Atlantic Canadian musicians remember Ron Hynes as profound songwriter
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Atlantic Canadian musicians are remembering acclaimed singer-songwriter Ron Hynes as a prolific storyteller whose profound creativity could evoke the emotions of the carefully crafted characters in his songs.
Hynes died Thursday in St. John's, N.L., at the age of 64 after a brief battle with cancer.
The Newfoundland and Labrador native long referred to himself as the "man of a thousand songs," a moniker he coined in an endearing folk song that speaks of the lonely, shabby side of being a singer.
Cape Breton singer-songwriter Bruce Guthro, who knew Hynes for more than two decades, called him one of the world's greatest songwriters.
"He could capture a character in a song and you could just slide your feet right into that man's shoes or that woman's shoes," said Guthro in a phone interview on Friday. "He was brilliant. He tackled tough subjects and did them in a beautiful, poetic manner."
Dave Gunning, a Nova Scotia folk singer-songwriter who wrote and toured with Hynes, said his creativity was incessant.
"He was always making things up and singing. He would be in a hotel room and singing all the time, writing and creating all the time," said Gunning from his home in Pictou, N.S., on Friday. "It was non-stop with him. He was almost tortured by it. He couldn't rest."
Gunning said Hynes was a kind and confident person with deep duality, wavering between his playful and mysterious sides.
"He had this persona or feeling that he was this dark character in many ways, but most of the time he was just a kid, so young and curious at heart," said Gunning, adding that Hynes loved to collaborate and help other artists. "Maybe that's why he was such a great writer. He always had his eyes wide open."
New Brunswick-born, Nova Scotia-based singer songwriter Thom Swift says Hynes is regarded as a legend among musicians on the East Coast and beyond.
"He's left a pair of boots here that no one is going to fill," said Swift, who happened to be at Gunning's house on Friday for a songwriting session. "When you think of Stompin' Tom Connors or Rita MacNeil, you think of Ron Hynes in the same breath. He's a legend for us."
In a 2007 interview, Hynes said an addiction to drugs had almost killed him four years earlier.
"Once you're addicted, you're addicted for life," he said at the time. "It's not like you have a cold for a weekend and then Monday morning you're feeling a whole lot better and all those germs are gone."
Hynes often confronted his demons in song. Even in "Man of a Thousand Songs," the jagged, dark side of his life comes out in the lyrics.
"He got a friend in the backstage alley, got just the thing to make the night move along," Hynes would sing, a well-worn fedora always part of the act.
Hynes is perhaps best known for his song "Sonny's Dream," a lament about a mother worrying about losing her son to the sea. The song, written in 1976, has been covered by other artists so many times that it has become a late-night anthem in many corners of the globe.
He's also famous in his home province for a moving tribute he wrote for the 84 men killed in 1982 when the offshore drill rig Ocean Ranger capsized in a violent storm off Newfoundland.
The haunting lyrics of "Atlantic Blue" capture a profound sense of loss that endures in Newfoundland to this day: "What colour is a heartache from a love lost at sea? What shade of memory never fades but lingers to eternity? And how dark is the light of day that sleepless eyes of mine survey? Is that you, Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you."
Born in St. John's and raised in Ferryland, Hynes was founding member of The Wonderful Grand Band and later released seven solo albums. He won several East Coast Music Awards and was a Juno and Canadian Country Music Awards nominee.
Hynes was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2012, but he kept the disease at bay until this fall when he confirmed it had returned, this time to his hip and lung. He was rushed to hospital earlier this week.
-- By Aly Thomson and Michael MacDonald in Halifax