Even though Laurie Goulden is in the shadows onstage, he’s still in the spotlight.
At Lion’s Head Tavern, on a Friday night, it’s easy to spot Goulden — people know him by his stage name, Laurie The Guy — hosting karaoke night. He’s the guy wearing the groovy, multi-coloured pants.
On this night he pulls out one of his several guitars and starts the show singing Tequila.
“When you’re on stage and singing for four minutes, you’re not worrying about the stress of your day,” he said. “I’m not thinking about any bad, negative things in my life.”
Goulden is a bit of a star. The 44-year-old has been hosting karaoke shows around town for 25 years. Five, sometimes six, nights a week he drives in from his home in Musquodoboit to host at different bars. On almost any given night he can be found at Lion’s Head, Monte’s, Staggers and The Rockin’ Rodeo Lounge hosting for 15 people or even 50.
Some of those people are regulars, like Beverly Lewis — known here as Bev. “I keep coming to karaoke every Friday because I feel loyal to him,” she said.
The 67-year-old only misses a show if she’s sick. Her son has a learning disability so for her, karaoke night is a huge stress reliever.
Lewis shows up just about every Friday night at the Lion’s Head, ready to belt out the blues and folk tunes she loves to sing. Karaoke night is her time to shine. It’s her time to feel like a star.
“It gives you a sense of confidence,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed music.”
Lewis keeps a diary. She tracks every song she sings, every outfit she wears and who is in the crowd.
“I’m just crazy,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a sense of accomplishment to me to know how many songs I sang and how many people I see that I know. I’ve established a friendship with a lot of people I never knew.”
Every holiday, whether it’s Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day, Lewis bakes a batch of cookies for Goulden.
To Lewis, Goulden is “just a very sweet, down-to-earth man.”
“I don’t think I could compare (Laurie) to anybody,” she said. “He’s the No. 1 karaoke guy in town.”
Goulden is often too busy hosting to chat with the singers, but he knows a little about the regulars.
“The reason my shows are so good is because of good people,” Goulden said. “Beverly is good people.”
Taking the mic
It only took one night in 1991 for Goulden to fall in love with karaoke. He and a couple of pals finished working out at the gym and decided to go out for a couple of beers. This was a time when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were rising in fame.
Goulden and his friends waltzed up on stage at a bar and belted out a few tunes. They were hooked. Every week they’d go out, singing karaoke. Eventually the bar owner asked Goulden to host shows and now, as he explains, “here I am 25 years later.”
Goulden says he can make up to $200 in one night. Last year he performed 320 shows. But he says his truck guzzles half of the money he makes.
Even though his paycheque varies, being a host is way better than working a 9 to 5 job.
“My joke is I can show up late, drink while working and I’m allowed to flirt with the ladies,” he said. “What other job can offer you that?”
Goulden’s got the whole shebang: speakers, microphones, monitors, the sound system and about 2,300 CDs. He’s not messing around.
He says some karaoke hosts will walk into a bar with their laptops, plug them in and hit play. Not him.
“I just can’t imagine doing a show with just a computer,” Goulden said. “I think I would be bored.”
The original cast
The 1990s in Halifax was home to some original karaoke talent. Maurice Aucoin has been hosting for 26 years — one year more than Goulden.
Aucoin says he’s one of the original karaoke guys in town. On that list there’s also Jackie Smith and Mike Mosher — and Laurie The Guy, of course.
Aucoin and Goulden have known each other for about 25 years.
“We played hockey together for quite a few years on Tuesday morning with (other) musicians,” said Aucoin. “I don’t get to his shows because I’m working when he’s working.”
But he says Goulden is “probably the busiest guy in it right now.”
Karaoke shows are about personality, says Aucoin. A good karaoke host doesn’t mean being a good singer, although that’s a bonus.
“You’re more of a diplomat, a policeman, a bartender,” he said laughing.
Plenty of memories
After two-and-a-half decades of shows, Goulden has some stories to tell.
There have been plenty of times where a singer got up on stage and puked everywhere because they were so drunk.
Goulden was once doing a show on a campground. A guy gave him a broken pair of cables to borrow, and they weren’t generating any sound. When Goulden turned up the volume to see what was wrong, the cables decided to work. The speakers blew instantly. Of course — excuse the clichéd saying — the show had to go on.
And it continues to go on.
“I think if I was to get away from it I’d miss it.”