Clippings from the Russ Gurr Archive
Brandon Minstrel and Composer
Singing Farmer Russ Gurr's Sacred Songs
Are As Popular As His Westerns
By Lillian McCullagh
Winnipeg Free Press ~ Monday, July 24, 1967
Here are Russ Gurr and the Country Gentlemen players.
Left to right are John Skinner of North Brandon,
Russ Gurr, Sue-On and Bill Hillman of Strathclair,
and Barry Forman. Missing from picture is Jake Kroeger of Rivers.
BRANDON, Man. (Special) -- Russ Gurr, the singing farmer, together with The Country Gentlemen have recently signed contracts which gave the National Film Board permission to use their song, The Threshermen's Ball, in their Labyrinth Project for Expo.
Two years ago at the Threshermen's Reunion held annually at Austin, the monster parade was filmed by the NFB and Russ's song taped after four days of outdoors singing and master of ceremonies duties.
A year later, Russ had his first intimation that NFB was really interested. Routine communicating both ways culminated in the long legal document being signed by four of the group in a local lawyer's office.
The fivesome consists of four on guitar: Barry (bass), Russ (rhythm), Bill Hillman (lead) and Jake Kroeger (rhythm). Russ is also soloist and John Skinner drummer. A new addition is Bill's wife Sue-On who pleases crowds with her singing and dancing.
The popular western group recently completed a session at the Provincial Exhibition in Brandon, one of many such appearances they have contracted for with Federal Grain Company. They appeared at the Dauphin fair, and go now to the Swan River Rodeo. Their agreement takes them to stampedes, fairs and centennial celebrations at many Manitoba and Saskatchewan points including Yorkton during their 30-day singing contract.
The Thresherman's Ball, which especially interested the NFB, has stanzas describing the different ancient gas and steam tractors, the Rumley Oil Pull, the Hart-Parr, Case, Rock Island, Huber Light-4, Gray One Wheeler, the big old Mogul and the famous Pioneer which was brought to Manitoba to excavate the basement of Eaton's Winnipeg store when it was first built.
Russ has composed 22 songs, many of which were made on the tractor while working on his farm of five quarter sections. In seed time and harvest, farming is his first love, which he will stop only when asked to sing at a funeral, and that request he never refuses.
His sacred songs are as popular as his westerns and during his five years on television his final hymn was awaited by hundreds of watchers. Some of his favorites are O Holy Night, How Great Thou Art, The Lord's Prayer and The Holy City.
He is a valued member of Knox United Church choir conducted by Mrs. Muriel Bain. His jovial nature brightens any gathering and no party or picnic they have is the same without him. At one such picnic held at Russ's farm, he and his son Barry drove tractors for a mile to the location, pulling hay racks containing choir members.
Russ Gurr, with his guitar, is an attraction at the Brandon Hills picnic which has taken place annually since about 1885. At the request of Ed Rice one year, and using information supplied by his brother, Hugh Rice, Russ composed a song dear to the hearts of the residents, The Blue Hills of Brandon. Russ has attended some 15 of these picnics, famous in the days of Nellie McClung, who mentioned one in her book, Clearing in the West.
In 1962, Russ flew on a singing tour to the Yukon where he was heard in churches, hospitals, schools, a convent, a skating rink and mining centres. Two Indian boys assisted with guitars at one hall performance.
A favorite episode is the one which occurred while singing in a hospital corridor in Dawson City. A nurse told him that a patient whose condition was very low would like him to sing The Lord's My Shepherd. Very softly in her ward where everyone whispered, he sang a verse. "She recovered too," said Russ happily.
One of his centennial songs, Prime Ministers, is enthusiastically received everywhere the group appears. To secure audience participation, the introduction is something like this: Barry Forman will say, "This centennial year everyone is more conscious of our beautiful country. We're all proud to be Canadians and sing O Canada. How much do you know about our country? For instance, how many prime ministers have there been?" The answers vary from five to 36, including someone's guess of Abraham Lincoln. As Russ sings his song, the audience individuals write on cigarette packages or on the back of the one ahead, shouting the number when he finishes.
