After The Hunger Project had run its course in 1982, following a pair of songs on a 7″ single that went nowhere, childhood friends Michael Timmins and Alan Anton (real name Alan Alizojvodic) moved to London, England and formed Germinal.
But by the summer of ’85 that group too had run its course, and they decided to move back home to Toronto. Timmins plotted a way to reinvent himself a typical, run of the mill ’80s pop band, and with himself remaining chief guitarist, he recruited almost the entire family, with younger siblings Margo on vocals, John on guitars, and Peter on drums. By this point Anton had come back into the fold on bass. The other sister, Cali, turned down the offer to join the group, and rose to fame as an actress on TV’s soap “Ryan’s Hope” instead. You can also impress your friends with your trivia knowledge, knowing that the Timmins siblings are descendants of Noah Timmins, an Ontario mining prospector who founded the city of Timmins.
After some rehearsals, they started playing the local scene late that fall and soon became regulars at the clubs on Queen Street West, including the Beverley Tavern and The Rivoli, mixing their alternative country/folk sound into pop hits of the day with touches of blues and jazz. The whole time they were writing their own material and developing their own style.
John left the group and moved to Montreal by the summer of ’86, shortly before the band hooked up with up and coming producer/engineer Peter Moore. They recorded some material in Michael’s garage, but unable to successfully shop them around, they started up their own indie Latent Recordings, and released them in October 1986 as their debut album, WHITES OFF EARTH NOW. With covers of the blues standards “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Me and The Devil,” and “Crossroads,” the album personified the phrase “off the floor” and “bare bones” recordings, utilizing a single microphone and minimal equipment.
Their audience was already growing in southern Ontario, and they lined up some additional gigs throughout southern Canada. The cult following was spreading especially in the southern US, leading them to play several shows in and around Texas throughout the first half of ’87.
Their next album was again with Moore, and again didn’t take long to record or to set up the gear. THE TRINITY SESSIONS were recorded in one day in November ’87 at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto, which not only became a favourite of the fans and critics, but also the media, with the LA Times calling it one of the ten best albums of 1988. The attention got interest from several record labels. They settled on RCA, who re-released the album early the next next year with a pair of bonus tracks. The first single from the album, a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” gained airplay and even warranted a low budget video, and then “Misguided Angel” scored huge for the band, giving them their first top 10 hit. The next several months on the road throughout North America culminated with an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
They started 1989 by adding Jeff Bird (a family friend who was previously in Tamarack), Jaro Czerwinec and Kim Deschamps to their touring roster. It came in handy, as they were on the road virtually non-stop for the next year, during which time the four track EP BLUE MOON REVISITED was released to keep the record buying public satisfied. The five-track EP TWO LONE FIGURES ON THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE was released as a Japanese import shortly after.
In between breaks, they laid down some tracks at Sharon Temple in southern Ontario that fall, for the tentatively titled SHARON album. But the band decided to re-record the material at Toronto’s Eastern Sound Studios, and a few months later THE CAUTION HORSES album was complete, and in the stores early in 1990. “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning,” “‘Cause Cheap Is How I Feel,” and “Rock and Bird” all made their way up the charts and on to video, making them video channel darlings, and the band’s touring peaked with another late night TV performance, this time on “The Tonight Show” in the summer of 1991. Other noteable tracks included their cover of Neil Young‘s “Powderfinger,” “Where Are You Tonight?” and “Witches.”
The band was nominated for best new group of the year at the Junos that spring, and Margo Timmins was named one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People Magazine. Taking a break, they found time to contribute “To Lay Me Down” on the Grateful Dead Tribute album in ’91, during which time Deschamps left to join Blue Rodeo. They booked time at Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton to work on the next project, BLACK EYED MAN, released in February 1992.
Five singles were released in just under a year – “Murder Tonight In The Trailer Park,” “A Horse In The Country,” “Southern Rain,” “If You Were The Woman And I Was The Man,” and “This Street, That Man, This Life,” all helping turn the album platinum while they continued their relentless tour schedule. LIVE, a four song EP was released before the end of the year, which featured the previously unreleased “Hot Burrito,” and a cameo from John Prine on “If You Were The Woman And I Was The Man.”
