During the era of mullets and muscle shirts, Robert Larrabee was teased mercilessly for his taste in music.
Born in Vancouver, and raised in Edmonton, he preferred the smooth sounds of a martini swilling Dean Martin rather than some hair band brandishing a Molson Canadian that was prevalent in his teens.
“I was a square kid. I got beat up all the time. I liked music from Elvis, Orbison, and Dean Martin when everyone was listening to Led Zeppelin,” remembers Larrabee, who soon learned to adapt. “The first thing I did when I left home was buy a Molly Hatchet T-shirt and grow my hair long.”
As an adult, Larrabee turned that passion for music before his day into a living, a career that he continues today as the “man with 100 voices.”
And his passion is catching, as audiences will encounter when Larrabee brings An Evening with the Legends, Larrabee Live as part of Vernon Winter Carnival Friday.
Not unlike those days struggling to fit in, Larrabee learned to overcome obstacles as soon as he came into this world at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Born with yellow jaundice, bronchitis, pneumonia, and a sty in his right eye, he left those difficulties behind to walk a country road that would pass through many towns before it brought him to a career in music
“Like the song says, I’ve been everywhere, man,” he said. “I used to sing for the fun of it in Edmonton. It was my escape when I was small. I was the outsider, always the new kid at school – my mom was a waitress and we moved around a lot. We were never in the same town for more than a year.”
It was while dating a girl from Newfoundland that Larrabee would make his way to the stage.
“I was a closet singer and used to sing along to my casettes, but after the Newfies got a few beers into me, we’d go to these talent shows and jam on a Friday afternoon and I’d belt out a song or two,” he laughed.
Larrabee eventually got himself an agent and started fronting bands.
He later started working for the dinner theatre chain Celebrations (also known as Jubilations) all over Western Canada.
“I always had a knack for doing voices, and doing musical theatre/comedy shows in dinner theatre clubs helped me learn blocking skills and about audience interaction,” he said.“You’d be in character all night, even serving people in character, so my skills were honed six nights a week.”
Eventually, Larrabee decided to go out on his own, and designed a show on his many voices, including his own one-man act An Evening With The Legends, which he has taken around North America and overseas.
As with many entertainers emulating other artists, it may have started with Elvis, but evolved into so much more.
“It’s like taekwondo, where you do a move 1,000 times. It’s the same with my show. It’s a dress rehearsal every night,” he said.
The consummate entertainer’s arsenal now features some of his favourite performers, everyone from Martin to Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond to Tom Jones, Johnny Cash to George Jones, and Rod Stewart to Michael Bublé.
“I love Bublé. He’s made all that big-band music cool again,” he said.
Larrabee also tries to make his shows as authentic as possible so when he does Garth Brooks that means he even wrangles himself into one of Brook’s trademark shirts, made by the country artist’s own designer, no less.
There’s also audience involvement when he goes out into the crowd to find his brother “Jake” to do the Blues Brothers’ Soul Man.
“Ten per cent of it is show and 90 per cent of it is hard work,” he said. “When I sing as them, I really sing… I do these big songs from these guys but I try to get the full aspect of their performance, and not just muck about with the art.
“There’s also a lot of comedy in there. For example, my Buddy Holly is based on the character Harold from The Red and Green Show.”
And there’s one other artist Larrabee does, and that’s himself.
Not just a cover artist, he has released two of his own albums, the first featuring pop and jazz, and the latest, entitled Middle of Something, features original country songs co-written with noted Nashville songwriters Jess and Chad Cates.
Winter Carnival revellers can see what Larrabee does best when An Evening With The Legends, Larrabee Live! takes the stage Friday, which happens to be Valentine’s Day, at the rec centre. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m
Tickets are $40, available at the Winter Carnival office. Call 250-545-2236, or order online at www.vernonwintercarnival.com.