A ‘Barenaked Lady’ honours home

Musician says local music program is key

Jim Creeggan says his childhood in east Scarborough paved the way to his famous musical career.

The Barenaked Ladies bassist grew up around the Morningside Avenue and Ellesmere Road area and although Creeggan now lives in downtown Toronto, he says he is indebted to the east end for the musical education he received there.

Courtesy Nettwerk Music Group
Jim Creeggan, in Grade 2 while attending Charlottetown Junior Public School. (Courtesy Nettwerk Music Group)

“The schools in east Scarborough had really good music programs,” Creeggan says. “I was in a strings program, and I played in school orchestras all the way through until Grade 13.”

Creeggan, 38, loved hanging out with other kids in his neighbourhood.

“Most of the time, I stayed within four blocks of my house, so I’d visit my friends a lot,” he says. “It was all about road hockey after school, and then making an ice rink in our backyard and continuing that throughout the winter.”

Music began at nine with the cello, but later he was inspired by his older brother to play bass.

He attended Charlottetown Junior Public School, Joseph Howe Senior Public School, and Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute, all in east Scarborough.

Playing in his schools’ orchestras gave Creeggan his foundation in music.

“I got to play some really great music, like Stravinsky, and I had a lot of fun.”

And it provided the musical skills needed to further his career, and to eventually become a member of east Scarborough’s most famous band (founders Ed Robertson and Steven Page went to Woburn Collegiate).

“Music programs in schools are a way for kids to work together and to achieve something,” Creeggan says. “You spend a couple of months learning a piece with your friends, and then you get to perform it. So you get that sense of accomplishment.”

As a musician, he hates to see music programs being cut from schools. Creeggan hopes this will change, but says he feels lucky to have received his musical education from the east Scarborough schools he attended.

“When you sink your teeth into a musical piece, work with other people, and learn how to co-operate, you can take that to other things you’ll use later in life,” he explains. “It seems like an obvious discipline to have in schools because it’s at the basis of all our social interactions.”

Creeggan says he began playing rock music with other kids in his neighbourhood after school where he would “go to someone’s basement and just rock out.”

But in order to play music in east Scarborough in the early 1980s, Creeggan says you’d have to be a Rush pundit.

“I knew other musicians that lived on my block, and some guys would be Rush experts. They’d know all the licks and riffs from all the records. So when you’d go to a jam, you’d have to have in your bag of tricks at least one lick from Xanadu,” he says, laughing.

Creeggan met his future band mates at a music camp he attended during summer vacations.

Courtesy Chris Woods
Jim Creeggan (far right) with his fellow band members in Barenaked Ladies. (Courtesy Chris Woods)

It was at the Interprovincial Music Camp, held at Camp Manitou (just outside of Parry Sound, Ontario), where Creeggan met Page, Robertson, and Tyler Stewart, now known as Barenaked Ladies.

Anne Fleming-Read, director of the music camp, says she remembers the young musicians very clearly.

“Tyler Stewart played his drum kit in the jazz band, and I remember Jim [Creeggan] was in the string orchestra,” Fleming-Read says. “They were just incredibly talented kids.”

Fleming-Read says the Interprovincial Music Camp is the longest running music camp in Ontario, now approaching its 50th season.

Aimed at youth aged 11 to 17 with varying music knowledge, the camp focuses on giving youngsters a concentrated musical experience.

“An education in music is one of the most important things a parent can give their child,” Fleming-Read says. “Every kid is here for exactly the same reason: they love music. I just think music education enriches kids’ lives.”

Creeggan says when he was just a kid playing music in east Scarborough, he never thought he’d end up becoming as famous as he is today.

“When I joined the band, I thought ‘OK, I’m going to ride this Barenaked Ladies wave for as long as I can.’ At that point, I thought it was just a year off school, but it ended up being 20 years later,” he says, laughing.

Barenaked Ladies, just finished with a pair of Toronto dates at Massey Hall, will be touring again next spring to mark the band’s 20th anniversary.

“After [the tour], we’re probably going to put some songs together in the studio and record something. I just take things one step at a time, and it’s gotten me this far.”