With Gord Ellis
As told to Matt Prokopchuk,
You may know Gord Ellis through a variety of ventures: he’s been a respected journalist in Thunder Bay for decades (including our music columnist here at The Walleye and a popular, multi-faceted contributor to the CBC); he’s a lifelong angler and hunter; he runs a successful guiding business; and he has played in numerous bands, currently as part of local reggae rockers Rock Steady. Ellis spoke with The Walleye about getting back on stage, his fitness push, and his most treasured possession. The Walleye: Rock Steady played its first gig in a while in February. Tell us about that? Gord Ellis: It was the first time we’d actually played together for about eight months. The post-pandemic music scene has been a little bit different, and also, just [getting] five busy people together to play. But it was wonderful to play out and play at a bar [The Foundry] that features a lot of local live music, and look into people’s eyes and see people dancing and doing all that cool stuff. I think that was only our third or fourth gig since our pandemicimposed break, which just about every band had. TW: What got you into performing? GE: I’ve always loved music, have always been fascinated by it and I think when I was about 16 years old, maybe 15, I got interested in guitar. At the time, I was taking piano lessons at the Avila Centre. I wasn’t a particularly good piano player, and I also just didn’t want to do lessons that way, but I have a very clear memory of actually sitting in the Avila Centre and they had a bunch of booklets and pamphlets there and one was “25 Cowboy Chords for Guitar.” In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have taken it, but I did, and that was the end of my piano playing at the Avila Centre, but the beginning of my guitar playing. I started learning the cowboy chords and drove my parents nuts for a few years. In high school, I played in the band—I played euphonium— but after that, there were a few musicians who would play guitar or drums and we would jam. Then at some point we ended up having a high school band and it’s just been part of my life [since then]. TW: Away from work, what do you enjoy doing? GE: As you know, I like to fish, and I’m known for that probably a little bit. I love fishing and even though it’s part of my career, I still love it. I guide in the summer—this’ll be my 10th year guiding as I took to guiding late in life, and it’s a job, but I love it. You’re taking people out and basically getting them to fish. It doesn’t involve a lot of me fishing. So, on my days off, I want to go fishing. My dad always says, “How can you go out every day and take people fishing and then on your day off, you want to go out and do that again?” I just love it. It’s just one of those things I’ve done my whole life. I’ve done it literally since I was barely able to walk and just always loved it and was fascinated by it. I built, in some ways, a career around it—indirectly, in many ways, but a lot of where I ended up was funneled through that love of the outdoors, not just fishing. There’s just something about the water, and the fish, and the beauty of the outdoors, and growing up here as I did, just being around this incredible beauty that we have here. TW: Your love of the gym and fitness is also well known. How did you get into that? GE: I was always interested in that, too. In high school, a couple buddies and I, we always worked out. And I am no jock, but I did play sports. Then, as often happens, the thing that slides is your own personal health, and that’s what happened with me. I got really out of shape and just didn’t feel good. In my mid-40s, I was on a hunting trip, and I had always prided myself on being able to tromp all over the woods, and at the end of the day, I was a hurtin’ unit. I just felt terrible. So I started, and my wife helped me, I started walking, and on my own, started to run a little bit. Then my sister started working at a gym, but then opened her own and said “Hey, I’m going to do”—and this is a classic— “a celebrity challenge.” So I was one of the celebrities. I did it, and for the next eight or nine years, I was a gym rat, right up until the pandemic. I haven’t been back to a gym [since], but I now have a gym in my house for all intents and purposes. During the pandemic, I bought weights, kettlebells, a punching bag, all that stuff, so at this point right now, I’m working out at home. I just find it therapeutic. TW: What’s your most treasured possession? GE: I do have a few guitars. I have an electric guitar I’ve had since I was 24 years old. It’s a 1970 Telecaster I bought off a guy for 350 bucks, which at the time was a lot of money for me. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money for a 1970 Telecaster now, but then it wasn’t even considered vintage when I bought it. I still have that guitar, and I also have the first guitar I ever bought—I remember going to the bank with my dad because I didn’t have enough money, so he was going to have to take 500 bucks out of the bank for me. I still have that guitar, a Yamaha. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.