Vickers to release folk album for valley's Mining Centennial | DrumhellerMail
Last updateWed, 17 Jul 2024 3pm

Vickers to release folk album for valley's Mining Centennial


    In his blood and on his mind, a Drumheller musician has been commissioned to write an album of folk music inspired by the intoxicated escapades, triumphs, and downright tragedy of the valley's early mining days.

    Joe Vickers, of the band Audio/rocketry, has written about half of the songs for the full-length album tentatively set to be released on May 1, a holiday among international unions known as May Day.
    After playing a show at Wayne’s Last Chance Saloon last year, Vickers visited the Atlas Coal Mine for the first time in years and learned of the centennial celebrations.
    “I asked Jay Russell (programme director at the Atlas) if they had interest in potentially releasing an album of songs about the valley and he really encouraged it.”
    Vickers' family has roots planted firmly in the heritage and history of Drumheller: his great-grandpa ran a hardware store (N.B. Vickers) in the early days and his other great-grandpa was a coal miner who worked in half a dozen mines in the valley for nearly 40 years.
    Looking at Audio/rocketry’s last album Eastward and Onward, lyrics based on the past (Ghost Town Stories) aren’t something new for the songwriter.
    “Subconsciously it’s always been there, because my identity is greatly shaped by my grandparents and I was fortunate enough they lived in Drumheller. Hearing family stories helped shape me and the fact I’m a big Woody Guthrie fan makes for a good connection to a project like this.”
    Whereas Woody Guthrie wrote about the present in the Columbia River Collection, where he was commissioned by the government to write songs about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, the depression, and life during that time, Vickers is endeavouring to write about the past. He had help getting into that mindset last Wednesday when he met with ex-miners Bob Moffatt and Ron Bigford to hear first-hand stories from the hectic mining days.
                “I’m finding it a struggle to write songs that are not from personal experience. Most Audio/rocketry songs are about experiences I’ve lived through or witnessed. The research process is like writing a history paper: accumulating a wealth of knowledge and interpreting what I’ve taken in and writing it down from my perspective.
    “I’ve found it difficult, but to hear stories from Ron and Bob, I’m now technically a part of that experience. I’m hoping, in turn, that it will strike creativity to construct songs to directly or indirectly tell the story of people and events that occurred here.”
    “Our stories spanned many categories, from hearing the slang used in the mines to their endearing love of pit-ponies, to their drinking escapades – it was all covered.”
    The album currently has about seven songs written, but Vickers is aiming for a full-length of around 12 songs. Topics include the Strike of 1919, the settlement of Drumheller, and the first song entitled “Into the Darkness” – about miners heading into the earth.
    “This album is going to be very folksy, but I’m also going to try to incorporate eastern European waltz and other types of music, because when you look at the Polish, Ukrainian, and Italian influence in the valley, they brought their own music, so it’d be nice to channel that as well.”
    Although pushing for a release date and show on May 1, everything is still “up in the air.” The project does not have a title yet.
    “Time is definitely a crunch right now. But all I really need is a few moments of inspiration and creativity. So it won’t be too long from now, but I don’t want them to be hokey, either.”
    “Music has the ability to share emotion, experiences, stories with a degree of significance you can’t achieve otherwise.”
    Look for news on the progress of the album in coming months.
    Vickers is looking for more stories about the valley’s past and asks if anyone has interesting tales to contact him either by email:, or by phone: (780)-239-5543.

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