Toronto Native Whose Songs
Brighten Spirits, Radio & TV
On Both Sides of the Border
By PHIL SWEETLAND
NEW YORK TIMES
NASHVILLE – Music is truly the universal language. Its true ambassadors are the gifted singers and songwriters like Canada’s Garry Jackson, whose work easily and magically crosses musical and international boundaries.
Now one of Nashville’s most prolific singers and tunesmiths, Garry’s vast catalogue of more than 1,000 songs includes signature pieces such as “Nashville Here With Arms Wide Open,” an uplifting musical love letter to his adopted hometown, with a video he produced for the non-profit Sister Cities of Nashville; a powerful song about the Hurricane Katrina survivor Hardy Jackson which the Weather Channel played in 2009; and even one about the life and death of the Blues pioneer Robert Johnson called “Three Forks 1938.”
Garry Jackson was born in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city and a cultural hotbed then and now.
“Toronto is a vibrant city, there’s a lot going on both in film and music,” he says in a phone conversation from his home near Nashville. “Canada is very open to the arts.”
Inspired by icons from the Great White North like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and Americans such as Bob Dylan and James Taylor, Jackson joined a band that played cover tunes in high school, but his passion even then was writing.
Neil Young’s multi-platinum 1970 album After The Gold Rush was a major early influence. The young Garry was fascinated by Neil’s storytelling and the songwriting, even though at first he struggled to write poetry himself.
He gained a great deal of confidence when a teacher praised one of his short stories, and soon the creative floodgates opened.
“I guess it was because I was using my imagination,” he said. “I write about things I know.”
For instance Garry adores traveling, and following a tour to Ireland he wrote a song whose arrangement includes traditional Gaelic instruments. He is also like a creative musical sponge, penning new songs about people, places, and things he’s known, read about, or heard about.
Further inspiration comes from Jackson’s unique life story. He was adopted, grew up with his younger sister and didn’t learn they had an older sister until he was 17.
After graduation, Garry joined Canada Post, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Postal Service, where he proudly worked for more than 30 years.
But this modern-day troubadour never stopped singing, and never stopped writing.
“Last week I wrote about 12 songs,” he says matter-of-factly. “If I start one, these thoughts keep coming and I have to keep writing.”
After a chance encounter with a guy in a record store, Garry was able to release his first single in 1982. Timing is indeed everything, and soon Jackson was becoming a popular performer in Toronto.
In time, he would open for many of his musical heroes, including Tom Rush and Eric Andersen, and share stages at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival with folks like Nanci Griffith.
Even though Garry’s music is folk and Americana, not country, he was drawn to the songwriting capital of Nashville. He commuted between Toronto and Tennessee for several years, before making the big move here in 2007.
He found the ideal mentor in Steve Haggard, the producer, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who proudly calls his own work “American Roots Music.” Steve – no relation to Merle – has played more than 50 international tours since 1991 in 20 countries, and produces Garry’s albums on Wild Oats Record.
“We met online, and Steve’s been very supportive,” Jackson says. “He’s been in the business for many years. I’ve done three CDs with Steve, and since my last one I have enough songs to do another 10.”
Haggard invited Garry overseas to perform at music festivals in Ireland and France, and is also involved in the Sister Cities project.
Acoustic and roots music is one of the few areas of the business which is booming and enjoying a major resurgence these days, so Garry’s songs may well find lots of spots in radio rotations.
In fact, he and Steve host the weekly “Haggard And Haggard Radio Hour” Tuesdays from 4-5 Central Time on Radio Free Nashville. One recent program featured the music of none other than Nanci Griffith.
There’s a wonderfully autobiographical video of Garry for his song “Chasing The Wind,” that begins: “Oh, I’m an average Joe/from Belleville, Ontario/now I’m found far from that home/as I’m chasing the wind.”
That warm wind has already brought Garry Jackson south from Toronto to Music City. It now carries him, his music, and his marvelously upbeat Canadian spirit across the oceans to Europe and beyond, to anywhere fans and average Joes and average Marys need some musical sunshine, inspiration, refuge, hope, compassion, and joy.
Updated September 29, 2012
“Chasing The Wind” link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63i1Gd3-Jhw
“Nashville Here With Arms Wide Open” video link: