David Sinclair may just be the epitome of Canadianness.
He could have an ego the size of this vast country, given the length of his career and the breadth of his musical resumé. You know, the kind of career that lands you in the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame and gets you a star on the Granville StarWalk for your “significant contribution to the province’s entertainment industry and cultural landscape.”
He could let that go to his head. Or he could be a soft-spoken, unassuming kind of guy who’s really just a regular dad and granddad and thinks he’s pretty lucky to still be doing what he loves.
Yeah, he’s that second kind of guy.
Ask him about his five-decade-long career as a guitarist, and he smiles.
“You just go on through the years and things come up,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate in that things come up. I’ve always been one to try new things. …
“If there’s a guitar in sight, I kind of have to play it.”
He’s been hooked on the guitar since the age of eight, when his granny arrived at his house with an instrument. He didn’t exactly intend on a career in the music industry; that just sort of happened naturally.
“Stuff just kept coming up,” he says. “I never had to make a decision what I wanted to do, because I was just doing it.”
He did study music at UBC – where, he cheerfully admits, he “failed miserably” after his first year because he was spending all his time hanging around at Vancouver Recording Studio. There, recording engineer and producer Robin Spurgin, one of the Vancouver music scene’s legendary pioneers, saw something special in the teenage kid. Spurgin would let Sinclair sit in on recording sessions and sometimes take part – he’d play guitar or tambourine, or add background vocals.
Sinclair was there for the early years of such big names as The Collectors and Chilliwack.
“I got to see how the established guys worked,” Sinclair says.
It’s been one gig after another ever since. His career has included his own solo, duo and band work (remember the’80s bands Straight Lines and Body Electric?). He’s played pop, rock, jazz, musical theatre; he’s recorded TV and radio jingles; he’s played with choirs and orchestras (ask him about that time he may have slightly overstated his mandolin playing abilities for a gig with the VSO).
Over the decades, he’s been heard by countless fans as a studio guitarist for a Who’s Who of the Canadian music world - Michael Buble, Sarah McLachlan, Rita MacNeil, Raffi, the Irish Rovers, Gary Fjellgaard, Terry Jacks and a whole host more.
“I think one of my great strengths is that I can support people in what they do. I can use what I do to make them better,” he says.
Sinclair has nothing but good things to say about the stars he’s worked with over the years.
“The people I’ve worked with have been great people. Everyone’s really been nice and great to work with,” he says, adding he knows that experience may not be the norm in the music industry. “I talk to other musicians, and that isn’t always the case.”
Sinclair has also toured extensively – he travelled with k.d. lang on her Ingenue and All You Can Eat tours and spent a decade in McLachlan’s band on her Surfacing, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Lilith Fair tours.
“It’s great when you’re on a big tour and a big stage, and it’s full of people and you’ve got someone tuning your instrument and handing it to you, and you feel like a big deal,” he says with a laugh.
Like that time he played with Sarah McLachlan on The Tonight Show – he had his guitar handed to him, played live in front of millions of viewers, got a limousine ride to the airport.
Then he went home.
“We get to Vancouver and it’s November and it’s freezing cold, and my son has a Real Estate Weekly paper route and he’s sick,” Sinclair recalls with a laugh. “Twenty-four hours later, I’m delivering the Real Estate Weekly.”
It’s that kind of experience that kept him grounded and rooted right here at home in Burnaby, where he and his wife, Christine, raised their children and continue to live.
He has seen other musicians leave for the bright lights of the American music scene, but he’s never been lured away himself.
“I was here, I had a lot of studio work going on, I had my family here. It didn’t make sense to pack up,” he says. “The opportunities that I had here were really good, getting to work with top people in town.”
These days, he’s continuing to work on multiple fronts – he’s in production on four different projects as we speak – but his primary focus is playing in a duo with harmonica player Keith Bennett. They were introduced by a mutual friend who thought they should work together, and eight years later, Sinclair & Bennett are still going strong.
“We have diverse backgrounds, and we try anything,” Sinclair says. “People see us with a harmonica and an acoustic guitar and they have preconceptions of what they’re going to hear – and we blow all that away.”
They’ll be playing a celebratory concert, marking Sinclair’s entry into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame, on Saturday, Sept. 29 at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock.
And Sinclair, for one, can’t wait.
“I’ve played the Royal Albert Hall, I’ve played Madison Square Gardens, but I also get the same charge out of playing a house concert with Keith,” he says.
And, for the record, Sinclair has no plans to slow down his career any time soon.
As for retirement? “I don’t know how to do that,” he says with a smile.
Music is a rewarding career, he says, precisely because it keeps evolving.
“There’s always something to learn, it doesn’t ever end,” he says. “For me it’s the continual growth that’s exciting. You can always come up with something brand new, and it leads somewhere else.”
Tickets for the Sinclair & Bennett concert at Blue Frog Studios are $44. Doors open at 6 p.m., with music at 7. The concert is for ages 19 and up. See www.bluefrogstudios.ca for details.
SOME CAREER MOMENTS
- Started playing in bands at age 12, playing at school and community dances with the Citations, the Trenmen, the Sinners and the Blue Knights (the last two being winners of several “Battle of the Bands” events in the mid-1960s.
- As a teenager, appeared as a feature vocalist on CBC TV’s Let’s Go and Where It’s At series and became a regular background vocalist on the shows
- Toured B.C. as the opening act for The Poppy Family
- With Bruce Fairbairn, formed the band Sunshyne, which became known for performing “rock masses” at Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral
- Had a series of radio hits, including the Juno-nominated Letting Go, with his bands Straight Lines and Body Electric in the 1980s
- Straight Lines served as opening act for artists including Burton Cummings, Loverboy and Klaatu; Body Electric was opening act for such artists as Corey Hart, Parachute Club and Teenage Head
- Played guitar for Tears Are Not Enough, the David Foster-produced single that brought together major Canadian music stars to raise money for African famine relief
- Recorded hundreds of radio and TV commercials and audio-visual shows for the major Vancouver jingle houses, and recorded music for many made-for-TV movies and feature films
- Spent a decade touring as part of Sarah McLachlan’s band
- Performances with Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Film Orchestra, Vancouver Chamber Choir, Chor Leoni Men’s Choir, Sound Eclectic Choir, Vancouver Men’s Choir, Good Noise Gospel Choir
- Played in combos and big bands with legendary Vancouver bandleaders including Fraser MacPherson, Dal Richards, Bobby Herriot, Lloyd Arntzen and more
- Bandleader and arranger, since 2006, for the annual Motown Meltdown charity fundraising shows