It started with an eight-year-old kid and a California Raisins cassette tape...
Given to him as a birthday present, it was the cartoon band’s track one, side one cover of the R&B classic “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” that spoke to Ontario’s Jeff Giles in a way nothing in his life yet had. The rest of the cassette introduced him to other smash hits of the 50s/60s canon, and from there, he found his way to his parents’ records, marvelling at the likes of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the best of Motown records, all of which solidified his love of the golden age of Rock and R&B.
At the age of 15, Jeff began working professionally as an actor, developing his skills at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius, home to a performing arts training program that helped hone the talents of other Canadian musicians Wax Mannequin, Ben Caplan, and Finger Eleven’s Scott Anderson. It was around this time that Jeff began singing, playing the guitar, writing his own songs, jamming at parties, and playing in basement rock bands. After high school graduation, he recorded a small collection of songs in a bedroom, handed out copies of The Streetlight EP to his friends, and headed for University.
After moving to Toronto and attending York University’s acting conservatory, Jeff resumed professional work as a performer, and even explored work as a juggler, sideshow performer, and magician. In the theatre world, he often found himself in theatre productions requiring live music, and in 2008, landed the title role in the smash hit musical Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story , a biographical musical about the rock & roll pioneer which demanded all the actors play the music themselves, with no backing tracks. Called “perfectly-cast”, “charismatic” and “a musical dynamo” by numerous sources, including the CBC, the role of Buddy seemed tailor-made for Jeff, and he would revisit the part again and again, across Canada, earning standing ovations and critical praise for every production. It was during this period that he recorded a new batch of songs, and 2009’s The Winnipeg Sessions EP— another stripped-down, DIY recording—became a source of gas money during Jeff’s first tour as a singer-songwriter, from Winnipeg to Toronto, sharing the stage with musician and activist Corrina Keeling. The next year, his work in Buddy caught the attention of producers specializing in musical tribute concerts, and Jeff soon found himself on stages throughout North America and Europe as a singer and guitar player, honouring the music of Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and more.
In 2013, Jeff was invited back to Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius to create his own show, which resulted in a full-length, solo musical-storytelling piece that featured Giles’ original songs. Dubbed Letters to Hope , the production’s warm critical and audience response—especially where his own songs were concerned—encouraged him to spend more time honing his original work. While maintaining a performance schedule as a tribute musician to keep his performance skills sharp, Jeff returned to York University in 2015 to seek formal training in music composition, and earlier that year recruited the core team of musicians William Armstrong and Brian MacMillan, who, along with engineer/producer Andy Magoffin, helped him produce his first full-length, fully-arranged album. Ghosts in the Pipes , under the name Jeff Giles & the Cannonballs, is now available at jeffgiles.ca.
While he no doubt enjoys working with a full band, Jeff has always embraced the intimacy of stripped-down solo shows, which have provided some of his fondest memories as both performer and audience member. As human beings, so much of our knowledge has been passed down by a tradition of storytelling, and it is in those intimate musical settings where the song—and the story that often comes with it—can take centre stage, helping us learn and discover even more about ourselves and our community.
As a songwriter, Jeff is on a continual quest to balance the straightforward and the abstract. Like seasoned heroes Paul Simon and Tom Waits, and younger artists like Brandi Carlile, Neko Case, and Ryan Adams, Jeff takes inspiration from the point where catchy, singable musical phrases meet lyrics that are intelligent, playful, honest, and perhaps even abstract, probing the imagination while flooding the heart with a cocktail of love, loneliness, wonder, and hope.