by Carey Rutherford & Ivy Miller
When MUSICAlive! and musician Bebe Buckskin begin their interview, they start at the very beginning.
“I basically came out of the womb singing,” Bebe says, leading them both into laughter. “My poor mother!”
The question that prompted this was, “Why are you doing this stuff?” When the laughter dies down, Bebe elaborates.
“My musical background runs pretty deep in my family. My great-grandfather, my grandfather, my mother: they’re all musicians. I grew up with music just constantly playing around me, either on the radio or by my family themselves . . . My mom would back me up with her guitar and I started performing at the age of three in talent shows all over Alberta. She would drive me everywhere. That’s how I got my start.”
Indeed, at an age when many haven’t yet decided their favourite colour, Ms Buckskin had already figured out her career. “I remember being three years old and feeling like, ‘Wow, I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life.’” But Bebe notes there were times when music wasn’t her top priority:
“I put it on the back burner because I was a teenage mother. I had my daughter really young and that kind of put things on hold a bit, and then I had my son. So I just recently came back to it within the past six, seven years.”
MUSICAlive! asks about how Bebe’s music since then differs from her very early career.
“I used to sing a lot of country,” she says, listing Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash as her earliest influences. “That was my mom’s jam, so I performed a lot of nineties country as well. I would say that my music today still has that bit of country flavour infused in it, but I’m definitely more rock and roll these days.”
We wholeheartedly agree and bring up Bebe’s single, Flight, which is a mix of many musical flavours, and at one point reached the number one spot on the Indigenous Music Countdown. Bebe calls it a melancholy sort of song. MUSICAlive! adds, “It felt like there was a country background there, but it was also heavier and more modern.”
“I’m pretty fluid with my performance style [and] how I portray my songs in different settings,” Bebe says. “I can bring in my band and put on a full-on rock show, or I can tone it down and do all those songs acoustically and have it more folky and rootsy. I can also take a lot of those same songs and twang them up so that’s more country.”
“Lately (our format has) been pretty fifty-fifty: the folk festival gigs that I have scheduled for this summer I’m playing either a duo with my guitar player or solo; there’re a lot of shows we play full band, too. We’re playing a couple of Stampede gigs with the full band.”
From there, the topic goes to Ms. Buckskin’s “restart” six years ago, although Bebe reveals she did music before that. “I was just busking on the street to make money, to feed myself and my kid. Now that I’ve kind of restarted my career it’s just been a progression upwards and taking off lately.”
“Was that hard?” we ask. Bebe is quick to mention how much help she’s had along the way. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from my family since I restarted this journey and also support from my community . . . They really helped me out a lot. Applying to different things and grants, it was a slow progression but now [my music is getting] good momentum.”
“[My children] were a huge part of my musical journey and how far I’ve come. They’ve kept me on the straight and narrow. If they weren’t here, I probably wouldn’t be here, because I was really into drugs and alcohol. I have a history of substance abuse and without them being here keeping me busy—keeping me alive—my music wouldn’t be here. So I credit them a lot.”
Her son, it seems, is her biggest cheerleader. And Bebe credits her daughter as the special co-writer behind the song Road Ramblin.
“We were sitting in the living room, like the family and I. My sister starts strumming her guitar and a melody just came shooting right into my head like a lightning bolt. I was like ‘Oh my God! Keep playing that progression, I have this melody!’ We went into the bedroom and I was just ‘la-la-la’ing along the melody and I was stuck on lyrics. I couldn’t figure out what the song was about so I asked my girl to come into the bedroom with us. She was maybe three years old.”
Like mother like daughter?(we laugh)
“Yeah, exactly. Three or four years old. I was like, ‘I need you to help Mommy out. I want you to just say whatever is on your mind. Just say a sentence to me, could be about anything.’ Right away she said, ‘Everybody’s looking at me on the road.’ I’m like, ‘What?’”
“So that’s the first line of it,” Bebe says. ”The song just wrote itself from there.”
“That’s perfect,” we declare, leaving the start and the finish of Bebe’s story to a 3 year old girl.
June 20: Studio Bell Creator’s Workshop, Calgary AB;
June 22: Fort Calgary, Calgary AB;
July 11: Winnipeg Folk Festival, Winnipeg MB;
July 26: Interstellar Rodeo, Edmonton AB;
August 10: North Bloom Jamboree, Tsuu T’ina, AB;
August 16; Summer Games, Swift Current SK;
August 23: Alberta Legislature, Edmonton AB.