I’ve always been very proud to be part of the Winnipeg music community. This small city in the geographic centre of North America has produced some of the most talented artists and performers on the continent — and I’ve had the privilege of playing with many of them and humbly consider myself as a ‘worthy member of the group’.
As a young boy growing up in Brandon, Manitoba, I had a natural affinity for the piano and later, to become a performer. Climbing up on the piano bench at the age of five (without any coaxing) and with my tiny hands I figured out ‘Chariots of Fire’ solely by ear. I think the next song I tackled was ‘Hey Jude’, from what I can remember. Without hesitation, my parents enrolled me in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brandon, Manitoba. It was at St. Michael’s Academy where I studied (from some rather strict Catholic nuns) for the next decade. I achieved some pretty impressive heights for a young boy in classical piano, playing numerous festivals and recitals throughout the years. Many of the pieces I learned were advanced far beyond many of my peers’ skill levels; I had mastered some pretty complex Chopin Etudes, Preludes and Polonaises by age 12. As much as I felt tired of the practicing and discipline in favor of playing with my friends, I still kept up my practice all on my own. Thank the stars I chose music over Atari and TV!
As a teenager I put aside my classical training (although I still continue my love for classical piano) to teach myself contemporary piano-based rock music, due mostly to the desire to both sing and play simultaneously. Inspired by piano greats like Elton John and Billy Joel, it was an easy transition ... now all I needed was a stage!
Enter opportunity #1: Vincent Massey High School talent show. A nervous wreck, I summoned the courage to perform a solo vocal/piano rendition of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” in front of my entire high school — and what a thrill that was! I was onto something here ...
Then in 1994 I entered the “Orange Crush Talent Search” in Brandon, playing the same song again, and won 2nd Prize. Not a clean sweep, but still a huge achievement for a 16 year old kid. Now I was hooked for good.
In 1999, after completing my diploma in Graphic Design in Winnipeg, the rare opportunity came to me when a Dueling Piano Bar called “Alley Catz” opened. PERFECT! I nailed the audition, was hired immediately and on stage the following weekend. An unusual concept for a non-tourist destination like Winnipeg, Alley Catz became jam packed with fans ... those ‘fifteen minutes’ turned into five years and it was the best training I could have ever asked for. I soaked up all genres of music like a sponge, because I was playing with musicians who had decades of experience before me ... that kind of musical knowledge you simply can’t buy.
From the piano bar to the A-list nightclub circuit, I’ve played with countless world class players bred right here in Winnipeg — including local legends Burton Cummings, Leonard ‘Lewsh’ Shaw, Ken ‘Spider’ Sinneave (Loverboy), Curtis Newton, Pat Wright, Phil Deschambault, Chris ‘Suds’ Sutherland to shamelessly name drop. I’ve also had the privilege of experiencing an array of media exposure, including several television and newspaper appearances and singing the national anthem at the 2006 Grey Cup Championship with Danny Kramer (to a sold out crowd of 32,000). I think by now I’ve gotten over the jitters.
During this time I also became part of the original band ‘Vanderveen’ with three musicians who just happened to work at Alley Catz at the time ... Phil (along with his brother Roland) Deschambault (The Jonah Stone) and Matt Budoloski (Leaderhouse, Volume) had teamed up to write a handful of songs, which to me proved to be a ‘stroke of genius’. We all became very excited to begin recording. We cut an amazing debut album with Grammy-nominated producer Brandon Friesen, shot a video in Montreal for the single ‘Weekend Full Of Weekends’, achieved extensive nation-wide airplay and showcased at a handful of Canada’s music festivals. We played a handful of live shows and quickly gained a loyal following – but unfortunately, none of us could tour the album at the time. A few of us then took the opportunity to actually make some money and began playing the nightclub circuit under the name ‘Other People’s Music’ and eventually Vanderveen fizzled out.
Phil went on to have an illustrious songwriting career working with major label artists and commercials, while Matt continued to write brilliant music and self-produce several incredible albums in his own right. I had my hands full raising a young family at the time and dabbling in my own recordings at home.
The years in between then and now had me playing in the A-list nightclub circuit in many bands. I’ve played in or fronted several rock, blues & even country groups as a singer/keyboardist and became the manager/musical director of a house band in 2008 for a stint. I’ve also done countless studio/session projects — a highlight was working with Mark Costanzo, most well known for his Canadian pop group LEN (‘Steal My Sunshine’) who was co-producing with Phil Deschambault (Ash Koley) at the time.
What am I doing now? Honestly, I feel like I’m finally doing exactly what I was meant to do. I’ve done the band thing (still do occasionally); but my main priority lies with solo performing and The Killer Keys.
Matt (now more commonly known as Piano Matty B) contacted me one day in 2019, over a decade since we had last connected. He wanted to know if I was interested in forming a dueling piano group. My first thought was “But you don't play the piano?”
Well, little did I know ... Matt being Matt, had been teaching himself the piano for quite a while. How hard could that be for a musical prodigy who plays guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, and probably the kazoo? We landed ourselves a house gig at Rudy’s downtown and the rest is history.
Now you get to enjoy the world’s first and only live-streaming dueling piano show, every weekend starring two old friends that crossed paths again many years after that failed rock band! Click here to see The Killer Keys show schedule
The rest of my down time is consumed with classical piano — my first love and it will always remain that way. During the pandemic I dove deep into my repertoire, re-learning some old ones and tackling some new, incredibly challenging Concertos and Variations. I’m excited to release these as they become polished, so make sure to subscribe and check out my Youtube channel if you’re interested in hearing those.