Tuesday, June 17, 2008

'Red' Shea, 70: Influential folk guitarist

A recent Toronto Star had an obituary for Red Shea.

Those amazing early Lighfoot recordings featured Red Shea and John

"Shea is universally credited with having been Lightfoot's most
distinctive and original supporting player, adding his lucid filigree
lead runs seamlessly into the famed singer's trademark finger-picking
patterns to produce fluid, layered textures and crystal overtones that
enhanced Lightfoot's recordings from 1966 through 1975. "

Red had an impact on a lot of today's performers. I have included a few
remberances that have been posted on Maplepost.

Hello to all Canadian folk musicians on Maplepost.

As a student and fan of (in my opinion) the best years of the Lightfoot
sound and recordings, it is with great regret, and personal sense of
immense loss, that I have to announce that Red Shea died this morning. I
wish I could add more at this time, but I am overcome by the loss of a
wonderful musician, teacher and humble, loving man who is, to me, the
essential quality of what makes Canadians wonderful.

Red and I last spoke a couple of weeks ago, and I thought there might be
time to do a benefit concert to celebrate his amazing contribution to
Canadian music, recording and broadcasting. Sadly, this was not be.

Here is the letter I sent to him on May 10, 2008, to which he replied:

Dear Mr. Shea,

I bumped into an extremely lovely young lady at Massey Hall last night.
She was standing beside Gord Lightfoot at the after-concert party with a
copy of one of his CD compilations in her hand. I didn't know the album
and asked her about it. As we chatted, I said to her that my hero in
Gord's band had always been Red Shea, the guitarist whose playing taught
me that there were chords above the third fret, and that known shapes in
new positions up there could be used to create solos and harmony passages.
"I learned Red's licks nearly note for note when I was in high school,"
I said.
"That's my dad," she replied.
I was thrilled. I told her about the Saturday afternoon back in 1968
when my friend Tom and I drove all the way up to Aurora from Toronto to
timidly knock on the door of our inspiration and guitar hero, Red Shea.
"We dropped in out of nowhere," I said, "and you father was very
gracious and kind to us."
I don't remember what you said to us, and it wouldn't have made any
difference in our state of delirium. We had met the man and he had
shaken our hands. That was as good as it could get.
Earlier in that same year, I had finally put together enough paper route
money to put a deposit on Martin D-18 at Long and McQuade's. Bob Abbott
took my Echo Ranger 12 and a Shure 664 in partial trade and I arranged
to pay the balance on time.
I worked lots of Gord's tunes out on that guitar, as well as many of
your licks. I took it to Trent University where my sister's friend of
the time, Stan Rogers, allowed me to sit in and play with him and Nigel
Russell. Stan turned to me (doesn't everyone have a Stan story?), eyed
up my new aquisition and asked if he could borrow the guitar and
Not yet knowing Stan's so-called sense of humour, I handed my instrument
and picks over. He played it for a while, then, satisfied, seemingly, he
returned the guitar to me. But not before taking off my fingerpicks and
dropping them, one by one, into the D-18.
That Martin is still with me after 40 years of playing. Under lifetime
warranty, it had a neck reset about 9 years ago. Time wore on and soon
the bridge plate began to bust out of the top. The action just kept
rising, and old Alice was better for slide work than finger style. Or
maybe for cutting cheese...
After some deliberation I decided to get Alice spruced up, so to speak,
and on my way down to Guitar Week at Swanannoa Gathering last summer, I
dropped her in at the factory in Nazareth. They agreed to put a new top
on her under warranty.
Alice wintered in Nazareth and the wizards in the restoration department
put on a new sitka top and installed some forward shifted, vintage
styled scalloped bracing I requested. Martin refused to ship during the
winter weather and when I got confirmation three weeks ago that she was
soon to be heading home, I dug out some of the old books of tunes I used
to play on her.
Among the books, I found a worn, coverless copy of the sheet music for
"The Way I Feel" album, and there, on the front page, were the famous
crossed legs of Gord's ever-dapper lead guitar player, Red Shea, showing
chord shapes in black and white on a D-35. I thought about you in that
moment three weeks ago, and was quietly reflective and thankful for the
many gifts your playing gave me and how your playing has informed my own
style. Thank you, sir, from the bottom of my heart.
After you left Gord's band, his music lost its lustre for me and his
direction wasn't one that carried me along with it. Pages fell from the
calendar on the wall like leaves in fall. Then, two nights ago I got a
call. My good friend David's father, Dr. Bill Goodman, is in hospital
with renal failure and would I like two of the comps that Bernie and
Gord had given to the family for Friday's show? Of course.
So there I was last night, listening to Gord, remembering parties at the
Goodman household after the Mariposa Festival and praying for Bill's
health to return as Gord's had. Then I learned from Colleen that you are
having a rough patch and have been hospitalized too. Somehow, I have
this idea in my mind and hope in my heart that like old Alice and Gord,
you and Dr. Bill will both weather this patch and like them, get back to
making the world a happier and more musical place.
Good health and good wishes, my prayers are with you,

Ian Gray

I have been informed by the family that there will be a visitation at
the Thompson Funeral Home in Aurora on Thursday, June 12 at 7 until 9
p.m., and a service at the Kingdom Hall on Bloomington Rd. Aurora on
Friday morning at 10 a.m.

