Cuff The Duke creates raw, roots sound
nina dragicevic/metro toronto
It was the voice of whiskey-drinkin’, hard-livin’ and dead-at-29 Hank Williams that caught Wayne Petti’s ear, croonin’ and cryin’ from the tape deck of his friend’s car.
“I was floored,” says Cuff The Duke’s front man, who was 18 at the time and grew up surrounded by the skate-punk suburbanites of Oshawa , Ont. “It was so rough, self-deprecating. Just raw, bare, just really … honest.” And he says the word like it’s a rarity.
For Petti, one particular allure of old country was its musical, in addition to lyrical, simplicity. “You know three chords and you can play every Hank Williams song,” he says. “These days, music isn’t sparse enough.”
Petti found writing his own ditties equally effortless — immediately after his exposure to classic country, he dashed off a few original pieces and tinkered the tunes with guitarist Jeff Peers. Petti admits, “It initially started as a kind of joke.”
That joke carried Cuff The Duke through more than half a dozen years with two enthusiastically received releases — albums they toured from coast to coast with heavy hitters such as Hayden, the Sadies, Sloan, Blue Rodeo and Nick Cave. Heralded by critics as “timeless,” “elegant” and “expansive,” Cuff The Duke also picked up the “undeniably Canadian” title.
“I don’t think we drop a lot of Canadian references in our lyrics, we’re not like The Hip,” Petti says when asked about Cuff The Duke’s “Canadian” sound — a definition that, technically, includes both Celine Dion and Sum 41. “I think we’re Canadiana, the equivalent of Americana — a raw, roots sound.”
Now Cuff The Duke’s line-up consists of original members Paul Lowman and Matt Faris, bass and drums respectively, and newer additions of guitarist and back-up vocalist Dale Murray and percussionist Patrick Conan. Just behind the boys — a re-release of their debut album on a new label. And just ahead, a solo release from Petti. But at the moment, Cuff The Duke’s recording a third album and Petti admits he’s been tinkering with piano compositions.
“Nick Cave tours with a baby grand,” Petti explains. “And once he was going through soundcheck and he’s sitting at the piano, rolling a cigarette with his left hand and playing with his right. He rolls it up, lights it up and his left hand joins in on the piano, without missing a beat. It was beautiful. That was a Friday,” Petti adds. “I rented a piano on Monday.”