The Western Star, Corner
CORNER BROOK - Country singer/songwriter Dick Nolan passed away at Carbonear Hospital overnight Monday at age 66, after suffering a stroke.
In November, the Music Newfoundland and Labrador Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Nolan, a singer/songwriter from Corner Brook who is best known for Aunt Martha’s Sheep, a comical song which was a huge hit in 1972.
Richard Francis Nolan was born in Corner Brook on Feb. 4, 1939. He is survived by Marie, his wife of 26 years, daughters Donna (Rudy) Nolan Wagoner and Bonnie Lou (Ray) Gardiner, sisters Lillian (Pat Hayes), Priscilla Boutcher, Dorothy (Bill) Gough, Marjorie (Phonse) Rowsell and Patricia Nolan and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his sister Ann and brothers John, Martin, and Duncan.
Dave Elms, a former radio host and musician, said Mr. Nolan had a way of making Newfoundlanders feel at home while they were several thousand miles away.
He said the last time he met Mr. Nolan, they talked about what the province meant to the Newfoundland music legend.
“The last time I had any contact with him I was still doing the Sunday Morning Show and he was home for a little while going around and doing a few shows,” said Elms. “He and his wife dropped up to the station. We sat down for a little while on the show and he chatted about his career, Corner Brook in general.
“I asked him is the attraction to home still there, the desire to be back home. He said that never ever goes away. He said, ‘sometimes you’ve got to take those steps to move out and expand your career, sometimes you’ve got to move away from home’. He said, ‘I might have been away from home, but I was never really away’. He kept everybody close to Newfoundland even if you were away with the type of music he did.”
Elms said he forged his own sound from traditional and country sources — creating the downeast sound.
“As far as influencing music is concerned, he certainly charted his own course, made his own way and made his own sound,” he said. “As far as having an overall influence, when he did, to me, it seems he bridged Newfoundlanders with his music in that the Newfoundlanders who were away, he helped bridge that gap between back home and the fact that they were away.
There was a relatability factor there, I suppose. I think he was a big influence in that way — keeping Newfoundlanders close to home with the music.
“He opened a lot of roadways for people like Eddie Eastman, A. Frank Willis and lots of those guys who started out back then and are still going strong today. It wasn’t just Newfoundlanders, or Canadians, he touched base with a lot of the big American stars in country music. I think when you have somebody like that who touches base with a lot of these big stars and these big stars reciprocate and perform alongside them, that says something about the talent as well.”
Called one of the finest country singers in Canada, Nolan's name is intrinsically linked with Aunt Martha's Sheep, the song that became his biggest hit following its release in 1972. He and Ellis Coles of Carmanville wrote the song that begins, "Come gather all around me, and I'll sing to you a tale."
Over the course of a career that began in the late 1950s, Nolan released more than 40 albums and recorded more than 300 tracks. He was nominated for a Juno Award, appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, had one platinum record and two gold, and had five songs listed on RPM's national charts. Living in South River at the time of his death, Nolan went to Grand Falls-Windsor last month to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Music Industry Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
As well as getting back into making public performances, he was working on a Best of Dick Nolan CD with Sony BMG. The album is targeted for release in late January. Nolan was also busy working on his memoirs, assisted by friend and retired civil servant Wayne Tucker.
Cleve Best, a Corner Brook musician who played with Mr. Nolan in the early years of his career, said he was an obvious talent
“I think he was a great influence,” said Best. “He was away — he spent most of his time out of Newfoundland, but he did promote Newfoundland music in Toronto at places like the Horseshoe Club... Back then Dick was the second Johnny Cash. If you heard Dick Nolan singing, you wouldn’t know but it was Johnny Cash. It was unreal...
“Dick was a great entertainer. He had a great repertoire of songs. He did a lot for Newfoundland music. He promoted Newfoundland music.”
Best said they were part of the culture of the city and region.
“I met Dick when I first came to Corner Brook,” he said. “We used to do things together, play house parties, radio shows and stuff like that. That was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“We did a lot for CBC Radio and the studios, then, were in a house on Cobb Lane. We used to do Woodland Echoes — a program they had one for people in the woods camps — and we used to entertain at the sanatorium.”
Between 1959 and 1999, Mr. Nolan recorded or appeared on 41 different albums.
His exceptional deep bass voice was appreciated by lovers of country music and it soon landed him in the recording studio. He released two albums of Johnny Cash covers and the Blue Valley Boys became the house band at the prestigious Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto’s mecca of country music.
In the summer of 2004, at the age of 65, Mr. Nolan returned home to Newfoundland. He was living in South River, Conception Bay, with his wife Marie.
The funeral is 10:30 a.m. Friday at All Hallows Roman Catholic
Church in North River. Interment to follow at All Hallows cemetery.