could take a while.” We agreed that he would only tell me what he wanted to share.
Chris was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He is the oldest of three children.
“My father was an engineer, and he traveled for work. His company relocated him to Toronto. He and my mother came to Canada and I stayed with my grandparents. Growing up in Jamaica is a completely different experience than growing up in Canada. There wasn’t anyone there to answer my questions. I was fed and clothed and got to school, but things are much slower in Jamaica. My grandfather made pianos from scratch, so I would go to his shop and watch him working. My uncle was a bass guitar player and they both had a big influence on my love of music, from an early age,” said Chris.
“While most people listen to reggae in Jamaica, we were listening to Steely Dan and other types of rock music.” When he was seven, his parents sent for Chris and his younger brother to join them in Canada.
“There wasn’t much conversation or getting us prepared for it. It was just ‘hey you’re gonna go on a plane and see your parents.’ So my brother and I flew to Toronto. I was excited and scared. I had never seen snow before, I was looking forward to that,” recalled Chris.
“I remember seeing my parents in the airport and they were carrying something. I had no idea what it was. Turns out they were parkas. We got into a car which was parked in the underground parking, so we still hadn't been outside. As we drove home, the windows were all fogged up and the heating was on in the car. Then I remember thinking about just how cold it really felt outside,” he said.
The family lived in Toronto for three years, when his father’s company moved him again, this time to Edmonton.
“That took some adjusting to. In Edmonton, I think that being black was more of a novelty. For some of the kids at school, I don’t think they had seen a black person before. I’d be in class and look up, and kids would be staring at me. Not in a mean way, more just a look of intrigue. In some ways, I think that made settling in easier, because everyone was interested in getting to know me. Perhaps if I had been older and moved there, it might have been different. As I got older, I certainly faced racism from older kids and people,” he said.
“In Toronto sure it got cold and there was snow, but at least there were things to do. In Edmonton it was rural, and isolating and there was so much snow, and it was freezing cold. I think I resented my parents for moving us to Edmonton, Chris said. Throughout school, Chris continued to explore his interest in music, learning to play bass guitar.
“When I finished high school, there wasn’t any college for me. I was going to be a rock star! I was in a band with some friends from school. We were a cover band, doing the songs of other groups. My father straight up told me ‘You’ll never be a famous rock star performing other peoples music.’ I started learning to write songs. There were a number of older guys in the band and they were helping my friend and I learn. We went on the road and toured for almost three years,” he said.
Chris was in a relationship and when his girlfriend got pregnant, he decided to stop touring. “We moved to Campbell River on Vancouver Island. We took a bus to get there from Edmonton. I had never been to BC (British Columbia) before. It was raining and I remember looking out the window and seeing these beautiful flowers everywhere. Turns out they were rhododendron’s. I couldn’t believe how incredible they were. They're still my favourite flowers,” he said.
“I think I was the only black guy in Campbell River. My daughter was born and we settled into being a family,” said Chris.
“I got a job working with a company that provided fire-fighting equipment like extinguishers, hoses and gear. I also had a job tending bar at a club, and I was doing some auto body work, which was another interest of mine. Working in the bar kept me close to the musicians, which felt good. The fire supply company was a good steady day job, and the auto body work was for fun. Although I couldn’t hack the dust and fumes for very long. But I was working hard to provide for my family,” he said. Unfortunately it didn’t last.
“For a few different reasons, things weren’t working out. One day my girlfriend sat me down and told me that ‘our daughter can’t live on the earnings of a musician.’ That was the last straw. It was tough, but I had to leave. I’ve been around lots of people in music who like to drink and party and do other things. I’ve never been comfortable in that environment. She definitely had her own issues. So I went back to Edmonton,” said Chris.
Back in Edmonton, Chris connected with a friend that he had been in his first band with. They decided to move to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and continue to play music.
“I ended up getting a sweet gig with an Alice Cooper cover band. It was one of the best cover bands going, complete with snakes and everything! The money was good and I was hired as a session bass player. I toured with them for a few years,” said Chris. When he was child, Chris had recurring nightmares about being chased by an Anaconda snake through a forest. He always tried to get away and even though the snake never got him in the dream, he became very uncomfortable around snakes.
“I never told the guys in the band that I didn’t like snakes. And every night they’d bring it out on stage and I’d just stand there and play hoping it wouldn’t touch me. The snake would stay in one of the hotel rooms. It wasn’t a fast mover and in time I would just ignore it. One night, they were feeding it, and someone yelled 'look out!' I turned around to see a live rabbit jumping in the air, and a split second later the snake leapt up and BAM, he got the rabbit. It was amazing how fast that snake moved. That night I had the same dream again, but this time I was being chased in a building and the snake chased me right out a window. I got away, and I’ve never had that dream since or been bothered by snakes,” said Chris, with satisfaction in his voice.
When the tribute band came to BC, Chris and his friend decided to get an apartment in New Westminster.
"I’ve been here in Vancouver ever since. The music scene was changing and the gigs started to get less frequent. A friend was working for a landscaping company and suggested I apply for a job there. I didn’t know the first thing about landscaping other than mowing the grass. I got a job, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I met my wife working there as well. We’ve been together for 17 years. We own our own landscaping company now. My wife takes care of the books and the interior jobs, and I have a couple of guys that work with me on the exterior jobs. I’m still into my music. I think about it all day. Music means so much to me,” said Chris.
I asked Chris about his daughter from that early relationship back in Campbell River.
“I’m a grandfather now!” he says beaming with pride. And maybe a little bit of ‘can you believe it?’
“My daughter is a wonderful person. She has a great life, and a terrific husband. He’s a good guy. They had a baby six months ago and are so happy. My relationship with my daughter is very good. For a long time I felt really bad about leaving her behind and walking away from that relationship. She’s told me she understands why I did what I did. She told me ‘Dad, of all the people in my life, you are the most grounded person I know. I completely understand why you had to leave. I get it, and I don’t blame you.’ That felt so good. It’s definitely brought us closer together.” #notastranger