Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 02, 2012 - 6:54 am

Washboard Hank: good messages inside goofy songs

“I’ve played for people being born, and I’ve played for people dying”

DAVID MURPHY
Washboard Hank performing in Iqaluit July 1. He’s been helping people have fun since 1977. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Washboard Hank performing in Iqaluit July 1. He’s been helping people have fun since 1977. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Washboard Hank (left) and his sidekick, rockabilly musician Lance Loree performing June 30. “If I would have known I would be doing it for this long, I would have practiced,” Hank said. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Washboard Hank (left) and his sidekick, rockabilly musician Lance Loree performing June 30. “If I would have known I would be doing it for this long, I would have practiced,” Hank said. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Stompin' Tom Connors for prime minister? Washboard Hank (right) and Lance Loree promote Stompin' Tom's candidacy in a song performed July 1 at a Canada Day show in Iqaluit. They also covered one of Stompin' Tom's best-known tunes,
Stompin' Tom Connors for prime minister? Washboard Hank (right) and Lance Loree promote Stompin' Tom's candidacy in a song performed July 1 at a Canada Day show in Iqaluit. They also covered one of Stompin' Tom's best-known tunes, "Bud the Spud." (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

Washboard Hank parades around before a sea of gazing kids with impossible energy; cracking jokes, singing songs, and flashing his infectious goofy smile for hours.

Some parents look exhausted just watching him keep up.

For Hank, it’s a job — and a fun one at that.

“You don’t really stop to think how difficult it is. It’s just fun. When you make things fun for yourself, you can get through it. Even digging ditches,” Washboard said.

Washboard Hank — real name Howard Fisher, 57, of Peterborough Ont. — has made a name for himself through having fun.

He’s travelled the country since 1977, performing classics like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and his own composition, “Washboard Boogie.”

“If I would have known I would be doing it for this long, I would have practiced,” he jokes, in the light-hearted sarcasm he scatters throughout a conversation.

Washboard Hank found his calling after deciding to forgo a construction job that he worked six days a week for 12 hours a day, when he discovered he could get paid the same amount for a 40-minute act.

His talents finally brought him up to Iqaluit for the first time June 30 and July 1 for the Alianait Arts Festival. He was around for Kids Fest and in the parade for Canada Day.

Washboard also ran a Musical Instrument Making workshop on Canada Day, something he’s renown for. 

“My grandfather always said — if you see a piece of metal with a hole in it, pick it up,” he said. He’s been keeping to that advice ever since.

When he was young, scraps of metal would turn up in his backyard, having floated down the Trent Canal from a mechanical dump nearby.

“So they would throw out all these strange mechanical things and I would try to put them together,” he said, adding that he’s been trying to break the mold of what people think of as “garbage.”

“I built a guitar out of an old hub cap once. I was out at the auto wreckers, and there was a school bus full of them. So I pinged them to see what was the loudest — it probably took about an hour to find the right ping,” said Washboard. 

“So I paid the guy $5 for it, and I told him I would build a guitar out of it. He said ‘yeah, yeah.’ So I built it and came back and played a song for him.”

He doesn’t just entertain children however. Washboard also visits retirement homes and plays for the elderly, something he prides himself for doing.

“I’ve played for people being born, and I’ve played for people dying,” he said. “[Elders] get 40 years younger right in front of my face. If you play them an old song, they just go back. You can see it in their faces.”

His main goal is to get the message of creativity and uniqueness into children, however. More of it is needed today, insists Washboard.

“There are a lot of kids that just don’t fit into the cookie press education system we have here,” he said.

“I’m showing them that there is this sort of creative, non-linear sort of way of thinking — showing them that it is okay for them to be that way.”

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