A Scottish immigrant, Murray McLauchlan and his family moved to Canada in 1953, when he was only five years old. Growing up in Toronto, he was adept at the guitar by 12 and began playing the Yorkville coffeehouse circuit while still only a teen.
Soaking in the folk influences on the strip while listening to the British pop on the airwaves and still clinging to his traditional roots, he continued playing while he attending art classes at Central Tech University, thanks to a $250 scholarship from Hallmark Cards.
He worked his way up the ladder and found himself on the bill at the 1966 Mariposa Folk Festival, then relocated to Greenwich Village for a couple of years. There, he mingled with the other artists and gained a reputation not only as a performer, but also as a songwriter. Soon American folk legend Tom Rush was recording his material. After moving back to Toronto, he continued working the circuit, as well as in the coffeehouses and beatnik clubs in Quebec and New York. He signed with True North Records in ’71 when Bernie Finklestein, who was managing The Paupers, Kensington Market, and Bruce Cockburn at the time agreed to add him to his stable.
He released his debut album later that year, and SONG FROM THE STREET, which became a top 40 hit on the Canadian pop chart , fuelled by “Jesus Please Don’t Save Me.” Before the year was over, he found himself on the soundtrack to the movie “Rip-Off,” as well. But it was his self-titled sophomore release in ’72 that catapulted McLauchlan into the mainstream – winning three Junos the next year for Best Folk Single. Best Country Single – for the smash chart-crosser “Farmer’s Song,” as well as for Best Songwriter. The album also featured “Lose We,” which also peaked at #13 on the adult contemporary listing, as well as a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita,” the first of over a dozen covers of the song over the next couple of decades.
He was already building a reputation for surrounding himself with some of the best studio hands around, this time utilizing the talents of Amos Garrett on guitars for his next project, 1973’s DAY TO DAY DUST. It peaked at #13 on the chart on the backs of a pair of top 20 hits – “Hurricane of Change” and “Linda, Won’t You Take Me In,” giving him his second straight gold record. It also showed the dexterity of his writing – from the soulful yearning in “The Fool Who’d Let You Go” to the social angst in “Revelation.” The album also played on his concern for environmental issues not only in the music, but in the packaging as well, as he was one of the artists to jump on the ‘go green’ bandwagon, with the jacket printed on recycled de-inked fibres. And now with a US deal through Epic, it also fuelled a pair of US tours, one with Neil Young, followed by a solo tour.
Finklestein produced his fourth straight album with McLauchlan went SWEEPING THE SPOTLIGHT AWAY in ’74. After “Do You Dream of Being Somebody” and “Maybe Tonight” both cracked the top 10 on the adult contemporary and country charts respectively, “Down by the Henry Moore” became another cross-over smash. The ode to Toronto topped both of those charts, as well as making it to #12 on the Canadian pop chart, and was #1 on practically every radio station’s playlist across the GTA for months. It was also used in the BBC and TV Ontario co-production a year later called “Reflections of Toronto,” as was the single “Little Dreamer” the following spring. McLauchlan earned himself a nomination for Folk Singer of the Year, while Finklestein earned mention for Producer of the Year.
After the live ONLY THE SILENCE REMAINS,” he returned in the spring of ’76 with BOULEVARD. “On The Boulevard” reached as high as #4 on the charts while he was in the middle of a 50 date Canadian tour. The tour climaxed with an appearance on CBC TV’s Montreal Olympics special hosted by Gordon Lightfoot.
HARD ROCK TOWN in 1977 saw an edgier sound developing, though still sticking true to his roots and intimacy, which in turn lent itself less to a cross-over appeal, making it not translate well into singles sales. While on tour with labelmate Bruce Cockburn, “Love Comes and Goes” and “Straight Outa Midnight” both failed to crack the top 40. Still, he walked away with his fifth Juno that year for Best Male Country Vocalist, the second year in a row he’d won the honour. Around the same time, he also began playing live with a side project called The Canadian Aces.
He took some time off which saw the release of his first hits compilation, and returned in 1979 with WHISPERING RAIN, argued by some critics as his strongest album for the next decade. Four singles spent time on the charts across the board and across the country, and of the title track, “You Can’t Win,” “Somebody’s Long Lonely Tonight,” and “Don’t Put Your Faith in Men,” the title track made the most waves, peaking at #15 on the adult contemporary chart, and earning him his first Juno for Folk Singer of the Year.