Tom Inglis, a close friend of Russ, who is now taking his master's in music at the University of Minnesota, writes music for the songs as Russ sings to him.
Because of their busy 30-day schedule, Russ with his wife Phill and little daughter Tricia will be unable to fly to Expo until after August 5 as Russ has promised to sing at a wedding that day.
Television Star Sang For The Queen
And For 'Great People' At Dauphin Fair
SEEN HERE is Russ Gurr, (second from the right) and the Western Union from Brandon, Man.
Moose Jaw is the only out-of-province appearance for the group this summer.A national television star appearing at the Dauphin fair, with no admission charge, everything compliments of a grain company?
It's not so crazy as it sounds, for it did happen.
Russ Gurr, who appeared at the Royal Command performance at the Winnipeg arena July 15, performed at the Dauphin fair, compliments of Federal Grain Ltd., and Dauphin representative Pete Johnson.
While Russ was the headliner of the show, in Dauphin he was backed by a group from Brandon, The Western Union, who have travelled with Russ during the past four summers throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of British Columbia for Federal Grain.
The group is versatile, performing country and western, folk and country rock.
The present Western Union who have their own show on CKX television in Brandon, the home base, have been together four years. Barry Forman, Bill and Sue-On Hillman are all teachers during most of the year, while Jake Kroeger and the drummer John Skinner, like Russ, are farmers.
John, the elder and the only person who refuses to vocalize, travels with the troupe during the summer, but plays for another group during the rest of the year.
Farms are left with relatives, kids with wives, and if Jake or Barry have their wives join them, grandparents and relatives are greatly appreciated.
The "Federal Grain Train" played before huge audiences every night in Dauphin. "We love 'em", said Russ. "They're great people."
The life of an entertainer is not all rosy, as it so often seems. During the day, clothes must be kept clean, the portable stage and microphones must be kept in order, instruments checked, meals prepared, and dishes washed. And if anybody is watching, it must all be done with a smile.
Public relations is the name of the job. Anybody wanting to have them at a fair, must write Federal Grain in the Richardson building, Winnipeg, a year in advance!
Swan River and McCreary both have the "Federal Grain Train" booked for the centennial tour.
When Russ said that the people in the West were friendly, he wasn't just talking. Take the time when a battery went dead in one of six vehicles. Some local folks, complete strangers until that day, exchanged batteries, and let the entertainers drive to their next engagement. In a few days, and 200 miles later, the strangers, now friends, arrived with a recharged battery, and another exchange was made.
Both the Western Union and Russ Gurr have separate albums out. The Western Union's has already been released, and is simply called "The Western Union." Russ' will be hitting the stands soon, with all his own compositions, including his centennial song, "We're the Centre of the Nation," the life story of "Louis Riel", and "The City of Dauphin."
"Real Friendly. We Love, 'em"
Gurr, who played before the Royal family, a capacity audience, and national television (French and English, on Wednesday), was the country and western representative at the performance. Asked by the CBC to appear, Russ readily received approval from Federal Grain, and then asked CBC what they wanted.
The main request was something Russ had written. After the performance, and a rest in Winnipeg, Russ boarded an airplane for Dauphin, arrived at 11:30 a.m., grabbed a taxi to the parade, jumped on the Federal float, and sang with the Western Union in the parade.
The luggage was graciously looked after by the taxi driver. "Wasn't that great of him. I just love these people."
BRANDON SUN ~ 1970
On Wednesday night of last week, Russ joined an all-Manitoba show in the Winnipeg Arena, a CBC-produced national network project that was designed to say goodbye to the Royal Family in a western fashion.
Russ sang and yodeled in company with Giselle McKenzie, Reg Gibson and a host of Manitoba entertainers, while the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, and Princess Anne smilingly joined the toe-tapping.
