Leeroy Stagger returns to his roots on tour

IN CONCERT

What: Leeroy Stagger and the Rebeltone Sound
Where: Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St.
When: Sunday, Oct. 20, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $17.50 from eventbrite.ca or Lyle’s Place, 770 Yates St.
Note: Stagger and his band also perform Monday in Parksville at the Bayside Resort

Leeroy Stagger left California for Oregon Wednesday after four concerts, several sightseeing stops and a few more steps on a journey of self-improvement.

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The Victoria-bred, Lethbridge-based musician has been on the road with his band since Aug. 29, with days off sprinkled between concert dates and trips home to see his wife and two children.

Wary of falling into a rut when he’s on the road — Stagger recently celebrated 10 years sober from drugs and alcohol — the roots rocker searches for new faces and places in each city. “I try to do one thing every day that is different, or that is outside my comfort zone,” Stagger said.

Recent stops for the 35-year-old included the Spirit Rock Meditation Centre in Woodacre, California, and San Francisco’s Caffè Trieste, a favourite haunt for Beat poets during the 1950s.

Many points of interest for Stagger were inspired by Year of the Monkey, the new memoir from rocker-poet Patti Smith. A longtime fan, Stagger found the New Yorker’s book about life on the road an oasis of inspiration in a helter-skelter world, and he’s making an effort to visit places that inspired Smith as he travels around North America.

“She chronicled a lot of spots in this book that were basically en route on this tour. I wrote them all down, and popped in to a lot of these spots to follow her path a little bit, to see if there is any energy I can pick up from them.”

Stagger, who left B.C. for Alberta in 2006, has been searching for new sources of inspiration in recent years. His career took a significant upturn with his 2017 album Love Versus and hit single I Want it All, and tours to support his recent creative outburst have put him in venues around the world.

He’s constantly giving his audience new reasons to follow along, from production work for other artists at his own Rebeltone Ranch studio in Lethbridge to a troika of new creations.

Stagger recently followed up new albums Me and the Mountain (released May 17) and Strange Path (Sept. 13) with a 146-page memoir, also titled Strange Path.

Stagger paints some harrowing images in the book, including the death of his 15-month-old brother in a driveway accident and Stagger’s subsequent teenage alcoholism (Stagger, who was born Lee Starck, earned his last name on account of his exploits.)

He writes with a candour that is refreshing, and the literary closet-cleaning gave Stagger renewed focus on the album of the same name.

“I put everything I had into this, and I’m really proud of it. That’s really all I can say about it. I made something to be proud of, which is not always the case. Sometimes you fake a little of it, or compromise on some things. I didn’t do any of that on this record.”

The book gave Stagger a chance to explain the songs on Strange Path, and atone for some of his past decisions.

He loves the freedom non-fiction writing gives him, and has taken to seeing the positive side of his love/hate relationship with social media.

His passion comes through in his thoughtful Facebook posts, one of which made an impact in August. It was about seeing himself in an acquaintance’s struggle with alcoholism, and it got 1,800 likes and 466 shares.

It got him thinking about how he could use tools such as Facebook for the greater good. “At this point in my life, if I’m going to be doing this for a living, it has to be for a reason.

“I want to inspire people to be better human beings. I don’t think that music can change the world, but I think music can inspire people to change the world. And it can spark ideas that lead to bigger social action. That’s what social media is for me. Sometimes, I just need to get those stories out, and I might as well do it in a way to inspire people to help.”

Stagger is stronger now than he has ever been, as both an artist and person. He has taken up long-distance running, and hopes to do more writing down the road.

He still has bad days, but would rather be a work-in-progress than broken beyond repair. “A lot of the time on the Love Versus tour, I felt truly on my path and doing exactly what I should be doing, but it’s been hard on this tour. I have a spiritual practice that allows me to get through it all with grace, and sometimes not so gracefully.

“But there’s moments of contentment that never existed 10 years ago. Whether it’s making art or touring, life is dynamic and changes. Priorities shift, but there’s no point in dwelling on the past. Most days, I’m pretty OK with that.”

He was left reeling by the recent death of a friend, New York guitarist Neal Casal, who died by suicide on Aug. 26.

The death of the much-admired guitarist, who worked with Willie Nelson and Ryan Adams, cast a pall over the early part of Stagger’s tour, but he is slowly coming to terms with the loss.

Raw emotion is now being replaced by anger and frustration, Stagger said — not with Casal, but with the music industry.

“What is it about this business that is doing this to my friends?” Stagger asked. “The business, and the people in it, need to be more accountable. They need to make sure people are being taken care of.

“In this business, there’s not a lot of social safety nets. It’s really easy to fall through the cracks as an artistic person. More needs to be done. We’ve lost so many great musicians in the last five or 10 years who didn’t need to go down like that.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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