When Brian Sklar dons his rhinestone suit at the Snow Castle this Saturday evening, he’s aiming for 1960s Nashville.
He and his band, the Tex Pistols, represent a throwback to the music Sklar discovered in his youth more than five decades ago – country tunes from the Grand Ole Opry and old school shuffles. Saturday will be his first time in Yellowknife, though he recalls other gigs in the North, including being a regular at the spring carnival in Norman Wells.
Sklar, born in Prince Albert, Sask., said he has some deep connections with the North. His wife of 50 years was born and raised in the bush near La Ronge, Sask. and Sklar grew up with regular excursions into the wilderness.
It was around that time that he took his first steps toward a roughly five decade country music career.
“This whole thing started as a mistake,” he said. Sklar was nine years old when the convent across the street held a music lesson. Singing God Save the Queen, his strong sense of pitch led the nuns to introduce him to classical violin. He played for eight years.
His love for playing violin was where he discovered the rhinestone suits – his hero, fiddler King Ganam would always wear one when he played on television. Later, when Ganam played Prince Albert, Sklar walked by his hotel and peaked through the window of the fiddler’s black and red convertible.
Several rhinestone suits hung in a row above the back seat. Someday, Sklar thought, he would wear the same kind of suits.
“He’s the only fiddle player in history, when he played and did his little turnaround, the women would scream,” Sklar said. “I’ve been waiting for that to happen for 50 years and it hasn’t yet.”
Sklar’s wife Trudy makes the suits he wears today. They celebrate their 50th anniversary July 11.
“They gave us six months,” Sklar said, nothing the two have been business partners as well spouses for the last five decades.
During that time, Sklar also started a polka band called the Western Senators. “(It’s) Not your grandpa’s polka band,” Sklar assured, meaning that it’s essentially the Tex Pistols line-up with an added accordion.
The first 10 minutes, he said, is straightforward Cleveland polka, followed by a more rock-inspired set for the rest of night.
“We’re loud,” he said, explaining the Tex Pistol’s brand of Texas two-step and shuffle music was played with “pizzazz.”
Sklar said he places a high value on showmanship – he detests stage banter limited to asking the crowd members how they were. Instead, he aims to capitalize on the show business aspect. Storytelling, humour and communicating are audience is key, he said.
That’s been a common, stubborn rebellious thread throughout his career. When outlaw country became popular, for example, and musicians began to dress down, Sklar wasn’t swayed.
“Everybody was an outlaw,” he said. “I used to laugh at that. If I get on a package show and everyone’s dressed like that, who’s the outlaw? It’s the guy in the rhinestones.”
Sklar says he’s the real outlaw, according to him. His band has followed in his tracks, and now incorporates one of his two sons on the drums. The lead of a multi generational band, Sklar said there was some timeless showmanship behind the band’s longevity.
“We don’t walk on stage in t-shirts and jeans. We dress up,” he said. “We’re a rhinestone cowboy band.”