Burford, Ontario’s Thomas Wade found his love for music at a young age and performed with his family’s band, The Silver Wings. The records he grew up loving became his teachers, from Johnny Cash to Elvis to The Beatles. Years later, he was accepted into the Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe College. He found himself surrounded by people who shared the same passion for music that he had. After college, he joined a band called Wayward and they opened up shows for Canadian country legend Marie Bottrell. Thomas Wade and Wayward went on to win 7 CCMAS and earn 3 Juno nominations. Eventually, Thomas embarked on a solo career and found success at Canadian country radio and CMT with songs like “Running Away With You”, “Some Guys” and “Lying Here With You”.
You have a special show coming up on April 29th at the Lincoln Alexander Theatre in Hamilton called “An Intimate Evening with Thomas Wade: The Story Of A Voice Lost And Found”. What can people expect from this evening?
By the time I had to retire from singing in 2002, I had found my niche in performance. Playing soft seat theatres was my favourite thing to do. It allowed me to rock ‘em, then sit down and tell a story, tell a joke. Sing a sad song, sing a love song, or sing a funny song, and really entertain people. I have been back singing live as an artist for a couple of years now, and I am ready to get back in the saddle. That is exactly the kind of intimate show I have lined up, with the added bonus of my new material from Blue Country Soul, and some stories of what my ten year odyssey with Dystonia was like. I learned a lot, and I think there’s something worth sharing there.
People can expect to hear a cross section of my old material, stretching right back to the first single Thomas Wade and Wayward released: “Sitting Pretty”. I haven’t sung some of those songs publicly – except for one or two times – for almost 15 years, so it might be nice for some of the fans. Then, I’m planning to go through a selection of the songs that really influenced me in the first place; like the music of Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash – songs I sang when I started that I have never had the chance to sing in a concert setting.
Tell us about the story of a voice lost and found. This was quite a journey and a life-changing time for you.
Sure, Dave. Let me start by saying that it’s kind of strange that I am even doing a show like this. When I was going through it I felt like if I ever got away from Dystonia I would run like hell. I would record and write, and I would never want to talk about it again, because it was a lot more difficult to go through than I ever let on to anyone but my closest family. But now, I find that there is so much I have to offer people by sharing it, that I think I might be stuck with it!
Though I had experienced some trouble with my throat through the nineties, I put it down to overwork. In fact, I almost had to lip-sync on the ’97 CCMA Awards because my throat was messed up so bad. I had surgery immediately after to remove two polyps from my vocal cords. I was fine for a while… then I experienced a slow steady decline in my singing range and power, very slowly, until in December 2001. I was singing a show in Yorktown Saskatchewan, and this awful, uncontrollable sound came out. None of the specialists or doctors I went to could explain it, and nothing I did to help it worked, so I retired from singing in 2002.
Then by 2004, I started to sound as if I had a stroke. Again, no one could explain it. By 2006, I was finally diagnosed with Oromandibular Dystonia, a neurological disease for which there was no cure. I accepted that and moved on. By 2009, I began to hear about some new brain science that was changing all ideas about what was possible, but it was still not a cure. I decided to learn everything I could about the brain, hypnosis and the mind. Eventually I was able to rehabilitate myself. Now, I’ve been working on my voice every day for several years, and I’m back. There’s more to it, but I have to save something for the show!
In 2004, Celine Dion recorded a song you wrote with Beverley Mahood called “Come To Me”. Tell me a bit about the writing of the song and how it feels to have this great accomplishment attached to your name.
Well, that was a pretty cool experience. I had been down at Beverley’s place in Nashville, and we had been hard at it with two or three writing sessions a day. I had been writing so much at that time that I started to worry that I might be repeating myself. That is to say, I was worried that I was playing the same guitar parts, essentially plagiarizing myself. So I woke up early on Sunday and decided to try tuning the guitar differently. Just tuning it till I couldn’t repeat myself, because I couldn’t play! Then I fiddled around till I was playing something that really caught on, and I could hear the phrase “Come To Me”. When Beverley joined in and started singing, it was clear we had something special. When David Foster heard it, he decided he had to take it to Celine for her new record. It still feels kind of surreal. It’s definitely the high point of my writing career and a pretty awesome calling card. I wouldn’t mind doing that again! But most of all, I’m just really proud of the song, and that’s the most important thing to me.
Who were the artists that caught your ear and influenced you while growing up?
