Cowboy Junkies

Cowboy Junkies
Michael Timmins (left), Margo Timmins, Alan Anton and Peter Timmins (right) (courtesy Geffen Records Inc)

Cowboy Junkies

Cowboy Junkies, a rock group formed in 1985 in Toronto by the Montréal-born siblings Margo (vocals), Peter (drums) and Michael Timmins (guitar) along with Alan Anton (bass). With a background in punk rock, the Cowboy Junkies chose an attention-grabbing name and recorded a raw independent debut, Whites Off Earth Now, with producer Peter Moore in the Timmins family garage. Seeking an ethereal and unusual setting for the next album, Moore rented Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity in 1987 and recorded a mix of spooky Michael Timmins originals and songs by the likes of Hank Williams and Lou Reed. The session lasted 14 hours, cost $162 (including a $17 pizza) and resulted in a critically acclaimed album (The Trinity Sessions) that has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide.

Distinguished by its low-key, naturalistic sound and the haunting vocals of Margo Timmins, the Cowboy Junkies went on to release The Caution Horses (1990), Black Eyed Man (1992), Pale Sun Crescent Moon (1993), 200 More Miles (a career-spanning collection of live performances released in 1995) and Lay It Down (1996). Miles From Our Home was released in 1998. Although none of these albums has matched The Trinity Sessions in sales or impact, they have been warmly received by a loyal fan base in North America and Europe. In 1999 the band was among the root-rock all-stars contributing to the Gram Parsons tribute album Return of the Grievous Angel and that year also released Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes, a vault-clearing, double-CD set of older recordings. Their album Open was released in 2001, while The Radio One Sessions (2003) features recordings of classic material cut for BBC radio at various times in the 1990s.

Now operating as a model, human-sized cottage industry, the Cowboy Junkies continue to release their own music in Canada and through boutique labels in the United States, Europe and Japan. One Soul Now (2004) was recorded in the group's rehearsal space-cum-studio in Toronto and kick-started the Long Journey Home tour of Europe and America. Older brother John Timmins joined his better-known siblings as a guest on Early 21st Century Blues (2005), which included tracks written by U2, Bruce Springsteen, George Harrison and Bob Dylan. A pair of Michael Timmins originals on the record was inspired respectively by Canadian author Timothy FINDLEY's THE WARS and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Passing of Arthur." Their cover of "Run for Your Life" was included on This Bird Has Flown (2005), a 40th-anniversary tribute to the classic Beatles' LP Rubber Soul.

In 2006 the Cowboy Junkies reconvened at the Church of the Holy Trinity to cut a new version of The Trinity Sessions in honour of that now-classic album's 20th anniversary. Trinity Revisited featured the same repertoire with the addition of such guests as the American singer-songwriters Ryan Adams and Natalie Merchant. An accompanying DVD was filmed by director/producers Pierre and Francois Lamoureu.

Renmin Park-Nomad Series Volume 1 was inspired by a trip that Michael Timmins and his family took to China in 2008. Featuring sounds and music that Timmins was exposed to during their three month stay in the city of Jingjang, situated on the Yangtse River near Shanghai, the album was released in 2010 and was followed in 2011 by Demons -The Nomad Series Volume 2, which was recorded as a tribute to their late friend, the American songwriter Vic Chesnutt. Chesnutt had appeared on the band's 2008 reworking of the Trinity Sessions. The Wilderness, the third chapter of the Nomad series, was released in 2012.

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