Gerry Hickey says he never thought he'd be 70 years old and still belting out songs by the Beatles and Blues Brothers.
Especially for someone who once suffered from stage fright.
"I always wanted to sing in a band," Hickey said, "but I just never had the guts to get up on the stage."
More than 40 years later, Hickey and the guitar player who coaxed him onstage, Blaine Murphy, are still playing together. Their band Phase II and Friends — not one of the seven members is under the age of 50 — continues to be high in demand on the P.E.I. party circuit.
They play about 80 gigs a year, Hickey said, mixing and matching from the hundreds of songs in their repertoire. That versatility is part of their attraction — they can play an Elvis themed show as they did Oct. 20, a reflective Remembrance Day concert as they did Nov. 10 or a lively rock and roll dance party as they will Nov. 16.
When the opportunity is there to do something to help somebody out, it is very hard to say no. — Gerry Hickey
But they also have a well-earned reputation for their willingness to play free benefit concerts. They play about a dozen a year, Hickey said, including that Remembrance Day concert and another the night before for a young woman with Stage 4 cancer.
"I never once ever got up the morning after doing a benefit that I didn't feel good," Hickey said.
Last winter, the band won the award for Community Contributor of the Year from Music P.E.I.
"Obviously when you have as much money invested in equipment and so on as we do, you can't play for free all the time, but at the same time when the opportunity is there to do something to help somebody out, it is very hard to say no."
'Could be any one of us'
Hickey, a retired school teacher, remembers the first benefit concert he played about 38 years ago as a member of the Blue Crystals. They were in the van on the way to a gig discussing whether to play for a reduced rate at a benefit for an Island man who was ill.
The drummer, who was driving, looked over his shoulder and said, "We should do it for nothing."
There's seven of us in the group, and the other six are six of the best people I know. — Gerry Hickey
"He said it could be any one of us," Hickey recalled. "Basically that's where it started."
Hickey said he sometimes get physically tired on stage, but he never gets tired of performing.
"No matter what you feel like, you have to look like you're having a real good time."
He said it helps to have bandmates he enjoys spending time with. He said in 40 years, he and Murphy have only had one argument, and that turned out to be a misunderstanding.
"There's seven of us in the group, and the other six are six of the best people I know and they're also very, very talented. So I'm pretty fortunate in that regard."
The musical landscape has changed on P.E.I. since the 1970s and '80s, he said, when you could see live music almost every night, and places like Myrons or the Showboat would pack in hundreds of people.
"There's nothing like that anymore," he said. "When I was younger most people would go out dancing probably every Friday and Saturday night."
While he guesses the band's most requested song is Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, he said nothing beats the energy of getting a crowd up on the dance floor to something from Bob Seger, Huey Lewis, Buddy Holly or even Abba, sung by the two women in the group, Keila Glydon and Jeanie Campbell.
"For years we evaluated every song that we did based on whether or not you could dance to it. So there are a lot of really great songs that we just never bother doing."
Hickey said it's easier to get the older crowd up dancing because "they don't have any inhibitions."
"The younger crowd, they seem to need a little medicinal help to get them on the floor. But if you play good dance music, people will generally get up and dance."
The band has gigs booked right up through New Year's Eve — including another benefit concert at the end of the month — and Hickey said he has no plans to stop as long as his voice holds out.
"I really can't imagine not doing this," he said. "I'd love to say I'd play for another 20 years but I doubt that I'll live for another 20 years."
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