Ron Hynes at the 2013 ECMA Awards. Amelia Curran in background.
Ron Hynes at the 2013 ECMA Awards. Amelia Curran in background.

Ron Hynes Tribute Set For ECMA Awards

When the East Coast Music Awards (ECMAs) take place in Sydney, NS, this Thursday (April 14), the artist likely given the most attention sadly won’t be there. Legendary Newfoundland singer/songwriter Ron Hynes passed away last November (at age 64, from cancer), but his life and songs remain indelibly etched on the hearts of so many music lovers, both on the East Coast and beyond.

The ECMAs are honouring Hynes’ legacy with a star-studded Tribute segment on the show. To learn more of the impact his work has had on his fellow singer/songwriters, we contacted some of those performing on the Tribute for their anecdotes and reflections.

PEI-based singer/songwriter Lennie Gallant was influenced and inspired by Hynes early on, he tells us.

“I remember the first time I saw Ron performing. It was on the Wonderful Grand Band TV show, and he sang a song of his called ‘Back Home on The Island’. I recall being mesmerized by the performance because I was thinking, this skinny guy dressed in a satin red cowboy shirt is delivering a scruffy working man song that in many ways, could have been written about the village I grew up in.

“It may have been the first time I ever really heard someone sing about an East Coast fishing town in a totally original way, and that, in a three and a half minute song, managed to include anger, sadness, humor, passion, poetry and a great deal of Island pride. I had to learn that song as soon as I could get my hands on a copy of it. I remember spending quite a bit of time on the music as it had a tricky guitar part for a kid still learning how to put a decent song together. “

Gallant adds “To say Ron was influential to me and my own writing would be an understatement. Ron had so much truth, heart, and poetry in his music that it has inspired a plethora of songwriters in this part of the world. It meant a great deal to me that over the years we became good friends and shared many a song and stage, and more than a few drinks and stories.

“The last show we performed on together would have been a few months before he was first diagnosed with cancer. It was a tribute performance by Prince Edward Island performers for one of our greatest songwriters, Gene MacLellan. The show was being recorded in Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown and was to be televised by the CBC.

“Ron had just got back from Australia and was having a hard time with his vocals while preparing for the show. Everyone thought it was probably due to the long flight he had just taken. It was, however, more than likely because of the cancer in his throat of which none of us were yet aware.  

"Ron was the only performer not from PEI on that show, but was there because he had written the beautiful ‘Godspeed’ for Gene. Ron felt deeply for Gene, and though he hadn’t known him well, felt a strong connection to him and his music. Ron and I often talked about Gene when we got together.”

“After the show that night Ron and I visited a couple Charlottetown watering holes and then while stumbling up Queen St on our way to a late night gathering, something hit me and I started singing, acapella, that song of his that I had learned so many years before, ‘Back Home On The Island.” I wish I could have taken a picture of the expression on Ron’s face, obviously surprised that I knew such an old and not very well known song of his. We sang the song together, making our way up Queen Street. I’m glad I had the chance to do that, sing the first song I ever learned of Ron Hynes, as a duet, with my friend.

"I attended Ron’s funeral in St John’s. It was a sad but very beautiful event with many songs and poignant testimonials to Ron, his poetry, humanity, humor, and his love of Newfoundland. I was in St. John’s for several days, and all during that time it seemed Ron’s voice was everywhere. His music was in every shop, bar, on the radio, in taxicabs, pumped outside storefronts, and most certainly on every stage. It seemed the whole city and province was in mourning for the loss of Newfoundland’s most loved songwriter. It was also as though everybody was trying to say goodbye in their own way. Late on the night of his funeral I wrote a song about that (the lyrics are reprised at the end of this story)."

Also performing on the ECMA tribute is another acclaimed Newfoundland singer/songwriter Amelia Curran. She is eagerly anticipating it, telling FYI that “I’m completely honoured to articipate. Paying tribute to Ron is something we’re all doing every day, mind you, but for this event, having all of Ron’s band mates on stage together - it’s going to be fantastic.”

Curran can’t completely recall the first time she saw Hynes. “He was always there, in downtown St. John’s.  I used to work taking tickets at the door at The Ship Inn and often times he would holler out from the stage to let groups of women in for free. He would charm you and disarm you. I was terrified of him.”

When asked whether Hynes’ work has been an influence on her own, she replies “Of course it is.  I couldn’t pinpoint exactly how, but Ron's work doesn’t disappear and neither does his musical influence.”

“A Ron Hynes song is a creature you can adopt and walk around with your whole life and that’s just what happens.  Ron’s music is a study for folks like me. You hold a song in your hand and all you can do is shake your head and wonder how in the hell he put it together.”

Asked to explain Hynes’ music for those not very aware of it, Curran replies that “with Ron, you’d have to see it to believe it. This crooked man, devilishly funny, spinning a tune that rips your heart out and then heals it again and somehow leaves you taller than before. “

She adds that “I tell people all the time that The Man of a Thousand Songs [Hynes’ nickname] was the first Newfoundlander to put out an album of entirely original music. He went on ahead of us and cleared a path so we could follow, and write, and know our worth as artists.”

While Hynes’ songs travel very well, they do seem to possess a special resonance for Newfoundlanders. “Ron speaks for us and I think we’re all proud of that,” stresses Curran. “Ron knew - painfully - what it is to be a Newfoundlander and there’s wonderful and terrible things about that identity that he wouldn’t let us forget.  He put things just so - just right - so we could claim them, own them, and hold our heads high.”

