Story by Gareth Vieira
Photo by Walton Street Photography

It takes a certain kind of person to be an artist. What I mean is, art is a creative process that is available to each and every one of us, but it takes a certain kind of person to make it their livelihood. Clayton Yates is that kind of person and his journey reveals what it takes.

Playing music wasn’t really a choice for my brother Darcy and me,” said Clayton. “Our parents kind of forced it into us, to their own detriment, now both us are professional musicians.”

Music has always been the family business. Over the years, Clayton has tried his hand at various instruments, but it’s the guitar that he feels best speaks through him and has guided him through difficult times.

It was actually the piano that I first played, but I lost interest, so I got into guitar, playing punk rock, but as things changed in my life, music became less of a driving force.”

He entered the tattoo industry exploring it for a few years, then began working in kitchens doing what he had to do to get by. He says it was only in the last four years that his music career has taken off.

It was a long crawl until I could live professionally as a musician. The main problem for me is I have an addictive personality and it was really hard in the first ten years or so of my career, living that kind of lifestyle is encouraged in this industry, booze is always around, there were festivals where they wouldn’t feed us, but the booze was flowing.”

Since he quit drinking a few years back, he is experiencing a different side of the music industry.

I don’t play with hard drinkers anymore, I don’t surround myself with hard drinkers, I mean, you can’t help it working in bars, but I treat it like a job and the proof is there, it has worked for me to act more professionally, it has really made a difference.”

It takes dedication and an iron will to pursue one’s passion because the thing about following your passion is, doing what you love doesn’t come easy, you do it because it challenges you. It makes you honest.

I practice all the time and I have a lot of students I teach,” said Clayton. “I spend five hours a day teaching guitar, two hours practising. So every day before a gig, I have a guitar in my hand for seven hours minimum. There is never a point where I’m not learning.”

And when I asked Clayton why all this effort? Why surround yourself with temptation? The answer is quite simple.

I want to see people enjoying themselves because that is what music is for. We put on the same show if we are playing for one person or a thousand. I get pleasure from doing what I do and being professional is part of it.”

Clayton has performed with many different bands, in many different genres, but at the moment, it’s The Quickshifters that he considers his main band.

Rob Foreman is the upright bass player and the lead singer for the Quickshifters, he and I have been friends for years. Well over a decade. We both have a love for rockabilly, the real stuff, straight out of the fifties. Jim Cruickshank plays drums and he is the best drummer, in my opinion, this side of Winnipeg, and we have had a few revolving members, with Johnny Wong our most recent addition on saxophone.”

Over the course of the band’s career, the sound has slightly changed while still remaining rooted to their rockabilly sound. Clayton says what they play is more hillbilly jazz with some rock and roll.

The Quickshifters have been a long journey, for one thing, we love each other, bands are like relationships; you spend a lot of time with these guys and you create together, so you need to have respect because if you don’t see eye to eye it can be bad.”

When our talk turns to other musicians in town, it becomes apparent why people consider Clayton one of our town’s best ambassadors when promoting the local scene.

Musicians here are amazing, it’s unreal. When I moved back to Port Hope a couple of years ago, I had to kick it up and work a lot harder because the musicians around here are incredible. Jimmy Bowskill is the best guitar player I have ever met. Kyler Tapscott blows my mind every time, Kim Doolittle is someone I could jam with all the time, and Carlos Del Junco leaves me wondering just ‘how the hell did he do that?'”

The list continues and is long, suffice it to say we have a thriving music community that meshes perfectly with all the other arts, complementing what each of us has to offer.

I love this town, it’s so wonderful and weird, everyone is positive and we have each other’s back.”

The Quickshifters have a residency on Thursday nights at Hot Belly Mama’s in Peterborough. You can follow their Facebook page for recent news and upcoming events.