For those of you who think it’s still too soon to plan for Christmas, the pride of Mabou, Nova Scotia, Jimmy Rankin is out to inject some festive spirit as he is currently active on a 29-date Canadian tour with a set list that features, new songs from a forthcoming record (set for next spring), some old favourites and some Christmas songs he recorded last December on his Tinsel Town release.
“The set list starts out as a mixture of my old and new songs but as I get nearer to Christmas, I’ll start changing the set to focus more on my Christmas record,” noted Rankin who had just flown in from Nashville where he and his family now spend most of the year. “I had resisted doing Christmas tours in the past but I know my sister Heather has done them before and of course (fellow Cape Bretoner) Rita MacNeil did them a lot, so now that I have kids, it’s fun to do something Christmassy.”
Rankin had resisted recording a Christmas album because he felt most of the established, traditional songs were pretty good as they are yet he wanted to record some new tracks.
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“It’s pretty tough to beat songs like `White Christmas’, `Winter Wonderland’ and `Jingle Bell Rock’, they are all very well written songs that have lasted the test of time,” noted Rankin. “But I wrote one song last year `Tinsel Town’ that was featured on a TV special which got me writing more songs. I eventually finished with six new songs on the Tinsel Town record along with some of my favourites. I am proud that I think my songs stack up well against the originals.”
Set to hit a lot of secondary markets along the Trans-Canada Highway ( see Concert Connection for full touring details) and braving the elements in a van rather than a tour bus, Rankin feels that November and December are a fun time to hit the road. “It’s great to get everyone in a holiday spirit,” he declares. “It’s a good reason to play these venues and it allows me to work on my new material as well“.
Jimmy is probably better known for being one-fifth of The Rankin Family musical group; himself, brother John-Morris and sisters Heather, Raylene and Cookie comprised the line-up which soared to stardom on the strength of EMI-Capitol Canada’s re-release of their “Fare Thee Well” album which topped the Canadian charts in 1992. Parents Alexander and Kathleen Rankin actually produced 12 musically gifted children and three others; Geraldine, Genevieve and David had helped initiate the band with Raylene and Jon Morris before handing over the reins to Jimmy, Cookie and Heather.
“It’s funny how people in the industry talk about selling records independently on Amazon and ITunes when that’ exactly how we started out in the late 1980’s noted Rankin. “Of course there was no Amazon and ITunes at that time but we were doing quite well on our own selling our first two records (“The Rankin Family” and “Fare Thee Well Love” locally by ourselves.”
Strangely enough, there was a grunge frenzy going on in Halifax, Nova Scotia at that time with the likes of Sloan, Eric’s Trip, jale and Hardship Post all being scooped up by major labels. Yet amongst all this activity, EMI-Canada stumbled on to the Rankins and convinced them that yes, they could continue to operate independently, but wouldn’t it be more advantageous if a major label handled the marketing and distribution of their record.
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The Rankins agreed and filmed a haunting video performance of their title track `Fare Thee Well Love’ which powered their album to a staggering quintuple platinum status (500,000 units) and launched a ten-year career which featured three more records “North Country” 1993, “Endless Seasons” 1995 and “Uprooted” 1998 as well as a closet full of trophies including six Juno awards and 15 East Coast Music Awards, three Canadian Country Music Awards and two Big Country Music Awards.
The Rankins also sparked their own Maritime Mania music explosion. Polygram, foiled at signing the Rankins, opted for the Barra MacNeill’s, Virgin Canada already had Rita MacNeil and Polygram also scooped up fiddle sensation Ashley MacIsaac . When you add Newfoundland’s Kim Stockwood and Cape Breton fiddler ,Natalie MacMaster to the mix, you did have a legitimate East Coast Roots movement at that time.
“Yes it was great at the time If lightning strikes you, you normally have five years in this business – but we got 10, assessed Rankin. “We had number one hits, won lots of awards, toured the world, did national tours, did TV shows, recorded three more records, but at the end of it, we’d had enough. We sensed that the music industry was changing; Heather and I had started to record solo records so it just seemed like time for a change. In looking back, it was probably a good thing that we did split up.”
The Rankins announced the split on September 17th 1999, right after recording a track on a Chieftains record, “Tears Of Stone”. On January 16th, 2000, John Morris was killed in a car accident when his truck skidded on an icy patch near his home town of Mabou, and left the road.
Further tragedies struck the band. Original vocalist Geraldine Coyle (nee Rankin) passed away from a brain aneurism on January 10th 2007 and then Raylene, the Rankins’ distinctive voice from `We Rise Again”’ succumbed to a battle against breast cancer on September 20th 2012.
Through it all, Rankin continued to record, completing five solo records, touring continually and building a solid solo reputation especially in the Maritimes where he often performs as a two-man show with an accompanying guitarist.
Rankin noted that the surviving members had rejoined to complete two further records; “Reunion “ in 2007 and “Those Are The Moments” in 2009 and that he and Heather are always talking about future projects together but right now both are committed to pursuing solo careers.
“The trick in this business is to stay inspired,” concluded Rankin. “, I am grateful for what we achieved in the past but I am also always looking ahead. I am continuously stockpiling songs, I love getting out and playing the festival circuit and I love being creative.”
Photo by Mark Maryanovich