PALE SUN CRESCENT MOON, in the stores in time for the Christmas rush in ’93, saw the band stray away from the stripped down, rootsy approach and plug in their guitars. The band had become known for their takes on other artists’ material, and this album was no different, with a cover of Dinosaur Jr’s “The Post.” A string of other singles and videos, including “Anniversary Song,” “Pale Sun,” and “Floorboard Blues” kept the wheels turning, kept the band on the road, and Margo was asked to sing the Canadian National Anthem during MLB’s all star game in Pittsburgh in July of ’94.
Later that year, their cover of “Sweet Jane” was featured in the Oliver Stone movie “Natural Born Killers” starring Woody Harrelson, sparking a whole new wave of radio stations playing the song to death. It also appeared later in the straight to video “The Good Girl.” In addition, they recorded “Tired Eyes” for the Neil Young Tribute album later that year.
The compilation ESSENTIAL JUNK was in the stores in the summer of ’95, although the twelve songs were nothing new, and nothing modified, changed, or bonus. It was the first of three compilation packages in the next couple of years while the band severed ties with RCA. The double live 200 MORE MILES, which featured “Bad Boy” from the band’s very first show at The Beverley Taven a decade earlier, was released to fulfill the band’s commitment to the label. RCA then took it upon themselves to release STUDIO – GREATEST HITS themselves in early ’96, which featured “Lost My Driving Wheel,” previously available only as the b-side to the single “Southern Rain” four years earlier.
After their cover of “State Trooper” appeared on the Bruce Springsteen Tribute called SONGBOOK, their first album on new label Geffen Records was LAY IT DOWN in May of ’96. Recorded the previous summer in Athens, Georgia, it marked the first time the band was seen outside Ontario studios. All four singles, “Angel Mine,” “Speaking Confidentially,” “Come Calling (His Song),” and “A Common Disaster” spent time in the top 20 in Canada and the top 40 in the US, and certified the album platinum by the time the band ended its year-long world tour.
MILES FROM OUR HOME, released in June of ’98 marked the first time the band recorded outside of the GTA. London, England’s Abbey Road Studios provided a fresh approach to the process, though they didn’t waiver from the simple process that defined their sound. But Geffen was part of Polygram Records, and its merger with Universal resulted in the album getting lost in the shuffle, as many artists affected by the merger claimed, despite it being a favourite with the critics. Despite the chaos, the title track and “New Dawn Coming”were released as singles, but failed to live up to the band’s own expectations.
Before the end of the year, a three-song EP entitled SONGS FROM MAIDEN HILLS was the last new material released by Geffen. Label reps themselves apparently had even lower expectations, and the band was cut from the roster after the merger after little or no push. Deciding the only way to ensure they were going to be able to record their music how they wanted to, instead of shopping around for a new label, they resurrected their own indie label, Latent Recordings.
They started fresh with the 1999 release RARITIES, B-SIDES AND SLOW, SAD WALTZES. With its release, the band became one of the pioneers in online recording, selling the disc only through its official website or select online dealers, never releasing it to the stores in the malls.
WALTZ ACROSS AMERICA, recorded at several stops on the ’99/00 North American tour, and their second live album, was released in the traditional manner in October 2000. The band got a nice Christmas present shortly after, when they signed a deal with Arista Nashville, the country arm of the mega corp that was scoring big and promising the world.
They released OPEN in May of 2001, which featured the first single, “Small Swift Birds” and made it into the top 20 at home, “Bread and Wine,” and “Dragging Hooks” (the third song in the band’s “River Song Trilogy.” The record earned them their third Juno nomination. Later that year, they once again showed their appreciation to the artists that influenced them, when they appeared on an Australian Bob Dylan Tribute album with their take on his song, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” as well as “Highway Kind” on To Townes Van Zandt’s tribute album.
