Wednesday, July 8, 2015

H is for Hunter, Hart and Hey Rosetta!


     Life seemed much simpler when I was a child.  I grew up in a small town by the sea called Glace Bay, in the province of Nova Scotia.  When I was a boy, our television had only two channels; CBC English and CBC French.  There was no internet. There was no instantaneous access to every type of information at your fingertips.  Local news was our informational currency in those days.  The gatekeepers of that information were the folks at the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Their news stories painted a picture of the world for us. Their programming defined our culture, to a great extent.  The shows we viewed were "wholesome family entertainment."  For me, growing up, one of the shows that defined my childhood was The Tommy Hunter Show.

     Tommy Hunter was a country music singer and was known fondly as "Canada's Country Gentleman".  His show was a variety-type show that ran for almost thirty years.  He had a regular cast of characters who appeared with him each week (such as Donna and Leroy and fiddler, Al Cherney, who all appear in the video above.)  But, Hunter, also, had a Whos-Who of Country Music legends, from both sides of the border, perform on his stage, such as Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Ernest Tubbs, Dolly Parton, Crystal Gayle, Hank Snow and so on.  Feeling small, as we did, at times, in our little part of the country, we viewed Tommy Hunter as being an important person because he was able to attract such a star-studded roster of guests. His show helped stoke the fires of our nationalism, all the while, reassuring us that everything was going to be alright. He helped to make us feel good about being Canadians.  That felt important back then.

     Tommy Hunter is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, he has a star on our Walk of Fame in Toronto, he has been awarded the Order of Canada and has won countless Juno Awards and Canadian Country Music Awards, too.

     Hunter ended every episode with a song called, Travelling' Man.

     I am a travellin' man
     following the breeze.
    Travellin' here, travellin' there
    Gatherin' memories
    So let me.....wander
    All my life away
    Just a gathering' memories.

    Reassuring words that passed for poetry in my home when I was a boy.



     As the 1980s rolled on, music videos became an important route for musicians to take to get their songs noticed by audiences.  Television became, quite literally, a visual radio. Songs could appear in "high rotation" and make stars out of their heretofore unknown performers. Such was the case for a young man named Corey Hart.
     Born in Montreal, Hart travelled around the world as a young boy.  His musical aspirations were aided and abetted by having access to singers such as Paul Anka (in Las Vegas), Tom Jones (in Miami) and Billy Joel (when he performed in Montreal).  Eventually, he was able cobble together enough songs and make enough connections to get a record produced.  The "hit" song released was a tune called Sunglasses at Night.  It went almost nowhere in Canada.  But then, the music video was shot and debuted on MTV in the States and on various music video programmes in Canada.  Hart appeared movie-idol handsome and his fame soared all throughout North America.


    Corey Hart doesn't know who I am but, ironically enough, he is primarily responsible for my decision to become a teacher.  Like many performers who experience "overnight success", Corey Hart appeared, seemingly, everywhere, all of the time. His popularity caused huge demands on his time and, as a result, after years on incessant calls for more product and more performances, eventually, Corey Hart's songs lost some of their pop sensibility and, in my opinion, devolved into cliche and parody. As Hart began to have his Icarus moment, I found myself living in London, Ontario. I was transitioning from my life at Ryerson University in Toronto and beginning what I believed was to be a long and fruitful career in broadcasting.  I had landed a job at a local radio station as Assistant Promotions Manager.  Essentially, I was the person who appeared at events and handed out stickers and merchandise to "contest winners". I was, also, responsible for distributing the weekly Top 40 hit lists to record stores and to the newspaper. As it turned out, this was a joe-job and I was not even making minimum wage. But, I loved music and I loved writing and I believed, in my heart of hearts, that I had found my way into the industry.  It was then, that Corey Hart's career trajectory and mine collided at an event in London called The Western Fair.





     The Western Fair is a huge Fall Fair that takes place to honour southern Ontario's agricultural roots. It is timed to occur just as London fills back up with students returning to the University of Western Ontario for the new school term.  As Assistant Promotions Manager, I was expected to man the radio station booth at the fair and hand out Corey Hart merchandise because he was scheduled to appear and perform.  His latest "hit" was an Elvis Presley remake called, Can't Help Falling In Love.
The young twenty-something in me thought this re-make was atrocious. Most of the university students openly mocked it. Yet, at my station and across the country, the song quickly rose to top spot on the charts.  You may call it "growing up" or "losing my innocence" but, as I stood in that radio station booth taking money from children in exchange for a Corey Hart pin or photo, I began to understand the business side of our Music industry.  Corey Hart was as hot as they came in Canada and industry folks were going to make every last dollar from him while his star shone so brightly.  I started to see how much greed and callous manipulation were a part of the industry I had hoped to build my life around. Right then, right there in that booth, I decided to quit broadcasting. Teaching was always my fall back position so, later that Winter, I applied to, and was accepted at, Teacher's College at the University of Western Ontario.  Twenty-seven years later, I am more than thankful to Corey Hart for having a life that so neatly intersected with mine.....although, as I said, he has no idea who I am.  :)
     Not long after the Western Fair, Corey Hart collapsed on stage from exhaustion. He removed himself from music to rest and recuperate. A few years later, when he recorded a new album, sales failed to meet expectations and, just as suddenly as he burst onto the scene, Corey Hart's career was over. He had risen higher than anyone and had touched the sun.  Now, Corey Hart is a fifty-something husband and father, just like me, who will forever be remembered as that handsome guy with the pouty lips who wore his sunglasses at night.


     I will end this post with a bit of a shout-out to a group who can trace their roots to that glorious province of Newfoundland.....Hey Rosetta!   In much the same way that a band like Alvvays owe a debt of gratitude to bands like The Rankin Family and Rita McNeil, who inspired the Celtic revival on Cape Breton Island, Hey Rosetta! can thank groups like Great Big Sea for revitalizing the Newfoundland music scene.  Rising stars on the Indie and Alternative scenes in Canada, Hey Rosetta! sound a lot like Of Monsters and Men, as well as, Mumford and Sons. Feel free to be one of the cool kids in your circle and start name-dropping this great new Canadian group.
     You're welcome.  :)



    A big tip of the hat to another impressive list of performers who have made their mark in this great country and who, in this case, happen to have names that start with the letter, "H":

    This list begins with a true legend, Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins, Alternative star, Hayden, British Columbia popsters, Hot Hot Heat, Hard Rockers, HelixEmily Haines (lead singer of Metric), Pianist, Hagood Hardy, Singer/songwriter, Sarah Harmer, Cellist, Ofra Harnoy, Blues rocker, Jeff Healey, Bill Henderson (lead singer of Chilliwack), Canada's most famous one-hit wonder, Dan Hill,  the man who should have won Canadian Idol, Jacob Hoggard (Hedley), Garth Hudson (of The Band), 80s rocker, Paul Hyde, 80s groups, Honeymoon Suite, Haywire, The Headpins and Harlequin,  Rockers, The Headstones, Indie rising stars, Hidden Cameras,  From Quebec, Harmonium, Tenor, Ben Heppner and, finally, even though it is sorta, kinda stretchhhhhhhhhing the truth a bit, I give you Heart!  Yes, Heart!  *(They began in Vancouver, as a result of dodging the Vietnam War, and recorded their first big hits in that city.......thanks for the heads up, Davey-boy!)