Shock and dismay has engulfed the Facebook profile of keyboardist extraordinaire Hervé Basset since it was learned he passed away shortly after being carried out on a stretcher from a gig he was playing Tuesday June 27 at Cadillac Lounge.
A wide range of musicians from disparate genres recounted not only his huge talent but his great generosity of spirit only thinly concealed by an ironic, sometimes acerbic wit and willingness to speak his mind on social issues.
Herve, who had suffered a stroke back in the spring of 2011 but returned to performing astonishingly quickly afterwards, , as we reported in January 2012, was stricken Tuesday while performing at the season finale of a weekly jam that featured him with other all-star players, as we’d reported previously.
Another house band player on the show, Tim Gittens, who had only met Basset that night but said he was looking forward to performing more with him after what he heard, recounted that “as he was being transported from our gig, he was still awake and aware.
“I thought, ‘thank goodness, he’s going to be okay. He’s in good hands; he should be right as rain in a few days.’ So, we finished the rest of the night and made some great music with some great musicians. When I got home … I got the message that he was gone.”
Blues guitarist Pat Rush, who was the headliner guest at the Cadillac show Tuesday and celebrating his birthday, was understandably “shocked, stunned and saddened by the news,” he posted Wednesday.
Hervé, a long time subscriber to TorontoMoon.ca, performed with a wide range of artists doing various Rock, Blues, R&B and Country styles in a prolific career since emigrating from France and became even more active since retiring from his day job a few years ago. Among recent groups he was part of were Eric Clapton tribute Forever Man and a Johnny Cash tribute, Covered In Cash.
But it was his duo team-up shows, which included various partners such as Phil Naro, Chris Hawley and, most recently, Shawn Brady for the past five years as the Brady/Basset Duo, that were some of his favourite gigs, he told me not long ago.
Brady, who, like several other younger artists regarded Basset not just as a fellow player but as a mentor and coach figure, will be hosting a musical tribute to Herve and life celebration this coming Saturday, July 1 from 1 p.m. till 3 p.m. or so at recently relocated bar The Hideout. The pair played the grand reopening show for the room, which after being closed for a few months at its Queen Street location of many years, opened the doors at its new digs at 423 College Street in mid-April.
(A more formal gathering is being planned for later in July [see below], Brady says, but while no doubt many players who would like to attend Saturday will be engaged at Canada Day shows, it is the only time that many members of his family, such as his daughter Jessica —flying in from Australia— and son Alex, are able to attend. In addition to his kids and his adored and adoring second wife Krystyna, Hervé leaves five grandchildren.)
While Hervé “liked to keep his age a secret,” Brady said, “he was 60-something going on 16. “His energy was that fantastic.”
It was certainly something that in particular stood out to me the night I first heard Brady/Bassett perform together back in 2013, when, as I subsequently recounted, they proceeded to perform a set that I timed at 100 minutes long!
Brady tells me that pattern hadn’t changed since, recalling today that “we did three hours straight at Hemingway’s two weeks ago. He LOVED playing and HATED breaks. We shared that.”
A tribute that Brady posted on Basset’s Facebook timeline Wednesday was one of the most touching, describing how Hervé helped bolster his confidence when he went through a period of self-doubt not long ago. It read in part:
“I can’t write much right now (too much to process and the tears are flowing) but I can’t thank [him] enough for [his] ability to lift me up when my confidence has been shaky. He had a knack for making people feel GOOD about themselves and I learned more than I ever thought I could sharing the stage with him,” after which Brady shares the text of an emailed pep talk that Hervé had sent to the singer —renowned for his role as the leader of the Elevation U2 tribute band and an acclaimed indie songwriter— after a show two weeks ago, urging to him include more originals in their show and telling him what great talent he has.
Fabio Dwyer, leader of the impressive Forever Man Clapton tribute with which I last saw Hervé perform in February, recollected how “Two and a half years ago we jammed together at the Eric Clapton Tribute at Hard Rock Café, in Toronto. Right away he invited me to put together a Clapton tribute band and gave me one of the best opportunities as a musician here in Canada. I’ll be always grateful for the work and time he put on this project, and the great musicians I got to know through him and played with.”
Country/Pop songwriter Marshall Dane, who knew him well from the years both performed weekly at Roc‘n’ Doc’s, wrote: “You were one of a kind brother. You were nice and kind to everyone and treated all with such genuine love. To all my friends, I know how much this shocks and hurts, so we will celebrate his amazingness each time we’re blessed to hit a stage or share in the enjoyment of music.”
Other fellow players from Basset’s Port Credit days such as Hawley and Naro also paid their respects in timeline posts.
Blues/Pop guitarist-songwriter Josh Gordon of The Blazers and other groups said, “I had the pleasure and fortune of playing a handful of gigs with Hervé Basset over the last 10 years or so. Sporadic as the gigs were over that time span, he was always gracious, warm, friendly, funny, impeccable on his instrument and always played with such love and enthusiasm for the music. One fine musician I have been lucky to play with.”
Blues songwriter Paul “Storm” Polisano, whose band I saw Basset anchoring years ago, posted: “Such a nice person, we did many gigs together , recorded some originals on his reel to reel . I can’t believe it.”
