Ron Hynes Leaves the Stage

Courtesy Borealis Records

Courtesy Borealis Records

He was known as “The Man of a Thousands Songs,” but the legacy of Ron Hynes is the countless people who sang his songs and the songwriters he inspired to create.  Born in Ferryland, NL in 1950, Ron escaped his outport life to set off for the bright lights of Toronto. The pace of the city intimidated him and he captured his longing for home in “Get Back Change.” The song paid tribute to other Toronto musicians like Harry Hibbs and Dick Nolan who had roots on the island but found fame abroad.

During a 45-year career he mastered live performance and recordings. His 1972 debut, “Discovery” was the province’s first indigenous release of an album completely comprised of original material, all written by Hynes.

His calling card, “Sonny’s Dream,” comprised all the great themes of Newfoundland music – dreams for a better tomorrow, mother at home by the sea, romanticized geography. Irish troubadour, Christy Moore, gave the song international prominence as other folk artists like Stan Rogers, EmmyLou Harris and Valdy all flocked to record it. In 2007, it was selected at #41 to be one of CBC Radio’s “50 Essential Canadian Tracks.”

His haunting, “Atlantic Blue” expressed the heartache Newfoundlanders still feel over the 1982 sinking of the oil rig, Ocean Ranger.  His 1997 composition, “Godspeed,” paid tribute to fellow songsmith, Gene McLellan. His former wife, Connie Hynes, an early supporter and co-writer and together they were a formidable writing duo with Ron recording their output.

In his home province, Hynes will always be associated with The Wonderful Grand Band. Initially a club and recording act, the group hosted a variety show produced by CBC Television between 1980 and 1983. The show fused the band’s mix of Celtic and Rock with comedy sketches featuring members of the acting collective, CODCO. Viewers saw their first glimpses of Greg Malone, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh and Tommy Sexton as the extended family members of the band. Today, fixtures of the Canadian media landscape like Allan Hawco from “Republic of Doyle,” Rick Mercer, and Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea all point to having “WGB” on TV when they were kids as seminal experiences.

Mercurial at times, unreliable at others, Ron Hynes still motivated devotion from industry colleagues and from fans. He won 7 East Coast Music Awards and Newfoundland Labrador’s Arts Council named him Artist of the Year in 1992, and in 2002 received an Honourary Doctorate from Memorial University. Grit Laskin’s Borealis Records released Hynes’ final three albums (2003-2010) to much acclaim, if not commercial fanfare.

He had acting roles on his resume, including a defining turn in theatre playing the ill-fated Hank Williams in “The Show He Never Gave.” In 1998, he lent his impressive speaking voice for the audiobook of Michael Crummey’s “Hard Light.”

Despite this mastery of every medium on which he had a platform, he couldn’t escape personal demons; some psychological, others addictive, like cocaine, the toll of which was captured in the 2010 documentary, “Man of A Thousand Songs.” But it was cancer that would fell him on Thursday, November 19, 2015. Hynes battled it since 2012, and it even went into remission. He soldiered on performing, still insisting he hadn’t written his best song yet. As of November 19, 2015, if he didn’t by then, we’ll have to settle for the impressive back catalogue he leaves behind.