As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, Downhome is pleased to
present this article from our magazine archives. The following story,
written by Sandra Young, first appeared in the "Music and Friends" section
of the March 1993 issue of the Downhomer.
Dick Nolan is a Newfoundland legend in his own time. He is certainly an
ambassador for Newfoundland and, as such, has taken a part of Newfoundland
to various parts of the world in the form of music.
"Aunt Martha's Sheep" was probably Dick's biggest milestone on the road to
success. Written by Ellis Coles, the song about the boys from Carmanville
stealing the sheep was a very popular Canadian song.
Dick Nolan was born in Corner Brook, Newfoundland's west coast city. His
musical career got started at an early age. By the time he turned 14, he
was a regular on "Woodland Echoes," a local radio show sponsored by
Bowaters pulp and paper company in Corner Brook. At that time, Dick was a
member of the group "Blue Valley Boys."
"We played out around the bay a lot," Dick told me in a recent interview.
"We performed in places on the west coast such as Woods Island and Trout
River, and if anyone had a sheep missing in Trout River at that time, I
got it!" said Dick.
Like so many Newfoundlanders, Dick Nolan left his city home (at the age of
20) and headed for the bigger city of Toronto. He went from job to job for
a while, until he landed a job as a singing waiter. "I would go to the
tables and sing to the customers, then they offered me a job singing,"
said Dick. "I guess my singing was better than my waitering."
Dick started out doing country music, which was what got him his first big
break. Dick's big bass voice, similar to that of Johnny Cash, got him a
contract recording Johnny Cash songs. The first album was a success and
was followed by another. But that ended the Cash albums because, as Dick
stated, "there was only room enough for so much and there was already
someone out there doing Johnny Cash songs, Johnny was!"
Later Dick and his band, Blue Valley Boys, became the house band at the
Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. Dick Nolan and Roy Penney (originally from
Corner Brook) played together at that time and backed up all the singers
who came to the Horseshoe Tavern, including Charley Pride, Willie Nelson,
Loretta Lynn, Bobby Bare and Hank Williams Jr., just to mention a few.
During Dick's stay in Toronto, he recorded several albums, trying to find
what the public wanted. In 1966, Dick recorded a "Come Home Year" album
and because there seemed to be a strong interest in Newfoundland music at
that time, Dick followed right along with two more albums containing
Newfie music. "After singing about Newfoundland so much, I began to miss
it," he said.
In 1968, Dick packed everything up and moved back to Newfoundland. He
spent the next couple of years singing around the island and seriously
thought about giving it all up and going back to Toronto again.
Fortunately for Dick, he didn't have to because it was then that "Aunt
Martha's Sheep" came along.
While playing in Marystown, Dick heard the song for the first time. He
contacted Ellis Coles immediately and expressed an interest in doing the
song himself. "But it was a long time before he sent me the song," said
Dick. "I did some work on the song to get it to suit me and recorded it."
Many years in the music business had made Dick's hopes of having a hit
single very dubious. Dick didn't know how wrong he could be, as the song
became a "monster hit" for RCA, selling over 300,000 copies. It was one of
RCA's biggest hits in Canada and earned Dick a gold record. His next two
recordings, "Home Again this Year" and "Happy Newfoundlanders," also
became gold records. Dick's dreams were coming true at last.
A "biggie" to every entertainer, the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, became
Dick's next reality. "I got to perform with Dolly (Parton), Porter
Wagoner, Tommy Cash and Jeanie Pruit," Dick told me. "I was nervous,
frightened and had to go out and explain the song to the audience."
According to Dick, "Aunt Martha's Sheep" was well-accepted by the
Not long after this, Dick made his move back to St. John's, Newfoundland.
While there, he was kept busy doing commercials for Carling O'Keefe. He
appeared on the Tommy Hunter Show, as well as the Elwood Glover Show, and
had his own show on CJON (now NTV) which lasted for 13 weeks.
The popularity of "Aunt Martha's Sheep" was instrumental in Dick's move
back to Toronto in 1978. It was from his Toronto base that Dick recorded
other albums and toured Canada, including such far-off places as Yukon and
Dick's latest recording, My Beautiful Island, contains such
numbers as "Everybody Back Home Misses You," "No More Little Boats No
More," "Tears of Saint Anne," and of course the popular title track, "My
Beautiful Island." The album is certainly a must for any collector of
Dick and his wife Marie are now living in Scarborough, Ontario, and Dick
spends his time playing around the Toronto area on weekends. Dick has a
keen interest in live radio and is a part-time co-host of the Downhome
Radio Show out of the CHIN studios in Toronto.
Dick Nolan, Eddy Coffey and Frank Leblanc can be seen live each weekend at
the Pride of Erin in Toronto.
Editor's update to 2008
During his 50-year career, Dick Nolan released 40 albums and
recorded hundreds of songs that remain favourites throughout the province
even today. In 2005, the music association of Dick's home province,
MUSICNL, recognized his enormous contribution to the music scene with a
Lifetime Achievement Award. He passed away later that year, at the age of
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