Murray Edward McLauchlan, CM, singer, songwriter, musician, broadcaster, actor, pilot (30 June 1948 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland). Murray McLauchlan is one of Canada’s leading folk music artists. Known for his socially-conscious songs that often represent the underclass, he achieved wide popularity with his breakthrough single “Farmer’s Song” (1972), which earned him the first of 11 Juno Awards from 24 nominations to date. He was one of the first artists to establish a sustainable career in Canada, and recorded albums at a prolific pace through the 1970s and 1980s, three of which were certified gold in Canada. His other best known folk, country and pop songs include “Down by the Henry Moore,” “On the Boulevard,” “Whispering Rain” and “Try Walkin’ Away.” Also a popular CBC Radio and TV personality, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1993 and has received other honours for his contributions to Canadian music.
Early Years and Career
McLauchlan came to Canada from Scotland with his family when he was five years old. He attended Toronto's Central Technical School as an art student and studied under renowned landscape painter Doris McCarthy. A promising young painter, he chose instead to concentrate on music and began performing his own songs at coffeehouses in Toronto’s Yorkville district at age 17. He made his first major appearance at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1966. While still a teenager, he lived for a couple of years in New York’s Greenwich Village and quickly gained recognition as a songwriter. His numbers "Child's Song" and "Old Man's Song" were recorded by American folk singer Tom Rush, while “Honky Red” was performed live by Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Neuwirth. McLauchlan played festivals, clubs and coffeehouses in Ontario, Québec and the northeastern United States through the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The McLauchlan Style
While McLauchlan’s work has included elements of country, rock and pop, his songwriting has remained constant to the folk tradition. In 1983, the Toronto Star’s Greg Quill noted that, "over the years, [McLacuhlan’s] patently populist approach has endeared him to a solid working-class audience," and referred to McLauchlan's "lean, streetwise narratives, of which the finest examples are 'Farmer's Song,' 'Honky Red' and 'Down by the Henry Moore' — all genuine urban folksongs..."
McLauchlan's early singing style was characterized by a degree of tender sincerity, as well as a toughness and twang that corresponded with his view of, and from, the working class. His later songs and singing grew more personal in tone.
McLauchlan’s debut album, Song from the Street (1971), was the fourth release from manager Bernie Finkelstein’s True North Records. Produced by guitarist Eugene Martynec, it cracked the Top 40 on the Canadian album chart and featured “Honky Red,” which would become a fan favourite, and the single “Jesus Please Don’t Save Me.”
McLauchlan returned to New York City in the summer of 1972 to work at The Record Plant with producer Ed Freeman, who had produced Don McLean’s American Pie a year earlier. The resulting self-titled album featured nine original songs and a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita,” and is best known for “Farmer’s Song.” That single reached No. 6 on the Canadian singles chart and helped the album duplicate its predecessor’s Canadian sales chart peak of No. 38. "Farmer's Song" also earned him 1974 Juno Awards for Folk Single and Country Single of the Year, and for Best Songwriter.
He followed that success with Day to Day Dust (1973), which hit No. 13 on the Canadian album chart, making it McLauchlan’s highest-placed album to date. The record’s original lyric sheet was printed on recycled de-inked fibres, which was a significant financial commitment that reflected the social and environmental commitment conveyed in McLauchlan’s lyrics.
Sweeping the Spotlight Away (1974), produced by McLauchlan and Finkelstein, is most notable for its fourth single, “Down by the Henry Moore,” which reached No. 1 on both the RPM Country Tracks and Adult Contemporary charts. The song referred to Henry Moore’s sculpture, The Archer, in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, where students met and held rallies and protests in the 1960s and early 1970s.
McLauchlan toured regularly across Canada and made appearances in the US (where he has never achieved the same profile), including shows with Neil Young. A double live album titled Only the Silence Remains (1975) was recorded on 26 April 1975 at Halifax’s Dalhousie Arts Centre and featured McLauchlan on guitar, harmonica and piano with accompaniment from bassist Dennis Pendrith.
