BY LUC HELLEWELL – HAMILTON, ON
“Tom, you lived through the golden years,” a friend told him.
Born the son of a bush pilot in the one-horse town of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, Tom Cochrane grew up in a modest household where caring for others was second nature. When he was four years old, his parents (Tuc and Violet Cochrane) moved their family to Acton, Ontario and later east to Etobicoke, Ontario. But no matter the changes in Cochrane’s life… family has been his constant.
“It’s the most important thing. We didn’t have a dishwasher as kids and that’s where you bonded with people. One person does the washing, one person does the drying,” said Cochrane. “…Before we had a cottage here in Muskoka, I had a plane and we flew to the White Shell. Prior to that, I would go with my girls and my wife Kathy to Manitoba to see my in-laws at their cottage. It’s a real important part of that mosaic that makes up who I am and who we are as Canadians.”
He struggled for years, but after selling millions of albums, earning a place on Canada’s Walk of Fame and receiving a key to the city of Winnipeg, Cochrane remains all “heart and conscience”, treating his own writing as poetic therapy and continuing to use his platform to aid millions through charities like World Vision, Amnesty International and War Child. Tom Cochrane is the quintessential Canadian.
Though Cochrane has earned everything from an induction to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, to an honorary doctorate at Brandon University, to a designation as an officer of the Order of Canada, he remains as humble and grounded as his sweet and simple childhood was… basking in the nostalgia of his mother’s home-cooked macaroni and cheese and her infamous “white bread and butter sandwiches with brown sugar.”
“Can you believe it?! I loved these things when I was a kid! I’d be playing with my friend David and we’d come in and say [to my mother], ‘We’d like a few sandwiches for two tired cowboys!’ Maybe that’s why I’m still so hyper!”
By the early 1970s, Cochrane was playing coffee houses across Canada until settling in Los Angeles to write music for film and television. After achieving minor success, Cochrane returned to Ontario to focus on his own material… writing meticulously during the day and driving cab from midnight until dawn to keep food on the table. It is that same empathy and perseverance that was instilled in him through his father’s glory days as a bush pilot and his mother’s manner of making a house a home, which fortified Cochrane as a Canadian who is built-to-last.
After the seven-time Juno award-winner and his band Red Rider spent a decade in the limelight, he released his critically-acclaimed solo debut album Mad Mad World, which spawned his timeless road-ready single “Life Is A Highway”. Though the singer-songwriter has made his money and his mark on Canadian rock music, he never attached his name to a song he didn’t want to write.
“Being a songwriter is like being a therapist of sorts. The idea is to make people feel good. You write songs that resonate (first and foremost) with yourself and hopefully they hit home with your audience. An artist must be sincere and true to what they want to do. They may not sell the most records, but in the long run, you really can’t fool people.”
Take It Home, released in February via Universal Music Canada, never once deviates from Cochrane’s tried-and-tested formula… all the while taking the listener to places they’ve never been with him before. In between happy-go-lucky country rockers like “Sunday Afternoon Hang” and “Country Girls Never Get Old”, Cochrane slows down for “Pink Time” to focus on a moment of tragedy, proving his versatility as a therapist. In the early 2000s, he combined his love for music and his need to help, by spearheading the Asia for Canada (featuring Bryan Adams, The Tragically Hip and Celine Deon) and Live8 concert in Barrie, Ontario. For Cochrane, his efforts were a no-brainer. “I’ve always been interested in what’s going on in the world. I’d always wanted to be a journalist… a foreign correspondent; Going into different parts of the world to report the truth on what was going on there. I’ve always felt compassion for people that are struggling. It’s just a matter of having a conscience.”
When asked if he had any advice for young Canadian musicians about the hard road ahead, Cochrane insisted on “having something to fall back on.”
“I know it’s not a terribly romantic piece of advice, but it is important to allow yourself to write what you want,” he explained. “…It’s a very tough way to make a living. Young people I meet are enthusiastic and passionate but you have to have something else to take the pressure off… If you’re making music to please other people, you’re just fooling yourself.”
When he isn’t spending time making music or the world a better place, Cochrane can be found fishing or playing golf at his home-away-from-home in Muskoka. It’s a ritual, something to look forward to after a tour…somewhere to clear the mind. Since his days as a cabbie, the Georgian Bay area has been his escape from life in the city suburbs.
“It really starts with something that’s very cultural and ingrained,” admitted Cochrane. “…Although I left Manitoba very young, it stayed with me…. I love the fact that my girls love the outdoors, love the cottage and coming up here; otherwise, it wouldn’t mean as much to me.”
Tom Cochrane is a kind, unpretentious man with the smarts of a MENSA member. His wife and children mean more than the world to him and he would give a stranger the shirt off his back if they needed it. He is less of a “writer” and more of a “sonic journalist”, interviewing with instruments and looking around a room with his ears… the way a dog does with its nose. He loves what he loves and doesn’t let anything get in the way of that.
Tom Cochrane…proud to be Canadian.