Brad Roberts is dusting off his catalogue of songs written during a robust career with Crash Test Dummies and preparing to return to the road after almost a half-decade away from the stage.
The plan is to play 10 acoustic shows in eight cities. His Ladies and Gentleman tour opens in May at Steamer Theatre in St. John and winds up with two shows at The Dakota in Toronto in June.
It's been five years more or less since the man who wrote "The Superman Song," "Mmm Mmm Mmm" and "God Shuffled His Feet" has played in front of an audience. More or less because a couple of years ago he received an unsolicited call from a Silicon Valley billionaire wanting him to play a private party at his estate in the foothills outside San Francisco. "He was offering to pay me a ridiculous sum of money for a half-hour set," Roberts recounts in a phone conversation yesterday. "He wouldn't tell me what the company was, or what it did. The guy was extremely secretive to the point where I wasn't even able to find out his name. That was a couple of summers ago and it set me thinking about playing live again."
Before that he had been on the road with a bareback version of the Dummies, playing acoustic shows and promoting Oooh La La, but the album failed to create the same interest as before and then a back injury sealed the deal and he came off the road. He's not been idle though. He teaches yoga and released an album of mantras in 2011, called Rajanaka: Mantra.
He's also stayed in touch with his former band mates who sold well in excess of 10 million albums on their second album, God Shuffled His Feet, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in the US. He can't recall who locked them out of first place. And he's proud of the fact that the band sold more than 400,000 copies in Canada on their debut album, The Ghosts That Haunt Me.
"Yes, the Dummies do stay in touch. Just last night I was on the phone with my brother (Dan) who played bass with us. He has a family now (in Winnipeg) and I might go and visit and babysit his boys this summer for a couple of weeks," he tells me, adding "I went out of my way not to have kids, but having nephews is pretty great."
Drummer Mitch Dorge has worked as a producer and engineer, but mostly devotes his time as a motivational speaker in schools, speaking to kids about "not taking drugs and having a positive future."
String instrument and harmonica player Ben Darvill now lives in London, England and has made a successful career for himself under the alias Son of Dave. He's recorded six albums to date and performed over 800 shows across Europe, as well as performing in Canada, the US, Australia, South Africa, Uganda, Japan, Russia, and Cuba.
"And Ellen Reid was touring with me five years ago when there was just the three of us playing acoustic shows with (award-winning fellow 'Pegger) Murray Pulver, on guitar. Ellen got to the point where she didn't want to go out and play anymore. She's married, has dogs and just enjoys creating elaborate Facebook pages will all her own illustrations."
So the last Dummy standing is the group's principal songwriter, Brad Roberts--and he's going out on the road with a set list that is heavy on material from the first two albums mixed with a sampling of songs from the band's other albums.
Asked what the fans can expect, Roberts explains that "the actual set itself is just me singing and Stuart Cameron (son of the late John Allan) on guitar. Stuart is just a phenomenal guitar player. He encouraged me to go back on the road and offered his services. The thing that makes the road that much more appealing to me now is that I can go out there with someone who is a good friend, which makes a big difference when you're driving around all day."
There's also the fact that keeping it simple on the road has its rewards. "Touring without a tour manager and without a band means I can play these relatively small places and there's enough money to go around to actually make it profitable," he explains with a laugh.
His sardonic wit and that unmistakable baritone remain intact, as has his friendship with former manager Jeff Rogers. The two of them were invited to an Arista Records reunion bash at the Cutting Room in NYC last Saturday. Many of the people who worked the Dummies' records in the US were there, as were Alan Parsons, Dionne Warwick and Clive Davis.
I ask if he spoke with Davis the legendary US record mogul and former head of Arista. His reply: " I was too shy to go and speak with him and I didn't want him to be put in the position of not having known who I was."
And will we be hearing anything new from him in the near future? "I don't know what to do next...My juice for writing songs seems to have dried up for awhile. I wrote my first lyric in five years just last week and I thought then that maybe this could be the start of a new record--but we'll see."
Meantime there's the tour, put together by the Paquin Agency, as follows:
May 31 - Steamer Theatre, St. John
June 1 - Tide & Boar Gastropub, Moncton
June 3 - Harmony House Theatre, Hunter River PEI
June 4 & 5 - The Carleton, Halifax
June 9 - The Ashwood Bourbon Bar, Bayfield ON
June 10 - The Hayloft Ballroom, Picton ON
June 11 - Pete's Place Live, Gravenhurst, ON
June 17 & 18 - Dakota Tavern, Toronto
Show tickets go on sale starting this Friday