McLauchlan assembled a backing rock band called The Silver Tractors and received his first gold certification for the self-produced Boulevard (1976), which featured the electrified single “On the Boulevard.” His musical shift to a more rock-oriented sound continued with Hard Rock Town (1977). His Greatest Hits (1978) compilation and the subsequent Whispering Rain (1979) were both certified gold in Canada. The title track from the latter has become one of his signature songs.
After winning the 1979 Juno Award for Folksinger of the Year, McLauchlan was named Country Male Vocalist of the Year five times between 1980 and 1989. He continued to primarily conduct his career in Canada, giving some 150 concerts a year through the 1980s, starting at the outset of the decade with backing band The Lincolns. He performed regularly at folk festivals (including the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1990) and made a point of playing in small communities as well as larger cities. He also appeared in many benefit concerts and telethons.
McLauchlan’s first album of the decade was his self-produced Into a Mystery (1980), which included the single “Try Walkin’ Away.” His "If the Wind Could Blow My Troubles Away" was chosen as the worldwide theme song for the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. He then released five albums in the next five years: Storm Warning (1981), Windows (1982), Timberline (1983), Heroes (1984) and Midnight Break (1985). His most popular song during this period was 1983’s “Never Did Like That Train,” which was a Top 20 hit on both the country and adult contemporary charts in Canada.
He participated in the charity single “Tears Are Not Enough,” and then switched from True North to Capitol Records for his final album of the decade, the self-produced Swinging on a Star (1988), which produced three Top 40 country hits in Canada: “Love With a Capital L,” “Please Don’t Call it Runnin’ Away” and “Swinging on a Star.”
1990s and Beyond
The Modern Age (1991) was issued by Capitol before McLauchlan returned to True North for Gulliver’s Taxi (1996), which was produced by Barney Bentall and Colin Nairne (Mae Moore, Spirit of the West, Barney Bentall and The Legendary Hearts). McLauchlan was joined in the studio by members of Odds, Geoffrey Kelly of Spirit of the West, and Tom Wilson of Junkhouse and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. Each original song was a collaboration, with contributors including Wilson, Ron Hynes and John McDermott.
McLauchlan stepped away from the music business from 1996 to 2000. His memoir, Getting Out of Here Alive, which looked at the early days of the Toronto music scene, was published by Penguin/Viking in 1998. He returned to music in 2001, touring Ontario with the Everly Brothers that year, and then appeared at such folk venues as the 2005 Mariposa Folk Festival. His stage musical Eddie, about a troubled Frank Sinatra-like singer, premiered on 26 May 2004 in Hudson, Québec. The Songbook...New Arrivals (2006) featured McLauchlan singing the songs from the musical with a jazz band and string section.
The 36-track compilation album Songs from the Street: Best of Murray McLachlan (2007), as well as Human Writes (2011), his first album of original solo material in 15 years, were released by True North.
Radio, Film and Television
In 1984, McLauchlan hosted the 13-episode CBC Radio series Timberline, an exploration of the unsung heroes of Canada’s North (e.g., trapper, tugboat operator, aviation pioneer). He returned to the hinterland theme for the CBC TV travelogue special Floating Over Canada (1986), which followed McLauchlan as he flew across Canada in his Cessna 185 float plane, visiting and performing with guests such as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Levon Helm, Ian Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot. The program was shown on the network for a number of years after that, enjoying a regular broadcast every Canada Day. He subsequently hosted CBC Radio's highly-rated Swinging on a Star (1989–94), a series devoted to Canadian songs and songwriters.
McLauchlan composed scores for a number of feature films, including Don Shebib’s Rip-Off (1971), Don Owen’s Partners (1976) and Clay Borris’ Alligator Shoes (1981). He has also dabbled in acting, with a cameo appearance in Partners, a supporting role in the CBC TV show Street Legal (1989) and a featured role in the CTV program Neon Rider (1990). McLauchlan also appeared on the children’s TV programs Sesame Street and Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Elephant Show (1987).
Lunch at Allen’s
While he was recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2004, McLauchlan had regular get-togethers with fellow singer-songwriters Marc Jordan, Ian Thomas and Cindy Church at Allen’s Restaurant in Toronto. These meetings led them to form the band Lunch at Allen’s, which recorded the albums Lunch at Allen's (2004), Catch the Moon (2007), More Lunch at Allen’s (2010) and Zuzu’s Petals: A Lunch at Allen’s Christmas (2012). As of June 2014, the group was touring occasionally throughout Southern Ontario.
Covers by Other Artists
“Farmer's Song" has been recorded by Ocean Fancy, Walter Ostanek, Merv Smith and R. Harlan Smith. “Burned Out Car” appeared on Canadian rock band Junkhouse’s Birthday Boy (1995) as a duet between co-writer Tom Wilson and Sarah McLachlan, and won the 1997 Juno for Best Video. “No Change In Me,” co-written with Canadian crooner John McDermott, was sung by McDermott in the musical The Needfire and was included on his album Love is a Voyage (1995). McLauchlan also co-wrote the songs “You Should be Havin’ Fun” (1997) with Bentall and “Bad Girl” with Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club.
McLauchlan returned to painting after reuniting with Doris McCarthy. His work has been displayed on the walls of EMI Music Canada and the home of broadcaster-turned-senator Pamela Wallin. One of his paintings was auctioned to raise money for The Nature Conservancy.
McLauchlan married broadcasting and music executive Denise Donlon in 1990. Their son, Duncan, is also a musician, and performed all the horn parts on Human Writes.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
RPM Gold Leaf Awards
- Composer of the Year (1973)
- Country Single (1973)
- Folk Singer of the Year (1973)
- Folk Single of the Year, “Farmer’s Song” (1974)
- Country Single of the Year, “Farmer’s Song” (1974)
- Best Songwriter (1974)
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year (1976)
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year (1977)
- Folksinger of the Year (1979)
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year (1980)
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year (1984)
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year (1985)
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year (1986)
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year (1989)
- Male Vocalist of the Year (1985)
- Male Vocalist of the Year (1986)
- Classics Award, “Whispering Rain” (1994)
- National Achievement Award (2001)
- Classics Award, “Try Walkin’ Away” (2008)
- Member, Order of Canada (1993)
- Helen Verger Award, Ottawa Folk Festival (1995)
- Honorary Degree, University of Calgary (2007)
- Inductee, Mariposa Folk Foundation Hall of Fame (2007)
- Song from the Street (1971). True North TN-4.
- Murray McLauchlan (1972). True North TN-9.
- Day to Day Dust (1973). True North TN-14.
- Sweeping the Spotlight Away (1974). True North TN-18.
- Only the Silence Remains (1975). True North TN-21.
- Boulevard (1976). True North TN-25.
- Murray McLauchlan and The Silver Tractors, Hard Rock Town (1977). True North TN-29.
- Murray McLauchlan's Greatest Hits (1978). True North TN-35.
- Whispering Rain (1978). True North TN-36.
- Into a Mystery (1980). True North TN-41.
- Storm Warning (1981). True North TN-44.
- Windows (1982). True North TN-49
- Timberline (1983). True North TN-54.
- Heroes (1984). True North TN-59.
- Midnight Break (1985). True North TN-65.
- Swinging on a Star (1988). Capitol C1-91296.
- The Modern Age (1991). Capitol C2-95523.
- Gulliver's Taxi (1996) True North TNSD-0131.
- Lunch and Allen’s, Lunch at Allen's (2004). EMI 72435-96473-2-6.
- The Songbook...New Arrivals (2006). EMI 09463-73991-2-5.
- Catch The Moon (2007). EMI 09463-84902-2-7.
- More Lunch at Allen’s (2010). Linus 270118.
- Human Writes (2011). True North TND-545.
- Zuzu’s Petals: A Lunch at Allen’s Christmas (2012). Linus 270157.
Getting Out of Here Alive: The Ballad of Murray McLauchlan (Toronto: Viking, 1998).