[ n e w s ]

Friday February 2, 2001
Written by Kim Jamieson
Photos by Wayne Tozzi
©2001 Opry North

The prospect of covering one of Canada's most prominent, best loved entertainers would leave one a little apprehensive at the best of times, but when that entertainer is universally known as "Canada's Country Gentleman" and had been a staple of Canadian television culture for over 30 years – yes, I was more than apprehensive. Tommy Hunter was on the last few dates of his tour when he rolled into Newmarket with his Travelin' Men to play at the Newmarket Theatre for yet another capacity crowd. Having accomplished 37 shows in 28 days on this latest tour you'd think the charm would have started to fade a little or the ramrod straight posture start to slouch just a tad but we're talking about one of the biggest pros you'll ever see on a stage – anywhere. Everything would be just as spit-and-polished as it should be with not a sign of road weariness showing. That is the mark of a true professional.

Brian Edwards, who is Tommy Hunter's manager and the owner of the Rocklands Talent and Music Incorporated, kicked off the show. Now, Brian Edwards is a story all on his own, but when you add him to the Tommy Hunter factor you're talking about some pretty big players in the music industry and I was in awe already. Brian spoke about the current tour, the history of the Tommy Hunter shows and the Internet presence through Tommy's website (yes, Tommy's on our artists links page). He then introduced the crowd to The Travelin' Men, dressed to the nines in their tux's before announcing the man himself, Mr. Tommy Hunter. You've never felt so much love for an entertainer as we did when the tall, impeccable form of this instantly recognizable man strode out into the centre of the stage. With not a hair out of place, the largest smile and a beautifully tailored blue suit you could see why he appeared to be every inch a 'gentleman'. As the show progressed you would learn that it wasn't just his appearance.

The first song had us 'talkin about the good times' before they headed into "Y'all Come". And right from the start, folks were singing along. "Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms" was followed by a tribute to Wilf Carter with one song merging seamlessly into the next until "I'm Ragged But I'm Right". With little stops to talk to the crowd or share some interesting memory Tommy had the crowd enjoying more than just the music, they were spending time with a friend and it was really something to see. Some horseplay with lead guitarist Steve Petrie had everyone chuckling as they teased each other, one (Steve) 'misbehaving' and the other (Tommy) having to put him back in line (or did he?). After this series of little joking bits the group did some reminiscing about the old "Country Hoedown" show that Tommy had started on. He told us the story of one of his background dancers who'd decided he'd wanted his own career in the music industry, so he left to record his own music. Tommy recalled he'd wished him well, though he'd been a great dancer, and then heard him on the radio a few months later. Yes, Gordon Lightfoot had moved on to bigger things and he did all right.

"Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" followed "North Wind" before Tommy told us about his guitar lessons at nine years old and learning "Wild Wood Flower", which he headed into with a little accompaniment by Steve. Time to introduce us to the band. Tommy tours with 'four Steve's and one Miche', adding that all he has to do is call "Steve" and most of the band shows up. Steve Smith on steel guitar and dobro, Steve Piticco on bass, Miche Pouliot on drums and Steve Petrie on lead guitar and fiddle are four of the reasons that the Tommy Hunter show does as well as it does. They are very impressive.

"Roly Poly" was the solo that the band performed on their own, showcasing how tight and polished they are before Tommy re-emerged to give the crowd his 'most requested song' of any show at any venue; Amazing Grace. Tommy's tribute to Hank Snow was what he called "There's Nothing Like Them Old Railroad Songs" and it was a very enjoyable interlude. While Steve Piticco did the 'old '97 Tommy got his fiddle out and really let it fly. And what show would be complete without an example of what legend Al Cherney had taught him, the fiddle played behind his back and then under one leg while he balanced on the other. Now, I couldn't balance on one leg for that long, never mind trying to play my fiddle under it (and yes, I do have one but that's another story). Absolutely extraordinary! Next Steve Petrie emerged with his fiddle and we were treated to an incredible example of 'dueling fiddles'. Tommy teased him, asking, "Do you know this song?" Steve looked at him, all innocence, nodded and launched into it with all he had. Tommy waited just a heartbeat and jumped in and boy, did they have the rosin flying! This had to be my favourite part of the show; anyone who can play that well is all right with me (and believe me, you should try it sometime and try not to make noises like a cat with it's tail being stepped on). After this we were given an intermission, we needed it as much as they did after that performance.

"You Are My Sunshine" was a tribute to Jimmy Davis, who had nicknamed his wife 'Sunshine'. He wrote it for her a few years before she died. A medley of most requested and favourite songs from Tommy's shows was up next and they seamlessly flowed one to another, ending with Roger Millar's classic tune "King Of The Road". To end the show, Tommy wanted to do his traditional reading. He walked to the front of the stage and the curtain closed, leaving just Tommy and the hushed crowd. He took the book and began to tell us about his family, telling some pretty funny stories about his grandchildren and how they give their parents quite a time (much to his amusement). His reading was chosen based on the same type of thing, and it was the popular "No Charge". As he read, not a sound could be heard and the end was greeted with heartfelt applause, for the choice was about (for those who'd never heard it) a little boy and his presentation to his mother of a bill, for doing chores for the family and around the house. His mother reads it, then turns it over and writes out her own bill, writing 'no charge' after each item, (for staying up all night with him when he was sick – no charge) and then handing it back to him. As the little boy read what his mother wrote he hung his head lower and lower, then turned it over at the end and wrote, in big letters, "Paid In Full" over his bill, before wrapping her in a big hug. If you've never heard this selection, get ready for the lump in your throat at the end, and go home and give your mom a hug. That is the type of thing that Tommy Hunter stands for, and he really is Canada's Country Gentleman.

We would like to thank Rocklands Talent for their help with this coverage and the Newmarket Theatre for being so welcoming. It was a pleasure to see you all and we'll look forward to being in touch again.

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