“I try to live in a way where I can walk wherever I need to. If you let your life fall to chance and you just let the wind blow you along, you can wind up in some interesting places,” says ex-bouncer Brett Shanks.Shanks has certainly had an interesting life so far, all of which come to a head in his greasy, gritty blues folk songs. From pro wrestling school and cage fighting tournaments to janitorial work at a strip club, Shanks’ path has been unconventional, to say the least, but it’s culminated in him getting selected to play the Calgary Folk Music Festival this summer. His songs draw from his eclectic catalogue of experiences, such as working with German butchers hanging sausages. “You’ll NEVER be a sausage man!” they told him. He wanted to quit, but stuck with it for two weeks. By the end he was good at his job. It was here that he “learned how to learn”: going in each day, putting in his time and thinking throughout about something that he loved and thought about every day — music. He was hearing songs and melodies in the cacophony of machines and tools clanging and knowing he could be putting this same time and effort into playing and writing music. He left inspired and with a renewed respect for learning and practicing.Before long, he received a call about a blues show he’d played months before and a conversation he’d forgotten about. It took time to contact the mysterious Shiv Shanks, who is evocative of Tom Waits. He had no website or Facebook page for his music at the time. “I’m kinda like the Mad Trapper,” he says. As fate would have it, his completed CD came the next day and his dream was coming true. He was going to have an audience at the site of his best musical memory, a magical jam with Cassius and Ellen McIlwaine at a past Folk Fest workshop.“What lies beyond your wildest dreams?” replies Shanks when asked about other projects or recordings aside from Folk Fest. It’s clear that, even in the face of achieving some of his life-long goals, he’s remains steadfast in his philosophy to live and learn one day at a time.Shiv Shanks will be playing as part of the Calgary Folk Fest, which runs from July 25 − 28.By Ernesto Tomas
~~Where does one start to describe this unpretentious outsider artist you’ve likely never heard of? He’s created his own unique blues by the ‘scenic route,’ teaching himself to play after digesting old ‘20s – ‘50s blues cats, prior to discovering Zappa and Beefheart in junior high, and then was influenced by a recording of Indian snake charmer music. His job history provides enlightening life stories and song fodder galore. His moniker came from pro wrestling prior to working as a janitor at a strip club, then making sausages, being an adult video store clerk and then support worker. He spent time as a mixed martial arts cage fighter ‘back before it was cool or popular’ (he knocked out a pro kick boxer in 32 seconds in his first fight and got beat up in front of 6000 people his second). All the while, he wrote lyrics (‘like taking notes beamed into his brain’) on bits of napkin and his own skin, forming the duo Old Busted Bones - who he says ‘were as popular as a flying saucer cult and more elusive than the Lock Ness monster’ - in 2008 as a creative outlet. His one-man guitar and percussion format eliminates band squabbling and is the happy result of 20 years of penning songs, many in a tiny cabin in the woods. "Courtesy of the Calgary Folk Festival"