The pride of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, Tom Cochrane’s early childhood consisted of using music as an escape from the rural doldrums, which included Acton and Etobicoke, Ontario. His seclusion from ‘civilization’ helped him learn the craft that would make him one of Canada’s most prolific story-tellers/songwriters.
He bought his first guitar at the age of 11 by selling a toy train set, and followed in the musical path as other Canadian stars like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, & Ian & Sylvia Tyson when he began playing Toronto’s Yorkville Village. He was soon expanding to other parts of the country, and in ’73 caught the attention of Frank Davies who signed him to Daffodil records.
The label released his first single “You’re Driving Me Crazy” that summer. After working on a cruise liner, he’d found his way to Los Angeles in 1976, where he eventually got the job of writing the theme music to the new Xavier Hollander (The Happy Hooker) movie ‘My Pleasure Is My Business’. Excerpts from the record were included with songs from his HANG ON TO YOUR RESISTANCE lp – issued by Daffodil on a sampler LP later that year. But a year later he was back home in Toronto.
A few months later one of Canada’s most original and critically acclaimed groups was born, when Cochrane introduced himself to a group called Red Rider at the infamous El Mocambo nightclub. They were signed to Capitol in late ’79 and were introduced to future manager Bruce Allen, also babysitting the boys in Prism.
DON’T FIGHT IT debuted the next spring and the critics and airwaves both lit up, as the record went on to sell 100,000 copies in Canada alone with the help of the title-track and lead off single “White Hot”. More gold would follow the next year, with the follow-up smash AS FAR AS SIAM. Songs like the classic “Lunatic Fringe” and “Cowboys In Hong Kong” put them on major tours, yet they still had trouble cracking the US market. All the same, ’83’s NERUDA made it three straight, with “Napolean Sheds His Skin” and “Power” showing tight, well-arranged pieces that the FM stations ate up.
BREAKING THE CURFEW proved the band to be among the most intricate and thought-provoking groups on the scene upon its release the next summer. “Young Thing Wild Thing”, the lead-off “Whipping Boy”, the title-track and “Among The Ruins” made it the group’s fourth straight gold record. But still having trouble south of the border in effect helped cause the disintegration of the core of the group.
After a short time off, following a less than friendly parting of company with manager Bruce Allen and bassist Jeff Jones, Cochrane took some time off to work on other projects, including working on the first of two Grapes of Wrath lp’s. The band’s foundation of Cochrane and Ken Greer hooked up with several noteable players in the following years, starting with the next album called simply TOM COCHRANE & RED RIDER, then VICTORY DAY a year and a half later in ’89. “Boy Inside The Man” – featured on the relief-aid disc 30 HOUR FAMINE, “The Untouchable One”, “Big League” – a tale of a local young hockey player’s dreams of making the NHL, and the scathing “Calling America” all socred big on the airwaves and finally saw the name Red Rider crack the American market. After Captiol’s release of a ‘best of’ package in their OVER SIXTY MINUTES WITH … series and the teaming of The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for ’89’s SYMPHONY SESSIONS, Greer left the fold of Red Rider and Cochrane headed back out, this time truly as a solo artist.
Cochrane’s long-standing charity work took him to West Africa in 1990, working for World Vision’s famine relief programs. Now working for EMI, this also gave him inspiration for MAD MAD WORLD in ’91, with the title-track and eventual Juno single of the year “Life Is A Highway” (later covered by country star Chris Ledoux). They both became radio staples across the globe and firmly cemented Cochrane’s name in the foundations of what’s now considered ‘modern rock’. “Life Is A Highway” was also nominated Song of The Year by SOCAN, eventually pushing the album to over a million sales worldwide.
1983’s ASHES TO DIAMONDS, a ‘best of’ collection was followed by his outside projects and personal missions being told in RAGGED ASS ROAD in ’95. With less emphasis on production, the album brought Cochrane back to his roots, with more thought-provoking tales in “I Wish You Well”, “Wildest Dreams”, title track and “Will Of The Gun”.
The laid-back feel of the live SONGS OF A CIRCLING SPIRIT followed a year later, an intimate collection of Red Rider classics, as well as an intricate and complex solo career. X RAY SIERRA was released in 1998 to much critical appraise with “I Wonder”, “Willie Dixon Said” and “Stonecutter’s Hands”. TRAPEZE was introduced to the record stores in 2001, the definitive collection of his studio material as both a solo artist. It also featured a healthy sampling of tracks from Red Rider which helped shape Canadian music as one of the country’s most compelling and formative bands during the ’80s.
All total Tom Cochrane has made 3 trips to West Africa, helping raise the awareness of the plights of the third world, while raising money for a variety of charities. His other charitable works over his three decades in music are substantial. He’s also supported the Make Poverty History campaign, and contributed to the efforts of the World Society for the Protection of Animals. He has served as Spokesman for War Child Canada, and honorary chairperson for the Canadian Parkinson’s Society. In 2006, he released the NO STRANGER album, his first new material in eight years, which featured a cover of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky,” as well as the lead off “Party’s Not Over,” “Rough and Tumble” and “Northern Star.” Several mini-tours throughout Canada accompanied its release.
