While many musicians with more than 50 years in the business may have thoughts to slowing down, if not retiring, it’s quite the opposite for Grand Ole Opry star and International Ambassador of Country Music George Hamilton IV.
Well known for his hectic tour schedules, both in North America and abroad, Hamilton, a native of North Carolina, has delighted his fans with a steady output of recordings since his 1957 debut ‘George Hamilton IV On Campus.’
This year is no different, with not one but two new releases on offer, including the first ever complete compilation of all his Canadian recordings for RCA released during the 1960s and 1970s titled ‘My North Country Home,’ as well as ‘George Hamilton IV In The Heart Of Texas.’
Currently on tour yet again, he’ll be at Maryhill’s Commercial Tavern Sunday afternoon, rekindling a longtime love affair with Canada.
Hamilton has recorded 82 Canadian songs over six albums including songs like Canadian Pacific, Steel Rail Blues, Early Morning Rain, Did She Mention My Name, Four Strong Winds and Urge For Going.
He became intrigued by the Canadian music scene in the mid-1960s when he met and befriended Gordon Lightfoot, subsequently credited as the first Nashville artist to record material from north of the 49th parallel.
Through the years he has sought out and recorded many Canadian music legends’ songs, including Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Buffy St. Marie. He’s recorded more than 20 Gordon Lightfoot songs, more than any other artist.
“It all goes back to Gordon Lightfoot making me aware of the uniqueness of Canadian music,” said Hamilton. “I was so taken by Gordon’s music and so infatuated with the style of music that he did, that I began to record a lot of music in Canada.
“I often refer to (Lightfoot) as the master, the teacher and the best of them all, and I am still a big fan of his.”
The success of Hamilton’s Canadian recordings led him to host his own Canadian television series, the George Hamilton IV show on CHCH, for seven years. The show eventually went national and aired overseas in Britain and Europe.
“It was a very uniquely Canadian television show,” said Hamilton. “I was the host and would sing Canadian songs and introduce guest musicians. The show really promoted Canadian music and artists.”
Hamilton began to tour Canada as the popularity of the show increased. And even after the show was cancelled he continued to tour the counry, then booking gigs in Europe as the music he recorded by Canadian writers seemed to strike a chord overseas.
“I have worked so much in Canada that people think I am Canadian, even with my southern drawl,” jokes Hamilton. “That’s OK with me, though, because I have a warm place in my heart for Canada, especially the folk music.”
Hamilton’s fascination with music began at the age of 12 when he bought his first guitar. By 1956 he recorded his first hit, a pop song, ‘A Rose and A Baby Ruth’ and began touring with the likes of Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and the Everly Brothers.
“I started out doing teenage love ballads and was able to meet and travel with some great musicians when I was first starting out,” said Hamilton. “The record companies at that time were just trying to jump on the Elvis bandwagon and were signing every young guy from the south who said ‘y’all.’”
Three years later he would walk away from the music that had made him a star by moving to Nashville, with his wife, Adelaide, and began to concentrate all his efforts into recording country music.
Once in Nashville, Hamilton met Chet Atkins who helped get him signed to a recording deal with RCA and was instrumental in having Hamilton invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1960.
The years since have been kind to Hamilton, seeing him honoured with numerous awards, including a Juno award for his services to Canadian country music.
He earned his title of ‘International Ambassador Of Country Music’ when he became the first American country singer to perform in the Soviet Union in 1974 and record an album in Prague in 1982.
Hamilton returned to Canada to record two albums in the 1990s, the ‘Canadian Country Gold and Unmined Treasures’ and ‘High Country,’ a compilation of gospel songs.
“I have had a long running love affair with Canada.”
Last year Hamilton celebrated 50 years as a member of The Grand Ole Opry and although he seems to appear relaxed and confident while on stage, he admits that he still gets nervous before a show.
“I was once told that if you quit being nervous about performing it’s time to quit and I still get a little jittery before each show especially those on the Grand Ole Opry stage.”
Hamilton is currently performing a mini-tour of Ontario and can be seen Sept. 4 at the historic Commercial Tavern in Maryhill, with doors opening at 2:30 p.m. for a family-friendly concert. Tickets are $20, and seating is limited. For more information, call 519-648-3644.