EDMONTON -- Things that are useful for enduring the endless shmoozing and publicity at the Canadian Country Music Awards, if you happen to be a Canadian country star:
* Something newsworthy to report, like a new album.
* Endurance for all the long nights of showcases, never mind the smoking and drinking.
* Nerves of steel.
Duane Steele has been through this drill before. His nerves match his taken name. He has seen the smiling devil and laughed back at him. Steele is steeled, if you will, for the event. Once, long ago, somewhat after his days as a kid garbageman, it was different.
"I remember the first year I went out to the CCMAs, out in Hamilton, about 10 years ago, with (the band) Rock 'n' Horse. We were in Timmins, Ont., flat broke. I mean, everybody's broke in the band. We'd burned through our money just getting out there. It was like, 'We just got one more gig here. Let's just take that money and make it the last thing we do, if it has to be. Let's just get to the CCMAs.'
"And that's the gig where I ended up getting a Nashville writing opportunity with (publishing firm) Warner Chappell. It was back in those days where I hadn't had a chance to hang out with the industry types. It was scary."
Rock 'n' Horse came and went. Steele got signed to a label at the CCMAs in Calgary a few years later. Ah, but the devil came again. Steele, who grew up in Hines Creek, was dropped from Mercury in the label madness before 2000. Universal absorbed them, but by then Steele was wondering if it was worth it.
"Where do I go from here, I thought. I had to kick myself in the butt and say, 'You gotta make a record, man!' I put it all together myself. I hadn't really done that before, and I learned that it's so gratifying. I went through management changes, personal changes, but now it's all new again. I took a few months off and quit smoking. This is my best album to date. I guess sometimes, like you say, it's good to have that challenge thrown at you."
Steele has just picked up smoking Du Mauriers again, or whatever he can bum from friends. He's out on the road, having release parties across the country. Last week Edmonton, the other night Regina.
Bands like Poverty Plainsmen are covering his songs. The new album, I'll Be Alright, and life are good.
"I'm born and raised in Alberta, so I noticed with every record that comes, they're still there: the fans. Once they hook on to something, they're yours. We're having phenomenal success now. I'm glad I stuck with this."
Catch Steele at Cook County Saloon tonight and tomorrow. He's also playing an AIDS benefit at Rattlesnake on Saturday.