Saskatoon blues rockers the Sheepdogs were plucked from obscurity in 2011 when they won a Rolling Stone contest. On 18 August 2011, they became the first unsigned band ever featured on the cover of the famed music magazine. The Sheepdogs have since released seven studio albums and won four Juno Awards, including New Group of the Year, Single of the Year and Rock Album of the Year in 2012. They have had two platinum albums and two platinum singles (“I Don’t Know” and “Feeling Good”) in Canada.
Formation and Influences
The band formed in 2004 as a trio called The Breaks. The original members, Ewan Currie (guitar/vocals), Ryan Gullen (bass) and Sam Corbett (drums), met while students at the University of Saskatchewan.
Blues rock was the sound the trio gravitated to when they first started jamming in Corbett’s parents’ basement. The band often cites the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Credence Clearwater Revival and the Allman Brothers Band as early influences. In a 2015 interview, Currie said, “The two bands I always try to land between is Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills and Nash. You’ve got the big riff and bombast of Zeppelin but the sweet melodies and harmonies of a CSN. I’m trying to borrow from both. There seems to be a lot of bands that did one or the other, and I kinda was looking for that sweet spot in between.”
In 2006, the band released the self-titled EP, The Breaks. They then became a foursome after adding Leot Hanson (guitar/backing vocals) and changing their name to The Sheepdogs.
The Sheepdogs independently released their first few studio albums: Trying to Grow (2007), Big Stand (2010), Learn & Burn (2010) and the EP Five Easy Pieces (2011). The first two DIY releases were recorded at Cosmic Pad Studios in Saskatoon. These low-budget affairs featured album artwork drawn by friends and family. On Learn & Burn, which arrived not long after Big Stand, the band was influenced by 1960s psychedelic rock.
A “Very Hairy Rock & Roll Fairy Tale”
In 2011, one of The Sheepdogs’ demo tapes found its way to Atlantic Records via a manager they had met earlier that year. The label entered the tape into Rolling Stone’s Do You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star “choose the cover” contest. The winner would appear on the cover of the magazine. The Sheepdogs were one of 16 bands to make the final cut, and they were eventually crowned the winners. On 18 August 2011, the longhaired and hairy Prairie foursome graced the cover of the world’s most famous music magazine. The caption read, “A Very Hairy Rock & Roll Fairy Tale.”
The overnight success led to a deal with Atlantic Records and the rerelease of Learn & Burn. It went on to win three 2012 Juno Awards: Rock Album of the Year, Best New Group and Single of the Year (“I Don’t Know”). Learn & Burn and “I Don’t Know” were both certified platinum in Canada.
The Sheepdogs (2012)
The swamp rockers self-titled major label debut, released on 4 September 2012, debuted at No. 1 in Canada. Produced by Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney, the album was recorded at Haptown Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. In its review, Rolling Stone described the 14 songs as “taut, sun-beaten boogie.”
The hit single “Feeling Good” was played at Toronto Maple Leafs’ home games during the 2015–16 season after every goal the team scored. The song was also featured in a pair of video games, NASCAR The Game: The Inside Line and NHL 17, as well as in a TV commercial promoting Saskatchewan tourism. It also won the 2014 Juno Award for Video of the Year. The band was nominated for Rock Album of the Year, Group of the Year and Single of the Year (“The Way It Is”). The Sheepdogs and “Feeling Good” both went on to be certified platinum in Canada.
Future Nostalgia (2015)
The Sheepdogs’ fifth studio album was released on Dine Alone Records and distributed by Warner Music Canada. Produced by Currie, the 18 songs were recorded over three weeks at a backwoods cabin in Stony Lake, Ontario. The band wanted to get back to its early days and keep the production and the music simple.
Future Nostalgia featured the hit single “Downtown.” The album also saw the addition of a pair of new members: guitarist Rusty Matyas, who replaced Leot Hanson, and Currie’s brother Shamus on keyboards and horns. In November 2015, before The Sheepdogs left on a European tour to promote Future Nostalgia, the band became six strong with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Bowskill (guitar and pedal steel).
Future Nostalgia received a Juno Award nomination for Rock Album of the Year. The album’s sound, like much of the band’s material, is perhaps best described as 1970s Southern rock. In an interview with the Toronto Sun’s Jane Stevenson, Currie said, “our music definitely sort of harkens back to an older time. And music is a very powerful, nostalgic force.”
Changing Colours (2018)
The sessions for The Sheepdogs’ sixth album were engineered, coproduced and mixed by Thomas D’Arcy at Taurus Recording in Toronto. The album was released in February 2018. The band then hit the road, playing more than 200 shows in Canada, the US and Europe. The record received Juno Award nominations for Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year.
Corbett’s Cancer Diagnosis and Solo Debuts
In 2018, The Sheepdogs’ founding drummer, Sam Corbett, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He stepped away from the band and used the time to release his first solo record, Nutana. Becoming a first-time father also inspired the album. In March 2019, Ewan Currie released his solo debut, Out of My Mind.
The band’s EP No Simple Thing was released in 2021 and featured the single “Keep on Loving You.”
Live at Lee’s (2022)
As the COVID-19 pandemic waned and restrictions were lifted in the fall of 2021, the Sheepdogs played four sold-out shows (17–20 November) at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace. The shows were recorded and released the following February as the band’s first live recording.
Outta Sight (2022)
Released on 3 June 2022, the 10-song collection Outta Sight was the band’s first studio album in four years. According to Currie, “making this record was the cure for our COVID blues.” He described the album as an “11-song serving of bangers for every occasion.”
In August 2022, Jimmy Bowskill announced he was leaving the band to focus on other projects. This included his work with roots rockers Blue Rodeo (he had become a member in 2017) and a new project (Brooks & Bowskill) with his wife, Brittany Brooks. Guitarist Ricky Paquette joined The Sheepdogs, replacing Bowskill. Outta Sight was nominated for a Juno Award for Rock Album of the Year.
- Favourite New Artist (2011)
- Favourite Indie Album (2011)
- Favourite New Album (2011)
Western Canadian Music Awards
- Learn & Burn, Rock Recording of the Year (2011)
MuchMusic Video Awards
- “I Don’t Know” Rock Video of the Year (2012)
- New Group of the Year (2012)
- Single of the Year (2012)
- Rock Album of the Year Learn & Burn (2012)
- Video of the Year “Feeling Good” (2014)