For Russ, the show was a chance to sing for a most appreciative audience two of his own numbers "The Threshermen's Ball" and "You Don't Have To Go To Switzerland To Hear A Yodel Loud and Clear."
When the show was over and the Royal Family were on their way out of the arena, the entertainers formed a line to say a personal goodbye to their special audience.
It was quite a step from the 35-population Snowflake appearance (Centennial show played by the Russ last week) to the 10,000 at the arena, but the highlight for Brandon's Russ Gurr was the meeting with the Queen and her family.
"They are a very warm family," he reports. "When they shake your hand they take hold of it. Charles really bowled me over... he's tremendous." Queen Elizabeth told him "you are a wonderful singer... when did you learn to yodel?" And Prince Charles, too, commented on the yodelling, as did Prince Philip and Princess Anne.
All in all, July 15 is bound to be a big page in the Russ Gurr Story, one he's not likely to forget. Forget? It just doesn't seem possible for a guy who lets people across the country know he's from Brandon.
BRANDON SUN ~ 1970
Follow-up Letter to the Editor
Several years ago during the Brandon Fair, I was on Princess Avenue in the morning, when I heard a voice yodelling. Even as the song progressed, although a block away, every word came to me in perfect diction. Hurrying down to Rosser, I found a hay-rack with Gordy Carnahan's group of musicians entertaining the crowd. I am not sure if the leader was Gordy or Russ, but still think they were and are the best group yet.
I asked my companion who the yodeler was, getting the same answer expected from a Brandonite, remembering the old saying "a prophet has no honor, etc." I passed the remark that it was the best yodelling voice I had ever heard. I have heard Russ a few times since, although the same group seemed to fade away in the Brandon area, making way for more of the Scratch-bang-bang type of orchestras, where noise dominates.
Imagine my pleasure, when watching TV the other night as the royal party was being treated to Manitoba's gift to the music world, to hear Russ Gurr's name announced.
As Russ yodelled, especially in his last appearance, I watched the face of our still young Queen, and believe I saw the first real smile of pleasure, since she arrived, and has been escorted around by some of our leaders, who would like nothing better, than to destroy the old ties with the proud "Union Jack," the flag I hope to have drape my coffin, when the time comes.
Congratulations Russ, you showed Canada, that a farmer isn't just what Ottawa thinks, a man who smells of pigs, fuel oil, pesticide and weed killer.
John H. Martin
WINNIPEG -- Federal Grain Limited signed a contract Wednesday with recording artist Russ Gurr to appear this summer at 18 different exhibitions and sports days throughout Western Canada.
Earlier this spring, Mr. Gurr signed a contract with Rodeo International Records and his latest record, The Federal Grain Train, has been released internationally on the London label.
Appearing on stage with Mr. Gurr is the Western Union -- a group of young musicians from Western Manitoba who had their own television show originating out of Brandon. Members of the Western Union are Barry Forman of Rivers, Sue-On and Bill Hillman of Strathclair, Jake Kroeger of Rapid City and Kerry Morris of Strathclair.
Russ and the Western Union toured Western Canada on behalf of Federal Grain during the past four summers and it was while on tour that Russ composed his first hit record, The Federal Grain Train.
Russ is one of the few remaining showmen left who is equally at home before television cameras or on stage before a crowd at local fairs and exhibitions.
A depression boy, Russ spent his early life on his father's one-half section mixed farm in Crandall, Manitoba, a few miles west of Hamiota. But even in the early days singing was soon to become part of Russ' life.
It all started in a one room school house when as a little boy in grade one his teacher picked him for the boy's solo. Russ remained singing solos through high school and it was while in high school he first heard someone yodel on the WLS Barn Dance radio program originating from Chicago.
"I used to search the radio to find someone yodeling and when I heard it a few times I decided to try it out. Yodeling is something you have to learn in the back field when no one is around because it is a difficult thing to do. When you are just learning some of the damnedest noises you ever heard come out," he chuckled.
