Shirley Eikhard was born into a musical family in Sackville, New Brunswick in 1955. Her mother June was a renowned Maritime fiddler and the first woman to compete in the Canadian Open Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest. Her father Cecil also played guitar and bass in several country groups on the islands while she grew up.
When she was eight years old, her family moved to Oshawa, Ontario, and shortly after she began playing guitar and writing songs. Her first public performance was at the age of 12, when she competed in a fiddler’s contest in nearby Cobourg, and from there she took the stage at the Mariposa Folk Festival, designed to showcase new songwriters. This led to her being invited onto CBC TV’s “Singalong Jubilee” for an appearance, and also where she met Anne Murray, who Eikhard was often compared to early in her career.
At only 14, she was the youngest female artist, and youngest Canadian, to ever sign a deal with Capitol Records, who initially wanted to utilize and develop her songwriting talents. And in 1970, Chet Atkins found one of her tapes on his desk, and recorded her instrumental tune “Pickin’ My Way” as the title track to his album that same year. A year later, Anne Murray took her song “It Takes Time” to the top 40.
Throughout her early days, she started out as most young performers do, playing in clubs and coffeehouses, particularly while writing material for her solo debut. She recorded her own version of the song for her self-titled debut album a year later. She instantly struck paydirt when it cracked the top 40, and was followed by “Smiling Wine,” helping her earn the first of two straight Juno Awards for Best Female Country Singer. Another two singles followed onto the country and MOR (Middle Of The Road) charts by 1974, “Wherever You Go” and “Rescue Me,” and also included were “In Times of Rain,” a cover of John Denver’s “Country Roads,” and a guest appearance by Hoyt Axton on “Ease Your Pain.”
But unhappy with decisions from the label being pushed on her, she moved to Vancouver, found a new manager, and signed a new deal with Attic Records in late ’74. Produced by Dennis Murphy and released the following spring, CHILD OF THE PRESENT produced the singles “Play A Little Bit Longer,” “Sure Thing,” and “I Just Wanted You To Know,” all spending time in the the top 40. With the record, she began a slow progression towards a pop sound, and with the toned down production compared to her first album, produced a critic’s fave. Leaning more towards Carole King than Anne Murray showed in songs like the bluesy “Leave The Windows Open,” her cover of King’s “To Love,” and Paul Anka classic made famous by Buddy Holly – “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”
A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me” led off her LET ME DOWN EASY album later that year, and was followed to the singles charts by the title track, and the Beatles cover “Don’t Let Me Down.” A year later Epic released the single “Someday Soon,” then her new album HORIZONS produced the single “I Don’t Want To Lose Your Love.”
By the time she decided to take a hiatus from recording, she’d worked her way up from the clubs across the country (also partially due to an allergy to cigarette smoke) to performing the concert halls throughout North America, and had made a few stops in Europe, with the likes of Sylvia Tyson, Hagood Hardy, Lynn Anderson, Lou Rawls, and Sonny James.
Always disgrunted with management, she took matters into her own hands, and her much-heralded return to music after five years started with her forming her own label, Eika Records in 1982. A string of singles followed over the next few years, including from time she’d spent in Nashville – “Something That Lasts,” “It’s Understood,” “Rumours,” “Someone Else,” “Nothing Like Love.” Enough material for a double album was trimmed down, resulting in TAKING CHARGE in the spring of ’87. Consisting largely of the singles released over the last few years, it also included the new singles “Roll That Rock” (which also spawned her first ever music video), “You’re My Weakness,” the purely synthesized pop driven “I Get So Jealous,” and “While We’re Still Young.” A world tour followed that saw her do select dates over the next year, including most of the biggest outdoor festivals.
Focusing on writing material for others, she would go on to pen hits for the likes of Cher, Kim Carnes, Rita Coolidge, Emmylou Harris, The Pointer Sisters, George Fox, Catherine McKinnon, Alannah Myles, Peter Pringle, and Sylvia Tyson, among more than a dozen others. When Bonnie Raitt took “Something To Talk About” to the top of most charts in 1991, it earned Eikhard her first Grammy Award a year later, as well as her third Juno, one of seven BMI (British Music Industry) Awards over her career, and later picked up a SOCAN Classic Award. And within two years the song had joined the elusive ‘4 million airplays’ club.
Her most chamelon-like album ever came in the form of 1995’s IF I HAD MY WAY, demonstrating her multi-genre songwriting prowess, containing elements of her pop and folk roots, as well as R&B and jazz influences, and produced the single “Take The Fall.” The album’s jazz undertones was a prelude of things to come, when 1998’s JAZZ SESSIONS showcased her similarity to her idol, Cleo Laine. She continued her jazz exploration with GOING HOME, and THE LAST HURRAH before the end of the decade. Both gained instant critic approval for her boldness on not simply doing renditions of already proven jazz standards. Instead, originals like “Nothin’ Like Love and the mellow “Easy Sailin’,” and “Walkin’ In Your Daddy’s Shoes” showed the artists’ versatility.
Her full-fledged foray into jazz generated new interest in her, and culminated in several television appearances, including the Bravo! series “Live at the Rehearsal Hall.” In addition, she found her way onto a pair of compilation albums in ’98 – “Nothin’ Like Love” on BLUE NOTE FESTIVAL ’98 and stripped down versions of “You’re My Weakness” and “It’s Understood” on CRITICS CHOICE II. GOING HOME garnered the Best Jazz Performance award at the 1999 EMCA (East Coast Music Association) Awards. “Tomorrow Is a Lonely Place” also won first prize in the jazz category in the 2001 USA Songwriting Competition.
By this point Eikhard had all but retired from regular touring, but remained businer than ever in the studio. She continued to explore various sounds and tempos throughout the new millennium, starting with END OF THE DAY in ’01. A largely instrumental album in which she played virtually every instrument, it featured Lesley’s Song” and “Hills of Hockley.” Two years later she slipped back into a straight up jazz/lounge mode that got good critical review for the sulty “Take It To The Max” and “Coyote Highway.”
2005 featured a pair of albums, appropriately entitled COUNTRY and POP, largely composed of material Eikhard had recorded over the years but either re-worked into something else she’d been working on, or scrapped all together. COUNTRY returned her to her roots, and featured both a country and a bluegrass version of “Something To Talk About.” POP also became a perennial fan favourite, with re-makes of “Roll That Rock” and “Eye On The Prize.”
After putting out the Yuletide EP hit, THE HOLIDAYS ARE HERE in 2006, she returned with STUCK IN THIS GROOVE a year later. With the social uprising undertones in “We Stand On Common Ground,” “Talk Radio,” and the instrumental “Angel’s Home At Last,” the album marked a shift back to jazz tinged lounge lizard sounds. RIDING ON THE 65 was next up in ’08, which along with some laid back vibes, also featured the Calypso flavoured “Welcome To The Island Life.”
JUST CALL ME ALICE was next up in 2009, highlighted by the cha-cha rhythms of “Me & My Martini Friends,” and a pair of instrumentals – the title track and “Velvet Persuasions. DREAM OF A PERFECT DAY followed two years later, featuring a stripped down collection of gems, including the acoustic “The Stuff Of Dreams” and “Boys in the Back Room,” lightly sprinkled with some reggae spices.