Overview: Wayne John Diggins: 1954-1999

by Monte Nordstrom - Jan, 2000

The family, friends & fans of local musician, Wayne Diggins were shocked & saddened by the news of his sudden passing on December 26th in Bangkok, Thailand. According to a friend who was planning with her brother to meet Diggs there, Wayne had complained of chest pains, prior to leaving Canada in November. His doctor advised him that he had respiratory problems & suggested further medical tests but Wayne neglected to get the tests done. Wayne had been rehearsing with Thai musicians in Bangkok when he suffered his untimely fatal heart attack. He was 45 years old.

Wayne loved to travel & had practically made Thailand his second home since his first journey there in 1995. In addition to the 3 subsequent trips made to that region, he also enjoyed an extended visit to England, Amsterdam & Germany in 1996. In England he had a chance to spend time with his 96 year old grandmother & explore his father's childhood home. He also fell in love with the Yukon during a trip to Whitehorse for the month January in 1998 & returned there for a few months, later that year to earn money for further travel adventures.

Wayne Diggins had a great deal of talent. The Windsor-born musician lived in the Cowichan Valley off & on for the past 9 years & was extremely popular on the club/pub circuit. Wayne's ability on the alto saxophone was well-known & his world was constantly expanding.

Diggs' prowess on the sax was augmented by his distinctive voice. His backup vocals were soulful & supportive. When he had the opportunity to take the lead, his performance was always entertaining. He also played clarinet, tenor & soprano sax, keyboard, drums, guitar & bass. Music was like religion to Wayne, who adopted Buddist philosophies, which matched his gentle demeanor.

His musical ear was very quick. He had the gift of being able to mimic, or embellish a musical phrase almost as quickly as he heard it & this resulted in some phenomenal improvisational freedom for the musicians that played with him. Wayne was constantly in demand for recording sessions because of his talent & positive attitude. As a result he has left a wide legacy of recorded material behind. There is talk of a Wayne Diggins compilation CD being produced, although the logistics of a comprehensive project are very challenging. It would be a worthwhile endeavor, despite it's far-reaching scope.

In addition to appearing on "Monte & the Beaumonts" albums, he also contributed to projects by Chris Sherlock, Helmut Tuennissen, Thor & the Thundercats & many others. He guested on recordings up in Whitehorse in 1998. Diggs was recording sax tracks with the Thundercats for their new live project just before he left for Thailand. He guested on several recordings of various Thai musical stars over the years & recorded with a touring ensemble from the Solomon Islands which visited the Valley a few years ago. Diggs was a world musician in the true sense of the word. He's on recordings a lot of people don't even know about.

Diggs worked with the Beaumonts alot over nine years & we really got to know each other. Diggins & I have played 250-300 dates together, most of them in the Cowichan Valley, but many of them on the road. Sometimes we worked as a duo & in trios, as well as with the bands, "The Beaumonts" & "Groovedigger". We did shows on Pender, Saltspring, Gabriola Islands & all over Vancouver Island.

I had started recording "Nothing More Better" with the Beaumonts in 1989 at Jim Kent's "Lisen Communications" in Duncan. I first ran into Diggs when he was playing with Michael Patrick's band at The Queens Hotel in Nanaimo & asked him if he'd like to contribute some sax & clarinet to a horn section recording session.

I had first heard about Diggs from Dave Spinks, who'd played me a tape made with Wayne in the Buckflats Band back in the '80s. The recording featured some of Wayne's great clarinet licks. Soon Wayne was playing alto with the Beaumonts at our long-running Sunday night showcase at the Brigantine in Maple Bay. The live cuts that completed 1992's "Nothing More Better" were recorded only 2 weeks after Diggs joined the band.

Diggins & I took the act to Vancouver when the Beaumonts showcased at MusicWest93. The second album was recorded with the Beaumonts at Bagel Boy in Nanaimo, with Damien Graham, Pierre Komen & Rick Salt. Diggs assisted me on the project & we mixed the "Groovedigger" CD at "Desolation Sound" in Vancouver, just in time to attend MusicWest94. The band recorded what became the "Sunday Healing Service" album at the Brigantine that same year.

A live video session with a new line-up labelled, "Groovedigger" was taped in the summer of 1995. This project is currently in post-production. A jazz improvisation video taped with Diggins, Nordstrom & bassist James Lithgow in 1997, reveals a completely different direction of the musicians' work. I had been trying to persuade Diggs to form a collaborative free jazz ensemble with the working title of "Bardo Thodol" but the travel bug would not allow Wayne to commit to the concept. This sensitive footage is being tranferred to the digital domain & will be augmented with further material by Lithgow & Nordstrom as a musical tribute to Wayne later this year.

The last big trip I went on with Diggs was with the Beaumonts' bassist, Steve McKinnon. We flew up to Whitehorse for the month of January in 1998 to play 6 nights a week at the top club in the city. It was hard work & left the band burned out after it was all over. We returned & took a sabattical, but kept in touch, mostly by email. Our most recent gig together was with the Beaumonts at a wedding in July of '99.

Wayne was a rare, unique individual with a great sense of humour. Like some kind of manic beatnik monk out of a Kerouac story. You never knew what Diggs would come up with when he was on a roll!

I have quite a bit of video footage with Diggs playing music. Some of it is very good, and I am putting together an edited program of this material to give to his family. Eventually I will make the videos featuring Diggs, available locally & from my website, with proceeds going to Laine. There will be one copy raffled at his Memorial Concert to raise money for the trust fund.

From 5pm to Midnight on Sunday January 30th at Eagles Hall in Duncan, there will be a mammoth musical tribute held to Diggs. The Wayne Diggins Memorial Concert will feature many top artists from Vancouver Island & beyond. Tickets to the event cost $10 each & are available at Duncan Music & at Ferguson's Music in Nanaimo. All money raised at the event will go to Wayne's daughter, Laine's Trust Fund. Artists appearing will include Chris Sherlock, Saloonatix, Wunderbread, Joe Blues, the Maniacs, Shakey Reay & Al Eskelson, Out of the Blue, Monte & the Beaumonts, Thor & the Thundercats (plus special guests TBA).

We are all going to miss Diggs. You won't want to miss this opportunity to support a good cause!

Email Monte at: nordstro@islandnet.com
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