The program director of a popular Port Huron country music station picked up a demo disc in 2007 that caught his eye.
“I get material like this all the time but the cover really struck me,” said WSAQ Radio’s Chuck Santoni, recalling the image of a green and yellow John Deere telecaster guitar.
It was Scott Manery’s debut album with his band, the Barnburners; the first song he heard was ‘Don’t tell me ‘bout Heartache.’
“I really liked their style so I called him up and said, ‘I’m going to give you a shot on this,’” Santoni said. “It’s very rare that I can do that.”
The song was an instant hit and nearly ten years later it’s still a fan favourite among WSAQ listeners, who request it regularly along with follow-up hits like Green Tractors.
While the 11-year-old band has enjoyed some success in Sarnia — playing the Bayfest stage and events around southwestern Ontario — their popularity soars whenever they cross the border into Michigan.
“They’ve really embraced us over there; it’s completely different,” Manery said from his day job at Shell Canada’s Corunna site.
“I can’t explain it. It really took off when Chuck Santoni supported that first song.
“When the hat comes on, that’s the character,” Manery said of his high-energy, charismatic on-stage persona. “When the hat comes off, I’m just the hockey dad, cooking supper and going to work.”
The Sarnia-based Barnburners include bassist Dave Scarlett and drummer Brian Cox, who are employed in sales and home renovation, respectively.
Work on their fourth album, “Believe me when I lie to you,” was halted earlier this year after the death of Manery’s father, Brian — the man who taught him to play guitar, and instilled his love for old-school, Waylon-and-Willie-style country.
“It was pretty devastating,” Manery said, noting he lost his grandmother shortly after.
The band was forced to record the album’s final eight songs over a two week period at Manery’s in-home studio.
“But it turned out great,” he said, noting he used his dad’s old guitars while recording, and co-wrote what’s become one of his favourite songs, ‘I still like the music my daddy used to play.’
WSAQ is already playing the new single, and has once again invited the band to open its Spring Anniversary Concert, featuring rising country star Chase Bryant on April 23. Thanks to their large U.S. fan base it’s not uncommon for the Barnburners to open for big name headliners, like Bryant, and Lee Brice.
“They’re generous, humorous, and just fun to be around,” said Santoni. “And they’re very entertaining; that’s a big part of the Barnburner charm, is their stage show.
“We have people that honestly wait in line for tickets to see Scott and the Barnburners, and then they leave the show before the headliners come on.”
The April 23 show will be bittersweet for Manery because it marks his father’s birthday.
“A lot of people over there know a lot about our family,” he said. “A few years ago before he got sick, I played one of these spring shows and introduced him to the audience. He got a huge round of applause and even signed a few autographs. It was really, really cool.”
Meanwhile, on this side of the border, the band will perform at the June 11 Hoedown for Healthcare, a fundraiser for the Bluewater Health Sarnia and Petrolia CEEH foundations, and the Sarnia Street Machines annual Cruise in the Park June 26, benefitting Pathways Health Centre for Children.
“We’re really enjoying our local success, and we’re just doing everything we can to extend our 15 minutes of fame,” Manery said with a laugh. “We’ve been so lucky with this hobby, so when you get the chance to give back, you just have to.”