Performing in the band for the Tribute segment will be Ken Tizzard. The Newfoundland-raised musician is best known on the Canadian scene as bassist in The Watchmen and Thornley, and he’s now pursuing a career as a rootsy solo singer/songwriter. He played with Ron Hynes on multiple tours that he considers life-changing.

When asked by FYI why a singer/songwriter without a deep track record of commercial hits merited this Tribute, Tizzard replies “because he was, for a lot of musicians on the East Coast and abroad, the quintessential musician.  He toured relentlessly and dedicated himself to the craft of songwriting in a way most of us could barely imagine.  

“His methods of capturing a story, the imagery in his lyrics paired with a well crafted guitar accompaniment that was specifically designed to support the song, was something that I believe many songwriters spend lifetimes trying to achieve. He was also an amazing guy, being around Ron made folks feel special.”

Ron’s music resonates with a large variety of people due to the nature of his songs capturing real life experiences.  Ron did not write ‘hit song’ arrangements but he told ‘real life’ stories. Songs like “Sonny’s Dream”, “Ghost Of Dana Bradley”, St.John’s Waltz”, "No Change In Me”, and “My Father’s Ghost” are only the tip of the iceberg for Ron Hynes' ability to capture the Newfoundland culture. His decision to stay living in Newfoundland and make a living as an East Coast musician gained him a warm place in the hearts of many East Coasters.”

Ken Tizzard will pay further tribute to Hynes on June 3rd, with a show at the Westben Arts Theatre Festival, at The Barn, in Campbellford ON. The concert is entitled “Ron Hynes in Hynesight - Ken Tizzard remembers the Man Of 1000 Songs.”

On his blog (at kentizzard.com), he reflects further on Hynes’ influence on his own work. “Years back, when Ron Hynes contacted me to come on tour with him, I was flattered and very excited,” he writes. “ I had known Ron socially for 30+years, but we were not exactly ‘friends.”  Once I began learning his catalogue of music, I was baffled at the complexity of his songwriting.  The tour consisted of just me and him on the stages of the Arts and Culture centres across Newfoundland and Labrador.  I had to know his material inside out in order to follow along and be guided by his key changes, arrangement shifts and general mood.  

"It was an amazing learning experience for me and one that I have no regrets looking back on. During that tour and the tours which followed, I was writing the material for my own album, No Dark No Light. Getting inside Ron’s material and performing with him taught me so much about the craft of songwriting and performing. I had come from 20+ years of touring with pretty big rock bands where volume, lights and crowd energy were key to the show. Watching Ron walk on stage every night with just his guitar, songs and stories allowed me to look behind the curtain of the singer/songwriter.  

"Ron’s comments to me on the songs I was working on, and his offside commentary on character/story development and structure of songs, leave me feeling blessed to have had time with such a master. Personally I would call him a mentor, but I am certain that Ron did not see it that way. He was just a buddy sharing some insights as we killed hours on the highways heading to more shows.  Getting to know him as a friend in the last years of his life was a seriously entertaining and enriching time. “

As his Westben tribute show near, Tizzard is working daily on mastering Hynes’ songs. “Once again I am blessed to be still learning from a great master even though he is no longer here,” he reflects.

It is not just East Coast artists and music lovers that have responded to Ron Hynes’ songs. They have been covered worldwide by over 100 artists, including such international notables as Emmylou Harris, Christy Moore, Mary Black, and Hayley Westenra. His classic "Sonny's Dream" is arguably his most reprised song, and has been termed the "unofficial anthem" of Newfoundland.

The list of Canadians who have covered his work is a very impressive one that includes Valdy, Denny Doherty, Murray McLauchlan, John McDermott, The Irish Descendants, Susan Aglukark, Terry Kelly, Prairie Oyster, The Good Brothers, Shaye, The Cottars, and many more. His work will endure.

 

"Saying Goodbye To Ron"      - By Lennie Gallant                                       

 

I been walking around St. John’s tonight

Like I’ve been under a spell

Cause I feel like a part of him is still here

Making his last farewell         

I can hear his voice all over town

In every shop and bar

In every phone call from away

No matter how near or far

We’re saying goodbye to Ron

 

        There's a melody down on George Street

        Dancing on the wind

        It twists and turns like a candle

        Fighting with the fog bank rolling in

        And everybody's singing Sonny

        Don’t go, don’t go away

        You took the words right outa my mouth

        Told me what I meant to say

        Saying goodbye to Ron

 

They’re tearing up streets all over town

Change is rolling in

There's boys from the bay with a tin can

Begging for way to feed the mess they're in

There's no love for the fallen

When you’re all alone and dry,

And you’d sell your guitar for a sliver of peace

Never mind asking why

Saying goodbye to Ron

 

          Goodbye goodbye, goodbye goodbye, goodbye goodbye,

          Sonny, don’t go away, we’re here all alone,

          And your daddy’s a sailor...coming home...

 

 The cabbie glanced in the backseat

 Cause he thought he heard something there

 Then he drove to the top of Signal Hill

 Like he had a ghost for a fare

 And the radio played ‘No Kathleen’

 And ‘The Story Of My Life’

 And the wind carried ‘Atlantic Blue’

 To the lost souls in the night

 All saying goodbye to Ron

 

       And everybody singing Sonny

       Don’t go, don’t go away

       You took the words right outa my mouth

       Told me what I meant to say

       Saying goodbye to Ron

 

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