Benedict Patrick Bulhozer died 15 years ago.
I came across his record, Really Like To Live, while going through my Vancouver vinyl a few months ago , and have been thinking more of him since then.
I can’t say we were best of friends – we didn’t have long, intimate discussions, confide to one another or hang out together – but I was glad to know him. We encouraged each other, so, without his reinforcement, I miss him.
I met Ben in 1978 while I was music critic for the Georgia Straight. Really Like To Live was unique at the time because very few local musicians were putting out their own records. It was expensive for one thing and doubtful that local radio would play it. for another He also was unknown and probably diving into the Van music business with a naive enthusiasm that never left him. Ben wasn’t part of any movement – Vancouver punk rock might be swarming around him, but Really Like To Live’s rock, country and folk definitely wasn’t punk. DIY, sure, but Ben probably didn’t know about the do-it-youself punk ethos. He had independently embarked on a fool’s errand.
We introduced ourselves at Gary Taylor’s Rock Room, where he had a gig, Like his record, he was upbeat, which was infectious. We hit it off and I wanted to help him, though I seem to remember thinking of him as a loser . That made me want to help him more.
As Benedict Patrick, he led a small band, usually a trio, on a small circuit of pubs/clubs, ran a series of jam sessions, often played solo. Sometimes he’d hire me to drum, which I did whenever I could for the experience, and to understand the jobbing musician. I’d sit in on the jam sessions or find him at his frequent solo gig, Gastown’s Pig ‘N’ Whistle.
I probably came cheaply because I wanted that experience and I never knew if I was just good enough not to cause a professional musician embarrassment. He might have been taking advantage of me but through him, I learned how to play reggae and became good at the shuffle.
My big moment as a member of the Benedict Patrick Band was surviving three nights at a pub/hotel on the Sunshine Coast. His usual drummer, Julie Turtle, had quit for reasons I never knew. She was good, very aggressive and she had her own following. I had big shoes to fill but I guess I did ok by the third night. I learned that playing in a bar, week in, week out, doing the same songs – I don’t want to hear Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock And Roll ever again – was tedious but this was how Ben and so many others made their money. Creativity doesn’t come into the equation.
I hired him for a Joyce Grennan album. Joyce was married to the Bruno Gerrussi’s bass player, Jim Elliot whose father had won a lottery and passed Jim a lot of money. She took some of the money for her own recording ambitions and brought me in as a producer, Producer is a loose term, as I am a musical primitive, but I’d listened to a lot of records and so I had a few ideas.
One of which was that one of the tracks needed electric rhythm guitar, which is when I learned a couple of things. A working musician needs to work because each day he doesn’t work means he doesn’t get paid. While he is working, his equipment is falling apart. He might not notice it but, even if he could, he would need to take time off to get it repaired.
This happened to Ben. His new amp was making an awful electrical hum that was driving the Bullfrog engineer crazy. Eventually we got a passable sound He then became the problem. I wanted a straight rhythm strummed all the way through without embellishment As the leader and guitarist in his own bands, this was foreign to Ben. He’d do a take and throw in a lick or bend or phrase, at which point I would stop the tape. He got it after a while with my promise that he could overdub the flourishes later. In the meantime, we had a strong rhythm track. That might be the difference between a live performer and a session musician.
This is when I started to hear criticism of Ben – he wasn’t that hot as a guitarist, he liked to smoke pot too much, he wanted more money (maybe for himself but possibly not his band) and he was a skirt chaser. None of this mattered to me because Ben was so guileless in my view. Maybe I was naive,too.
In Calgary at a Bruno sound check, I could hear bass but saw no sign of the bassist, which was Ben, subbing for Jim. He had seen a woman and instantly was across the floor trying to hit on her. In Calgary, At a pub in Calgary the night before, Ben had reunited with a women, who must have shoveled him a drug., as he was giggly, stayed up all night and was out of control.
In central Canada, Ben was roomed with guitarist Jimmy Walker. They didn’t get along. Jimmy would take over the bathroom , usher Ben out of the hotel room and have very long showers. When it was his turn, Ben would usher Jimmy out of the room, lock the bathroom door and have long conversations with his kids.
But he always had a song. Ben would come over to my place and jam in the basement with a few other guys. Ben would have something he was working on and I’d help him wherever I could, drumming while the four track ran. There is more than 90 minutes compiled of this.
Having built a good musical relationship with Ben, it made sense to introduce him to Tom Carter, a pianist who owned the MagicLab recording studio and his friend, the prolific Neil Rook, who recorded an album with Carter. We worked up songs in my basement and eventually recorded an album at MagicLab. The album is unreleased and doesn’t really hang together as it features three different writers. My songs are primitive against the axis of Neil and Tom’s more advanced folk/pop against Ben’s rootsy rock. Maybe one day it will be released.
For someone so productive very little of Ben Patrick is on record. There is Really Like To Live, he’s on a few compilations, the unreleased Mutt and there was a little seen posthumous CD. Maybe he was too consumed by needing the work and taking care of his family to spend money on making a record.
Which prompts an afterthought. As long as I knew him he never had a day job. It might have been pride. When the gigs dried up, he became a music teacher. Teaching might not have been a gig but it was playing music and getting paid for it. No day job for him.
The last time I saw Ben he was at a Palliative Care Home. For someone who was fit and seemed carefree – on tour we’d see him doing his ti chi exercises every morning – he was getting severe headaches and couldn’t understand it. His doctor did a “take two aspirins and call me in the morning” brush off, but a friend recommended he go to Burnaby Hospital. Doctors there told him he had a brain tumor and immediately found a bed for him. A few days later, Ben told me he was being looked after and, as ever, he may have been puzzled but still was upbeat.
A few weeks later his entire head looked like a purple eggplant and he was breathing laboriously. This wasn’t Ben..
The next day, not even two weeks since going to the hospital, he was dead, Vicious. Cruel.
One day, the public might discover his music – though I wouldn’t count on it. In life he wasn’t good at self-promotion, whose biggest show of ambition might have been his 1978 album, with the teasing ironic title, Really Like to Live.