Before too long, however, Russ was able to come in from the back field and soon was writing songs incorporating his yodeling. He was only 14 but his first song came as quite a surprise.
"It was in the days when song writing festivals were sweeping the country and because the Manitoba Amateur Western Song Writing finals were to be held in Virden, I was able to go."
There were 50 other contestants and Russ sang the first song he had ever written.
Needless to say, Russ won the contest and came home with the grand sum of $50.00 which as Russ says, "was a pretty big thing in those days."
Federal Grain became swamped with requests for his songs as a result of his special appearances at fairs and exhibitions during the past four summers. Although Russ had never thought seriously about recording, he jumped at the chance when Federal Grain suggested he record The Federal Grain Train -- an album containing 12 of his own compositions. Within a few months, the 2500 albums were sold despite the fact they never did reach commercial channels.
While Russ has been singing throughout the west he has also been operating an extremely successful farming operation. He has 1500 acres of land just outside Brandon. Both his sons took agriculture at the University of Manitoba and while one son went into agricultural business in Winnipeg, his other son returned to the farm.
"It has worked out beautifully," says Russ. "Because of the increasing pressures of the entertainment area, I can delegate some of the farming to my son. I take no bookings in seeding or harvest times but other than that I can take take bookings throughout the country."
Russ spent five years on a television show originating in Brandon but it was at the Manitoba Winter Fair, while he was taking part in a display with the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, that John Leppington, Sales Representative for Federal Grain in Western Manitoba and Easter Saskatchewan, introduced him to Federal Grain officials who saw his potential in the public relations and advertising areas.
During the past four years Russ has performed on behalf of Federal Grain throughout Western Canada and this year for the first time, Russ participated in the company's advertising program.
Federal Grain officials said this summer's tour highlights Saskatchewan because of the province's Homecoming '71 celebrations.
With British Columbia celebrating Centennial activities this year the company also managed to arrange to have Russ Gurr and the group appear in the Peace River country.
The completed schedule for Russ Gurr and the Federal Grain Train is as follows: Burstall (June 25 - 27); Unity (July 1 & 2): Kenaston (July 3); Milden (July 5); Swift Current (July 6-8); Kindersley (July 9 & 10); Govan (July 12); Moose Jaw (July 13 - 16); Buchanan (July 18); Yorkton (July 19 - 21); Melfort (July 22 - 24); Fulda (July 25); Jansen (July 26); North Battleford (Jully 28); Lloydminster (July 29 -31); Prince Albert (Aug. 3 - 7); Grande Prairie (Aug. 9 - 11); Dawson Creek (Aug. 12 - 15).
Tonight's Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game between Prince Albert Raiders and Humboldt Broncos will be double-attraction.
First will be the game itself. The contest, which gets underway at 8 at the Comuniplex, will be a battle for first place in the Northern Division. Broncos, defending league champions who lost to Red Deer Rustlers in the Centennial Cup western final last season, have a four-point bulge on Raiders, 22 to 18, but have four fewer games. Tonight's game will be their first in Prince Albert this year and if it's anything like their games of last season, it should be a barn-burner. ...
The second attraction will be the introduction of the Raiders' theme song, which will probably take place between the first and second periods.
The song was written by Russ Gurr, of Brandon, a part-time country music entertainer, who last spring was contacted by Raiders' ex-manager and assistant coach Art Strueby and asked to write a song about the Raiders. Strueby now resides in North Battleford.
Gurr, who toured Western Canada for seven years on behalf of Federal Grain, mainly appearing at exhibitions, said that he had written many songs but never a song about a hockey team, so he thought it would be a challenge and accepted Strueby's offer.
The Brandon balladeer said Tuesday that Strueby sent him a great deal of information about Prince Albert and the Raiders and after sifting through it all, he needed three weeks to put the song together. Raider fans will get a chance to hear it tonight.
Without letting out too many secrets, the song mentions the fans chant of "Go Raiders Go," and refers to Prince Albert's topography, The Top Hat, Prince Albert's symbol and the fact that two Prime Ministers represented Prince Albert is also mentioned. The song concludes with the Raiders' colours and what they represent.
