Jeff Burrows, the LaSalle resident known for his work with rock band The Tea Party, as well as his seasonal side-project The S’Anints, had scheduled his annual 24-hour drum marathon for May, but COVID-19 put a stop to that.
With a little reconfiguration, Burrows and his musical friends found a way to stream a reduced version of the annual fundraiser to fans on YouTube, using the Bluesfest Windsor YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/BluesFestWindsor. Fans can also check out the Bluesfest channel for at home performances from local and international stars during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Taking place on June 20, the 12-hour event, dubbed The 1/2 Drum Marathon, will feature a variety of local solo acts jamming with Burrows broadcast from Good Time Charly in Windsor, starting at 9am and running to 9pm.
Along with the Marathon, his band The Tea Party have some new music lined up, including a new single – a cover of Joy Division’s Isolation – which was added to rock radio around the country in May.
Jeff took a few moments to chat with 519 about life during COVD-19, the marathon and a bunch of new Tea Party music.
First, before we start talking about any events and recordings, let’s talk a little bit about COVID-19. How are you dealing with it?
Like many, I’m trying to keep my distance and stay within my bubble of family at home. We’ve been doing our morning and evening walks and keeping our distance. We’re finding more time as a family too. It’s almost like when my kids were younger again. So there’s certain elements to it that are refreshing, such as having dinners together at meal time and those simple pleasures. I do worry about my wife going in as a nurse, but she’s doing well given the circumstances. As I mentioned too, some good things have come out of it like more talking with family and better communication with people you haven’t been in touch with. I’ve even just been reading about people burying old hatchets they’ve never thought they would have to bury and now are realizing how ridiculous it is to hold those types of grudges, right? So of the worst possible element we’re in right now, there are some good things to come out of it, so we just have to try to stay as positive as possible.
One of the big things that are going to be affected over the long-term is the entertainment business. So as a musician, as a band, how has this affected your plan for the future?
Everything is so touch and go and everyone seems to have answers but no one seems to have the right answers. So, we already had an EP that we intended on releasing the first single in June to coincide with the Canadian tour, Saints and Sinners that we were doing with our friends in Moist, Headstones and Big Wreck. So that’s done. Our manager is discussing with Warner Brothers when to release so that’s all still in motion. Also, in the meantime, we came up with the idea of doing a cover that we enjoyed playing when we were kids by Joy Division called Isolation. And it just seemed apropos so that had a soft release last week. Radio stations are starting to pick up.
The biggest rock station in Canada, CHOM-FM out of Montreal, just added it today or tomorrow. So now we all did our parts isolated in our own areas and we all live thousands of miles apart anyway. We iPhone videoed each of our performances and we have a friend in Australia who is putting a video together for that song as well. There’s not much really we can do in the meantime for planning. Everyone seems to think that everything is going to be good by the fall. And it’s not. You just don’t know and neither do I. I don’t really know what to say beyond that.
You said you guys used to play that song. So how does the current version differ from the original one you played?
It’s better because we were kids, but not really all that much, to be honest. It’s a simple song and I did it in 1 take and I just thought, let’s just have fun and put it out. So it sounds good. It’s not a difficult song. It’s not very Tea Party-esque, but it’s very danceable and we thought why not do something like that in the midst of this, just for a change and for people to enjoy themselves a little bit.
I was wondering how you recorded your drums. Do you have a studio at your home?
No, I went to SLR, because Marty has only been doing this for six weeks. So I just went directly into the isolation room and he stayed in the mixing room and in 40 minutes, I had done two songs. So it was great. Quick and easy and done.
So there’s another song, huh?
That’s about as much as I’m going to get, right?
Yeah. It sounds really good though, I can tell you that. It just got mastered. I heard it and it sounds really good.
Is that a cover or an original?
No, another cover. We, like I said, the originals, the EP’s done and it’s in the can. So it’s just another apropos cover and had a lot of fun and it sounds really good. I’m very impressed with that one.
Any idea when we might be able to hear that?
I think management’s just deciding because the plan was to do them three, four weeks apart. But if radio stations are now grabbing isolation and they’re going to put it in heavy rotation for eight to 10 weeks, then everything changes, right? So like everything, it’s in flux. Everything keeps changing.
On the topic of keeps changing, before I ask you about the half marathon, just to make it easy for people that don’t know anything about the 24 hour one, tell me about the 24 hour marathon.
This year was going to be the 14th annual of 20. I did put a 20 year limit on it, only because I’ll be older and it doesn’t get any easier on the body or mentally. And over the years, I’ve changed and adjusted and done this event with different charities. It began with my friends at Transition to Betterness. They all do such amazing work locally. And then once the provincial government came in, most recently, a few years ago, the slashing of the mental health budget from 5% down to about 3.5%. I don’t know the numbers exactly, but it’s right around there. I thought let’s help out our local community mental health associations, so that’s the road I’ve gone. And the way it’s always worked is, I would play for 24 hours and different bands would join me every hour.
The first year I started, unfortunately for the bands, they were in six hour slots because I only had four bands coming in. But then as it grew and I got to know more of the local scene, because when it started, I just really didn’t know a lot about the local scene because I was always touring and always on the road. And at that time, the Tea Party wasn’t doing anything. So I got to know more and more people and they started coming out. So I’d extended it and now usually there’s probably max 22 bands because the Twisted Sisters always do my middle of the night hours. The way we raised funds is, I get sponsors by the hour and I try to sell them on sponsoring it and getting a radio push through either of my radio friends, both at Blackburn and at Bell.
