The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico

December 9, 2008 at 6:48 pm (Uncategorized)

You there. You like the Flying Burrito Brothers or “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”-era Byrds? Listen up, yo!

Way, way, way back in the 1960’s, a Canadian prairie kid named Jim Jablowski had two pieces of luck hit him–one good, one bad. He won the largest lottery sum every awarded in Canada at that point (almost $8m). Jablowski had wanted to use the money to get a musical career started (he’d written and recorded a few songs of questionable quality, only one of which, a bizarre tune called “Perogie Moon” survives), but at a party at one of many parties to celebrate his good fortune Jablowski was kicked in the head by a rented horse (don’t ask) and nearly killed. Waking up from a coma and seemingly newly-inspired, he decided to continue his music career under the name Guy Terrifico.

Forgive me for referring to Terrifico as Canada’s answer to Gram Parsons, because that isn’t exactly accurate. Sure, Terrifico blended rock and country idioms and sang in a wonderful high lonesome tenor…but Parsons for all his messed-up ways seemed to have his life in better order than Guy Terrifico. Terrifico was a legendary drunk on the order of Hank Williams Sr, showing up for TV shows (like the nationally broadcast Horton Family Jamboree from Nashville) drunk and behaving erratically. Terrifico recruited an ace band including Donnie Fritts, who’d go on to play keys with Dylan, Ray Charles, and most famously Kris Kristofferson, and Ronnie Hawkins, but managed only a handful of singles before a disastrous performance at the Isle Of Wight festival in 1970 sent him into obscurity. Tragically, as Terrifico was launching a comeback a few years later, he was shot dead onstage at a small club in Vancouver…and that should’ve been the end of the story.

…except people began to discover Terrifico’s music posthumously, and a few badly compiled collections sold reasonably well. Fans have rumored for years that Terrifico staged his own death and that he was living comfortably off his remaining lottery jackpot winnings somewhere. A few years ago a demo tape recorded by someone called “Senor Fantastico” started making the rounds of some of the former band members of Terrifico’s old entourage, and the music from “Fantastico” featured a familiar-sounding voice. No word on whether that demo will ever be released or have anything done with it (the demo has been extensively bootlegged at this point), but it did inspire the first comprehensive compilation of Guy Terrifico’s erratic and short-lived music career, and the results are stunning. Here, check out a song:

“Going To The Country”

Yeah, right? Drunken idiot or not, Guy Terrifico had “something” going on. There’s almost a Nick Drake quality to the song, but you can also hear the Gram Parsons thing happening, too (this is the “folkiest” Terrifico track; on others the pedal steel and piano really bring the Parsons/Burrito Brother comparisons to the forefront.) It’d be no stretch to call the remastered rediscovery of Guy Terrifico’s career one of the great treasure finds in country-rock/outlaw country music history. In fact, you could say it loud and clear…if any of the stuff I had just written was true.

It isn’t. The paragraphs above are a brief intro into a Canadian indie-cinema film called “The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico”, a Spinal Tap-ish mockumentary that does indeed feature folks like Fritts, Ronnie Hawkins, Levon Helm of The Band, Kris Kristofferson, and the legendary Merle Haggard in wonderfully droll cameos. If you’ve no interest in the music or time, a lot of the insider jokes (which are basically, one assumes, people telling stories where “Guy Terrifico” is actually doing something Kristofferson or Haggard or Parsons or Hank Jr. really did back in the day) may leave you scratching your head, but the film has a winning goofiness. At the center of the movie is Guy Terrifico himself, played by former Flashing Lights frontman Matt Murphy (those of you with loooong memories will recall that the Flashing Lights debut album “Where The Change Is” as my favorite of 2000, and I still think it to be one of the best records of the last 10 years). Murphy wrote and recorded a bunch of the music for the film, and the stunning thing is….the music isn’t just good, it’s VERY good. Damn good in fact. Murphy actually plays it pretty straight with the music, leaving the broad humor for the film itself. The soundtrack of the movie has 16 of the best country-rock songs you’re gonna hear this year (ok, it came out in 2007), and I can’t recommend it enough.

More music sample-age:

The movie trailer:

The soundtrack is available at Emusic or also as an mp3 download from Amazon. Highly recommended!


  1. me said,

    I was wondering why “GUY” seemed like a compilation of “the wild bunch” from back in the day.
    Now I know.

  2. Mike said,

    That is a very good review. I enjoyed the film.

  3. Anonymous said,

    Glad you got the Gram parallel – read another review and thought it was all Dylan! You are right – this music is so good. Too bad Matt didn’t keep going in this direction.

  4. littlemissattitude said,

    I just happened to see (most of) this in a morning showing on cable today; hadn’t even ever heard of it before.

    I also got the Gram Parsons parallels, and thought it sounded like about three parts Gram, one part Jim Morrison, maybe half-a-part Dylan (mostly the “missing years” and the religious awakening), and a dash here and there of every other hell-raising late-’60s/early-’70s musician you’ve ever heard of.

    Wherever the inspiration came from, I thought it was brilliant, and I’m going to have to track it down to see the first 15 minutes or so, which I missed today.

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