Please check my accuracy, as I may have misheard or misunderstood. I
spoke with the family this evening, learned of the news, and I may have
not got the information right.

Red was a hero and musical friend to me, as well as a guiding light to
me and many of my musical friends. He was patient and welcoming, gentle,
energetic, grounded, spiritual, skilled and creative. All the thing one
could hope for in a teacher and musician. His contribution to Canadian
music was huge, unique, Canadian, inspirational and to be missed. There
is bound to be a prairie wind that will moan in a particular, sad manner
this summer......

RIP Red.

With respect, reverence, fondness and thanks,


Hello Posters,

I think about the passing of Red Shea, and am reflecting a great deal on
how he was a seminal influence on me, and my becoming a
songwriter...this story needs a slight pre-amble so please bear with me.

I was producing a folk concert series at the Hotel Isabella called
"Acoustic Espionage" in '82 and '83, back in the days when publicists
here in Toronto were crapping on folk music daily it seemed, and to be
part of what was left of the folk scene was about the uncoolest thing a
body could be. One of my guest artists in the series was Ramblin' Jack
Elliot, who called me and requested that I get in touch with Gordon
Lightfoot's sister and convince her that Mr. Lightfoot should come to
his show that night. It turns out Mr. Lightfoot showed up, and, as I
always did the opening set, he stopped me on the stairs (the shows were
in the basement, not in the Cameo Lounge) before Jack went on, and said
how much he enjoyed my music. It was my first encounter with him, and I
managed to place my foot squarely in my mouth as I said "I have enjoyed
your music for years, and especially when you were playing with Red Shea
and John Stockfish." He turned and muttered, "Yeah, well everybody moves

Years later I was playing one of the Lightfoot tributes at Hugh's Room,
and Mr. Lightfoot was in the audience. I finally had the opportunity to
make things right after all the years, because what I had wanted to say
at the Isabella was that I enjoyed that era of his music because I had
had the opportunity to see him at the Riverboat with Red Shea and John
Stockfish when I was fifteen. It was the moment when I first knew for
sure I would be following a musical path for the rest of my life. My
vision of that night in the Riverboat, in reality a dark and narrow
space, was that it seemed to sparkle like a diamond with reflections
from the finish of guitars in the spotlights bouncing off the
walls...and the music was heaven-sent...the shimmer of the 12 string
supported on the bottom end with patterns never heard before on a bass,
and the honeyed stream of riffs from Red Shea's guitar.

Now, back to the point, which was that I had a couple of guitar-playing
buddies in my hometown of Owen Sound, and whenever we got together, the
talk was of the beauty of the sound of Mr. Lightfoot's trio. As we were
all guitar players, we worshipped the work of Red Shea, and talked
incessantly about his licks and how they fit the lyrics and tried to
emulate him as we struggled to learn our instruments.

Someone said earlier that Red Shea did not have "fame"....but I tell you
he was famous in the hearts of those three young guitar players in Owen
Sound, and I know in the hearts of guitar players all across this country.

God bless Red Shea,

Tim Harrison

Thanks, Tim. Your reflections on Mr. Shea are similar to mine and, I dare
say, just about any acoustic finger-picker of my generation. I was just
starting university when I began hearing the magical sounds produced by
Lightfoot, Stockfish and Shea. I had been working on my finger-picking style
and starting to play a lot with other guitarists and singers. What Red was
doing was like a magic bullet for me; the answer! Capo up, keep it simple,
stay out of the way of the song, sparkle! No other player was a stronger
influence on the way I play and, in particular, the way I accompany singers.

Thank you, Red Shea, for your gift to the music of this country.

Paul Mills


Anonymous said...

After reading the prior comments re: Red Shea, it brought be back to a concert at Town Hall in NYC in the Spring of '68. I managed to get 10th row seats front and center to see Gordon Lightfoot for the first time. The Lightfoot Trio, with Red & John Stockfish, were a beautiful thing to behold. Red's effortless filigree fills & runs complented the songs perfectly along with John's totally original bass lines. Even after all these years, it remains to this day one of my most cherished memories. I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream and realeased my own CD, "Eclectic Selections, an all instrumental work, and the first cut, "Linda's Song", owes its two figured guitar parts to Red's sweet influences.
I wish I could have met him as the previous gentlemen on this site were able to. He was my first real guitar hero.
Thanks so much for sharing your memories.

Best wishes,

Stan Wollmers
e-mail: swollmers@gmail.com

Unknown said...

Hi, I want to say that I really appreciate the nice comments that have been made about Red Shea. Only lately did I clue in to the fact that Red was the one who created the delightful filigree fills and runs you describe in the early years of Gord Lightfoot's musical career. Red made Gord's songs soul-stirring, joy-inspiring. Yes, as you say, there is a sweetness to it. That describes it! I have listened to later recordings without Red. What a difference.