Sun Times staff
A capacity crowd in Owen Sound will say goodbye to Canada’s Country Gentleman next month at one of Tommy Hunter’s last concerts.
The sold out 2 p.m. show March 17 at the OSCVI Auditorium falls just three days before Hunter wraps up in London what he vows will be his final tour, on the singer’s 75th birthday, in the city where he was raised and first performed at the age of nine.
Hunter’s warm, genial, no-nonsense approach to country music eventually made the singer one of Canada’s most popular television entertainers, with his own high-profile weekly CBC show for 27 years and another nine with Country Hoedown before that.
“I just feel it’s the right time to say goodbye,” Hunter said in a recent telephone interview with The Sun Times. “I can still sing and perform, so it’s a good time to go out. I just feel it’s a good time to hang it up and say goodbye and sit back and relax and do some other things.”
The Owen Sound concert, his first here since 2006, is now sold out, according to the artist’s website. It’s one of several sellouts on this 25-show Eastern Canadian tour, which began Feb. 19 in St. John’s.
The performances encapsulate everything his fans came to expect from his TV program — honest, straight-up, old-fashioned country music Tommy Hunter style.
“The audience is basically the people that watched a television show and invited me into their living rooms for many, many years,” he said. “My success came from television, so when we do a show, it’s a trip down memory lane for any of the people that watched the show.”
He’ll include familiar songs, his own and some from classic country performers like Wilf Carter and Johnny Cash, and, as always, expect a recitation.
At 74, long away from the competitive, weekly TV grind – The Tommy Hunter Show last aired in 1992 -Hunter said he rarely listens now to modern country performers, but sometimes likes what he does hear.
He’s more inclined to tune his satellite radio to classical music, or sometimes a bluegrass or classic country station. He likes the old masters of country music, recorded live in the studio, on tight timelines. That music still sounds real and present, while new recordings, with months of studio sampling and cutting and pasting track on track for perfection have “a freshness that just isn’t there.”
When the old masters — the Hanks (Snow and Williams), or Ernest Tubb — come on the satellite station, he’ll stay tuned.
“The minute they go into rock I’m out of there and by and large and I go right back to the classic stations,” Hunter said.
Hunter won’t perform the new country music, not because he can’t or because he doesn’t like the songs, but because that’s not what his fans come to hear.
“I could do the whole hit parade if I wanted to, but my audience wouldn’t relate to that. They relate to the older type of songs. That’s what they remember, that’s what they want,” he said.
What he wants is for his friends and fans to clap, tap their feet and sing along if they like. “That’s the type of show we do.”
From the first days of The Tommy Hunter Show, which began in 1965, he said he knew the kind of program he wanted to present, which has changed very little since. It would be about the music, without barnyard trappings or hillbilly hokum common then when U.S. networks presented country music.
“That would have been the easiest way to go, is to put a barn and chickens and cattle and bales of hay and pitchforks and we take off our suits and put on a pair of dungarees. And, boy, I hated that idea. I just absolutely loathed that,” he said.
“I didn’t want to be a hayseed and I didn’t want it to reflect on people that were in the agriculture business. It would almost appear as if we were poking fun at those people. But the main reason was that I thought that our music had elevated to a point where we didn’t have to apologize for it.”
Instead, he presented the music with dignity and respect, although he credits his full CBC team with the show’s long success.
“I was one spoke in a large wheel.”
Hunter always performed in a suit, and eventually earned the reputation as Canada’s Country Gentleman. He has been inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, is a three-time Juno winner and a member of the Order of Canada.
Tommy Hunter performs at the OSCVI in Owen Sound at 2 p.m. March 17. firstname.lastname@example.org