I was at Memorial University in the early 1970s, just a kid of 18 or so. I had a thing about guitars, performers and the type of music that was considered folk I guess: Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and the like. So I was quite intrigued one day when I saw a poster about a performer named Ron Hynes who was to play a lunchtime concert at the Little Theatre on campus. I thought I would check this out.
From the first time I heard him back then, I somehow knew that this was no ordinary guy with a guitar. I knew that he was someone of destiny. After seeing that performance, I don’t believe I missed one of his concerts at the Little Theatre.
I bought his album Discovery in 1971 or 1972. All original material, a first for a Newfoundland artist. One of the songs was called Coley, which my sister and I learned and would sing at various house parties in the years that followed.
I made it a point to follow Ron’s career as best I could and I knew it was just a matter of time before he would hit it big. Then of course Sonny’s Dream came along. But many others as well: The Story of My Life, St. John’s Waltz, Dry, Cryer’s Paradise, Atlantic Blue, No Kathleen, Godspeed.
One summer—I think it was late ‘70s— Ron was playing in Goose Bay at the Labrador Folk Festival. I happened to be playing a few songs there at the time as well. During that visit, he came to my house on Markland Road. My children were small, but the oldest probably remembers it. We shared a meal of Atlantic Salmon. Later I showed him my guitar. It was an old guitar, and the strings needed changing.
I will always remember when he picked up that guitar — you wouldn’t know but it was made of gold. He was so gentle with it, and he changed the strings and tuned it for me, apparently loving every moment of it. It was special. I didn’t have any wire cutters near by, so he took each of the excess lengths of string and twirled them into a little wire circle where the tuning pegs are. It was so cool. I couldn’t believe that, here was Ron Hynes changing my guitar strings in my house, right before my eyes! I often still do that twirly thing now with my strings, and when I do I always think about Ron.
The next day at the continuation of the festival, I was on stage doing a well-known folk song from Simon and Garfunkel I think, and I looked out among the outdoor crowd and I saw Ron there doing me the honor of singing right along with me!
Ron was an artist of the finest order. His powerful words twinned with his music, made him legendary. I don’t know about you, but I have noticed how so often the word “heart” appears in his songs. And nowhere is this more evident than in his masterpiece Atlantic Blue, his tribute to the loss of the crew of the Ocean Ranger in 1982. That song has become written into the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is an extension of Ron, because that is what he was — all heart.
Ron was the songwriter’s songwriter. I like to think of Ron being to music and songwriting, what Steve Jobs was to Apple computers, or what Don Cherry is to Hockey Night in Canada.
He now takes his place among the ages, but his contribution to his beloved Newfoundland, and to Canada, is immeasurable.
I was fortunate to get to see him twice in the past six months. Once in Sackville, New Brunswick in May of this year and once in Pugwash, Nova Scotia a couple of months later, in July. His performances, still delivered with breathtaking passion, were that befitting any legend. He had the audience in stitches at times, but it was at the end, when he came back for an encore and sang, without accompaniment, Wayfaring Stanger. There were no dry eyes at the Vogue Theatre in Sackville at the end of that show.
After the last time I saw him, I took up a pen and decided to write a little tribute to Ron. My poetry pales in comparison to his, but he published it on his website that he had set up to support the creation of an album he was working on. I titled it Composer:
Where you have trod
You’ve seen vistas
From mountain peaks
And the tips of icebergs
At sea level.
Views that I can’t imagine.
Let alone describe
Like you have done.
You have given verse
And song to the one thing
That matters most…
Love in its purest form.
Like spinning webs
That capture and captivate,
You sing of the fragrance
Of the salt air
Of the fresh summer breezes
And the calm lull of the sea…
Yet brutal crash
Of ocean waves.
You put into words and vision
The picture that only the artist’s pencil
From where did you come my friend?
And where are you going?
You, a gift to Newfoundland
Nay, to the planet…
You…Laureate of God’s world.
Because few will tread
Where you have trod.
Last Thursday, Ron, when I heard that you had died, I felt a chill. It was becoming, like Avril Lavigne, might say, “a damn cold night”.
Then I thought and tried to envision your crossing the threshold. I could only see many outstretched arms welcoming you home to this place of warmth and beauty. Those outstretched arms belonged to Gene MacLellan, Rita MacNeil, Raylene Rankin, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Stan Rogers, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, and Tommy Sexton. And oh!…what a chorus you must have witnessed! A chorus now made even greater with your voice.
Ron, we loved you. The world was blessed with your presence. May you rest in the everlasting peace that you so truly have earned.
William (Bill) Flowers / Amherst, N.S.