C.R. Avery

C.R. Avery wears his influences on his sleeve. The poster for his recent Rock& Roll Bandit tour features images of Jack Kerouac, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, Picasso, Johnny Cash ... all point to Avery’s fascination with the roots culture of North America – jazz, blues, country, hip hop, rock and roll and punk rock too, but always with an emphasis on roots.

Avery emerged from Vancouver’s lively slam poetry scene in the mid-nineties. Avery takes his poetry seriously – his 2007 CD Magic Hour Sailor Songs features a booklet of straight-up page poems, and this year he launched his second book, 38 Bar Blues – but he’s always been a multi-media artist, devoted with the task of telling a story the best way he can. “If a guy’s working in construction, he doesn’t just use asphalt, he uses whatever comes along that makes sense,” Avery explains.

He comes from a family with a musical background, but downplays its influence. “My mom had a grand piano in the house, but I was tone deaf. That’s why I’d play harmonica instead. But I would bang on it, sure.” He also picked up a little guitar, and today is known as a bit of a one-man band, having also mastered the art of beatboxing. All of these talents found their way onto the spoken word stage, by hook or by crook, but the writing process remains a constant, central to everything else. His relationship to the audience is key to how he writes. “A lot of times, writing a poem, a stage play or a Broadway show, it’s about working with that energy,” Avery said. “The cool thing about a playwright, say Sam Shepard, is that it’s almost more spoken word than T.S. Eliot. It was meant to be spoken, it wasn’t meant to be read.”

The backbone of Avery’s career is touring, a circuit that includes everything from coffee houses in interior BC towns to major international folk festivals. Lately he’s been rocking literary festivals like Wordfest in Calgary and the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival. In any venue, his show has been crafted to appeal to a broad audience, one not necessarily into complex or controversial content. “I might try a couple of heavy things, but I’m not up there in a black turtleneck for an hour and a half. It’s good to have a major song, a minor song, a little story to pull them back in, hit them with a couple of rock and roll numbers to get them back. An hour and a half is a long time.”

Avery’s aim is to spark the creative spirit of folks who might be too tired to find much inspiration in life. “Maybe they haven’t picked up a paint brush in two years, they’ve been working too hard, but something I say gives them the inspiration to pick it up again. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. If I go to see a show and I leave with six songs I want to write in the back of my mind, I know it was a good show.”