The Newfoundland Herald: January 22-26, 2006
ON THE OTHER HAND

PASSING THE TORCH
by Kevin Kelly

The news recently that our latest Newfoundland Idol, Rex Goudie, has sold over 50,000 copies of his debut CD, Under The Lights, and the fact Great Big Sea’s Sea of No Cares has sold platinum (100,000 copies ) made this journalist proud to be a Newfoundlander.

The success of our province’s musicians, both here and elsewhere, shows that Newfoundland and Labrador has an abundance of talent that deserves the nation’s attention.  However, the accomplishment also made me feel a little melancholy about another Newfoundland musician who achieved gold status. His musical legacy paved the way for Goudie and our own Great Big Sea’s national stature.

Dick Nolan, who passed away last month at the age of 66, was more than just an ordinary Newfoundland country singer. He was a man of firsts for this province’s music industry. He was the first Newfoundlander to perform at the prestigious Grand Old Opry, the first homegrown talent
to sell a gold record and  be nominated for a JUNO. More than that, Nolan paved the way for Newfoundland and Labrador music to be seen and heard, here and across Canada.  “He was true to the traditional country music style and left us all a great legacy of songs as only Dick could sing them,” according to Stompin’ Tom Connors, the man who defeated Nolan at the 1973 Juno
Awards.

It’s an accomplishment that was especially difficult in his era. Many musicians here recorded albums for many companies, but never got the financial rewards they deserved. Our musicians signed deals that paid them pennies for their work. Nolan was one of those musicians, along with the likes of John White, Harry Hibbs, Joan Morrissey and others. These musical pioneers, all now deceased, brought the music of this place that we call home to the country. It consisted of the songs that were sung at kitchen parties, traditional Maritime melodies, and yes, even a few original songs that have stood the test of time.

Aunt Martha’s Sheep, written by Nolan with Ellis Coles in 1972, is undoubtedly one of the most popular songs in the “Newfoundland” music repertoire and his best known tune. The album on which that song was included, Fisherman’s Boy (recorded at MUN Radio in St. John’s), sold
30,000 copies in 30 days, a remarkable achievement. It eventually went platinum.

However, Nolan left a great deal of music as part of his legacy. He recorded over 40 albums and 300 songs and performed with some of the biggest names in country music, from Dave Dudley to Loretta Lynn.  The biggest tragedy of his passing is the fact that with the loss of
the vinyl record, many of his recordings (along with White’s) are no longer available. Many of our children don’t know who Dick Nolan was, and what he accomplished.

However, there is some good news on that front.  Sony/BMG, Nolan’s old label, is re-releasing some of Nolan’s RCA work on a new compilation CD later this month. The Best of Dick Nolan, to be released Jan. 31, includes some of his most popular songs for the first time on
the new format.  It’s a chance for us to remember and relive those musical memories. For others, they can experience for the first time, the voice, and the music that was Dick Nolan.

I hope this CD flies off shelves as quickly as Goudie’s has. It should.  He deserves no less than another gold album, one that reinforces the impact of his music on our homeland.

His legacy passed the torch, now we should hold it high.
 

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