It was the non-hit that wasn't supposed to happen that put Tim Hicks in a league of his own.
When the St. Catharines-born-and-based country star initially wrote the unlikely pro-Canada anthem "Stronger Beer," it was a ruse.
"That song was meant purely as a joke for my day-to-day manager from West Virginia," Hicks explained to FYIMusicNews on Monday. "He doesn't understand why we have milk in bags here, and I wrote about things that were uniquely Canadian. That was only supposed to be for his ears - and people just seemed to love it."
Hicks credits a lyric video created by Open Road Recordings' graphic designer Mitch Nevins for the song's success. Suddenly, Canadians were e-mailing copies of the song to each other.
"As soon as they put it out, I started getting e-mail. This buddy of mine, his parents spend their winters in Florida, and they sent to him, not knowing it was me. They said, 'Hey, you should send this to Tim. It's pretty good - he might want to sing this.' And he's like, 'mom, that is Tim.' Every now and again, I have people tell me, 'Hey, I got your song in an e-mail today.' I'm down in Arizona - wherever Canadians are elsewhere in the world, they love to pass around the song. It's just one of those things. This is a song where everyone can kick their boots off and let their hair down and really let it scream that they love being Canadian."
The unconventional approach continued when Open Road refused to issue it as a radio single...and the song was certified platinum anyway.
"That's been a reoccurring theme in my career - that the best things seem to happen by accident," Hicks admits. "I try not to overthink it - we captured that moment in a demo. What ended up being the recording of it was the demo. We thought that if we went back and re-did it, we'd wreck it - because we really caught an energy and a moment and you could tell we were having fun."
Hicks, who once fronted a Neil Diamond cover band, made the switch from rock journeyman to Canadian country star five years ago, and in total has spent 18 years in the trenches.
But now he's one of the chief contributors to the Canadian "bro country" movement, and his manager Ron Kitchener says Hicks is a natural.
"He's a soundtrack for the working man's weekend - a combination of fun and partying, but also going home and taking care of your family," Kitchener notes. " He's in that pocket where Eric Church and Dierks Bentley come from."
Kitchener says Hicks' work ethic is tireless.
"I knew he was up for the task - the minute we were asking him to do something, he was doing it,." says Kitchener. "There's no procrastination - he gets it done."
The results speak for themselves: Hicks has garnered more than 10 million Spotify streams; top-10 certified-gold hits with"Hell Raisin' Good Time," "Here Comes The Thunder" and "Stompin' Ground" and two platinum-certified songs for "Get By" and "Stronger Beer."
A 2014 Rising Star Award winner, Hicks is up for two more CCMA accolades for both Male Artist of the Year and Interactive Artist or Group of the Year at this year's CCMA ceremony in Saskatoon on Sept. 10 at the SaskTel Centre. He recently signed on to be part of a RBC Music project for Canada's 150th that involves him adding his own touch to Serena Ryder's "Stompa" and Hicks was also recently awarded two CIMA Road Awards for selling more than 25,000 tickets on his Canadian tour dates for two years in a row.
Hicks is especially proud of his CIMA plaques.
"My entire career has been built on the live scene over many, many years on stage," he explains. "I still identify as a working musician, and I'm blessed to have fans loyal enough to lay out $50 to come see me play. A big American act would sell 25,000 tickets in one night, but in Canada we're a little more scaled back, so that was a huge feat for a guy like me. I was really pleased to hang those on my wall, and I'm really proud of the scene in Canada."
He just recently enjoyed a supporting gig as special guest of Dean Brody at Toronto's Budweiser Stage on August 24 - an evening he calls "a trip-and-a-half" - and in early 2018, Hicks is conquering new frontiers, staging a six-venue tour of Quebec that kicks off January 27 at the Maison des Arts Desjardins in Drummondville and ends February 3 at Trois-Rivieres' Salle J. Antonio-Thompson.
"It happened by accident," Hicks explains. "When you announce a tour, it's a bad idea to look at Facebook comments. Because nobody says, 'Hey, we're glad to see you on tour.' They all say, 'Why aren't you coming to my town' and it bums me out. And one of the things I saw that day was on Facebook was, 'Why aren't you coming to Quebec? Why aren't you coming to Montreal?' So I reached out to my agent, which I'm not supposed to do, and said, 'Is there any way we can set something up?'"
Hicks lined up a handful of show dates in Quebec that proved successful, and he is now coming back to help entrench himself in the market.
"They're not going to be huge rooms to start," Hicks admits. "We're just dipping our toes in the water. And some people say, 'whoa - you're going into some pretty French-language-dominant areas.' That doesn't scare me. It's music. There's zero pressure in this. I'm just going to do my thing and hopefully somebody will be interested. And I know somebody will be interested, because we've done five shows in Quebec over the past two years and you can tell there's a movement that happening over there. Why not take a chance of going to some of these smaller places and see if we can get kids interested in what we do?"
Quebec, Thailand, Australia are all where Tim Hicks has made some inroads, and manager Ron Kitchener is confident that his client is close to a major breakthrough in his home country.
"We believe we can transform him into an arena-sized artist in Canada," says Kitchener, "The next tour wil be the stepping stone to the next tour I believe he can do, and this will be touring the largest venues across the country."
Allthough he released Tim Hicks Live as a digital package earlier this year, a newer music collection may not be in the cards until 2018.
But Hicks is ready and thrilled to be in the game.
"I just sound like Ringo," Hicks quips. "Man, I'm just happy to be here and glad that I'm able to be an ambassador of Canadian country music."