In 2007, he was appointed Honorary Colonel for 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Cold Lake, AB, after visiting the country’s only fighter training Air Force base and home to Maple Flag, a world-renowned joint miitary exercise that trains fighter pilots from around the globe. He’s also demonstrated his support for Canadian Forces personnel by participating in events such as the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency tour to the Middle East in 2004, and the 2005 Salute The Troops concert in Kingston, ON.
Tom Cochrane article
submitted by Sabrina Albis
Who sells their toy train set at the mere age of eleven? A little boy that really wants to raise money for his first guitar of course. That little boy definitely made the right choice because eventually when he grew into a man, he made use of his early developed guitar skills to shake the world with his emotionally-driven rock songs. And that man is Manitoba native Tom Cochrane.
Tom was interested in music at a young age and was influenced by artists like The Beatles, Robert Johnson, Van Morrison, Neil Young, The Byrds, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, The Band, Bruce Cockburn, Bach, Debussy, and Joni Mitchell. He started out playing in coffee shops in the 70’s until he secured a record deal in 73 with Daffodil Records.
While Tom kept working on his musical career he worked normal day jobs like a delivery man and dishwasher. However, things were about to change one fateful night at the Toronto nightclub El Mocambo. Tom ran into a bunch of local musicians that called themselves Red Rider. They agreed to let Tom audition to sing for their band and soon he was their frontman and songwriter.
Tom and Red Rider concocted a cluster of hits after being signed to Capitol records. Their debut disc, DON’T FIGHT IT, spawned the hit singles “White Hot” and the title track. They went on to score more hits with the songs “Lunatic Fringe”, “As Far As Siam” and “Power (Strength in Numbers)”.
Still, Tom wasn’t well-known internationally, but that was about to change with one song after going solo in 1991. He soon became a household name in Canada (and beyond) thanks to his hit “Life Is A Highway” from his solo debut MAD MAD WORLD. The song is about living life to the fullest which Tom says he tries to do. “It’s about what you aspire to be, what you remind yourself to be and who you really are.” The song was nominated as Song of the Year by SOCAN in 1991 and the album generated several more hits, eventually selling over a million copies in Canada and in turn ended up earning Tom a bunch of Juno Awards.
It’s no shock that MAD MAD WORLD was successful because Tom enjoys writing music so much. He finds it cleansing. “Making music is a form of therapy and through that it becomes therapeutic for the listener,” he says, adding, “And when I make music it must be somewhat honest to have the necessary impact.”
For Tom music is all very symbolic. “The phrase ‘physician heal thyself’ is one that comes to mind. Making music is not only cheaper than seeing a therapist but indeed I have been lucky enough to make a very good living off of it,” he exclaims.
Tom says the song that is closest to his heart is “Big League” – about an aspiring young hockey player that ends up losing his life in a tragic car accident. “It’s a true story and it is distinctly a Canadian story,” he says. It is no shock that such an honest and heartfelt song was written by Tom, because despite his successful career he stays homegrown and down-to-earth. He isn’t your typical pretentious rock star. He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and getting to the heart of the matter.
And despite his good fortune he’s still trying to make this world a better place for everyone else. This is apparent when you read about Tom’s adamant involvement with World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization that works to promote the well being of all people, especially children. World Vision offers material, emotional, social and spiritual support to the community.
Tom has visited some of the most troubled places in the world on behalf of World Vision and he speaks openly of his charity work. “I got involved sometime back in 1988 or 89 when my friend Skip Prokop (of Lighthouse and Paupers fame) asked me to co-host a radio show for the 24 hour famine,” he reflected.
“My involvement with them kind of grew from there and through my increasing participation, and I came to appreciate their diligent, humble and extremely effective approach to world relief,” he adds. “Particularly in Africa where I have made five life altering trips with them. I feel extremely privileged to in some small way help World Vision save lives,” he humbly notes. Tom says World Vision is one of the most omnipresent and effective organizations when it comes to helping people and that he will probably go back to Africa again with the organization .
In terms of other future plans Tom has many, big and small. “Aside from various charity concerns and committee commitments, I am going to Ottawa at the end of November to lobby for the ratification of the WIPO and WPPT (World Intellectual Properties Organization and the World Publishers and Performers Treaty).”
Tom says he would also like to help some other younger artists realize their potential through production and management. “I am also currently working on a new record that will hopefully be released in the spring or summer,” he adds.
Although recording a new album can be grueling there are many rewards to reap from making music he says. “Bringing joy through my music to people and seeing, feeling and hearing them respond to that and making people feel less alone in the world through music really. That is what it’s all about,” Tom confides.
Besides helping others feel good through his music, Tom has other endeavors to be proud of. He was recently inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame which Tom calls, “awesome”. “It was a vindication of sorts,” he says. “I think what surprised me the most is that even though I have not been at the Juno’s for a couple of years, how much respect I had from younger artists such as Sam Roberts , Nickelback, Remy Shand and Alanis Morissette. Both Sam and Nickelback told me that the first songs they learned were Red Rider songs… Man … that’s humbling.”