Not all bands can tell you they’ve been playing together for 40 years, but one staple of Vancouver’s alt-rock scene is celebrating that impressive milestone this year.
54-40 (or as I’ve heard them jokingly called in the past, 14) is playing 3 shows on October 7th, 8th, and 9th at the Commodore Ballroom to commemorate this lengthy accomplishment. The band formed in 1980 but because COVID took away live music for most of last year, it’s ok to celebrate in front of your hometown a year late, right? Especially when it’s an achievement as historic as this one.
The band’s 2 founding members, singer and rhythm guitarist Neil Osbourne and bassist Brad Merritt met in 1978 in Tsawassen and officially named the band 54-40 in 1980 alongside drummer Ian Franey. They played their first show on December 9 of that year, which coincidentally happened on the same night as the death of John Lennon. They followed that up with their first EP, Selection, in 1982. Franey left shortly after.
Since then, 54-40 has released 14 studio albums, 3 of which earned platinum certifications by Music Canada, another received gold. Their most recent album Keep On Walking came out in 2018. They put out their newest single “Embassy Supreme” on New Year’s Day of this year, which contains the lyrics “if you want to have a good time on a Saturday night, downtown on Granville street at the Commodore is where you’ll find us tonight”. Sounds like the band is staying true to their word by playing there on October 9.
For me, 54-40 has always been one of those bands where I would hear their songs on the radio all the time as a kid but would have no idea who the band was. I would try to remember to look them up when I get home and always forget. It wasn’t until starting to write this article that I had an epiphany that “Ocean Pearl”, “One Day In Your Life”, “I Go Blind” were all by this band. Maybe I should feel ashamed that I didn’t know these 3 songs belong to one of Vancouver’s longest-standing rock bands. You learn something new every day.
54-40’s current lineup includes Osbourne, Merritt, lead guitarist Dave Genn, drummer Matt Johnson, and David Osborne on organ, saxophone, and harmonica. The shows feature Julian Taylor, a singer-songwriter from Toronto who won Solo Artist of the Year at the 16th Canadian Folk Music Awards earlier this year.