Bill Henderson cheerfully admits to being “nervous as hell” about taking to the stage at Massey Theatre this weekend.
But then, performing live is a change from helping his wife in the garden, so it’s not all bad.
Henderson is one of those you-know-him-even-if-you-don’t-know-you-know-him figures in Canadian music, best known as the lead singer and guitarist for legendary rock band Chilliwack. He’ll be fronting the band once again as they return to live performance with a Saturday night gig at the venerable New Westminster theatre.
Like most musicians in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chilliwack hasn’t been performing much for the past couple of years. The band’s solitary show in the past several months was a headlining turn at Chester Fest in Saskatchewan this past summer.
“You don’t realize how much your job is a part of your life, how much it kind of defines you, until you don’t have it for quite a while,” Henderson says.
He has played a couple of solo shows over the pandemic but has mostly been spending time at home on Salt Spring, helping his wife in the three gardens she tends on the island.
“She’s just happy to have me home so she can put me to work,” Henderson says with a laugh. “I’ve been digging potatoes, clearing up, digging up beds for vegetables, moving rhododendron plants – all kinds of stuff.”
He’s not knocking it. He loves being outdoors. But he admits it’s been strange to be so far out of touch from the career that’s been his life for more than 55 years.
It was 1966 when he started out with Chilliwack’s predecessor, psychedelic rock band The Collectors, and music has been his mainstay ever since. The current incarnation of Chilliwack – Henderson and bandmates Jerry Adolphe, Ed Henderson and Gord Maxwell – has been going strong since 1997, amassing 11 albums, 15 gold and platinum certifications, and a host of awards along the way.
Then came COVID.
“There are times when I just feel like, my God, where is my life?” Henderson says.
He admits the band swithered about whether to go ahead with this weekend’s show in light of the Omicron wave. But, with the Massey team firmly behind the idea and ready to produce the show safely, the foursome opted to go ahead.
They’ll be rocking the Massey with a host of hits that will immediately resonate with anyone who grew up in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s: I Believe, My Girl, Crazy Talk, Fly At Night.
And no, Henderson doesn’t get tired of people wanting to hear those songs again and again. He’s happy to play for houses full of the 50-and-up folks who remember them from the first time out – and for the young fans of classic rock who’ve discovered them in more recent years.
“They’re actually good songs. I’ve written many hundreds of songs, and there aren’t very many that come up to that level,” Henderson says. “They do wear well. Even with the players they wear well.”
He points out it’s easier not to get tired of your own hits when you’re a non-touring band like Chilliwack. Even in non-pandemic times, they tend to play one-off gigs – often at festivals – and only perform 20 to 25 live shows a year.
“It’s easy to have it remain fresh, to have the whole experience remain fresh,” he says.
And the band doesn’t rest on its laurels. Henderson continues to write music, and the band will offer up a couple of new tunes – Alright and Dusty Old Guitar – that reflect their continued creative growth and social conscience.
“I’m just trying to write things that are about our relationships and how to have good relationships; just trying to have good relationships with other people, with the planet, everything,” Henderson says. “Having a good relationship is a proactive thing. It’s not accidental. You have to look outside yourself to see what’s needed.”
He knows the band is playing at a time when the planet is in crisis on multiple fronts, from the pandemic to climate change and everything in between. He can’t solve those things, he says, but he still has a role to play.
“As a musician, I’ve found it pointless to point fingers. Really, we just need to relax and feel good. As a musician, I can help people feel good. They love music; they love the beat; they love to dance; they love to sing. I can do that,” he says.
“I believe that people who are happy make better decisions than people who are angry.”
CHECK IT OUT
When: Saturday, Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Massey Theatre, 735 Eighth Ave.
Tickets: $55. See www.ticketsnw.ca.