Gurr has recorded 25 songs and one album titled Federal Grain Train, and will soon release another which includes a song titled "Hail to Prince Albert."
SONG ABOUT DIEF
"The song is a history of John Diefenbaker, the former prime minister, and I sang it when I played your exhibition during Homecoming '71. I heard he, Mr. Diefenbaker was in town so I invited him to the show. He said he was going fishing, but he made it back for my last show and came upon the stage when I sang that song, which was a great thrill for me," said Gurr.
"You have beautiful country up here, with rivers and trees. It's a fine natural setting."
Brandon's balladeer Russ set with second album
by Garth Stouffer ~ Sun Associate Editor
The Brandon Sun ~ Friday, May 4, 1973Some people have the knack of turning a touch of misfortune into something to smile about... and Russ Gurr, Brandon's travelling balladeer is one of those people.
Back a couple of years, after Russ had been persuaded by Federal Grain to combine a flock of his original tunes into his first album, the train carrying the first shipment of the first pressing went off the rails in the Canadian Rockies. The records? They, along with other assorted freight and wreckage, came to rest well down in t he still waters of Lake Abamun... not an auspicious start. Not all of the Grain Train records went that deep, however, and a lot of them hit the turntables in Canada and beyond.
Now Russ Gurr has written another flock of songs, recorded them on a Capital stereo disc called On Tour With Russ Gurr.. and he'll be in a couple of Brandon music spots tomorrow to add his autograph to the albums purchased by Gurr fans.
During the early part of Saturday afternoon, Russ Gurr will be found at the K Mart store, while the latter part of the afternoon will find him at the Country Music Centre on Tenth Street... pen in hand.
For a "local boy" to make good in other parts of the world it can generally be accepted that he's done a lot of work.
Russ, who shares the duties of a 1,500 acre farm near Brandon with his two agriculture-trained sons, Wayne and Barry, has been singing, yodelling and writing songs ever since he was a curly-headed kid at Arrow River.
How big has he made it? Big enough to have had his Grain Train record played non-stop over Canadian Forces Network (radio) Lahr, West Germany, back in early December. Other artists featured on the Lahr "Stereo Highlights" series included Ray Stevens, Kurt Redel playing Haydn, Tony Bennett and Jose Feliciano. Not bad company for a farm boy from Brandon.
The new record, made at Century 21 Studios in Winnipeg, is full of brand new material... starting with the story of "1,500 Albums Down the Drain" and including a salute to John Diefenbaker (Hail to Prince Albert), a testimonial of sorts to a fairly potent tonic of yesteryear (Beef, Iron and Wine), a recollection of his birthday and early years (The Twenty-Third Day), and a personal sort of thing about hospital experiences (In the Operating Room).
Nor is John Diefenbaker the only Canadian personality featured on the record. Tom Lamb, the pioneer bush pilot-cattle rancher-conservationist of Moose Lake and The Pas appears in The Legend of Tom Lamb, and the Hurleyville Taxi No. 2 recalls the trained pair of gigantic hogs, Red and Rusty, trained to harness by Howard Hurley at Echo Bay, Ont., and featured at the Austin Threshermen's Reunion and other agricultural functions just a few years ago.
"In a time when Canadians are feverishly searching for an identity," says the On Tour jacket cover, "it is reassuring to know a man who truly represents a part of Canada. Jacket covers are not necessarily the best source of unbiased information, it must be admitted, but Canadian music magazine RPM calls him "the greatest Canadian country singer to ever tackle the stranglehold the Country Music Association has over this country's talent." The RPM people were pretty high on Russ just after the Grain Train album hit the streets. "If you don't dig country music in this day and age of 'the message trip,'" says the magazine, "lock yourself up in a closet and throw away the key. You're a menace to our disc-society. Take a real hard look and listen to Russ Gurr's new album. If that ain't the face of a successful Canadian country artist, then we're in the wrong business."