So I get sponsorship that way. And then we have a $20 entrance fee. It started at 10, and then I moved into $20 about two years ago. There’s been no complaints, I just thought you can come for 24 hours literally and be entertained. So the $20 is a good deal for all of these bands that you get to see. And then we have silent auctions and big auctions. Also gift cards that you can buy for $20 and they each have $25 values and those are all donated. So that’s kind of normally how we do it. This year, of course, I cancelled it and I was pretty bummed and I felt horrible for the charities. But then I got a call from Kosta who is the owner of Good Time Charlie and he said, “The building’s going to be empty, but you’re more than welcome to do something if you’d like to do it online or a stream.”
And I thought, wow. And in a day, I put together the half marathon, only because the 24 hours marathon is difficult enough, but those last 12 hours are always great because there was a lot of people and it just gets you through it. And I don’t know how a 24 hour stream would roll. So I thought, you know what? Let’s do a half marathon and see if we can raise a little bit of funds. And literally, in eight hours, the artwork was done. I kept it to solo or duo artists, which again, I felt bad because so many bands have helped me for so many years. But that way, we can properly dismiss ourselves. And then Christopher Marentette and A.J. Vanden Berghe are organizing livestream through the Blues Fest site on Facebook and that’s that. So in the meantime, I’ve re-upped or reopened my PayPal me account for anyone outside of Canada or in Canada.
Doesn’t matter if you have a PayPal account, you can use it. But that’s one way to donate. And then the other way is just the Facebook fundraiser where the funds go directly to the CMHA. And I’m using the CMHA specific out of the six that we raised money for because of their recognition and people would understand, okay, it’s mental health. And then CMHC will subsequently cut checks to the other five charities once we have our final tally. So it’s working out good. I always feel bad asking for money and this makes it tougher because of the situation that everyone finds themselves in economically. I mean, there’s maybe 5% whose lives maybe haven’t changed during this. But the rest, it really has. And even worse, I feel bad asking musicians to donate their time.
So LIUNA 65, the Labors International Union of North America, they’ve stepped up and they have agreed to pay the musicians to come in because of most of the popular musicians are up in that top rank, especially the ones who do this for a living. Your Jody Raffoul’s and your Mark Chichkan’s. I mean, I feel horrible for these guys because that’s what they do all the time to feed their families and so on. And so I couldn’t ask anyone to do any freebies, regardless. They all want to, but I’m just saying no. So they’re getting paid and LIUNA’s a great sponsor. So that’s how that’s going to roll out.
You mentioned that it’s going to be performed at a social distance. What efforts are you putting in place to make that happen?
Well, I’ll be on the stage and say, for example, the Twisted Sisters, they’ll be probably 12 feet apart. And then the video cameras and such, everyone will be quite a distance away from each other. So I mean, that’s about as best as we can do at that point.
Is this going to be your first livestream?
For this, yes. And what I’m excited about is the fact that next year, hopefully, I’m assuming, but who knows? I’ll be back to the 24 hour drum marathon, but we’ll live stream it as well. The Tea Party had live streamed, it was one of the first bands to ever do a live stream, literally in the world, back in ‘97 or ‘98. It was in the early, early, early stages. We’ve done things like that but never personally because I really don’t have the technical skills. But Christopher and AJ are very proficient and are very generous with their time. So they’re also performing, which is fantastic for one deal.
For the late 90s, a livestream was very progressive.
Stuart spearheaded that. Stuart Chatwood, our bass player, he registered our band name within the first year of the internet. You know what I mean, it was just crazy. Our website band, he’s very techie and loves all of that, has always been on top of it.
You are probably the only musician I know that dedicates so much time to the community. You must passionately love your community.
I do. Windsor seems to get a bad rap. Or it used to, anyway. I think it’s changing, but I love Windsor. I love Essex County. I love Chatham-Kent. It’s a great part of the world and has a lot to offer, and probably one of the more generous places in the entire world as well as far as I see it, because people will literally come to me and say, “What are you doing next?” Or. “What’s coming up?” Because I’ll save it for this. And you can’t really ask for much more than that. And sometimes you have to be a little bit picky and choosy about what you agree and don’t agree to. I have a hard time saying no, but sometimes I just have to be straight honest with people and just say, “Look, I would not be a good host for this event because…” You don’t want to spread yourself too thin.
I love being able to raise funds and use the modicum amount of success that I’ve earned through the Tea Party to help do that. But in order to fully commit yourself to what I do, you have to keep it real. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin and you need a great support system. So my family’s A1 in that department and there are some friends that have literally spent hundreds of hours working with me, cheering me on at the drum marathon for literally 24 hours, donated tens of thousands of dollars of their own money. And these are just regular everyday working people, these aren’t big companies giving me thousands of dollars. So it pays to have a good support system around and it pays to be in such a giving community and bless us all for being able to live here. It’s good.
With this half marathon, you usually have a goal in mind. Is there a goal at this time? You’re entering uncharted territory.
My goal this year originally was $60,000. I’m not going to get that, of course. Because we do make a lot of money on the raffles, gift cards and people coming in. So honestly, I’m hoping if we can do $20,000, each charity walks away with three, that would be amazing. So far, I’m up to around $2,100 each charity. That being said, we’re still close to three weeks away, so I’ll think we’ll hit the three. Maybe we’ll do even more. I know they all understand and they’re all grateful and that’s all that matters. And hopefully, we can entertain people and give them something different to do on a Saturday.