Major was something of a travelling troubadour early in his career. Unable to land a record contract, he toured independently across Canada and even for a while in Spain in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He won a songwriting contest in 1986 sponsored by Ottawa radio station CKBY-FM, which allowed him to record his first single, “Back in ‘73.” Shortly thereafter, other artists started covering his material.
American country singer Ricky Van Shelton had a big hit in 1992 with Major’s “Backroads.” The song had been passed to Van Shelton’s bus driver by some of Major’s friends who were working at a Van Shelton concert in Ottawa. The song reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot Country chart and No. 3 on the Canadian country chart. It won a BMI Award for US radio play in 1993.
This success led to a deal with Sony subsidiary Arista Records, which released Major’s debut album, The Other Side (1993). A major hit, it became the first Canadian album to yield six No. 1 Canadian country singles (“I’m Gonna Drive You Out Of My Mind,” “I’m Somebody,” “Nobody Gets Too Much Love,” “The Other Side,” “It Can’t Happen To Me,” and “I’m Here”). The album went on to sell more than 200,000 copies, earning double platinum certification in Canada. In 1994, Major won a Juno Award for Country Male Vocalist of the Year and six CCMA Awards, including Album of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and Single of the Year (“I’m Gonna Drive You Out of My Mind”).
Lucky Man followed in 1995 and was another substantial hit. The singles “(I Do It) For The Money,” “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” and “It’s Lonely I Can’t Stand” all hit No. 1 on the Canadian country chart. The album achieved platinum status in Canada. In 1996, Major won a Juno Award for Country Male Vocalist and CCMA Awards for Male Vocalist and Male Artist of the Year. His American debut, Here and Now, was released that year and consisted of songs from his first two Canadian LPs.
Major moved to Nashville and released his third album, Everything’s Alright, in September 1997, but it failed to match the success of its predecessors. His roots-rock approach wasn’t a good fit with mainstream country music tastes in the US at the time, and he was dropped by Sony BMG.
Major signed with independent label Dead Reckoning Records and released the critically acclaimed 444 in 1999. That year, BMG released the compilation album Greatest Hits through ViK recordings. Major returned to the Ottawa area and released Inside Out (2004) — which included his recording of “Backroads” — through Stony Plain Records. Fifth Line Records issued Shadows and Light (2006), which featured a duet with Kim Mitchell called “Young at Heart.” A greatest hits album called Collections was released by Sony BMG in 2006.
Although Major’s popularity waned, he continued to tour and record. He has toured with ZZ Top and American country star Don Williams. He performed alongside Susan Aglukark and Ashley MacIsaac at the Concert of Hope benefit show in Slave Lake, Alberta, following the devastating fire there in 2011. On the Evening Side was released by MDM Recordings in 2011. In March 2013, he released the single “A Night to Remember” to promote the release of a new greatest hits package, The Best 20 of the Last 20, in September that year.
In August 2019, Major released a 25th anniversary edition of his No. 1 single “It Can’t Happen to Me.” The re-released song features guest appearances by such Canadian country stars as Terri Clark, Johnny Reid and Dean Brody. All proceeds from the single, which is about the dangers of drunk driving, were donated to MADD Canada. Major also toured with George Canyon and Doc Walker in 2019, as well as the country group Alabama. His compilation album More Of The Best (Greatest Hits 2) was released in September 2019. That same month, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
- Country Male Vocalist of the Year, Juno Awards (1994–96)
- Male Vocalist of the Year, Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Awards (1994–96)
- Album of the Year (The Other Side), CCMA Awards (1994)
- Single of the Year (“I’m Gonna Drive You Out of My Mind”), CCMA Awards (1994)
- SOCAN Song of the Year (“I’m Gonna Drive You Out of My Mind,” shared with Barry Brown), CCMA Awards (1994)
- Male Artist of the Year, CCMA Awards (1994–96)
- SOCAN Songwriter of the Year (“I’m Gonna Drive You Out of My Mind,” shared with Barry Brown), CCMA Awards (1994)
- Inductee, Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (2019)