Giants of Canuck music
Young, Cockburn headed for Songwriters Hall of Fame
Max Kerman may not remember the first Neil Young song he heard — his dad was a fan first — but the frontman of the decadeold, Juno-winning Hamilton rockers Arkells certainly remembers the first time he performed one at the tender age of 15.
“Across the street from where I grew up in Toronto actually, I had these two friends, and we had kind of our first high school bandslash-basement jam parties and one of the first songs that we jammed was Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World,” said Kerman. “I think a lot of people who learn how to rock start with that song. It’s an undeniable rock song.”
Flash forward to Sept. 23 at Toronto’s hallowed Massey
Hall, Kerman and the rest of Arkells are getting the chance to perform two of Young’s songs again in front of the legendary Toronto folk-rock singersongwriter himself at the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame bilingual induction ceremony that will honour Young, fellow Toronto folkie Bruce Cockburn, Montreal rockers Beau Dommage and Quebec songwriter-composer Stephane Venne.
Kerman said they couldn’t perform without renowned Toronto pedal steel guitarist and Baldwin Street Sound owner/producer Aaron Goldstein, who they met and played with at college in the roots-rock band The Surly Young Bucks.
“Goldstein is like a Neil Young fanatic,” said Kerman. “He’s responsible for getting us all deeply into Neil Young and with The Surly Young Bucks we covered Tonight’s The Night, and that song is maybe one of my favourite Neil Young songs. And we also covered Powderfinger. And when I found out about this gig, I called up Goldie and I told him about it and I said, ‘Neil, I think, is going to be there. We’re going to play a couple of songs, and you need to play pedal steel with us.’ ”
Also performing a single song in honour of Cockburn will be longtime fan and Toronto singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman, who just moved to Montreal six weeks ago.
“Just to qualify, I’m fanatical,” said Workman. “Bruce Cockburn is my David Bowie. He’s the guy who saved my life. I don’t know any other artist’s music more than I know his, so he was kind of my guiding light through high school. But I could definitely trace it all the way back to a record that was in my dad’s collection, which was Humans from 1980. Bruce was my benchmark for my own songwriting. And I think for me as drummer first, Bruce was the guy who always had Toronto’s hottest rhythm section. He was a guy who really kept his ear to the ground in the Toronto music scene, in the Canadian music scene and always pulled the greatest players.”
The rest of the CSHF induction performing lineup includes k.d. lang, Randy Bachman,
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Whitehorse, Ruth B, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Lisa LeBlanc, Damien Robitaille, Daniel Lavoie, Don Ross,
Elage Diouf, France D’amour, Florence K, Julie Payette, William Prince, Eh440, Jessica Mitchell and Yann Perreau.
Kerman said, ultimately, the mark of “a great artist” is one who keeps evolving.
“There are a lot of different stages of Neil Young to get into,” he said. “You go through the years — there are a lot of different sides to him. I think he’s really honest as a songwriter. He’s very vulnerable. He speaks the truth. He’s really interested in his own feelings. And I think that’s what we’re all looking for in a songwriter is somebody who you believe in when they’re singing something. And also, just his melodies are top tier. And as a guy who is interested in chord progressions and arrangements, he brings that to the table too. So he sort of checks off all the boxes.”
Added Workman of Cockburn’s songwriting gifts: “His sense for writing great chorus lyrics. Like I always feel with Bruce he has these great concepts like Rumours of Glory or Waiting For A Miracle or Lovers In A Dangerous Time and his titles alone tend to encapsule something so mystical and you’re always waiting for the story. I always feel like I’m approaching a Bruce Cockburn song like it’s a glowing orb on the horizon. It’s so contained.”
The CSHF, founded in 2003, held seven induction ceremonies before being taken over by SOCAN in 2011, which put a pause on the live events until this year.
The Massey Hall show will be livestreamed at CBCMusic. ca and on CBC Music’s Facebook and YouTube pages starting at 7:30 p.m. ET next Saturday and recorded for later broadcast on CBC Music and ICI Musique.
Tickets are available at cshfinduction.ca and masseyhall.com.
Neil Young, left, and Bruce Cockburn are hall of famers.
KERMAN Keep on Rockin’