Born and raised in Nova Scotia as Frederick George Leigh, George Canyon’s first instrument was a guitar his parents had made for him when he was four years old. He moved to Alberta in his 20s, where he bounced around in various jobs for the first few years while trying to make music his priority, including working as a beef inspector at a slaughterhouse in Brooks, before becoming a community peace officer for the Municipal District of Bonnyville.
He produced his debut album himself in 1996 on Shoreline Records. Although it didn’t set the country music world on fire, three of the tracks – “Angelyna,” the title track, and “My Love’s Unchanged” were re-recorded and found their way to his self-titled sophomore album in ’99. It produced four singles – “Her Everything,” “Enough Said,” “Way Too Much,” and “Good Day To Ride,” but “Enough Said” was the only one that charted, and only made its way to #71. Other noteable tracks included a pair of songs about his native land – “Scotia Home” and “The Shaft,” about the toils of working in the coal mines.
He toiled on the prairies b-circuit until his fortunes changed in 2004. After placing second in the reality series “Nashville Star 2” (and the only Canadian to appear on the program), Universal Music signed him to a deal, and rushed out the album ONE GOOD FRIEND on both sides of the border later that year. It peaked at #23 in Canada, and label execs were delighted it also made the top 40 on the American charts.
After going through the Nashville production line, the majority of the songs were handed to him by seasoned writers, including Willie Mack (Sara Evans, Collin Raye, Oak Ridge Boys, Mark Wills), Gordie Sampson (Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, LeAnn Rimes), and Steve Mandile, one of four people to take production credit. Four singles came from the collaborations – “I’ll Never Do Better Than You,” “My Name,” “Who Would You Be,” and the title track, as well as featuring Paul Brandt doing a cameo on “Letting Go.” Canyon earned a gold record for his efforts, as well as a Juno Award in 2005 for country album of the year, and a pair of MINSAs (Music Industry of Nova Scotia Awards) for new artist recording, and country recording of the year.
After releasing his holiday album, HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, featuring the usual mix of Yuletide and Gospel standards in ’05, he returned a year later with SOMEBODY WROTE LOVE, which he produced himself. Earning him his second Juno Award for country album of the year, he again relied on outside writers for the overwhelming majority of it. Three singles, with the title track leading the way, made it two straight gold albums. But unlike their predecessor, “Drinkin’ Thinkin'” and “I Want You To Live” both failed to make the top 40. Other noteable cuts included “Some People Change,” previously recorded by Kenny Chesney and later by Montgomery Gentry, and “Quitters” – one of only two songs he’d had a hand in writing, also recorded later by Colin Raye.
Paying tribute to the artists that helped shape his career was on deck with 2007’s CLASSICS album. Although it didn’t chart, many of the songs had always been staples of Canyon’s live shows over the years, and featured standards like “Hello Darlin’,” “Lukenbach, Texas,” and the two singles – “Ring of Fire” and “Seven Spanish Angels.”
That same year, Canyon performed at a concert in Vancouver called China-Canada: Hand in Hand. The joint concert was a collaboration between the CBC and China Central Television to commemorate the one-year countdown of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. One of the songs performed by Canyon was “What a Fine Jasmine Blossom”. Sung entirely in Mandarin, Canyon performed the duet with singer Tang Can.
Another Juno nomination for 2008’s WHAT I DO equalled another gold album, peaking at #25 on the chart. It was his last project for Universal, and was his most successful sales-wise. It produced no less than seven singles over the next year and a half, led by “Just Like You.” The clever play on words in “Betty’s Buns” (co-written with his wife Jennifer), and the top 40 “I Believe In Angels” also received huge critical acclaim for the videos, which spent what seemed like an eternity on CMT. Crystal Shawanda also appeared in the duet, “In Your Arms Again,” while the other singles “Pretty Drunk Out Tonight,” “All Or Nothing,” and “Let It Out” fuelled tours that saw him play from coast to coast across Canada, and totalled several months on the stage in the US, as well.
Recorded in Vancouver and released on 604 Records, unlike on previous outings, Canyon had returned to writing the majority of the material himself, along with a few helping hands. That included several with the album’s producers – Richard Marx and Nickelback‘s Chad Kroeger.
That same year, Canyon’s appreciation of the Canadian military was recognized with the appointment of Honorary Colonel at 14 Wing Greenwood, the largest air base on the East Coast. When the appointment expired a few years later, he was appointed permanent Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.
After forming his own label, Reiny Dawg Records, he worked with Marx again for his next album, 2011’s BETTER BE HOME SOON, which debuted on the Canadian chart at #25. It eventually was certified gold, and he also returned to leaving the bulk of the writing up to other artists, with Marx having a hand in most of the songs.
The title track, a cover of Crowded House’s mega-hit from the ’80s, led the way, with “Surrender,” “Sunshine,” and “When Love Is All You’ve Got” (a duet with Marx and written by Marx and Kenny Rogers) followed. The album also featured a pair of tracks co-written by newcomer and touring bassist, former Roadhammer Chris Byrne – “Never Miss Your Water” and “Crawfish Crawl.”
After the stand-alone single, “Saddle Up” in 2012, he again paid tribute later that year to his idols with CLASSICS II. Along with the non-charting covers of Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Willie Nelson’s “Pancho & Lefty” (a duet with Blue Rodeo‘s Jim Cuddy), other tracks included a pair of Hank Sr’s songs – “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Marty Robbins’ “Devil Woman” and Buck Owens’ “Together Again.”
Along with a pair of Juno Awards (and a third nomination), George Canyon has received six CCMAs (Canadian Country Music Association) awards beginning in 2004, seven ECMAs (East Coast Music Association) awards starting in ’05, half a dozen SOCAN awards, and several international honours.
In addition to his music career, he’s also appeared on TV, in several episodes of “Trailer Park Boys,” in 2007 as the head forest ranger, and as the character Charlie Wells in the series “Heartland” in 2010. He also dabbled in film work, playing the role of Cattle Jack in the 2012 reamke of the 1935 John Wayne movie, “Dawn Rider.” Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes ath the age of 14, he’s also regularly talked to children about the disease, as the national spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.