Published Nov 20, 2013In 1997, Toronto roots rockers the Skydiggers recorded "The Truth About Us," written by fledgling songwriter Scott Garbe, who based it on the relationship between Lee Harvey Oswald and his Russian wife Marina. Sixteen years later, Garbe's complete song cycle about the JFK assassination, The Kennedy Suite, has finally been released in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the event.
While principal 'Diggers Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson remained closely involved throughout, the project ended up being helmed by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, who, despite it taking six years to complete, maintains it was one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences he's ever had.
"I loved the intelligence of it and the possibilities that we could do with it," Timmins tells Exclaim! "We bed-tracked a lot of the stuff and got some guests in [initially in 2007], but we didn't know what the endgame was. Then I got sidetracked by [Cowboy Junkies] touring and Nomad Series and other productions I was doing, so over the years we'd sort of pick off a song here and there."
Timmins goes on to say that he knew there was no point in releasing the album if it couldn't be completed by the assassination anniversary date, November 22, so he worked diligently over this past spring and summer to finish it. Although he ended up wrangling guests Sarah Harmer, Jason Collett, Doug Paisley, the Good Family, ex-Rheostatics Martin Tielli and Dave Clark, Hawksley Workman, Tom Wilson, Harlan Pepper, Reid Jamieson and Jessy Bell Smith, along with the Junkies and the Skydiggers themselves, Timmins asserts that the biggest challenge was trying to explain the concept to them beforehand.
"I had my little sales pitch down by the end of it," he says. "It was very awkward, but some people really fell right into it. Some people looked at me like, 'What the fuck are you talking about?' They either seemed to get it or not get it, and that was fine. The thing was, most of the artists only heard their song, so they didn't really know what the whole thing was about. I explained what it was all about, but they only focused on their individual song."
Now, he says, the challenge is to pull off two live performances, slated for November 22 and 23 at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre that will see the The Kennedy Suite played in its entirety, with all the participants. Given the logistics, it's likely these will be the only live performances, but it's possible they will be documented and released at some point as well.
"[The live show] has been a learning experience for sure; lots of elements involved, and not just musicians," Timmins says. "There are 40 singers and musicians, and that unto itself is difficult. But we're trying to present this as an entire piece, so rather than just have people come up and do their thing, we're trying to a have a bit of a stage element to it, so the narrative can be shown in an audio/visual way. We don't have a lot of rehearsal time for it, so we'll see. It's kind of nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun."
The Kennedy Suite is out now on Latent Recordings.