Originally from Belleville, Ontario, The Wilkinsons moved to Trenton in the early 1990s, after Steve was let go from the nuclear power plant. A household full of music led Steve to perform with his kids Amanda and Tyler at various public performances while they were growing up.
Times were tough, and Steve was struggling to provide for his family with various jobs and even had to rely on the local food bank on more than one occasion. When he couldn’t make ends meet as a carpenter, the family packed up and moved to Nashville to seek their fame and fortune when Amanda was only 15, and Tyler was only 13. They were noticed by reps at Giant Records a year later in 1998 and signed them to a deal.
They released their debut album, NOTHING BUT LOVE that August, and with Amanda handling the bulk of the lead vocals, the record produced the smash singles “26 Cents” (written while Steve was cleaning a restaurant for less than minimum wage) and “Fly (The Angel Song),” both which topped the Canadian country charts and reached #3 and #15 respectively in the US.
Next out of the blocks was “Boy Oh Boy,” indicative of the predominantly innocent nature of the music. Still, it was hard to argue with their harmonies and melodies, or success. Although the song made it to #3 Stateside, it stalled at #50 at home. The album was predominantly written by Steve Wilkinson, occasionally with his kids or outside writers helping. One of the few songs solely written from the outside was the fourth single, “Yodelin’ Blues,” penned by Skip Ewing. Only released in the US, it failed to make the top 40, and was followed by the Canadian-only release of the title track, which made it to #12.
The album was certified double platinum in Canada (200,000 units) and gold in the US (100,000), peaked at #4 on the Canadian charts and #16 in the US. The trio was also one of the hottest tickets at the awards the next year, and was nominated for awards at the Junos, the Country Music Association (CMA) and Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMA).
Doug Johnson and Russ Zavitson returned to the producers’ chairs for their follow-up HERE AND NOW in 2000. The album eventually climbed to #5 on the Canadian charts and peaked at #13 on the Billboard Country chart, and earned them their second straight Juno nomination, this time for Country Group of the Year. Following the same formula, it produced another three singles, starting off with “Jimmy’s Got a Girlfriend.” It reached #11 at home and #34 in the US and was followed by “Shame on Me.” It made it to the top 10 in Canada, as well as being named named Single of the Year at the 2000 CCMAs and nominated for a Grammy Award.
With the kids getting older, critics noted the music was geared a little more to a more mature audience, and also featured a slough of guest writers helping out, including famed Mountain drummer Corky Laing co-writing the fourth single, “1999.” Although it wasn’t released in the US, it made it to #16 in Canada. Other noteable tracks included “The Only Rose,” co-penned by Steve Wariner.
After another gruelling tour schedule that saw the trio criss-cross across North America, they begun work on their next album. After winning their first Juno for Best Country Group or Duo, the single “I Wanna Be That Girl” was released in the spring of 2001 prior to the album, SHINE hitting the record stands. But as the song was making its way up the American charts, Giant closed its doors in Nashville, which led to the album getting shelved, and the family without a record deal.
After receiving their fifth Juno nomination in 2002, and with a new deal with BNA Records in hand, things looked rosey and they were set to come back with a new record. But mere weeks before its intended release in 2003, the label’s suits decided they wanted Amanda to record a solo album instead, effectively killing the band. Rather than let that happen, the trio left BNA and signed instead with a Canadian label – Open Road Records in 2005, all but killing them on the American charts.
2005’s HIGHWAY album re-united the trio with Tony Haselden and Russ Zavitson, who’d both co-produced other projects with them. And they also utilized many of the same outside writers to help out on the songs, including Pure Prairie League’s Gary Burr, who co-wrote “Not Today,” and Rob Crosby, whose credits included two of the three singles – the lead-off “LA” and “Leaving Song.” Like the first single, “LA,” it found good chart success and kept the band on the road for a series of mini-tours over the course of the rest of the year.
Once the tour bus came to a stop, the family moved back to Ontario. Since their videos had made them darlings of the small screen anyway, they were approached by CMT Canada about doing a partially fictionalized reality TV program, documenting their move and their career. Simply called, “The Wilkinsons,” the program was nominated for a CCMA for Country Music Program or Special of the Year, and won a Gemini (Canada’s answer to the Oscars).
The band was on semi-hold when Amanda signed a solo deal after all with Universal South Records in ’06. She released her self-titled debut album later that year, and received four nominations at that year’s CCMAs. Looking to try something different, Tyler meanwhile formed the alt-rock group Motion Picture Ending.
Just prior to winning Independent Group of the Year at the ’07 CCMAs, they released their fourth studio album, HOME. The album produced five singles over the next year, although none made a significant dent in the charts – “Six Pack,” a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” “Papa Come Quick,” “Nobody Died,” and “Closets.” But with the Amanda’s and Tyler’s hectic schedules over the last couple of years, many songs weren’t really the trio, but was actually predominantly Amanda’s solo efforts, even though her dad was still the primary writer. Tyler performed “Dying To Start Living,” while Steve performed “Six Pack” and “Big Pockets.”
Celebrating their ten-year anniversary, GREATEST HITS…AND THEN SOME was in the stores in October, 2008. Along with the usual collection of charting singles, it also included five new tracks, including the new singles, “When I’m Old” and “You Heal Me.”
Shortly after its release, the trio officially disbanded, and Amanda and Tyler founded a new duo in 2012 called Small Town Pistols.