Tim Hicks – Campfire Troubadour

Tim Hicks – Photo by Dustin Rabin

Roman Mitz - Open SpacesBy Roman Mitz

While Tim Hicks is known for his raucous live shows and the party atmosphere surrounding them, his evolution as a performer had humble beginnings, as he charmed bar patrons nightly with a vast repertoire of solo acoustic material designed to please a crowd. His latest EP, “Campfire Troubadour pulls from this model, reimagining Tim’s chart-topping sound for a more intimate setting, as much at home in a fireside jam as it would be in the unassuming rooms he once played. The opening song “Slow” sets the tone for the EP, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear embers crackling and crickets chirping.

“It’s funny because Jeff Coplan, who produced the EP, said he was going to light a fire in his backyard and add some sound effects,” says Tim, who’s calling from his Niagara region home. “I said that would be neat, but I thought to myself that it would never make it to the final mix. But it worked, and when I heard it in context, I thought it leant the record a real vibe.

I really wanted to do a thematic collection like a summertime or cottage type of thing. Also, the acoustic element was very important to me. I did tons of acoustic gigs when I was coming up through the ranks, especially during the mid-week when I’d be playing by myself. By Friday and Saturday, I’d be playing with the band, and I always felt that my career was two-fold between the acoustic and band gigs. We got to do some acoustic gigs last summer when shows were capped at 50 people and distanced out. We had a great time because things were stripped back and kind of informal, and it gave me a chance to tell some road stories and talk about the material. I thought that maybe this is the time to blend those two ideas together, the summertime and acoustic things, and that’s how we came up with the idea for the Campfire EP.”

The most obvious ‘road story’ song on the record is Tim’s current radio single, “The Good, The Bad & The Pretty”, a campfire version was done for “Troubadour”. Tim pretty well saw it all during his bar circuit days and he tries to capture these experiences within the confines of a three-minute country ditty.

“I wrote that song with Derek Hoffman and Derek Ruttan at a Canadian Country Music association songwriting camp,” he explains. “I had the title ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’ in my back pocket because I thought it would make a good country song reminiscent of the old western flick. Derek Ruttan thought that ‘ugly’ was kind of a weird word to sing, so I asked him, What do you want me to call it? ‘The Good, The Bad & The Pretty?’ He thought that was much better, and it turned out to be a really great tune for me.

With that song, I wanted to pay tribute to all of those little rooms, I used to play. Often in small-town Ontario, you would only have one venue that would book live entertainment. You played to all different kinds of people from professionals to farmers to families that were out for dinner. Anybody and everybody would come to town to hear live music. I met some great people in these rooms, and I wanted to kind of write a love letter to them.”

Tim co-wrote all but one of the songs during Zoom sessions. He recalls that when he first went to Nashville, songwriters were reluctant to do Skype-writing sessions with him because they felt that everyone had to be in the same room. COVID changed all of that, and Tim was able to produce some Zoom dandies, including the hilarious “Last Can” a break-up song in which he begs his ex not to leave him high and dry by taking his last can of beer.

“That was just me and Jeff Coplan being silly on a Monday night Zoom session,” Tim recalls. “I think we were supposed to be writing with a third person who didn’t log in. I basically keeled over with laughter when I heard the mix with him doing that mouth percussion. I think that was perfect for this song because I’ll just get one of the guys in the band to do it when we play it live. It’s a pretty fun song.”

On the flip side of “Last Can” we have perhaps the most heartfelt song on the EP, “Annaleigh”, which Tim penned for his eight-year-old daughter. Now that she has a song of her own, perhaps it will become one of her favourites alongside that other song about “Annaleigh”.

“We knew our second child was going to be a girl and both my wife and I had lists of names, but we just could not get on the same page,” he recalls. “I was doing a gig in Niagara-On-The-Lake and we were covering the song ‘The Weight’ by The Band. One of the lines goes, ‘What about young Annaleigh’, and at that moment the light bulb just went off. I looked at my wife and knew instantly that our daughter was going to be Annaleigh. For the longest time, that was her song and whenever it came on the radio, she asked that it be turned up.

Tim Hicks - Photo by Dustin Rabin
Tim Hicks – Photo by Dustin Rabin

I wrote ‘Annaleigh’ a while ago but we had never found a home for it. I had written a song for my son called ‘Throw A Ball’ that appeared on my ‘New Tattoo’ album, and my daughter was asking me when I was going to release her song. When we started talking about doing an acoustic album, I pitched it right away. I thought that if my daughter is asking me, we have to get it on there.”

The one cover included on the EP is a sterling rendition of the Oasis song “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” Now you might not think that an Oasis tune fits in with campfire standards like “Home On the Range” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but Tim has a different view.

“For whatever reason, I got on this huge Oasis kick during COVID,” he says. “That’s kind of weird for me because I was around 14 or 15 years old when they released those records in the 90s. At that time I was interested in The Beatles, Waylon Jennings and Blue Rodeo, so I wasn’t really paying attention to the brilliance and attitude of Oasis. Now, looking back at it with musician’s ears and the life experience that I’ve had, I really have become a huge fan of theirs. I was getting a little pressure to do a cover song for this record, and we were down to the 11th hour, so I just sang that song and sent it to my producer. He couldn’t believe it because he had just watched news coverage of a protest in the U.K. in support of women’s rights, and 10,000 people spontaneously sang that song. The coincidence was just too great, and I thought we have to do this tune. If I was going to invite friends to my house to have a campfire, that song would be on my list. By the time you get to the first chorus, everybody knows it.”

Tim Hicks - Campfire Troubadour
Tim Hicks – Campfire Troubadour

Tim’s wife Amanda is a public health nurse manager in the Niagara region, so when the pandemic hit, their roles were completely redefined both professionally and personally. Tim’s tour was cancelled, and Amanda was suddenly on the frontline of a global health crisis. Although he’s always been a very involved father, that role took on a whole new meaning when Tim effectively became a stay-at-home dad.

“Initially, it was difficult to find out that I had to run the house, shop for groceries and feed the kids,” he says. “It may sound ridiculous, but I’d never really focused on that skill set before, so I had to plan the meals for the week and learn how to cook something besides hamburgers. I had to learn all of those things, and the silver lining is that now I feel I’m away more engaged partner to my wife and away more engaged father. I needed to be a stay-at-home dad, especially in the early months of the pandemic when it was just chaos. Kudos to all the nurses working out there, man.”

In addition to becoming a stay-at-home dad during COVID, Tim somehow found the time to do a kitchen renovation. Open Spaces wondered whether he might be angling for a spot on the Home & Garden Network.

“That was the joke in my family,” laughs Tim. “They asked me when I was going to pitch a home renovation show. We were getting ready to do a huge renovation on our home, but with COVID, everything was pushed back for months and months. We decided to take the kitchen out of the quote and got started on that. My father-in-law is super handy, so we just went at it over the course of the winter. It’s all done and working, and everyone’s pleased.”

Tim has received five 2021 Country Music Association of Ontario award nominations, and he will be performing a drive-in show at the ceremony in September. At this point, however, he’s just itching to kick off his house shoes and get back on the road.

“I’m just pleased that I’m still invited to the CMAO party after all of these years. Hopefully, we can get some more drive-in shows and then get back out and do some real touring as soon as the world opens up. Lately, I’ve just been walking around in slippers and not putting on shoes unless I had to go get groceries, but when I set up a p.a. system in the garage in order to sing with some volume, I decided to put my boots on. A photographer will tell you that even when the shot is from the waist up, you should put on boots because you stand differently. So I decided to up the ante and put on my jeans and boots and pretend like it’s a show. It’s been fun rocking out the garage.”

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