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Telling time through timeless songs

In this Arts and Culture feature we chat with Murray McLauchlan about his long and storied career in the music business and his upcoming show at the River Run Centre, Thursday Feb 20
2020 02 15 GT - Arts and Culture Murray McLauchlan - TB 02
Murray McLauchlan will be performing Thursday at the River Run Centre. Supplied photo

Juno award winning singer-songwriter Murray McLauchlan holds the distinction of having played in every major concert hall in Canada at least once and he is returning to the River Run Centre Thursday. 

McLauchlan has been writing songs since he was a teenager and writing hit songs since the late 1960s. He has released 19 albums and taken home 11 Junos during more than 40 years in the music business. 

He received the Order of Canada in 1993 and was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.  

His songs have been recorded and performed by dozens of artists including Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Wilson and Sarah McLachlan and featured in a number of films and television shows.  

McLauchlan is often labeled folk-country but he’s not much for labels or limiting himself to any one genre.

Child’s Song, for example has a strong folk influence while Whispering Rain has a rhythm and blues groove. Songs such as Never Did Like that Train and Farmer’s Song have a distinct country twang while Down By the Henry Moore and Honky Red drift into pop and rock ‘n’ roll. 

McLauchlan’s most recent album Love Can’t Tell Time traces its influence back to early jazz and the great American songbook. 

Fans can expect a taste of all of those styles and influences during the show Thursday evening.

“I will be doing songs from my repertoire that people will want to hear, Henry Moore, Whispering Rain, Farmer’s Song, Child’s Song and those kinds of things,” he said.  “A good half of the show will be songs from Love Can’t Tell Time and from Human Writes as well.”

It will be a very intimate performance with McLauchlan sharing the stories behind many of his iconic tunes. 

“I have an accompanist, Victor Bateman, who is a brilliant musician and when I get on the concert grand and he gets on the bow it’s like a whole big orchestra but, essentially, it’s a stripped down, pretty acoustic show,” he said. “The songs are really at the centre of it and if they don’t work stripped down like that then they don’t work.”

It’s not the first time he has played the River Run or Guelph for that matter and he has fond memories of playing here back in the early 1970s at War Memorial Hall.

“One of my favourite gigs was there,” said McLauchlan. “I did two concerts with Neil Young when he was warming up for the Tonight’s the Night tour and I ended up going on the whole Tonight’s the Night tour with him from Boston to Berkley.”

He described it as an educational experience. 

“Neil was the headliner and the human sacrifices were myself and Nils Lofgren and his band Grin,” said McLauchlan. “It was actually quite an education and a lot of fun. I met Bill Graham and a bunch of other people too.” 

McLauchlan’s career has put him in the company of many iconic artists including Margaret Atwood, Joni Mitchell, John Prine and the late Jim Croce and given him the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of Canada and around the world. He has captured some of the scenery in his landscape paintings and several of the stories in his autobiography Getting Out Of Here Alive published in 1998.

Of course, many of the experiences have worked their way into his songs. 

“In art the journey is what it is all about,” he said. “It’s the serendipitous turns that happen while you’re on the journey that lead to something totally unexpected.”

He draws inspiration from the events in his life and pondering the nature of existence.

“It sounds high falutin but that is what keeps me going,” he said. “I also really enjoy making music and for me it is a constant learning experience to get better and increase my musical abilities and improve my musical vocabulary which I have done pretty constantly over the years I have been doing this.”  

That was the inspiration behind his latest record Love Can’t Tell Time released in 2017.

“I started concentrating on trying to up my game as far as playing guitar was concerned when I was living in Italy in 2013,” he said. “I always wanted to be the guy who could sit in with the Count Basie Orchestra and play like Freddy Green so, I started learning those chords and learning those voicings on the guitar and kind of fell in love with playing again.”

It inspired him to write material for a whole new record.

“I thought of how cool it would be to write a bunch of songs that if you put them side by side with songs from the American songbook,  people wouldn’t notice they were new,” he said. “I stuck in a few that are actually from the American songbook and most reviewers that reviewed that record said they couldn’t really tell the difference so it was a home run.” 

McLauchlan has fiercely defended the rights of artists through his work with SOCAN and has felt the impact changes in the market have had on the ability of artists to make money from music sales but it hasn’t changed why he makes music. 

“First of all, if you are writing songs because you think it is a job then you are probably in the wrong profession,” he said. “This is what I do. I am really glad that people make billions of dollars and are buying Bugatti Veyrons but for me that’s not what it has ever been about. 

"I have been fortunate to be able to make a living and that people still come to my concerts and I get to play. I always try to evolve and give them something a little different when they walk out than what they had when they walked in. I think that works. That works for me. It doesn’t get big and stupid but it gets big enough that it maintains itself.”