THE DICK NOLAN STORY

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CBC Radio in Newfoundland and Labrador originally broadcast "The Dick Nolan Story" on May 15 and 22, 2004 and rebroadcast it on January 8 and 15, 2005. Through interviews and music, the program chronicled Dick's career and personal life. The information on this page is based on that program. It aired on "The Performance Hour" and was hosted by Andrew Younghusband, recorded by Terry Windsor and produced by Ingrid Fraser.


DICK NOLAN 'FIRSTS'

Dick Nolan sold approximately one million records and was the first Newfoundlander to have a gold record (50,000 units sold), the first to go platinum (100,000 units sold) and the first to cash in on the 'ex-pat' Newfoundland community living in Toronto and Alberta. He was also the first to be nominated for a Juno Award and the first to appear at Nashville's Grand Old Opry.

THE NEWFOUNDLAND TO TORONTO CYCLE

In 1958, Dick worked for Cliff Herlihy at CBC radio Corner Brook. He did two radio shows there for a year or two including "Woodland Echoes" and a show sponsored by City Motors. He sang and played with his Band the Blue Valley Boys which included Roy Penney, Cliff Dyke and Toots Heath. Dick played with Roy Penney in bars even though they were too young. Country music in Corner Brook was prevalent partly because of the Americans who visited from the base at Stephenville. In 1958 at age 19, Dick went to Toronto to look for work and see the big city. In Toronto, Dick waited on tables at a coutnry bar, the 300 Tavern on College and Spadina. He would sing the odd song and soon landed a job singing because "he was better at singing than selling beer!" At that time he performed songs by country artists such as Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell and Carl Smith.

Dick met record producer Ben Weatherby who encouraged Dick to do some recording. Weatherby played guitar on a couple of Dick's Johnny Cash covers. Dick made his first album of Johnny Cash covers for Arc Records entitled "I Walk the Line" in the late 50s. He was paid approximately $150 but in those days it was such an honour to do a record "you might do it for nothing". The resemblance of Dick's voice to Cash's was remarkable and on one occasion Dick was a "fill-in" for Cash when he played Massey Hall in Toronto. Dick's job was to fill-in for Johnny if he didn't show or was ill but he was not needed!

Throughout his career, Dick alternated his home between Toronto and Newfoundland. He was born in Corner Brook but also lived in Outer Cove and Manuels. Toronto was the industrial and musical capital of Canada with recording facilities, musicians, songwriters and expatriot Newfoundlanders. In 1998, Dick released the CD "Down By the Sea" featuring Newfounland composers Eddie Coffey, Wince Coles, Roy Payne and himself. One of Dick's selections is "Memories of Corner Brook" which documents Dick's personal memories while growing up.

Dick plans to return to Newfoundland for one last time in June of 2004. He has moved back and forth so often that he "sold more furniture than a furniture store". Toronto provided many opportunities to Dick during his career but he says the atmosphere has changed and its time to move on. "I'm going right to Bell Island and I'm staying there". He has a mild case of Parkinson's and can't hold the pick to play his guitar but other wise his health is good.

WORKING MAN SONGS

By 1963, Dick was still in Toronto and working with a publishing company by day and performing at night. He performed at the 300 Club which catered to down-easters who liked country and down-east music. After Dick had covered Dave Dudley songs such as Six Days on the Road, Mad, and Cowboy Boots, Dick became friends with Dudley. They met at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto where Dick was playing. They sang sets together, played Jamborees and travelled to Montreal and the States.


A SEX SYMBOL WITH AN EYE PATCH !

The cover of the 1967 album "I Want To Live" markets Dick as a sex symbol, three young barefoot women paw at him. Oddly, he's wearing an eyepatch and so are they! Dick lost an eye when he was 12 years old and playing with 22 bullets. A bullet exploded and a piece went in his eye and the eye had to be surgically removed.


RECORD SALES AND ROYALTIES

In his early career, Dick didn't receive royalty cheques and never knew with certainty what his album sales were. There were few copyright laws and it was common for artists to be ripped off by record companies. Dick didn't have an agent so he handled his own business affairs. He was a trailblazer and his mistakes and suffering made it easier for subsequent Newfoundland and Labrador recording artists to get fair returns from their efforts. Although Dick still prefers the old-style Newfoundland country music to most of the modern productions, he is happy to see that current groups such as Great Big Sea have successful careers.


MUSICIAN FRIENDS

Dick's musician friends in Toronto were Roy Penny, Ollie Strong (Tommy Hunter Show), Brian Barron, Johnny Burke, Cliffy Short, and Wally Dean. Roy Payne was in the Army and used to come to the Horseshoe to see Dick play on weekends. He wrote the liner notes and title song for the 1974 album "Happy Anniversary Newfoundland" commemorating the 25th anniversary of confederation with Canada. Buddy Cage who played steel guitar on the album "Country" went on to a career in the States with New Riders of the Purple Sage. The song "Six White Horses" from that album includes a choral group that Ben Weatherby had 'borrowed' from a previous Nashville recording.


MOVE OVER ELVIS, HERE COMES AUNT MARTHA'S SHEEP

In the late 60s, Arc Records went out of business and Dick signed with RCA who had first signed Dick's daughter Bonnie Lou. She went on to record three albums. Dick's album "Fisherman's Boy" which included "Aunt Martha's Sheep" took off and became the biggest selling album in the history of Newfoundland recordings. It was selling so well that RCA stopped pressing an Elvis Presley recording at its Smith Falls plant so it could press more of "Fisherman's Boy"! It was a gold record and sold 30,000 copies in its first month of release and sold a total of over 100,000 copies ....a first for a Newfoundland recording. And at last, Dick was being paid writing royalties for co-writing "Aunt Martha's Sheep". The record even placed in the top ten of the rock and roll charts!!! Dick was "scared to death" when he sang it at the Grand Ole Opry but the song went over well.

"Aunt Martha's Sheep" paved the way to gigs on the Tommy Hunter Show, the Elwood Glover Show and Stompin' Tom Conners national television show. Dick also had his own television program on CJON TV in Newfoundland. It originally ran for 13 weeks and was renewed for an additional 13 weeks, hosted by Dave Maunder.


SPECIAL RECORDINGS

Dick appeared on the CBC album "Folk Songs of Newfoundland" in 1974. He sang on one side of the album; Harry Hibbs on the other. Dick is accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, a predecessor of the "Unplugged" albums of the 90s. Dick found it relaxing to record this because he knew all the songs and there were few people around to interfere and distract.

Dick also recorded an album in Nashville with studio musicians including Johnny Cash's guitar player and Jim Reeve's bass player but the for reasons unknown the album was never released.

Dick was raised strictly Catholic and released a gospel album "The Family Bible" in 1994. Roy Payne was supposed to sing some of the songs but he didn't show and Dick had to do the whole album! This is why some of the cuts are a 'bit high' for Dick! This is not a stereotypical slow, dreary religious album but instead includes the righteous, breakneck, bluegrass harmonies of Norma Gale and Dusty Bulmer as evidenced in the selection "Calling You".

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