TRUE TALES: Edmonton’s Cap Ex, Wide Mouth Mason, and a Billy Gibbons bender

When Wide Mouth Mason opened for ZZ Top in 1997, they were treated as little more than fans granted a photo op at the backstage meet ‘n’ greet.

It was a little different when the two bands toured together last summer. They went on a bender – which is the spark that created Wide Mouth’s new album No Bad Days, which you can hear when the band plays Capital Ex’s Telus Stage on Sunday, July 24.

Singer Shaun Verreault says it all started when Billy Gibbons wandered on stage in his pyjamas during soundcheck of the tour opener and “struck up a conversation.” They became the Four Amigos after that, hanging out on Billy’s bus, drinking Billy’s beer, trying out Billy’s guitars.

“We were inseparable,” says Verreault.

It helped that one of the Amigos was Wide Mouth’s new bassist Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar (replacing Earl Pereira, who left to become the frontman of his own band Mobadass), who has some serious Texas T mojo Billy would’ve taken a shine to, not that the Wide Mouthers, rounded out by drummer Safwan Javed, are slouches in that department.

Anyway, there’s an off day in Winnipeg and Billy leaves a message: “Listen: you guys and me, we’re going out on the town. There’ll be a little bit of eatin’ and a lot drinkin,’ so be ready.”

They were ready. The conveyance was a taxi, the destination a steakhouse, with stops along the way to take pictures of neon signs, one of Billy’s little hobbies. When they arrived at the steakhouse, there was little old diner next door that apparently hadn’t changed since the ‘60s, complete with the red leathereen seats and linoleum, so of course Billy insisted they dine there instead. Yes, they served booze.

Many drinks at several bars later, the notion strikes the Four Amigos that it might be fun to show up somewhere and jam. Wouldn’t that blow people’s minds! Shaun starts making some anonymous calls. No luck. He tries a different tactic: “Hi, I’m the Wide Mouth Mason guy and I’m here with the Big Sugar guy and the ZZ Top guy and we wondered if it would be OK if we could come by and jam?”

Amazingly, still no luck. Then again, they were drunk and probably didn’t realize that nobody could’ve possibly believed such a ridiculous proposal. As if.

By now it’s 1 a.m. and they’re in a painter’s truck, just driving around, still trying to find a place to play. Finally they discover a suitable club called Times Change that’s having its staff party for maybe 40 people. There’s a full-equipped stage and a poker table – “two of Billy’s favourite things” – along with some weird Japanese guitar tuned to an open D. Billy picks it up and they commence to jamming.

“We play maybe an hour and a half of songs in open D, slow blues, fast blues, stuff off the top of our heads, no recognizable songs, nothing from either Wide Mouth Mason or ZZ Top,” says Verreault. The staff of the club, meanwhile, had some swell background music for their poker party.

The drunk jam continues till sunrise, regressing to a rousing game of “toss the chicken” and even more drinks before sensible minds prevail to get Billy back to his room in time for the show later that same day at the MTS Centre.

When they wake up, Billy is nowhere to be found. It’s soundcheck time and no Billy. Wide Mouth Mason plays its opening set and Billy is still missing. As they’re coming off stage, ZZ Top’s tour manager grabs Shaun and Gordie by the scruffs of their necks and says, “You boys, principal’s office – now!”

Gibbons has apparently been in his dressing room the entire time. There’s a mattress on the floor, the guitarist is getting ready for the show, he has his trademark weird hat on, his beard is combed and smelling nice. The boys think they’re in trouble, Verreault says, “but Billy turns around with this big shit-eating grin on his face and says, ‘Wasn’t that the best time you’ve had on the road in decades?! I couldn’t walk today. I didn’t make any sense. I haven’t been that hung-over in years and where the hell did that truck come from,’ and he went on and on. And he goes on stage and introduces Cheap Sunglasses with the whole story of what happened last night. He adds, ‘You’all only got two rules in Canada. No. 1: No drinking during a gospel song. Rule No 2: No gospel songs.’

“We’d forgotten until then that we’d started making up a song at the jam, called Get a Hold Of Ya and Love Ya – which is on the new record that was born that night. Every time we play that song, we think of Billy Gibbons.”