Tim Hus at the Dakota Tavern
Back in 2004, I interviewed cowboy singer Tim Hus, just as he was beginning to make a name for himself throughout Western Canada. I thought I would publish some of that interview here.
Tim Hus is one of the hardest working musicians in the roots and country scene. He tours constantly, playing hundreds of live shows through the western provinces and northern territories of Canada every year. Part Stompin’ Tom Connors, part Ian Tyson, part young roots songwriter, Hus has released five albums, which consist of smart, funny commentary on life in the region. He has partnered with Corb Lund, a fellow Canadian cowboy singer, and received much praise from his peers. Hus worked a variety of jobs during the early years of his musical career, connecting him to the western population that relies on local industry and seasonal work throughout the year. His music documents the struggle of his former co-workers, the history of the region, and occasionally dips into the political controversies that occupy the minds of western Canadians. Hus will be playing at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern tomorrow night (September 17) from 7-10; if you’re in the area, stop in to see what will be a great show.
GT: Tell me about your musical background.
TH: I was born in Kootenay Lake down in Southern BC close to Nelson and I’ve lived kind of all over the place since then, on Vancouver Island, and in Alberta, Edmonton and Ontario a little bit Peterborough and Nova Scotia and Germany also. My father was a world traveler because he was a sailor in the merchant marines and he always knew lots of songs so I remember him singing a lot all the time, sailor songs and country songs. He sang Woody Guthrie, he was a big Woody Guthrie fan, so those were the first records I heard a lot of and then from there kind of went to Johnny Cash. My dad used to take me riding freight trains when I was a kid, all over Western Canada and the western United States. So, I guess I just always had an interest in the land and trains and then he worked as a trucker too, so it was trains and trucks and bulldozers [laughs], and all that stuff.
So the way I remember it is that my father was the best storyteller that I’ve ever met and anytime someone had a party they would invite him and then it was a half circle of people around him just listening to his stories. He was the born storyteller. And I’ve always been really proud that everyone thought he was so great. He built a house on Kootenay Lake and we always had this guitar on the wall, my entire life, and whenever someone would come over they would say, ‘oh you play the guitar?’ and he’d say, ‘oh no, I’m just learning her, I wish I did but not really.’ And so he never got beyond a couple of chords. So that was the only thing in the world that I could compete with him with, when I started playing guitar and figured out how that worked, I could sing and play, it came pretty easy to me and that was something he couldn’t do, so that was how that came together. Because everything else was pretty hard, it was hard to be more widely traveled than him because he’d been to a hundred countries.
I went to university on Vancouver Island, I studied fisheries in Nanaimo, and started playing there during school, I started playing at the clubs and that went really well because our building was fisheries and wildlife, so they were all kind of country music people anyways. They would come out to the shows, and that was a good start, very encouraging. After that I started to work in a salmon hatchery. And I was playing on weekends and it just grew to the point where I was taking time off to play and then I said well, I think I’ll just play rather than just work. So that’s what I did, so, I played every place that you could play.
I always just wrote what I knew in terms of songwriting, and I know Canada. I’ve been to the States, but I know a lot of Canadian singers, they’ll sing songs about Texas and stuff because that’s the thing to do, but I don’t know Texas that well, so I can write a better Alberta song from my way of thinking. And my first album, Songs of West Canada, was actually recorded over in Germany. I ended up with so many requests for the songs [when I was playing] there, for an album, that I just recorded them there. Then I came here and I got together my band, the Rocky Mountain Two, which is like Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, but the Rocky Mountain Two.
GT: How does your music fit into the current country music climate?
TH: I think it is for everybody, I think it is something that people all over the place could enjoy, I don’t think it’s limited to people that would only go to a folk club and search out really eclectic music that they would have to. But I think there’s definitely guys who, I would say Johnny Cash had his mainstream hits, was all over the radio at points in his career, but I think he was always very real with what he did. So, I don’t think that just because you’re real that you can’t expect to have any sort of success. Maybe what you do is you play around where you’re able to, and I suppose you wait for it to come around again. Particularly in country music, it’s always done that, you’ve had your Eddy Arnold crooners, and it’s brought back by the honky tonk guys and it goes over that way again and then Willie and Waylon bring it back and then it goes pop again and then Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis bring it back and then it goes pop again. And you can sort of feel, like Corb Lund is doing pretty well and we do shows together with him, and it’s very much in the same vein. I guess maybe you hang around until it comes around again and it becomes mainstream. You talk to any of those guys, like Willie Nelson, there were times when the radio wouldn’t touch him at all. When it did come around, everyone knows, then Willie was all over the radio, same with Dwight Yoakam. Now they’ve kind of slipped away again, they’re not really on the hit parade so much anymore, but they’re still, they’ve built their fan base and they’re able to keep going with that. I think you just gotta keep doing what you can. And then if it ever becomes popular, that’s good and if it doesn’t, that’s fine too.
GT: How does Alberta life affect your songwriting?
TH: Well, I like it. I like that Ian Tyson lives down the road. I have this song, “Hotel and Saloon” and Ian’s people were at my CD release party and he really liked that song and he invited me to come down to his ranch and hang out with them, so that’s nice, eh? That’s kind of a thrill for me.
Check out Tim’s website for more shows and to find his CDs.