The subsequent nearly year-long tour resulted in OPEN ROAD early in 2002. The DVD’s live tracks were recorded at various shows, mixing material from the new album and going right back to its roots, and also featured the usual backstage interviews and other footage. It also spawned the live version of “I’m So Open.”
Working on their next project, they took a slower approach and locked themselves into an empty warehouse – by themselves and armed with their own recording equipment, and not even with outside production help, occasionally taking time out to road test the material in small clubs around home. During this period a slew of compilations were released over the next couple of years, BEST OF COWBOY JUNKIES, THE BBC RADIO SESSIONS and GOLD AND PLATINUM, which RCA licensed the rights to BMG – against the band’s wishes. They ended 2003 by releasing IN THE TIME BEFORE LLAMAS in late 2003, various recordings from their early ’90s British tour.
Their first new material in four years took shape and ONE SOUL NOW was greeted in 2004 by the critics and audiences with open arms, and spawned a pair of singles, “The Stars Of Our Stars,” and “My Wild Child.” A special limited run of the disc also came with a bonus CD called ‘NEATH YOUR COVERS – PART ONE, a collection of rarity covers.
Always experimenting with marketing ploys, they released a CD-ROM called ANATOMY OF AN ALBUM after that, a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the album making process, made available exclusively through their website. Meanwhile, they’d also appeared again on tribute albums to Gordon Lightfoot, Alejandro Escovedo, and the 40th anniversary of The Beatles’ RUBBER SOUL album.
Brother John Timmins came back a fter a two-decades absence to help out with the next project. Released in 2005, EARLY 21st CENTURY BLUES was followed by a world tour and another live DVD, LONG JOURNEY HOME later that year.
In honour of the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking TRINITY SESSIONS album, they invited special guests Natalie Merchant, Ryan Adams and Vic Chestnutt to join them at the Church of the Holy Trinity in November, 2006, where they performed theentire album. The event was shown on CBC television, which earned a Gemini Award, and a Juno nomination a year later. The concert started a musical train ride that took them on shows across to Vancouver with The Skydiggers, and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Fred Eaglesmith, and Over The Rhine.
After their debut album WHITES OFF EARTH NOW! was remastered and re-released in February ’07, AT THE END OF PATHS TAKEN followed two months later as a digital download only and featured the lead-off “Brand New World,” “Cutting Board Blues,” and “Blue Eyed Saviour,” among others. It resulted in another tour of select dates across North America, including The Band‘s Garth Hudson in Woodstock, NY, and with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. Another digital download followed, SHARON TEMPLE SESSIONS that summer.
TRINITY REVISITED, filmed during the 20th anniversary, was released in October of 2007 on both CD and DVD. The attention culminated in three performances of the album at a sold-out Massey Hall in Toronto in February of ’08. In between dates, they were also lending a helping hand to friend Tom Wilson (Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse), who needed a backing band for his new project called Lee Harvey Osmond.
Doing their part for the environment, more digital only downloads, ‘NEATH YOUR COVERS PART 2, and WRITTEN, RECORDED, AND UNRELEASED were released in ’08 while the band was spending less time on the road and more time on outside projects, including revamping Latent Recordings.
The spring of 2009 saw the release of Margo Timmins’ first solo album entitled TY TYRFU SESSIONS, VOLUME 1, which was recorded by longtime friend of the band Jeff Bird at his studio in Guelph, Ont. The band returned to conventional album releases later that year with ACOUSTIC JUNK. As the name suggests, the compact disc was full of stripped down and off-the-floor recordings of some of the band’s most popular standards. The downloadable version also contained bonus, unreleased material.
They returned to the digital download format for 2010’s RENMIN PARK, which featured 12 new tracks, including the title track, “Sir Francis Bacon At The Net,” “Little Dark Heart,” and “Walk In The Park.” Touring less, they did a few select dates before taking another break.
On Valentine’s Day, 2011, they released DEMONS, which featured “Wrong Piano,” “Betty Lonely,” “Supernatural,” and “Strange Language.”