If you’ve never seen Big Rude Jake play, you’ve missed out on an experience.
A staple of the Southern Ontario bar circuit for the past three decades—he’s played Hess Village and This Ain’t Hollywood—his music is designed to get your heart pumping and your legs bouncing.
Her stage name alluded to her style, and her zoot-like outfit complemented it. It was associated with swing, and even something called swing-punk. A saucy storyteller, he did solo shows with his guitar, but was mostly accompanied by musicians playing horns and saxophones.
“All the lyrics are about cars and girls, and all the songs are loud and fat,” he told the Waterloo Region Record during a visit to Jimmy Jazz in Guelph with his band of the day, Blue. Mercury Coupe, 2009. “You can’t mess that up for me.
Unfortunately, Big Rude Jake will no longer be playing. Jake – real name Andrew Jacob Hiebert – died of cancer on June 16 at the age of 59.
Hiebert, who moved to Hamilton in 2016, wasn’t limited to the swing. He could tackle all musical genres – blues, jazz, rockabilly, gospel and folk. He was a singer, songwriter, poet, and even a music historian, the latter likely due to his history degree from the University of Waterloo (his dissertation was on pop culture).
“His talent was pretty deep,” Rocket and the Renegades vocalist Robin Magder said. “He was way above us. He was a very creative person and he befriended many other creative people.
Magder, who met Jake after moving to Hamilton, said his July 24 celebration of life at Laidlaw Memorial United Church was standing room only.
“It shows you how loved he was,” she said. “He was the best and we were lucky to know him.”
Hiebert was born March 1, 1963 in St. Catharines to Jake and Amy Hiebert. His parents ran Jake’s Chip Wagon, a downtown Niagara Falls institution. The business had been started by his mother’s parents. His father, known as “Chip Man”, died on April 11 at the age of 86.
Hiebert told the Guelph Mercury in 2014 that he turned to music when he saw Leon Redbone perform on Saturday Night Live in 1976.
In the early 1980s, he left to study French in France and sang in an English rock band. He returned to Canada where he went to Waterloo and then moved to Toronto in 1988.
He did manual labor – he admits to being fired several times – then got a job at a bar. He told the Toronto Star in 1996 that he had watched how musicians lived, bands started and broke up. He started taking guitar lessons and soon founded his own band. He chose his 1940s clothes to differentiate himself from others.
Big Rude Jake and His Gentlemen Players was founded in 1992. As the audience grew, he rose to the club scene and landed residencies at two Toronto clubs. He opened for bands such as Big Sugar and played The Viper Room in Los Angeles.
With two independent albums under his belt – ‘Butane Fumes and Bad Cologne’ (1993) and ‘Blue Pariah’ (1996) – he tried to break through in New York in 1998 and land a big recording contract. However, he encountered a series of bad luck, as the band and its manager quit and were kicked out of his apartment.
“So I was homeless in New York, without a group, without a job, and with no real prospects,” Hiebert told The Star. “I was in a lot of pain.”
He returned to Toronto in 1999 and landed a gig at the Horseshoe Tavern. Then he landed a deal that put his third album – “Big Rude Jake” – in record stores. His 2012 album “Live and Out Loud” was recorded at the Drake Hotel in Toronto.
Friends held a fundraiser for Hiebert’s family at Stonewalls Restaurant, 339 York Blvd. It operates from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on November 20.
Hiebert is survived by his wife Anna-Lisa Seeliger, his daughter Hope, his mother Amy, his brother David and his sisters Schelley and Paula.