Cousin Harley performs in preparation for their gig with the Vernon Folk-Roots Music Society June 8 at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre. (Photo submitted)

When the crazy cousin comes to town

Cousin Harley is the hillbilly persona of Paul Pigat. And when they get together the good times roll

Paul Tessier

For The Morning Star

Cousin Harley is the rockabilly, hillbilly persona of Paul Pigat. And when Cousin Harley gets together, the good times start to roll.

Cousin Harley — Paul Pigat on vocals and lead guitar, Keith Picot on upright bass, and Jesse Cahill on drums — will be tearing it up for the Vernon Folk-Roots Music Society Thursday, June 8 at the Powerhouse Theatre.

Pigat blames it all on Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. Hearing the original version of Hot Rod Lincoln in his teenage years really flipped the switch.

“It was the first time I remember really hearing a guitar,” he recalls. “Then later,I heard Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen do the song and I was just a nut for that version.

“Then much later — just a few years ago — I met and became good friends with Bill Kirchen who was the guitar player for Commander Cody. Now whenever I see Bill, I say, ‘This is your fault.’”

He started playing guitar at 11, and by 13, he had played his first gig. He also started taking music lessons, but his formal music training didn’t start well.

“I took lessons and I was terrible,” he laughs. “But I soon decided that I wanted to get very good at it so over the years and even though I was playing around Toronto, I was constantly finding people I wanted to take lessons from and I eventually went to the Royal Conservatory of Music. Later I got a degree in classical composition.”

Pigat is accustomed to people’s surprise at that turn of events.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. “It’s kind of strange that this hillbilly, rockabilly guitar player is classically trained.”

By the time Pigat was in late junior high school, he was in a band playing in Toronto bars.

“We were all really big guys for our age. And it was the 80’s (so) no one cared about age restrictions. They’d just let us into the bar and we’d play,” he laughs. “The law was a little looser back then.”

He’s expecting a rollicking night of music with the folk-roots society.

“Musically, it’ll be a romp through the music of the ‘40s to the early ‘60s,” Pigat says. “There’ll be everything from rockabilly to country to hillbilly music to western swing. It’ll be energetic. It’ll be gymnastic, and it will be a ton of fun.”

In addition to performing their own material, Cousin Harley will be doing covers that folks will quickly recognize.

“We’ll do everything from Elvis Presely to Johnny Cash,” Pigat says. “We might do some Hank Williams and some Eddie Cochrane — all sorts of rockabilly and swing stuff.”

Performing live is still a lot of fun for Pigat.

“I get to have conversations with two of my best friends who’ve been with me in the band for over a decade,” he explains. “They know my music better than anyone. I get to have this musical conversation in front of people in the audience who are really enjoying themselves.”

Even after all these years, Pigat still feeds off the energy of a live audience.

“Absolutely, I still get that rush. The crazier the crowd gets, the crazier we get.”

The Vernon Folk- Roots Music Society proudly present Cousin Harley- Thursday, June 8 at the Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon. Tickets are $25 and $20 for members. Tickets are available from the Ticket Seller (250-549-7649), www.ticketseller.ca, the Bean Scene Coffee House or at the door. Cash only. Doors at 6:45 p.m., music at 7:30 p.m. For more information, contact the society at info@vernonfolkroots.com.