Just before Christmas, Russ was starring in a hockey spectacular, if you will, at Prince Albert, where he went on stage between the first and second periods of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League contest between the hometown Raiders and the Humboldt Broncos to introduce the new Raiders' theme song. Packed about as full of symbolism as a team cheer song could get, the Raiders' tune used the "Go Raiders Go" chant, referred to P.A area topography, the city's Top Hat symbol and also made it clear that the northern Saskatchewan community has been represented in the House of Commons by two prime ministers.
Farmer, performer, songwriter and for quite a few years political organizer, Russ Gurr is one of the Brandon names known across a pretty big chunk of Canada. The man and his record will be on view Saturday at K-Mart and the Country Music Centre... drop in and give him a hello....
The Second Russ Gurr Album
ON TOUR WITH RUSS GURR
Cover Art ~ Liner Notes ~ Lyrics
For This Album
Are Featured In The
Russ Gurr Song Book Volume II
Russ Gurr: Brandon's singing farmer
"He's a success man."
by Wayne Boyce ~ Sun Staff Writer
The Brandon Sun ~ Lifestyles ~ Saturday, April 19, 1975Fans of Canadian artists like Anne Murray, Bachman-Turner, the Irish Rovers and Susan Jacks, can think what they like about Russ Gurr.
In his own way and his own words, "Russ Gurr is a success-man."
A regional artist of contemporary country, something akin to Stompin' Tom Connors, might be an accurate description of Gurr, and like Stompin' Tom's plywood stompin' board, Russ has his own identifying trademark: combed up sideburns and long brown hair that curls around his head. (No Russ Gurr, doesn't wear a wig.)
But if his detractors don't take seriously his growing presence on the Canadian recording scene, don't expect Russ to pay much attention. He's too busy.
For example, his third album will be out this spring. He has just returned from a 16-city tour for the chemical people, Eli Lilly. He will shortly be discussing a new television series with CKY; is looking at an electric typewriter to answer his fan mail; is thinking about his annual summer tour and a fourth album of religious songs.
Incidentally, he expects to help son Barry with seeding on his 2,000-acre Lost Island Farm, just east of Brandon this spring and if there's time to help son Wayne in the family business, Lost Island Industries, a conveyor systems and scales manufacturer.
And if all that doesn't keep Russ Gurr busy, there are always new songs to write and royalty cheques from his first two albums to take down to the bank.
When we entered his modest home on Fifteenth Street, Russ was talking about being a farmer and letting his audience know he still works the land. It's all part of the image. Russ does it deliberately, professionally, gradually dropping heavy agri-jargon about fertilizer mixes and farm machinery.
Right from the start of our conversation the thought struck and stayed; here's a man who is more than a singing-farmer. He's a pro. A businessman, an entertainer, and an expert in public relations.
Strangely, though, there's little of the cynicism that usually goes with these professions. Russ Gurr seems to have both feet firmly planted in good Manitoba dirt. He's not at all plushed about marketing his home-spun lyrics and tunes. In fact, people in the country recording field frequently compare him to Stompin' Tom Connors or Tom T. Hall. they think he's pretty hot stuff.
Russ doesn't mind that kind of thinking, but let's face it, he's 56, has worked the land most of his life, and has rubbed shoulders with some of the most important politicians of the last 20 years (George Drew and John Diefenbaker, to name two). He's not about to lose his head in the fantasy world of the recording artist. Not now.
But his career is moving. When his new album comes out with its lead song "Hogs Are Beautiful" this spring it will make a stir. Live audiences this winter loved it. The recording people love it. Anybody who has anything to do with hogs will love it. And if he says yes to the album cover the recording pros have in mind, expect some screaming from women libbers, it's a tender picture of mother and baby. The baby happens to be a pig.
We listened to a track of "Hogs Are Beautiful" and all we can say is that it isn't "The Blue Hills of Brandon." Imagine, part of the back-up group includes members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
"Hogs Are Beautiful" came about because Russ was asked to write it for the Pork Producers' Congress convention in Stratford, Ont., last year.