We were a musical family. My Grandpa had the most popular band around our area, with my Mom singing, and my Grandma calling square dances. My Uncle John was a champion fiddle player as well, so music was all around me. My Mom’s voice was, and still is, beautiful. She gravitated to the music of Patsy Cline and Kay Starr, as well as Loretta Lynn and Connie Smith. She really had it. I really think she was the first singer that influenced me. My Dad played guitar, as well as sang, in the style of Ernest Tubb. I’m pretty sure I get my low notes from him. The first song I remember hearing on the radio that really got to me was “Distant Drums” by Jim Reeves. I can still hear the sound of the big old ’63 Oldsmobile rumbling under it. But it was Johnny Cash who made me want to be a singer. They called me Princeton and Burford’s Johnny Cash. Hilarious. I was probably five years old when I sang “I Got Stripes” my first time on stage at the Princeton Jamboree (our version of the Grand Ole Opry). Then, I basically devoured every record that came in the Columbia Record Club. Merle Haggard. Elvis. Marty Robbins. So many.
Who would be some of your favourite artists to cover on future recordings?
As you know, I recorded a cover of the Carl Belew classic, “Am I That Easy To Forget”, which has been covered by many artists, including Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins. There are a bunch of songs like that that I love to sing, and I really had to struggle to narrow down which one to put on this record. When I realized how many there were, I knew that was something I would do one day. There are Jim Reeves songs, Faron Young songs, Jack Greene and Bill Anderson songs that I would love to give an uptown Nashville sound treatment to. I think that would really suit the direction I’m in now.
What are some songwriting tips you can pass on to our readers?
The first thing I say to somebody who wants to be a writer – any kind of a writer – is that you’ve got to write. You’ve got to write all the time, and not just songs. I believe in something called “Morning Pages”, in which I get up and write three pages without letting the pen leave the paper, on any topic, essentially stream of consciousness. It really helps to free up my creativity and encourages spontaneity. I would also say, don’t get too hung up on writing a song that sounds like something that could be a hit right now. Let yourself be unique. It takes a couple of years to get a song to market, if you’re lucky. By then, a style might be on its way out.
Tell us about the writing of one of your most beloved songs, “Lying Here With You”.
Cyril Rawson and I wrote that song, probably sometime around 1993. We were trying to put together enough songs to do an album, and Cyril and I really clicked. Originally, I think Cyril came up with the title, “Lying With The Truth”. We kicked titles back and forth for a couple of months until we came up with the title, “Lying Here With You”. After that, it really came together quickly. I think the fact that it was so autobiographical made it such an impactful song. I really kind of opened up about a real experience and Cyril and I just put it together from that. The first time it was ever performed was one night at a rowdy bar in Toronto. It was newly written, and with just piano, we sang it. This place that was normally crazy went completely silent till the end of the song, so we knew we had a hit.
I’d love to hear you do a great country duet. Who would your dream duet partner(s) be?
Oh God, Emmylou Harris for sure. I have always loved her way with a song… and that silver-edged voice. She has been such a part of so many people’s songs as a harmony singer. I’d love to do the same someday. But I might not have to look too far for another beautiful voice to sing with. My wife Denise was a singer before she became a host at The Shopping Channel, and she has a voice that sounds somewhere between Faith Hill and Emmylou. I use her on pretty much every session I produce, as a harmony singer. We have a version of “Lying Here With You” that we do at home. I think it could be a great recording.
Your recent album Blue Country Soul is terrific. You wrote a bunch of the songs with Tim Taylor and you covered the country standard “Am I That Easy To Forget”. How much does this album mean to you?
It’s hard to overstate how much this Blue Country Soul album means to me. For one thing, it was never supposed to be possible. Even after I started singing again, to ever be singing well enough to go into the studio seemed unlikely. I had to sound as good as before, or what would be the point? I think what it represents more than anything is my love of music. I believe one of the reasons I got sick, and lost my voice, was that singing became a job. Music became a huge competition. This thing that I grew up loving as much as breathing became something that had to pass muster with the business side of music. I honestly don’t feel that a lot of those people have any place judging our work, and eventually that whole experience, and the stress of it, just sucked all the love out of it. Focusing on singing songs that really touched me and singing in a way that could move me, helped me find that love again. I made sure that while Tim and I wrote this record, every song felt like home. I didn’t give a crap about what could get on the radio. Blue Country Soul was me finding my way back to my oldest and closest friend: music.
What haven’t you done yet in your music career that is something you’d like to do in the next year or so?
I’m in the process of putting together a few different shows that give me the chance to sing music that I just really enjoy – a couple of different takes on the tribute idea that haven’t been covered by anybody else. There are a ton of tribute shows out there doing well, and I think it’s great that people get a chance to enjoy classic music played well, in a theatre setting. However, I often find that everybody is doing the same thing, and there’s a lot of other great music to draw from. I don’t have any interest in pretending to be anybody else. It’s more like getting a chance to revisit and appreciate great old songs with other music lovers.
Dave Woods is a monthly columnist for the CMAOntario and has been hosting the popular online radio show In The Country with Dave Woods for 8 years. To hear episodes, please visit www.inthecountryinterviews.com, www.soundcloud.com/dave-woods-3 and iTunes.