David Bowie at the Montreal Forum Stands Out in Michael Timmins’ Mind
Michael Timmins sees the newest Cowboy Junkies album, Notes Falling Slow, as “a nice stepping stone to whatever our next recording project will be.”
The four-disc Notes Falling Slow, released in October, follows 2012’s wonderful five-disc box set, The Nomad Series. Notes Falling Slow is also a great listen, containing remastered versions of 2001’s Open, 2004’s One Soul Now, and 2007’s At the End of Paths Taken, plus new recordings of songs that were written during those years but weren’t included on the albums.
Timmins, Cowboy Junkies’ co-founder, guitarist and songwriter, tells me Notes Falling Slow is a stepping stone because it revisited some older material and allowed the Canadian band to work on songs “that had already been birthed but just needed to find their legs.”
“We feel that at this stage of the band’s life and in the current music biz climate we need to offer our audience, and want to create, something multidimensional—not just another album of 10 songs. There is a need to constantly expand and explore how we approach our recorded work.”
Timmins is unsure what will follow Notes Falling Slow. “It’s hard to say at his point,” he says, “but we are working on an idea to create a multi-disciplinary approach to our next recording project—a pretty meaningless thing to say. In other words, we are searching the ionosphere for ideas. Time will reveal all.”
He is more certain about the biggest Canadian influences on the Cowboy Junkies’ long musical career, which began with the 1986 debut album Whites Off Earth Now!! and a U.S. breakthrough two years later with The Trinity Session.
“Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, The Band would be the big three,” Timmins says. “That’s the music we listened to as we were growing up — the time in one’s life when others’ music affects one the most.”
There were plenty of non-Canadian musicians, too, who influenced the Cowboy Junkies. Timmins recites a long, diverse list including Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bruce Springsteen, and Nick Cave.
Timmins says it’s difficult to pinpoint the best concerts he has seen or the most influential, but one comes to mind.
“There are so many, but since this one has been on my mind this week, I’ll say David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour at the Montreal Forum on June 14, 1974. Alan [Anton, Cowboy Junkies’ co-founder and bass player] and I got scalper tickets on the day of the show, and our 14-year-old minds were blown that night. We stuck around and tried to join the road crew. I think we started on a life journey that night.”
That night was also opening night of Bowie’s six-month Diamond Dogs tour of North America and the end of his Ziggy Stardust persona. The setlist was riveting:
“1984,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Sweet Thing,” “Changes,” “Moonage Daydream,” “Aladdin Sane,” “John, I’m Only Dancing,” “All the Young Dudes,” “Suffragette City,” “Cracked Actor,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me,” “Space Oddity,” “Diamond Dogs,” “Panic in Detroit,” “The Jean Genie,” “Big Brother,” “Time,” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.”
Bowie wrote many other incredible songs, and the Cowboy Junkies have their share, too.
Which are the most brilliant?
“That’s a hard one, and it is constantly shifting,” Timmins responds. “I really like the performance and mood we captured with ‘Blue Guitar’ and ‘Betty Lonely.’ I am very proud of the lyrics of songs like ‘Bea’s Song,’ ‘Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning,’ and ‘Fairytale.’ I like the strong conceptual component of an album like Renmin Park and the energy and electricity of songs like ‘Wrong Piano’ and ‘Continental Drift.’
With countless songs and decades of touring behind them, how has the band managed to stay together with its original lineup of Anton, Timmins, and his siblings, lead vocalist Margo Timmins and drummer Peter Timmins?
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Michael says. “But we have always been pretty single-minded in our approach, so I guess that has helped a lot.”
Timmins says there’s a difference how the Cowboy Junkies’ music has been received by Americans and Canadians.
“We have always focused ourselves on the USA, so I think over time the appreciation of our American audience has grown,” he says. “We have struggled to stay on the average Canadian music fan’s radar.”
Why have the Cowboy Junkies been successful in the USA, while other excellent Canadian bands like Blue Rodeo remain virtually unknown south of the border?
“That’s hard to say.” Timmins says. “Part of the reason is that, when our records were released on the major labels, the US partner was always very supportive and used its weight to promote the band and get our music out there in the US marketplace. Also, I think our sound is pretty unique, so it filled a need and a desire that weren’t filled by any other US bands.”