Slim Moore opens the door to The Mar-Kays
by Allan Wigney
It must have been difficult to not see it as a sign.
“It was unbelievable. It doesn’t make any sense. I saw on TV something or other about Gary Moore, but I didn’t really catch the whole thing — I had to wait for the loop. I’m like: Oh, it’s not me. It’s this Gary I’ve been avoiding the name of.”
The Ottawa native known as Slim Moore is speaking of the morning after his first live performance as frontman for a new project supervised by Souljazz Orchestra maestro Pierre Chrétien. The name he had been avoiding was his own, Gary Moore — one the 46-year-old had eschewed professionally in deference to the well known Irish blues-rock guitarist. That Gary Moore, it seems, had passed away hours before his Canadian namesake had embarked on a new chapter destined to bring him out of the shadows.
Talk about passing the torch. This Gary Moore, though, will continue to answer to the name Slim.
It’s not the vocalist’s first pseudonym. The youngest child of Jamaican-born parents, Moore spent his teen years performing as Ranking Youth, initially at house parties in Ottawa and later with the likes of local reggae mainstay The Magic Circle, Ras Lee and Papa Richie. (Ranking Youth even made it as far as CJOH’s Homegrown Café; he lost, as did so many of J.J.’s competitors, to “a guy who played the fiddle.”) More recent performing experiences have ranged from a stint with local collective Jokko, to karaoke, to serving as “the guy singing during intermission” at bridal shows.
It adds up to a career of under the radar performances by a talented vocalist with a history of near-misses. And it is related by Moore with pride. There are no regrets detectable in his journeyman tales. But, as he prepares to command the stage for a Mar-Kays concert (the band’s name a sly nod to Otis Redding’s group The Bar-Kays), Moore the reborn soul singer also makes no effort to conceal his excitement.
“I’ve turned a few corners and wondered why I was here,” he admits. “But I knew that corner would lead to a better one, and then, finally, to some doors. This is an opportunity for me to play in a group that’s got a four-piece brass (section), which to me is the most amazing thing. It’s almost like having a mini-orchestra to work with.”
Yes, a full-on brass section, in addition to guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. With members of Souljazz onboard, recordings of Moore-Chrétien originals have further upped the R&B ante by incorporating a string section and a gospel choir. Not surprisingly, as the musicians discuss the future of Slim and his Mar-Kays, Moore and Chrétien talk of grand plans that include European and American tours. For a band of this calibre, fronted by a seasoned soulman, doors are unlikely to remain closed for long.
“It felt intimidating for me,” Moore says of his first tentative steps with his new band. “Because every time I watch Souljazz play, when I leave I’m just blown away. So one part of me is going, this is going be amazing and the other is, how are you going to compete with that?”
Chrétien, who welcomes an opportunity to step outside Souljazz’s instrumental intensity to a vintage soul and rock steady world of “verses and choruses,” is confident Slim Moore will do just fine. And Moore, Gary Moore, has clearly been preparing to enter this door for many years.
“If I were to die tomorrow,” Moore enthuses, “I would feel like I had done my part — having met Pierre and having done one show. I will relive it over and over, that moment. It was like I had been waiting my whole life to be there. I knew it was special when it happened. And now we get to do it again.”
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