And now, one-time regular columnist Geoff Moore makes a triumphant return to the pages of The Delete Bin. This time, it’s in conversation with Mack MacKenzie, the principal of legendary alt-country originals Three O’Clock Train. Mack has a new EP coming out, and with a good cause attached to it …
“I started busking on the streets of Montreal. I could only play five songs and so I thought I better write one myself,” recalls Mack MacKenzie of Three O’Clock Train. The initial result, ‘Train of Dreams,’ was the synthesis of a crystal radio home kit, haunted record shop aisles, ribs broken while trying to buy Bowie concert tickets, and house music: Beatles, Stones, Monkees, and Johnny Cash. “I had to write more material and start a band. The idea was to play and have fun.”
Reflecting on his younger days, Mack says, “I was a vulture. I don’t think I missed a single concert at the Montreal Forum between 1975 and 1985. I always bought six tickets. I knew every word and every credit on every album.”
Despite the existence of the legendary Blue Angel nightclub with its red leather banquettes and uniformed washroom attendants, a showcase host to Cash and Patsy Cline, Montreal was never really noted as a country and western type of town. And so what to make of Three O’Clock Train’s explosive club shows, their 1986 debut EP Wig Wam Beach and its full-length follow up Muscle In? A prose Polaroid snapshot of those days is facile, washed out, but how could Roy Orbison be fronting the Clash in the shadow of Mount Royal? “We called our own shots. Nobody ever told us what to play. We had freedom from the get-go,” Mack says. “The closest band to us was Rank and File.”
Originally formed as a trio and named for getting home after the closing time of Montreal’s bars, Three O’Clock Train was cowpunk, alt-country before the term existed. “We were a DIY band; we didn’t sign our rights over to anybody in order to not get paid.”
Ignored by commercial radio, the group proved to be a hit on the Canadian university circuit. In 1996, tired of the grind, Mack put the band on hiatus to pursue his interest in the era’s emerging digital technology. “I tried to stay away.” But he never stopped writing and performing. “What else am I going to do?” In 2001 Mack quit an IT position with Cirque du Soleil to revive Three O’Clock Train as a one-man entity. “Now I’m like Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails,” he chuckles, “fluid.”
Recording sessions with Chip and Tony Kinman, Rank and File brothers, have just wrapped up. Cuatro de Los Angeles, a new Three O’Clock Train four-song EP is on the way. The new single, a cover of Rank and File’s ‘Today Was Going to be My Lucky Day’ will be released before Christmas. “Everybody just calls it ‘Lucky Day.’” Luck is fickle. Mack is $300 US lighter having just liberated his car and the vital contents of its trunk (one amp, five guitars and 60 T-shirts) from an LA impound lot.
The studio expenses are a bit of a tightrope too. Tricky business. Mack is only about half way to his GoFundMe goal to pay the costs. “It’ll work out, it always has. I’ve never been too concerned with money.” His laissez-faire attitude combined with a fierce streak of independence has allowed him to weather disruption in the music industry better than the major labels. “I keep my cool.” Nor is the Cuatro de Los Angeles GoFundMe campaign a one-sided deal. Contributor enticements include house concerts, copies of the new EP, sets of Three O’Clock Train’s re-mastered back catalogue, downloads and merchandise. A portion of funds raised in excess of the goal will be donated to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. Mack already donates $2 from the sale of every Three O’Clock Train T-shirt to the organization. “Not a huge sum, but it’s a good cause and we need to raise their exposure and people’s awareness.”
And backtracking to tickets for Bowie’s 1976 Station to Station tour: “I lined up all night,” Mack says. “I was near the doors. When they opened them there was a crush of people behind me. I was up against the handle. There was a stampede. The staff picked me up off the floor and said I should go to the hospital. I said, ‘I know, but can I buy my tickets first?’”
And since then? “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Concert dates for the spring and summer of 2018 are accumulating.
To contribute to the Three O’Clock Train GoFundMe page where you can help Mack put out a new EP and get a chance to donate to Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal at the same time, click right here!
Geoff Moore is a transplanted Montrealer, music fan, author, and roving reporter all rolled into one. He lives in Alberta.