Rock Steady’s formation story is one of accidental circumstance. About nine years ago, drummer Dave Campbell gathered a group of musicians to play with Canadian reggae singer Errol Blackwood. Though Blackwood cancelled, the band decided that the show must go on. They rotated singers throughout the night and realized that they had something worth pursuing.
Armed with the name Rock Steady, Clay Breiland, Rory Bohler and Campbell soon invited Gord Ellis and Richard Tribe to add to their sound. The success of their first gig at the Apollo was just the beginning. They rocked the 2009 Thunder Bay Folklore Festival and got audiences up on their feet at the Fort William Gardens with some reggae tunes.
The group’s chemistry is partially due to the long history some of the musicians have with one another. Ellis and Campbell have played music together for about 30 years, and Raynard, Breiland and Tribe have been jamming together since the late 90s. The combination of the two teams, and the addition of Tyler Raynard on bass in 2015, rounded out the cohesive group.
Though originally purely reggae, Rock Steady’s sound has evolved to include blues, roots and country soul. Sandwiched between covers of Sublime, Van Morrison and Chris Stapleton are original songs written by Breiland. Staying true to their reggae roots, the group continues to have Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff covers in their repertoire.
“We have a pretty hard edge but we can also play very pretty,” said Ellis. “Reggae is the roots of the band.”
Because reggae is a bit of an unexpected genre in Thunder Bay, the band’s earliest shows drew a varied crowd.
“Our earliest gigs were especially memorable because no local band had played only reggae in Thunder Bay for years, if ever,” explained Ellis. “We had a real mix of hippies, soccer moms and college kids. It was wild.”
Though the fans were coming from all walks of life, many connected with Rock Steady’s sound and keep coming back for more.
“We have kept a strong core audience and it’s great to see people coming to our gigs year after year,” said Ellis.
Drop the band in just about any setting and they will thrive. Like many bands will tell you, the best gigs are the ones where the listeners are actively engaged and interacting with the music.
“We have done both outdoor shows and many bar gigs,” said Ellis. “They are both pretty fun. If people are dancing, it’s a good gig.”
Rock Steady typically plays shows once or twice a month in the Thunder Bay area. The next chance to see Rock Steady is at the Thunder Bay Blues Fest on Friday, July 7. They are the opening act and will perform on stage at 4 p.m.
By Casey Fitchett