The expression “Stop and smell the roses” has always been used as a way to re-evaluate our lives and our priorities. But as life gets faster each year with increasing technological changes, it’s harder to do that. Many times, what’s needed is a major event to open our eyes to what’s really important in our lives. Oh hello, COVID-19. Step right in!
This reality is reflected in Alberta singer-songwriter John Wort Hannam’s new album, The Long Haul, which contains more personal songs than his previous releases.
“Half the songs were written after COVID started and we were all isolated into our own little houses,” he said from his Lethbridge home. “So part of it was, I was singing about things that were around me, my family and my house. Also, I think as I’ve gotten older as a songwriter, I realize how I can write about personal things [while] also making some sort of universal theme. So they’re not just songs about me but maybe somebody else can relate because they’ve experienced the same thing.”
A case in point is the song, 'Beautiful Mess', which is a duet with Lethbridge honkytonk artist Shaela Miller.
“I was telling someone about the song the other day,” John said. “I basically said, ‘You know, we’re all flawed anyway, so if you can find somebody out there who loves you for those flaws and for the other beautiful parts that you have, you better hang on tight to that person.’ This idea that there might be somebody who’s absolutely perfect, obviously is non-existent! Anybody who’s been married knows it’s all about compromise and seeing the beauty through those flaws.”
A humorous video for the song has been put together featuring John, Shaela, John’s son and Shaela’s daughter.
“We came up with this idea of let’s have them be little us. The videographer did a good job of getting that message across that these were ‘mini-Me” and “mini-Shaela.”
On a more serious note, The Long Haul features a number of songs that deal with the passing of time and of those who are loved.
“‘Round And Round’ is about sort of having a conversation with my granddad. I came from England when I was eight, and I only got to see one set of my grandparents once,” he said. “So I really didn’t get to know them. But I do have an old black and white photo of my dad’s dad. There’s a lot of lessons that are passed down from grandfather to grandchild, and I often think about the knowledge I lost because I was not around my grandfather. I guess really that song is me asking him questions. What are some of the things I wish I’d learned, and what are some of the questions I wish I had answered by that relationship of grandfather to grandchild?”
'Young At Heart' is a song that is closer in time and closer to home for John.
“My dad was diagnosed with leukemia, and he passed away in March. I wrote that song when he was first diagnosed,” he said. “My dad was always one of the people who had a real lust for life. He was always interested in seeing what was over the next little knoll of trees. [He] enjoyed his family and just enjoyed life and living. So that was me trying to honour my dad while he was still alive. I sang that to him while he was in the hospice.”
The song serves another purpose for John besides being a tribute to his father.
“I finished the record with that song because when I finished a live show, I always felt like I wanted to send the audience away with a message of some kind that was a bit ‘from the heart.’ I don’t like to use the word ‘blessing’ because I’m not a religious guy at all, not in the least, but to wish them good health, loving families and things like that.”
Describing life in small town Alberta has been a mainstay of John’s creative output throughout his career, and it’s on full display with the song, 'Meat Draw'.
“The meat draw is a very, very popular thing on the prairies,” John explained. “especially at the local Legion. We played a festival called ‘Wide Cut Weekend,’ and our venue in Calgary was the 1 Legion. As we were sitting in the green room, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t have a Legion song.’ There was a sign on the wall [that said] ‘Meat Draw – Friday Night,’ and I thought I should write a quick song about the meat draw. So I actually wrote it right then and there about half an hour before the show. I taped a piece of paper on the mic stand and sang the song. When we were done singing it, people were coming up to me saying, ‘What record is 'Meat Draw' on?’ So I thought, ‘Oh, I’m on to something here.’ Now one of the things we do when we play the song live is, we actually do have a meat draw right in the middle of the song! You know I’ve got a lot of songs I feel are quite lonesome and heavy. It’s nice to sort of lighten things up in a show, and on a record.”
To maintain a career in music through the long haul, an artist must take care of themselves physically and mentally. Any sort of issue can derail a lot of hard work and talent. A few years ago John began to lose his voice for some reason.
“At the time, I didn’t know what was happening. I just started to lose certain frequencies. I would go to sing and nothing would come out of my mouth but air,” he said. “Sometimes my voice would pop and squeak as if I were going through puberty again. And it would just get extremely tired very fast. I went to the doctor, and they said the vocal chords were healthy. I remember them saying to me, ‘How’s everything else in your life?’ I said, ‘It’d be great if you could just fix my vocal chords and I could sing.’ Honestly, I tried everything. I went to every eastern and western medicine person I could find. Singing is such a big part of the way I identify myself that I sat and cried in quite a few doctor’s offices and said to them, ‘You’ve got to fix my voice cause I’m not even sure who I am if I don’t know how to sing.’ Every one of them said to me, ‘Well you look pretty healthy. How’s everything else in your life?’ Finally I realized, ‘OK, I need to take stock here of my mental health.’ Once I did and took care of things in my life and my marriage, being a father and things like that, my voice actually returned. I thought it was something physical but really it was a physical manifestation of my poor mental health at the time. Once I sort of got that straight, my voice came back, and I don’t even think about it anymore. I just go on stage and my voice is there like it always was.”
To find out more about John Wort Hannam and The Long Haul, go to johnworthannam.com.