TRUE TALES OF THE ROAD: Paul Bellows bonds with his fans

Edmonton folk musician Paul Bellows was on the road quite a bit before he made it big in the business world as the founder of the Yellow Pencil web design company.

So no – he doesn’t NEED to promote his new CD, Shipwreck Looking Out for a Beach, released Friday at the Haven, the day he also happened to be turning 40. He’s doing it out of love. Besides, where else but in show business can you make such interesting friends?

Bellows used to be in a Celtic-style band called the Splendourbog, which was playing an outdoor show at Whistler Village in the summer of 2003. People loved the band – especially members of the “British Male Nurses Rugby Team,” who showed up at 2 p.m. already completely hammered, and wasted no time making friends. The largest of yobs was wearing a sparkly bra over his shirt – the penalty for being the last team member to vomit the night before. Not the first, the last.

Bellows says, “I like the expectation that every night of their entire tour, everyone’s going to throw up at least once. It kind of went along with how they were behaving.”

After the gig, Bellows, his fiddle player Jason and the guitar player’s wife Dawn decide to hit the club for some dancing, and their new pals are there, drunker than ever. Everything is fine – until the big guy in the sparkly bra decides he’s in love with Dawn.

Bellows recalls, “He keeps dragging her out to dance and he’s getting way too friendly. And this guy is 300 pounds, 6’ 4”, he’s a rugby athlete, built to knock people down. So he keeps coming over and dragging her out to the dance floor. He’s pretty forceful. She gets away and comes back, but he just keeps coming back to drag her out again.”

Predictably, Dawn gets fed up. She says they either have to leave or her male companions have to put a stop to it.

“I have no idea how we’re going to do this, but we haven’t finished our beers, so clearly we don’t want to leave,” Bellows says. “So he comes over again and I did the only thing I could think of – I grab him and I dance with him. At first he thinks it’s hilarious, but after a couple of minutes he starts to realize he’s dancing with a dude and he’s not very happy about it. So we go from this hilarious waltzy sort of dance to me being in a headlock, and he starts dragging me by my neck around the dance floor. He forgets that he knows me. We stop being friends. Now I’m just some weird guy dancing with him and he doesn’t think it’s cool. Now I’m in trouble. He’s either going to hurt me accidentally or on purpose. And I can’t do a thing. I’m about half his weight. I’m just flailing. So out of the blue I see my buddy Jason. He showed up at the bar wearing a cowboy hat – and so he jumps onto this guy’s back and starts spurring him and waving his arm and riding the guy like a horse. I’m still in a headlock. The guy’s just drunk enough that he’s confused. His first reaction is: OK, I’m a horse. So he starts to gallop like a horse, dragging me by my neck and Jason on his back. Everybody stops and looks because it’s a spectacle. This guy decides it’s a good show so he puts on a show. We do a couple of laps around the dance floor, and he stumbles a bit, and he drops me. At some point, Jay dismounts, and this guy stumbles and reels and spins all the way down the full bar and gets toward the door and he can’t get himself righted. So a bouncer just opens the door and he goes right out into the night. We never saw him again.”

Bellows had another encounter with a bully playing a solo show in North Bay, Ontario – and Cowboy Jason wasn’t there to save him. It’s a big college town and not much else, but unfortunately it’s reading week and the bar is dead. Making the best of it, he treats the gig as paid rehearsal and just plays his original tunes to the bar staff. Some bikers come in to play pool, but that’s about it for audience.

“I’m not paying attention,” Bellows says. “I’m watching TV, playing my tunes. All of the sudden I feel someone tugging at my pant leg, and I look down but not much, because this biker dude is almost at head height and I’m on a three foot stage. And he says, ‘HEY!

“So I stop playing, as you do when a seven foot biker starts talking to you.

“He’s like, ‘I wanna dance with my girlfriend’ – who’s got about 40 pounds on me and could probably drop me with one punch – ‘Play Stairway to Heaven.’ And I said, ‘I’m a songwriter. I don’t really do covers.’

“And he said, ‘OK, then play something by the Eagles.’

“I said, ‘buddy, really, you can dance, that would be great. But I don’t do covers. I’m just here doing my original stuff.’

“He looks at me again and says, ‘listen: I’m gonna dance with my girlfriend and you’re going to play something I can dance to. You got it?’

“I say, ‘Absolutely, sir. You got it. Coming right up!’ So the only thing I could think of was this Rickie Lee Jones tune I do. I’m not one of those guys who can just show up and play anything. But this song seems to make them happy. They dance and they have a nice little waltz and at the end of the song, all the bikers look at me and applaud just a little bit. And the whole the rest of the set, they all stopped to applaud politely after each song. During my last song, I look over and the big guy is air guitaring on his pool cue – to my original music. I thought, you know what? That’s a victory. Then I got the hell out of there. I didn’t want to tempt fate. The only thing worse than having bikers not like you, sometimes, is having bikers like you.”

And this is why entertainers hire bodyguards.