The year’s tour schedule that year included several European dates, and his show at The Orpheum in Vancouver that summer was captured on tape. Although it was intended to be released as his second live album, it was shelved as a commercial project, but still released as a promotion to radio stations, and has since become one of McLauchlan’s most sought-after collectibles.
After INTO A MYSTERY produced a pair of singles in 1980 in “Don’t Put Your Faith in Men” and “Try Walkin’ Away,” he returned a year later with STORM WARNING, and it’s top 30 single, “If the Wind Could Blow My Troubles Away.” The song became the anthem for the 1981 International Year of The Disabled, a cause which McLauchlan lent his name to and for which he became a spokesman. With a tour schedule that wasn’t nearly as daunting as in years past, he also found time to dabble in other outside projects, including writing the theme song to the movie, “Alligator Shoes.”
Refreshed and rejuvenated and now married to MuchMusic broadcaster (and Headpins road manager) Denise Donlon, the decade continued with more hits, though at a slower pace. 1983’s TIMBERLINE became his biggest hit on the country chart, peaking at #18, with the lead single, “Never Did Like That Train” finding its way to the top 20 on both the pop and adult contemporary charts. “Red River Flood” and “On the Subject of Loneliness” followed, with the top 40 tender “Everything Reminds Me Of You” rounding out the singles the following spring. After a two year absence from the podium, the album also marked his return to the Junos, winning for Best Country Male Vocalist.
Although 1984’s HEROES didn’t spend as much time as its predecessor on the chart, three singles were still released. Even though “Sayonara Maverick” missed the top 40 mark, “Railroad Man” (#19) and “Song for Captain Keast” (#32) each spent several weeks there each, cashing in for another gold record.
After a short series of tours, he joined the dozens of other Canadian artists in the famine relief record “Tears Are Not Enough,” aiding the Ethopia famine victims. But with Bernie Finklestein deciding to divert most of True North’s attention towards Bruce Cockburn, McLauchlan’s last release for the label was 1985’s MIDNIGHT BREAK, featuring three singles – “I’m Best at Loving You” which peaked at #13 on the country chart, while “When You Become a Memory” and “Joey/Golden Fields” made it to #16 and “34 on the AC chart.
But now along with most of the rest of True North’s roster in looking for a new label, he took the next few years to re-focus to a more country-oriented sound, writing some material, and enjoyed family life. He even appeared on Sharon Lois & Bram’s “Elephant Show” and “Urban Cowboy.” Signing with Capitol, his comeback album was 1988’s SWINGING ON A STAR, a critical country hit, and featured three top 40 hits – “Please Don’t Call It Runnin’ Away,” the title track and lead-off single “Love With A Capital L,” which made it to #12, earning him another gold album.
In ’91 THE MODERN AGE saw the title track hit #21 on the AC chart, followed to #26 the next spring by “So I Lost Your Love.” In ’93, he was made a Member of The Order of Canada. But for the most part, McLauchlan stayed out of the spotlight for the next few years, playing live less frequently and recording even less.
After the partial resurrection of True North, he returned to the studios in 1995, releasing GULLIVER’S TAXI the next summer. Although the lead single “Secrets in Your Heart” and the title track both spent respective time in the top 40 over the next year, critical accolades came more than sales, and he again retreated following some one-off appearances throughout the festival season, which continued for the next few years in between outside projects and charity work. He released his autobiography, “The Ballad of Murray McLauchlan: Getting Out of Here Alive” in 1998.
He underwent heart bypass surgery in 2004, and while still on the mend, a chance coffee with some friends at a Toronto restaurant led to a new side project. Along with Ian Thomas/, Cindy Church, and Marc Jordan, Lunch At Allen’s released three albums over the next six years.
Aside from some compilation albums, his first solo project in 16 years took shape in 2011, with the release of HUMAN WRITES. Reflective from an older, wiser perspective, the album was a critical hit with songs like “Start Again,” “Painting Floors,” and the homesick yearn of “Run Away To The Sea.”
Throughout his career, Murray McLauchlan has taken home ten Juno Awards with over two dozen nominations, as well as countless CCMA and other awards. He’s also hosted numerous tv specials over the years, including “Floating Over Canada,” where he piloted a float plane across the northern tundra for CBC and PBS. He’s also hosted several radio programs, including CBC Radio’s “The Entertainers” and “Timberline.”