"They said write anything you want Russ but just call it, Hogs Are Beautiful."
He later found it was needed to introduce a promotion package using the same theme. The recording people at London Records in Montreal heard "Hogs" and wanted it for this, the third Gurr album.
Singing has always been important to the boy from Arrow River. In grade school, teachers would drag him in from baseball games, or fights -- to sing. In high school he began entering music festivals and winning. He took voice lessons and despite the opposition of his classical music teachers, Russ began yodeling -- it was something he enjoyed. From that point on Gurr music would be decidedly two-sided: classical and contemporary country. Russ still loves both.
In 1939, at the age of 23 he married Phyllis Hunter and moved to a farm near Hamiota. Unfortunately, two years earlier he got undulant fever (Bang's disease in cattle). By '39 his breathing was severely impaired, a disastrous condition for a singer. But help was nearby, in Brandon in the office of "old Dr. Forrester," an expert in mechano therapy (something similar to physio therapy). Russ began treatments that lasted 25 years. In '49, mechano therapy was such an important part of his life that he decided to sell the farm and go to Cleveland for four years of training. After arriving in Cleveland, he was told that recent changes in Canadian monetary policy would limit the amount of funds he could take to the U.S. There was no way for him to stay.
He returned to Brandon. Almost immediately, a young, would-be politician, Walter Dinsdale, urged him to run his rural campaign. He did. Walter won.
Later, federal Conservative Leader George Drew asked him to take over the federal and provincial campaigns in Manitoba. Russ Gurr, a newcomer to the world of politics, accepted. He bought a farm east of Brandon and spent the next seven years helping to bring to office the regimes of Duff Roblin and John Diefenbaker. Satisfied, he retired from politics.
At this point, the Gurr career settled down. There were four children to raise and educate, a dairy herd to care for, weddings and funerals to sing at, and singing tours within the province he arranged himself.
In the '60s, an engagement at the Winter Fair in Brandon brought him into contact with Dennis Stevens of Federal Grain. He was asked to be part of their annual promotional tour. His first hit, "Federal Grain Train" was written as the theme song for the show. Federal was pushed for requests of the song. Russ went to Century 21 Studios in Winnipeg and recorded it. What followed sounds like something right out of a Hollywood Pulp Magazine: Whitey Hanes of Broadcast Music Industries (the company that collects royalties for performers) told George Taylor of Rodeo Records about the album. He loved it. George sent Russ a contract. In 1971, Russ Gurr's first album, "Federal Grain Train" came out on the Rodeo International label and was distributed by London Records of Montreal, the same company which distributes Stompin' Tom's Boot label.
About two years ago, a second album, On Tour With Russ Gurr, was dubbed. This time a long distance call came from Mike Doyle of London Records who wanted to sign Russ directly (at a higher percentage). He accepted. This past winter, his third album was cut. Russ says his first album was put together of things he had done over a number of years. These last two he deliberately sat down to write. This latest album has songs entitled, "Winneennee Pee," (Winnipeg), "Redskin and Paleface," "Magpie." It also includes a history of the RCMP.
When it comes to other people's music, Russ has few favourites. Gordon Lightfoot he admires because "he sings right on his notes" and because "I like his messages." He also has a warm spot for Stompin' Tom and some of the "country girl singers" but he can't name them. Russ actually prefers classical singers and has no trouble naming them.
He won't say exactly how many of his albums have sold in this country because it would be a matter of digging out files and adding them up. He does say, "the albums have sold far beyond my imagination. For a Canadian artist, they have been very good."
He's been surprised too, with the reception of his half-hour CKY television program, "Two For The Country." Letters have come in from eastern Saskatchewan and western Ontario as well as Manitoba and the northern United States. "The credits have been fantastic on it."