Corey Lueck, in whose Smoke Wagon Blues Band Basset played keys 20 years ago after it first formed, recalled how Basset “was a dear friend and musical brother, we traveled all over this damn province together making music, the chemistry we had on stage too us to some crazy lands and back. Hervé played on many of our early albums and close fans of the band will always remember him as ‘Greasy Bones Hervé’.”
R&B/Soul singer and jam host Carolyn Thompson posted that “I met Hervé many years ago at my jam night. Both he and his wife were supportive and kind and enjoyed a glass of wine and we would chat and laugh about everything and nothing. Herve was a talented keyboard player with years and years of experience playing the Toronto music scene. Hervé you will be missed. I will miss your strong opinions, stubbornness and heated FB debates. You were a tough dude but you and your wife were always so kind to me. Thank you. RIP.”
Rock/Pop singer Lisa Shaughnessy, recalling Basset helping her get through her first-ever professional singing gig several years ago as a novice, related how “I played my very first gig with him in 2008 and had many more amazing moments through the years that followed. I was a raw inexperienced girl that just wanted a chance to sing and he never ever made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. His passion and love of music was second to no one. What a loss to our musical community. Thank you for your wisdom and that glorious smile.”
In a similar vein musician Tim Dashwood recollected that “my kids and I jammed with him numerous times at the Hard Rock Café and every time we saw him he was always enthusiastic and gave the kids great advice and tips.”
Grunge/Hard Rock guitarist Mike McAvan said: “His concern for me was always comforting as he knew all of my fears, problems and hurdles that I faced and was always within reach. Our chats were always so warm and reminded me of my hometown in Montreal… I will miss everything about you. He was one of the most kind, sincere, genuine and talented musicians I know and as a human being, he was one in a million.”
A New York City resident, Paul Caron, related another story that seems like a typical Hervé anecdote: “I met Hervé in Punta Cana a few years ago. He was there with his family for a wedding. I was alone on that trip and was really feeling alone. I heard him playing at the hotel lobby piano surrounded by his family and I wanted so badly to join them. Then he played a song and none of them knew the words but I did. We ended up jamming pretty much every night we were there, at one point he snuck out of the wedding rehearsal dinner (?) to do it, he loved playing so much. On the final night we probably had close to a hundred people in the lobby with us. We’ve been in touch ever since. I always thought we’d have another chance to play together, either in Toronto or NYC, and I’m sad that we’ll never get the chance. My deepest condolences to your family, Herve. You’ll never be forgotten.”
Blues/Rock/Pop bass player Leo Valvassore noted “the man died with his boots on … doing what he loved,” a sentiment also expressed by Jazz/Pop singer Jaye Smith-Baxter among others, who, while noting “the loss will be felt by sooo many of us!!! Haven’t we ALL PLAYED GIGS WITH HERVE?!?! My god, he’s played with all of us at one time or another,” also added that “he would have been glad he played til the end.”
As Gittens, the most recent member of Hervé’s fan club put it in his post: “I looked for the positive in all of this. Hervé got to finish his days playing music up until the very end. If I have a choice when it’s my time, that’s what I want: to have my last moments be filled with music being made by my friends.”On that note, I’m going to give the last word (for now) to Sean Patrick Armstrong, a charity concert organizer and close friend of Basset’s who worked with him at many shows including the fundraiser for Camp Ootch that Hervé played at this past Sunday, June 25 at Queen Victoria Pub —and who is organizing a charity show honouring Hervé that has been confirmed to be happening on Wednesday July 19 at Phoenix Concert Theatre on Sherbourne St.
“After a wonderful month of shows that benefit people and musicians and children and community, for yet another year. Many of us are left on this end of the the music world, with the feeling of ‘where do we go from here?’ For me Hervé Basset was a part of all I was doing and everything I was about to do.
“‘Count me in’ he’d always say. And I’m so [grateful] we did. For he helped me find the music within myself once again, that was fading fast after many years of dedication. I was preparing to pack it in. And we can all see by the outpour of love for Herve’s life that it wasn’t just our own little pocket of the music scene that has been left stunned by the loss of Hervé. It’s every little pocket of the music scene as a whole that has been stunned by this loss. However only a loss if we view it as such.
“Herve was a true gain for every life he touched. Strong character and an even sweeter soul in which that strength surrounded. Hundreds to the thousands in the 7 degrees, left with the feeling of ‘where do we go from here?’
“For he didn’t just play the keys. He brought the light. That huge sincere and infectious smile brought a joy to every room he was in.
“He made good bands sound great. And great bands sound incredible. Always quality and challenged us to the same. An unbelievably positive ripple is what this wonderful man left on the music community.
“In times where clubs are closing, attendance is down and world issues abound. Hervé kept thriving in his passion for music. In his desires to find answers for us to rebuild it. And to keep our collective and cherished love of live music, Alive!
Perhaps this will profoundly bring us all together in the music community, once and for all.
“As he gave his last beat, his last moments and his last breath. Steadfast, supportive, passionate and unwavering. To show us by example, just what a champion truly looks like!
“I’m certain as I, many of us tough guys and gals out there just can’t stop weeping long enough to function properly in these past days. I think that’s Hervé cleansing us of our petty hang ups and differences. Releasing us from adolescent behaviors. HE was like a father figure to many of us. An adult! And preparing us for something great. I think THAT is where we go from here. Together and with him!
“Fuck me I just can’t stop weeping … but feeling stronger and clearer with every tear. Thank you Hervé … you son of a gun.”
-Gary 17, TorontoMoon.ca