By Pat Moran
Ever since she was a young girl, April Verch says, she wanted to play backup in a country band. Instead, the Canadian fiddler, step dancer, and singer embarked on a career as band leader and solo performer, but her love of the lesser-known Canadian and American country classics she grew up with has endured. On her 12th album, Once a Day, Verch recruited country-music veterans, some of whom played with the artists she covers, to celebrate people like Connie Smith, who released a chart-topping version of the collection’s title tune back in 1964.
The album is tied to Verch’s fond memories of growing up in the Ottawa Valley, she says. Her composition “Fiddling Under the Mistletoe,” one of two instrumentals on the album, taps into childhood memories of playing with her country-music heroes and heroines at holiday parties.
“Once a year, I’d get invited to these Christmas parties where all these legends would come together,” Verch remembers. “I’d pretend playing backup for them. They were so kind and encouraging.”
Once a Day spotlights Verch’s singing, but there’s still plenty of room for fiddle. On “You Must Unload,” originally recorded in 1927 by Blind Alfred Reed, Verch’s fiddle pirouettes around her plaintive vocal. As her fiddle saws and sighs, Verch sings of homesickness on Bob King’s “Laurel Lee.” Verch also plays duets with her father, Ottawa bandleader Ralph Verch, on two songs including “Let’s Make a Fair Trade,” where her fiddle wheels like a flock of birds taking flight.
This project is a labor of love and remembrance, Verch says, and she hopes listeners will embrace these oft-forgotten country gems, not just once a day, but year round.
On Once a Day you cover US and Canadian country from the 1950s and ’60s. Why is this era special?
With fiddle tunes, my passion has always been the oldest field recordings I could find. There’s something so pure about them. I feel the same way about this era of country music. There’s this rawness and realness. It’s before things were over-produced or over-arranged. All the songs are two and a half to three minutes long. They say what they need to say. There are instrumental solos, but they’re pared down. These songs are precursors to forms of music that came after, whether it’s country, folk, or something else. They set the stage [and] you can’t improve upon them.
Why did you record this collection now?
I got brave enough to do it. For a long time, I would jokingly tell people that when I grow up I want to play country fiddle in a classic country band. That’s as far as I would get, because I didn’t feel like I could do these songs justice. Then a lot of things came together at the right time. I finally got comfortable enough with my singing and choosing songs that would work. I also found Doug Cox to produce it, and Doug brought in [engineer and mixer] Bil VornDick. Through their connections, we were able to get a band together.
What was the recording process like?
It was all done at Bil VornDick’s studio [Mountainside Audio Lab] in Nashville, and we recorded it with everybody there. I sang scratch vocals, and a lot of the fiddle was recorded with the core band. We did all the tracks, and then we came back and added any overdubs. For the triple fiddles on “Second Fiddle,” Kenny Sears and Joe Spivey [of the Time Jumpers] came in after the core band was done, and the three of us laid those [parts] down together.
Both Kenny and Joe played with the artists that we were covering. They knew them personally. That was special, but also I learned a lot in a short time from working with them, just from the way they approached the songs and the parts [they played].
All of the musicians came through the efforts of Doug and Bil. These musicians played with the best, but there were no egos. They told stories, but they were never name-dropping. They were just talking about [famous] people because they were their friends. And every one of them, at one point or another, thanked me for making this record, and for letting them play this music, because they don’t get to play it anymore.
How did you assemble the different parts for the traditional instrumental ‘Durham’s Bull’?
Usually [the tune] doesn’t have a C part. Then I heard Paul Holly play the C part and I thought it was pretty darn cool, so I included it. Usually the B part is straight, but my friend Jerry Correll has a recording of Uncle Dick Hutchison playing a crooked B, so that’s how I first heard the tune. Even though it’s crooked, every time I played it two different ways melody-wise, to pay tribute to Buddy Durham’s version and Benton Flippen’s version. They’re all great versions. I learned them all and asked myself “How do these fit? How do I make them into a cool quilt where the pieces make sense together?” It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
What fiddle or fiddles do you play on the album?
I’m playing a fiddle that was made by Katherine Rickenbacker from Black Mountain, North Carolina. I’d grown up with a Robert Glier fiddle that I used from the time I was 12 until a few years ago. Then I took my fiddle to Kate to get the fingerboard planed, and I needed a loaner because I was rehearsing. She gave me the one that I’m playing now. I took that fiddle home and it was amazing. I called her that night and asked, “Is this for sale?”
What would you like people to take away from the album?
I hope it makes people feel joyful. If it prompts people to look up some of the originals, especially younger people, that would be a huge compliment to me.