The 1970s was an era dominated by singer/songwriters, with Canada punching far above its weight in that regard. But for all the endlessly noted contributions by the major names, it’s impossible not to also include Gene MacLellan, whose work helped lay the foundation of Canada’s homegrown music industry as much as any other artist’s.
Since his death in 1995, his daughter Catherine MacLellan has carried on his legacy by building her own impressive body of work, including the 2015 Juno-winning album The Raven’s Sun, while garnering many East Coast Music Awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards, and Music PEI Awards.
Now she is paying full tribute to her father’s music with her latest release, If It's Alright With You: The Songs of Gene MacLellan, out June 30 on True North Records. It’s a legacy project like no other, offering poignant new interpretations of songs that have been ingrained in our national conscience through previous versions by Anne Murray, Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Ocean, and others.
By formally embracing her musical birthright, Catherine is bringing the alternately melancholic and jubilant but unfailingly captivating spirit of her father’s songs to a new generation of listeners. She will be performing every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from July through September at the PEI Brewing Company in her hometown of Charlottetown. Go to catherinemaclellan.com for more info.
What made this the right time for you to make this album?
When I was asked to do a show on my dad's music and life, it seemed the perfect time to also make an album of his music. I've been wanting to do this for many years, and finally everything fell into place to make it happen.
At what point in your life did you realize what an important artist your father was?
Growing up, my dad was just my dad. I knew he was a songwriter, but that's about it. It wasn't until much later, as I became a songwriter and performer in my own right, that I realized the success he had achieved. Even to this day, as I've been researching his life, things come to light that surprise me. Things like Glen Campbell wanting him to write for him, and being in a band in Toronto in the ‘50s with Robbie Robertson. He did so much more than write “Snowbird.”
Is there one song of his that maybe means more to you than all the others?
This changes for me all the time. Currently, “Lonesome River” has its hold on me. It’s a song about being a wanderer and feeling lonesome on life's long road. The poetry in the verses really gets me. That was my dad's strongest talent, finding a way to take universal feelings and turn them into poetry you could sing.
Do you feel that this project will have an influence on how you approach your own next album?
Every time I learn a song of my dad's and perform it regularly, I get a good songwriting lesson from him. He was a perfectionist and I am struck by how much effort he put into each line, melodically and lyrically. It will definitely affect the songs for my next record.
What are the most important lessons you've learned as an artist, and what advice would you give?
The most important lessons I've learned as an artist have all been hard won and slowly learned. I've come to understand that you have to decide for yourself what success is and then strive for that. There is no “one way” for everyone, and the most important thing is to know who you are and be true to yourself. If you spend all your time trying to be like someone else and afraid to hurt people's feelings, you'll have nothing to show for it at the end and feel like a failure.
Success for me includes a holistic approach to life, and having the time to do all the things I love—not just music. This won't be the same for everyone, you have to trust your own sense of what's right.