Obituary: Orbison tribute was career highlight for Victoria’s Mike Demers

Mike Demers fronted a variety of musical projects during his 33 years in Victoria, including a tribute to Roy Orbison that will stand as a career highlight for the singer-songwriter.

Demers, 63, died Saturday following complications from a bone marrow transplant in April. He had been battling the disease since May 2020, but died in a Vancouver hospital with his mother by his side. Leukemia ran in his family, according to his partner, Erin Cooper, but Demers chose to focus on his recovery for much of the past year instead. “He was 100 per cent optimistic he would beat this,” Cooper said.

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“We were always hopeful that he would get better. We didn’t tell many people because he didn’t want the drama, and didn’t know how things were going to go.”

The Saskatchewan native, who moved to Victoria from Edmonton in 1988, leaves behind a legacy of music in Victoria that includes several prominent groups, including the popular Roy Orbison tribute, The Lonely. A singer, guitarist, and producer, it was the project showcasing his uncanny vocal similarities to the Only the Lonely hitmaker that gave him the best reviews of his career.

Benji Duke co-founded The Lonely with Demers in 2015. The group has toured Canada and the United States to sold-out theatres, and was scheduled for another run of theatres last year that was postponed when the pandemic shut down live events.

“The last tour we finished in Arizona in March 2020, we played to 2,700 people over three dates,” Duke said. “It was incredible. We were at the the top of our game. But there was no doubt that Mike was the bandleader. To be able to perform with someone who can stand at the front and just connect with everyone in the room is just an absolute honour.”

Marcus Pollard was among the first to book Jho Nek Bhone, an early but notable Demers project, after the fledgling musician landed in Victoria in the late ’80s. The local music community immediately embraced the group, and Jho Nek Bhone become a dependable draw at the former Harpo’s Cabaret, in large part due to Demers’s songwriting abilities. That he was one of the hardest working musicians in the city also helped.

“He was the epitome of a working musician,” Pollard said. “He would answer the call every time. If we needed an opening act, or had an open date, he was always up to do it.”

Prior to forming The Lonley, Demers was a social worker, music therapist and counsellor who worked on initiatives for young musicians. His other groups included Nuvo Wavo, The Politics of Dancing, and Beatles Revolution.

He is survived by his mother, multiple siblings, and two children.

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