HUS AND THEM
CALGARY COWBOY TIM HUS REALLY A SMALL TOWN, BLUE-COLLAR HERO
by Tom Murray
"I went out to see this roots band that’s been around for 30 years called Truckstop. The people that go to those shows..." He trails off in bemusement. "The fans dress up, not only with cowboy boots and hats but also spurs and chaps, and, uh, toy pistols. I’d never seen that before–they can sure take it wild in that sense."
Hus has certainly seen wild before–he’s pretty much a standard in small town Alberta, where the clichés of rough-edged country bars hold as true as ever. Toy pistols and chaps can’t really phase a guy who’s played to an audience that quite often actually lives the life that he sings about. Truck drivers, oil rig workers, rodeo riders–that’s a big chunk of Hus’ constituency, and usually the characters that populate his songs.
It might seem strange to think of Germans enjoying such region specific music, but they did.
"They have a huge fascination with the West and the whole cowboy mythology, but they’re not really under the impression that it’s all cowboys and rodeos," he quickly adds. "I guess a close analogy would be the Society for Creative Anachronism over here–those guys wear chain mail armour and fight their medieval wars, which would probably be pretty weird over in Germany where there’s a castle on every hill."
SMALL TOWN BORNE
Despite his warm overseas welcome–Hus hopes to repeat the trip as soon as he can–he’s still committed to the 200-some gigs he does yearly in small towns and cities across Canada. It’s where his heart is, and where he knows he’ll always be welcome, even when country music spins out of fashion, as it regularly does.
"That’s true," he acknowledges, "and I feel very comfortable playing small towns. We’re very well received in places like that. It’s a bit of a niche–I developed that idea, playing places no one will play. It really becomes an event for the town. In a big city you get 50 to 100 people, but you play a small town of 600 and you get more because you’re not competing with anyone else."
It’s also a spiritual refueling point of sorts for the resident of Calgary. Like Stompin’ Tom, he sings about the plight of the common man, the trials and tribulations of blue collar working folk. Does that sound like the sort of hoary cliché that’s been running around at least as long as Merle Haggard was singing "Big City?" It sure is, but it’s also true. Hus is part of a lineage that stretches back a ways–the traveling folk/country singer, plain spoken and honest, singing "things that I know about." It’s an ethos that’s served him well over two albums, and fans of Alberta Crude (2004) and Songs of Western Canada (2002) will be happy to know that the new album, Huskies & Husqvarnas, will follow the same formula.
CANADIANA IN THREES
Recorded at Rocky Mountain Sound in Calgary, the album features his regular touring band of guitarist Rick Preston and bassist Spider Bishop, plus guests Myran Szott (Ian Tyson) on fiddle, Charlie Hase (Gary Fjellgaard) on pedal steel, and Craig Korth (Jerusalem Ridge) on banjo, mandolin, and dobro. Hus notes that the addition of such top ranked instrumentalists doesn’t mean he’s sweetening the mix for commercial consumption–he’s still committed to the lean and wiry sound.
"I planned to do three albums of Western Canadiana and this would be the third of that. After that, who knows? I just wanted to be able to do this trilogy of songs about stories that I felt needed to be written down," he says simply.
"I’d like to do a concept album at some point," he muses. "I’m really drawn to something like that–like [Willie Nelson’s] Red Headed Stranger. I’m not a purist by any stretch–I enjoy lots of things, especially stuff that’s original and quirky. It just sometimes seems like one album leads to another–when you find something that people really like, you kinda want to write something else in that style."
Who knows–maybe Huskies & Husqvarnas will close a door on one part of Tim Hus’s life, and maybe another door will open. Will the next album be a concept album about revenge and lust? A string laden Nashville album à la George Jones or possibly a shoegazer-country crossover with German polka beats?
"I’m sure I’ve got a lot of years to go on this journey," he laughs, "so no doubt I’ll have time to try a lot of different things."
Three classic country albums recommended by Tim Hus:
1) Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin
The songs of Johnny Cash come alive in a live setting performed for a rowdy gang of convicts. The energy of this live album and the command Johnny has over his audience is remarkable.
2) Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger
One of the foundations of the outlaw country movement. A story concept album stripped down to barebones arrangements and powerful songs.
3) Ian Tyson Cowboyography
Tyson's landmark album for Western culture, and a Canadian classic
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