By Will Yannacoulias
Photos by Tracy Creighton/Copperblue Design
Saskatoon’s Christopher James Vasseur has an inspirational story, which he has chosen to share in song. Following his divorce five years ago, the twenty-year Calgary resident chased his dreams home to Saskatchewan, where he would go on to launch Happy Teardrop Custom Guitars, debut The Guitar Show on CFCR 90.5 FM, and emerge as a singer/songwriter in his own right. The July 1st release of Vasseur’s four-song ep Love & Divorce gave him the opportunity to share his story and face his future unburdened by the past. Vasseur spoke with us about his return to Saskatchewan and the healing power of creativity, community and new beginnings.
Upon his relocation to Saskatoon in 2018 one of the first locals Vasseur connected with was teacher, musician and radio host Darryl Dozlaw. “He invited me to this songwriter’s group” Vasseur recalled. “Three of the four songs on Love & Divorce came out of those group sessions. In the group there was a recovering addict, Darryl is a minister, I was coming out of a divorce and some mental health issues, and we would all just come together, push and challenge each other as artists and share stories and music.”
The songs on Love & Divorce are personal and autobiographical, an artist inviting the audience to join him as he navigates nostalgia, hurt and healing. Track by track, Vasseur explained the origin of each song. “When my marriage was falling apart, ‘Sunday Whiskey’ came from that. ‘Prairie Calls Me Home’ was heavily inspired by moving back and being blown away with the beauty of the province, the music, how nice the people were here. ‘Second Chances’ was kind of a reflection song, a closure song after seeing my ex wife for the first time in a couple years. ‘Good Things’ was inspired by my current partner Jess, she’s very positive and very supportive and reminds me to focus on the good things. Everything on the record is kind of related to that big change that I went through in 2018. I moved to Saskatchewan, I lost my wife, my marriage, my job, my grandmother who I was very close with passed away, my dog had to be put down; I literally lived out a country song that year!” With wisdom born from surviving a once-in-a-lifetime storm, Vasseur concluded “I realize now I wasn’t supposed to be there, I was just in the wrong place with the wrong people. Now that the EP is out it feels like that chapter is closed, and I’m starting on my new journey, to see what the new path holds.”
Vasseur can also be heard hosting The Guitar Show on Saskatoon Community Radio CFCR 90.5 FM every Friday night. For two years he has used the platform to share anecdotes, interviews and artist deep-dives in celebration of the history and legacy of the electric guitar. “I was volunteering and getting trained at the radio station” Vasseur recalled, “it’s actually how I first met Darryl Dozlaw. Permanent spots are highly coveted so I was just a fill in host at first. I proposed a guitar show when I first started with CFCR before I even had my own show. About a year later I’d built an archtop guitar for the station to auction off for their 30th anniversary fundraiser auction, and right around then a timeslot came up and I was able to start doing The Guitar Show and tie it in with the auction. Clayton Linthicum (of Saskatchewan folk duo Kacy & Clayton) came into the studio and demoed the guitar for the auction, and that demo performance of his became The Guitar Show theme song!” The format of the show, co-hosted by Fabian Minnema, has evolved from highly structured to more conversational, said Vasseur. “I originally came in wanting to showcase a type of guitar or a player each week, but now I just wing it with the format; I’m such a nerd and a history buff, I’m full of stories in my head. I still do themed shows sometimes but the format is generally much more loosey-goosey.”
When Vasseur isn’t playing guitars or waxing poetic about them on the airwaves he spends his time carefully building them by hand. Happy Teardrops Custom Guitars is a small scale shop operated entirely by Vasseur, who is a trained and certified luthier. As he remembers, “Around 2017 I started building instruments with a simple cigar box build from a YouTube tutorial. It was pretty rough but I plugged it in and it made a sound, and like that, I was hooked! I built seven guitars in just my first year. In 2018 I did a soul-searching trip to Saskatchewan to visit my sister and mom. On my way from Calgary to Swift Current I found out about about David Freeman’s Timeless Instruments Luthier School in Tugaske, which is only about an hour from where I grew up. When I returned to Calgary my wife said ‘we’re getting divorced’, and I said ‘I’m going to luthier school!’ I’ve sold a few instruments and had a few commissions, and generally have fun with it. I do get overwhelmed from time to time, it’s all about balance for me.”
When asked, Vasseur shared that he's already mapped out his next adventure; having conquered the studio he now wants to focus on honing his performance and putting together a long term band. “We’ve been playing live as a three piece and I’d like to add a bass player and a drummer. I just saw Blue Rodeo and it was amazing, I want a big band like that! A keyboard player, maybe a fiddle player. I’d like to release a record with the band I’ve been playing and performing with now instead of friends coming in as guest musicians, to go through the whole creative process with the same guys contributing to the music every step of the way.”
Christopher James Vasseur’s next live performance will be at the Little Manitou Art Gallery September 3. The Guitar Show is on air every Friday night from 7:30-9:00 pm on CFCR 90.5 FM. Love & Divorce is available on all streaming services.