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Hometown Roots: Deep into the music

by David Meyer

ROCKWOOD - Tyler Zuidema had a cold - and couldn’t go to work.

It’s a common enough affliction this time of year. Trouble was, he couldn’t find anyone to take his place - so he had to go to work anyway.

That, too, is common enough, except Zuidema’s job is lead singer of Hometown Roots and his work was to perform at a bar in Kitchener on a Friday night. The group, reluctantly, cancelled the show - and when nobody could be found to take its place - it performed anyway.

Zuidema said two days later his voice lasted one set, and the band had to take over for the rest of the show.

It was just one more speed bump on the rock and roll road, a path that Hometown Roots has been travelling ardently for over two years. The band is already well down that highway.

Hometown Roots started with a seed of friendship and is growing. The group, consisting of three teens from the Rockwood area and a lead guitarist from Guelph, is meeting with success that might surprise some people for a few peculiar reasons.

Hometown Roots is drummer and backing vocalist Brandon Priebe, bassist Evan Ledwith, lead guitarist Dave Martin and lead singer and rhythm guitarist Zuidema. The band has been together for just over two years, with Martin stepping in this summer. It has received some nice reviews and enjoyed some early success with a blend of rock and roll and electric folk music.

It won a Guelph qualification round in the Rock and Roll Challenge sponsored by Hamilton radio station Y108. It then went on to top the entire provincial competition this year. Y108 Rock and Roll Challenge founder and organizer Rob Rapiti, of BLR Entertainment, said, “Not very often do we provide top marks for stage presence and audience reaction, but tonight these guys get a perfect score.”

Battle of the Bands is one way of becoming known, and the group is doing that with a repertoire that includes cover songs and originals, divided 50:50. But what stands out about them is their age.

Chronologically, they are still youngsters. In terms of their music, they seem much older and farther along a musical career beyond their years. Zuidema and Priebe are 19, Ledwith is 18 and Martin is 24.

The first three have deep connections.

“We’ve all known each other since Kindergarten,” Zuidema said, adding they went to Rockwood Centennial Public School and then to J.F. Ross CVI in Guelph. It was there they won their first  Battle of the Bands.

The four are rooted deeply in music with wide influences. And they have plenty of experience in other ways.

“We’ve all been in other bands,” Zuidema said at their rehearsal hall in Everton, Priebe’s house.

He noted in each case “There was always one that didn’t fit.” They know about falling out.

Their influences speak volumes. For Priebe, it is the classics, and not the stuff of hundreds of years ago. He is referring to The Beatles and early rockers from the 1960s. Ledwith listens to pop and new rock, but the rest of the time to classic. He loves bassists like John Paul Jones, and was surprised when listening to Jethro Tull that the bassist actually strummed his instrument. He absorbed it all.

It is Martin who has interesting outside influences. Besides being older, he has played 10 years and studied music at Niagara College in Hamilton. He practically rolls his eyes when asked about his influences - too many to count. Like many guitarists he went through phases of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Today, with a background that includes jazz, he cites John Coltrane and Chris Potter (whom he calls the best saxophone player in the world playing today) and guitarist Dave Holland.

Besides all that, he listens to everything from hip hop to Stravinsky. “I like checking out pretty much everything.”

Zuidema said, “I’m kind of in the middle.”

He took to singing after hearing his older brother Shaun, who was a country singer with enough talent to place highly in Canada’s Got Talent, but who prefers home life today rather than Nashville, where he was invited to try his luck.

If there is one thing that sets Hometown Roots apart, it is their unwavering thankfulness to - gasp - their parents. Rock bands are generally about rebelling and throwing off parental authority. Then again, how many old time parents did for their rocking sons what Hometown Roots parents are doing.

“Our parents are the reason we’ve got to where we are,” said Zuidema, without a trace of self consciousness.

They were happy to list their parents as influences and give them credit. The parents are John and Caroline Zuidema, Peter and Cindy Ledwith, Ivan and Sandra Martin and Bill and Mary Priebe.

Ledwith’s dad drives them to Toronto for meetings and also writes press releases for the group.

Zuidema said, “When we started, Brandon did most of the bookings.”

But that led to difficulties. How much does a band charge? City bars require agents. So Zuidema’s mom took over the bookings. Most of their parents have been involved with music, as either music lovers or performers, so the influence has always been around

Once they got into performing in bars, it seemed they were on their way. They did a Friday the 13th show at Port Dover and played in front of 200,000 people when motorcyclists packed that town.

“We were the only original band,” said Zuidema, referring to Hometown Roots’ song writing abilities. That got them more attention, and “overwhelmed with bookings” - and his mom stepped in to help.

Soon they played bars in Burlington and Toronto. They had a tour of Alberta last year, and are hoping to expand it to several more dates when they head west again next May. They have cut a CD with 11 original songs, and are planning to go into the studio sometime in the next few months. Right now, they are looking for a producer, and the plan is to hire someone to promote their new work to area radio stations.

Writing their own music is nothing new.

“We always wrote our own songs,” said Zuidema.

Priebe added, “Right from the first rehearsal.”

That is a collaborative effort. Someone brings an idea to rehearsal and they all work on it until they have the music down. The lyrics are mainly written by Zuidema, who admits he is a “bit of a procrastinator” which means he often finishes the words just prior to recording. Deadline pressure seems to help.

Hometown Roots understands today’s world is a multi-media one. The group has songs on My Space and Youtube, and it even has its own merchandise available in the form of T-shirts.

But the members agree radio is still very important in getting known. Ledwith said the group is getting closer to major success because radio tastes are switching to the kind of music Hometown Roots is producing.

For musicians so young, they take their work seriously, if not themselves. They laugh and joke, but there is no talk about parties and the rock and roll lifestyle. The group’s focus is intense.

Martin has a lot of friends from his school days who still play, and he will join them when the opportunity allows. He said his jazz influences allow him a loose approach that all music should take and he figures rock and roll fits in nicely. His interest is so strong he has considered returning to school at some point.

Zuidema said he and his buddies do not go to school because they are focused on being musicians right now. They rehearse six or seven hours a week, and more before a big show - and perform a lot of weekends. They lament the bar scene has changed. A few decades ago, bands had gigs that lasted for a whole week.

They estimate they have nearly four hours of repertoire they can perform, and song writing is ongoing.

Each of them recalls what is known as “a bad gig,” with Martin remembering playing on a cruise ship that had what were not the best of conditions.

“I haven’t had any bad gigs with these guys,” he said.

Priebe recalls playing some nights in bars when the crowds went somewhere else. He felt guilty about accepting the money when he knew the bar didn’t make any.

But they mainly remember the good shows. Like opening for rockers Coney Hatch. Like playing last year in a packed arena in Alberta where the crowd was into it and they felt like rock stars.

Hometown Roots really wants to make music work for them - and for them to work in music.

“That’s the hope; that’s the dream,” said Zuidema.

Priebe summed up a good night at the office.

“It keeps us going when the crowd is into it. It’s amazing. You just want to keep on doing it.”

For a sample of the band’s music, visit


November 18, 2011


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