Although the style of his music may not be to everyone's liking, most Canadians would attest that Stan Rogers' lyrics have become a part of the soul of Canada.
Stan Rogers was an extraordinary man; his incredible gift of songwriting and his deep baritone voice have become part of a rich Canadian heritage. His homey, heartfelt lyrics explored what it is and was to be Canadian in a series of song cycles that chronicled the East, the Plains, the West and the Great Lakes of Ontario. In his short life, he managed to influence a whole generation of performers, mostly from the east coast music scene, but then later all over the world. Rogers wasn't born on the east coast of Canada but the songwriter's Ontario family ties to the Maritimes and his love for the people and places of Nova Scotia's northeastern shore made him a frequent visitor to the area. These visits inspired Stan to write songs like 'The Jeannie C', 'Guysborough Train', and 'Fogarty's Cove' and also made him a welcome fixture there, often as the entertainment at local pubs and festivals.
Stanley Allison Rogers was born on 29 November, 1949, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. At age 5, Stan received his first guitar, built by his uncle out of plywood, welding rods and a toothbrush. He began as a bass player in pick-up rock outfits in his native Hamilton, before becoming perhaps Canada's finest ever folk singer-songwriter. Though raised in rural Hannon, Ontario, Rogers spent summers with family in Nova Scotia and was richly influenced by the lives of fishermen and the people who lived by the sea there.
Rogers released his self-titled debut album in 1971. After 1974, a period of playing the coffee house circuit with his brother Garnet on backup began. His first independent album, Fogarty's Cove, was released in 1976 on the short-lived Barn Swallow Records label. Rogers than went on to release a series of acclaimed independent releases.
Sadly Stan Rogers passed away after producing a comparative handful of albums. On June 2, 1983, he was headed home from the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, and somehow a fire started in the restroom on Air Canada flight 797. It was forced to land at Cincinatti, where he was found to be one of 23 people who died of smoke inhalation. He was only 33. In fulfilment of his wishes, his ashes were scattered in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the place where he had written a moving and poignant song for his wife - 'Forty-Five Years'.
And I just want to hold you closer than I've ever held anyone before
You say you've been twice a wife and you're through with life
Ah, but honey, what the hell's it for?
After twenty-three years you'd think I could find
A way to let you know somehow
That I want to see your smiling face forty-five years from now.
Memorials and honours were numerous in the months that followed and he was posthumously awarded the Diplome d'Honneur by the Canadian Conference of the Arts. (This Council presents the award to a person who has contributed outstanding service to the arts in Canada.) The CBC and many individuals commemorate the date every year as a sad day for Canadians but notably also as a celebration of his music.
Like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, or some more modern equivalents, his music had a distinctly Canadian atmosphere but the Maritime flavour he embraced gave his music a driving beat and party feel. Later in life with his 'Northwest Passage' disc his musical sources and lyrics stretched the full 4,000 miles across our country. Whether it was the wistful longing of a 'First Christmas' 3,000 miles away from home or the driving sea-shanty 'Barrett's Privateers' with its muted and ironic patriotism, his music was all Canuck. No one can listen to the single 'Northwest Passage' and not feel the icy expanse that is northern Canada. Similarly, anyone who has had a challenge in their life should listen and live by the lyrics of 'The Mary Ellen Carter'-
And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bZstards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
'The Stan Rogers Folk Festival'- An International Festival of Songwriters
Every year a festival is held in Canso, Nova Scotia to celebrate Stan's lasting contributions to folk music. Stan Roger's family members, friends and associates join with new musicians and old ones to create new music along with playing his songs. For more information about the festival: Stanfest.
Stan Rogers (1971)
Fogarty's Cove (1976)
Between The Breaks ... Live! (1979)
Northwest Passage (1981)
For The Family (1983)
From Fresh Water (1984)
Home In Halifax 1982 live recording (1994)
The official website for Stan Rogers has lyrics, audio, and much more information.
More details about Stan Rogers' life may be found in the excellent biography An Unfinished Conversation: The Life And Music Of Stan Rogers by Chris Gudgeon.