Smoothie-lovin’ Big Sugar bringing the juice back to Sarnia

Big Sugar’s new lineup performs at The Station Music Hall Nov. 23. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson
The last time Big Sugar played at The Station Music Hall, owner Stu Manchee couldn’t quite believe the conditions on the rider.
“They wanted two bushels of organic beets, a couple of bunches of kale, fresh mangos and all these other vegetables for juicing,” he said with a laugh.
“The band was in the Green Room with their own juicer, making smoothies and handing them out.
“I remember Gordie tweeted that he had a blast.”
That’s Gordie Johnson, front man of Big Sugar, known for his stage presence and versatility on any number of Gibson double-necks.
Big Sugar is returning to The Station Nov. 23, stopping en route to Toronto during a tour that began in the spring.
Manchee works closely with Toronto-area promoters and books a lot of Canadian bands at his venue. He says Big Sugar’s night at The Station in 2015 is one of the most memorable.
“It’s a very big, very energetic show and the production sounds great,” said Manchee. “Their rock reggae makes you want to get up off your stool.”
He lists several of Big Sugar’s early hits as his favourites. Songs like ‘Diggin’ a Hole’ and ‘Turn the Lights On,’ which still receive a fair bit of radio play and established the Canadian band’s following in the 1990s.
“I find songs like ‘Sleep in Late’ very relatable,” Manchee said.
Big Sugar broke up in 2004 after 13 years and its members went their separate ways to work on other projects.
Johnson took on a punishing schedule, producing for numerous bands like Joel Plaskett Emergency and The Trews, and formed his own Southern rock band called Grady.
Seven years later, it was time to resurrect Big Sugar and Johnson began retooling the band, writing new material but also bringing back some of the classics.
Now Big Sugar is recording a new album. Johnson says his writing abilities are faster and his performance and vocals are stronger than ever. He puts that down to healthier habits including exercise and, apparently, juicing.
This tour is seeing Big Sugar perform to larger houses across Canada.
Johnson has said he is no longer interested in playing small venues, but Sarnia is fortunate to have The Station, which can accommodate 550 people.
On stage with him is long-time reggae bassist Garry Lowe. New to the band is Johnson’s wife, Alex Johnson, with vocals; Rey Arteaga, a Latin percussionist with congas and vocals; and indie rock drummer Chris Gormley.
Gormley is also the drummer for Daylight for Deadeyes, a Toronto-based band that plays frequently in Sarnia and is opening for Big Sugar on the current tour.
“We haven’t had Daylight for Deadeyes at The Station before and I’m excited they’re coming,” said Manchee. “They have a Sarnia following.”
Also opening Nov. 23 is Sarnia’s Corey James Mitchell on acoustic guitar.
Mitchell was previously well received at The Station when he opened for April Wine last summer. He brings a combo of rock, folk and funk to the stage.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Big Sugar with openers Corey James Mitchell and Daylight for Deadeyes.
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 23. Doors open 7 p.m. Music starts at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Station Music Hall. 505 Campbell St.
TICKETS: Picker’s Alley, Cheeky Monkey and online at www.ticketscene.ca. $30 each.