Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Goldsmith's voice remains untarnished

Hans Stamer fires up a jewelry tool in his Vancouver shop. His rock band wowed the critics, but he has returned to his roots in recent years by recording an album of jazz ballads. Darryl Dyck photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 1, 2011

Hans Stamer crafts by hand his own jewelry designs.

“It’s something I’ve been doing all my life,” he said in an accent that betrays his German birthplace even after a half-century in Canada. He turned 73 earlier this month. “It makes me a fairly good living, even at my age.”

He makes bracelets and brooches, engagement rings and wedding rings.

“A lot of times when I finish a piece and it is handed to the lady who is getting married to the gentleman, I get a big hug,” he said.

He also has on offer in his shop compact discs tucked inside jewel cases. For many years as a young man, he abandoned the jeweler’s workbench for the concert stage, put aside a craftsman’s tools to instead hold a microphone. This was one goldsmith who sought to make a gold record.

Mr. Stamer (pronounced STAY-mer) began an apprenticeship at age 16 in his native land, taught by master goldsmiths in skills that trace their roots to the ancient Phoenicians. He was early into his training in Hamburg when he attended a concert by the great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

“Louis was the king,” Mr. Stamer said. “He blew our minds. I said, ‘I’m going to sing like that some day.’ ”

(The 1955 concert is notorious in the annals of jazz, as the performance ended in disarray when youths rioted after the amplifying system went on the fritz. Chairs were smashed and broken pieces thrown at the stage of the Ernst Merck Hall. Twenty-three rowdy concertgoers were arrested. The New York Times ran a front-page story days later with the headline: “United States has secret sonic weapon — jazz: Europe falls captive as crowds riot to hear Dixieland.”)

Mr. Stamer caught many acts that toured through Hamburg, including a rocking group from Liverpool who appeared at clubs along the Reeperbahn. Not long after he moved to Canada, he was surprised to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. He had been unaware of their startling rise in popularity.

In Edmonton, he fronted a group called The Famous Last Words, a hard-driving blues outfit. In front of a microphone, Mr. Stamer lost his accent, transforming himself into a raspy-voiced, hand-clapping son of the Southern soil. He was “a boy from Hamburg who sounded like he was from the Mississippi Delta,” said Al Girard, the group’s drummer.

Mr. Stamer then wound up in Quebec as lead singer of the Backstreet Dudes, replacing Chan Romero, the author of Hippy Hippy Shake, who had abandoned the band after finding God one Christmas while at home in Montana. The Dudes renamed themselves Phoenix of Ayer’s Cliff, after an Eastern Townships village, and toured the United States.

After the group disbanded, Mr. Stamer returned west, landing in Vancouver, where, in 1969, he joined Django, which had a regular gig at The Parlour, a small club without a liquor license at Pender and Main. The quintet, featuring the spectacular stylings of guitar wizard Gaye Delorme, shared a house near Jericho Beach, spending a part of each day in meditation. They placed lit candles and flowers around the stage while performing. (Mr. Delorme died earlier this year, aged 64.)

By the early 1970s, Mr. Stamer had formed his own eponymous band, changing the spelling of his name to Staymer at the urging of the record company. He also released a full long-playing record with an album cover featuring him rubbing a washboard. “The cuts virtually sizzle and sputter with a form of musical and vocal intensity that is indeed a delight,” the music-industry magazine Billboard stated in a review. The single Dig A Hole got scattered airplay across Canada and the U.S.

The band signed with RCA Canada and opened for the likes of James Brown, Tina Turner, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. A second album was praised for “a loose, easy-rolling funkiness” by Jim Millican, a reviewer for the Canadian Press.

A full-page advertisement appeared in Rolling Stone. The band was preparing to go to San Francisco for a show, where they were to meet Ralph J. Gleason, the influential jazz and rock critic.

The visit was cancelled when the critic died suddenly.

“One of those breaks,” Mr. Stamer said.

Soon after, the label lost interest.

“Nobody knew what to do with us and the whole thing fell apart.”

The singer returned to his old craft. He did not give up music entirely, performing around Vancouver with the R&B Allstars, a well-regarded outfit with as many as 10 players who were known for wearing formal white tuxes, “a real whoop-de-doo show,” Mr. Stamer said.

He opened a shop, only to abandon street-level retail after being pepper-sprayed by a thief.

In 1998, Mr. Stamer earned a Juno Award nomination with Bill Bourne and Andreas Schuld for best blues album for No Special Rider.

The award went to Colin James, the younger Vancouver bluesman.

There were no hard feelings.

When Mr. James got married, it was Mr. Stamer who crafted the wedding rings.

Two years ago, Mr. Stamer at last recorded the album he had in mind ever since seeing Louis Armstrong all those years ago. The title track of Everything Happens to Me shows the goldsmith’s voice has not tarnished over the years. This record is gold in everything but sales.

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