Curtain call for Camrose trio
The Norton Metcalfe Trio with (from left) Sonja Beairsto on stand-up bass, Norton Metcalfe on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Bill Walker on guitar, are retiring from performing after 15 years as a group. Supplied
The Norton Metcalfe Trio have been mainstays on the Camrose music scene for the last 15 years but they will go silent in 2018.
The group that has played just about every stage in the area and were integral members of the former Camrose Country Opry have decided to retire.
"Here are 10 reasons, right here," said guitarist Bill Walker, 80, holding up his arthritic hands.
Sonja Beairsto, meanwhile says her stand-up bass "feels heavier every year."
The group came together in their own professional retirement through the Country Opry, which Walker helped start in 2001 at the Camrose Seniors Centre.
Lead singer Norm Metcalfe and Walker actually met through church and the topic of music came up.
"(Walker) said he played guitar a little bit and I said, so do I," said Metcalfe, 86. "So he said why don't you come on over. I went over and sang a song for him and he played way more than a little bit, I tell you. I learned a lot from him. Bill was a great picker, he could pick a great guitar. I just sort of strummed a long, but I learned a lot."
Beairsto rounded out the group not long after.
"It just melded together, and I said 'OK, what are we going to call ourselves?'" said Walker, who retired to Camrose after 43 years as a banker. "I said the vocalist is the only guy that counts."
The trio were regulars at Jaywalkers and other music festivals have played a wide range of events throughout the region over the last 15 years.
At this point, they are seasoned professionals on stage, but it was quite a bit different when they started out.
"I was pretty nervous (at the start), but after a while it doesn’t matter how many people are there, you can speak to them and you can sing in front of them and it doesn't matter," said Metcalfe, who has lived in Camrose for 50 years and ran a liquor store in town.
They grew their catalogue from 60 songs to more than 300 by the time it was all said and done. They relied on new technology to learn some of country music's biggest classics from Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash, George Straight and Vince Gill.
When Walker came across a song he thought would work for the group, he sent it Metcalfe's way and he would look it up on Youtube to learn how to play it.
Metcalfe says he learned a lot about guitars from Walker, who has been playing for 70 years. Metcalfe grew up around the campfire with a six-string in hand, but never had a formal lesson.
"I've been strumming along since I was a teenager, but I never learned to really play the darn thing and didn't have a good guitar neither until I met Bill," said Metcalfe. "I just, over time, learned from him."
Beairsto, who worked in retail before retirement, didn't pick up the bass until about 20 years ago, and even then she stumbled into it.
"I was at a bluegrass workshop and I was trying to learn how to play the mandolin and I was having great difficulty. I went around the corner and there was the bass players and it hit me," she said. "I borrowed someone's bass and after a few years I got my own and played mostly bluegrass."
The realities of performing have slowly caught up with the trio. The harsh weather conditions are hard on the body, while Walker worries about maintaining their standard of play.
"You start to make a fool of yourself, and the type of request you don't want to hear is to get the hell off the stage," he said.
Music will always be a part of their lives and Beairsto has even picked up a new, much smaller instrument.
"I've been going to the library to the ukulele group and learning some new things there," she said. "We don't entertain, we just go there for fun."
The trio says they will probably get together from time to time to rehash some of their favourites like George Straight's "The Cowboy Rides Away" or Vince Gill's "Look at Us." They may even play the very odd gig.
"People can always ask us to play for a ninetieth birthday party where they can't hear us," said Walker with a laugh.