Hockey stick guitar still on the scene 40 years later

Posted on: December 28, 2016

By Jane Hobson

What do a hockey stick and a guitar have in common? The answer is Glen James.

Carleton Place native Glen James built his first electric hockey stick at 19-years-old. Now 60, James plays the two-string instrument for fun at a Carleton Place watering hole called the Waterfront Gastropub.

“An ex-girlfriend gave me a guitar and when we broke up my buddy told me I had to smash the guitar,” James laughs. “I felt like that guy from The Who.” (Pete Townshend, the lead guitarist for the English rock band The Who, had a crowd-adored habit of smashing his guitar while on stage.)

“I smashed it to bits and a few days later out of curiosity I attached the strings to an old hockey stick,” James says. And thus the electric hockey stick was born.

James was studying painting, life-drawing and filmmaking at Ontario College of Art and Design (now OCAD University) in Toronto when he built the instrument. It started with one string but eventually graduated to two.

James says in 1975 The Toronto Star photographed him with the electric hockey stick and featured him on the front page of the entertainment section. “That’s about as famous as I got,” James says.

Eventually the glow of fame dulled and an overwhelmed, penniless James quit school three quarters of the way through.

“Why did I quit school? I wasn’t mentally able to do it. People wanted me to do big things and make lots of money with the electric hockey stick but I didn’t want to,” he says.

When he quit school me moved to western Canada and worked in the oil fields for a while before he moved back to his father’s farm in Carleton Place.

“I never wanted to come back to the farm,” he laughs. “I was in a grumbly mood for quite a while when I came back — but I’m happy now.”

James continued to make harps and other stringed instruments as he farmed, and he sold a few of them. “People bought stuff here and there but I was never good at the business side of arts,” James says. “It’s hard to make a living as a musician but I like to play for fun.”

James writes five songs per week now, most of which are inspired by whatever he’s reading at the time.

As for his college friend who helped him create his first electric hockey stick, James hasn’t seen in him years. “That’s growing up I guess,” he says.

Photo by Jane Hobson: Glen James, middle, plays the electric hockey stick at the Waterfront Gastropub in Carleton Place on Wednesday Oct. 26, 2016. James created the electric hockey stick when he was 19-years-old.