Russ decided early in his career to stay in Canada instead of chasing the huge U.S. market. He doesn't like what has happened to some of the more popular singers -- drugs, booze and trouble with the law. "Russ Gurr is a lot better off than a big American artist who has his $200,000 home, a few acres of land and expensive trees. I'm really a farmer.
For the past two winters, Russ has hit the convention circuit, under contract to Eli Lilly, the huge international drug and chemical company. It is a different type of entertainment -- writing songs for specialized groups and products but Russ approaches it as he would anything else -- as a business and a way to be in front of an audience. When the tour is over, it is back to Brandon and the farm. "I love the farm and the big machinery, that's where I feel at home," he says.
The Third Russ Gurr AlbumHOGS ARE BEAUTIFUL ~ RUSS GURR
1. Hogs Are Beautiful
2. Old White Tommy
3. Red Skin Paleface
4. Big Open Highway
5. Proud to be a Farmer
6. Go Raiders Go
Produced and arranged by David Shaw
Recorded at: Century 21 Studios Winnipeg
Copyright 1976 ~Russ Gurr
3. Mountain of Love
4. Waltzing at Midnight
5. Racing Waters
6. Clean Seed
Publisher Felsted Music of Canada Ltd.
Engineered by John Smith and Rick Inglis
Cover Photo: Terence J. Fowler Photo, Brandon
[Album Liner Notes]Reaching the upper echelons of recognized Canadian artists, came quickly for Russ Gurr. Multitalented, a writer, composer, and performing artist, all professional, he wasn't long gaining international attention.
TELEPHONE KEEPS RINGING FOR RUSS GURR
Under contract to Federal Grain Corporation for the first seven years of his professional career, he suddenly found himself in the recording industry. Happy with their new found talent, Federal Grain decided to record him and gave the new album the title of his first national hit song, "Federal Grain Train." The album was a hot item and soon the phone was ringing, George Taylor calling, President of Rodeo Recordings, Peterboro, Ontario. Heard your new album at BMI, Toronto, Russ, we want your contract, our top label, "Rodeo International." Soon the British press was giving him five star rating. The German radio was giving him special attention and the name, Russ Gurr was established.
Another new album, "On Tour With Russ Gurr," and the phone was ringing again. This time long distance from Montreal, London Records calling. Just listened to a tape of your new album, Russ, we want your contract. We are flying west and will meet you in the Winnipeg Air Terminal for signatures. Just like that, a major label, "London."
His contract with Federal Grain now completed, again long distance was calling, would you catch an Air Canada flight to Toronto, Russ, we would like to talk to you. This time it was the big international drug and chemical, Eli Lilly, U.S.A.
At the time of this release, in his fourth year with Lilly, doing two tours per year, he has just completed his winter itinerary of twenty-eight stage appearances.
Star of television and stage, backed by his two sons, Wayne and Barry and the big farm operation, Lost Island Farms & Industries Ltd., Brandon, Manitoba, the phenomenon of Russ Gurr, the singing farmer, continues to make headlines.By Canadian Artist ResearchHogs Are Beautiful ~ Russ Gurr ~ London Records ~ NAS-13532
Hogs are Beautiful!
"Did you ever see a pig's head on the counter?
Did you notice how it greets you with a smile?"
by Lilian McCullagh
The Western Producer, Thursday, June 2, 1977
Photo by Terence J. Fowler
The singing farmer, Russ Gurr of Brandon,
often composes the lyrics to his songs while operating his tractor in the field.
"I'm proud to be a farmer, and hear me when I say,
I'd rather be a farmer than anything today."So sings Russ Gurr of Brandon, the singing farmer, in his newly-released album entitled, Hogs Are Beautiful. The above lines are heard in the selection Proud To Be A Farmer, one of 12 new songs, melodies and lyrics all composed by Mr. Gurr.
The unusual title, Hogs Are Beautiful, is surely unique in the record-making business. But, Mr. Gurr is both unusual and unique. Who else would spend hours in research to learn the origin of the name Winnipeg so he could compose and record the song, Winneeneepee (murky waters) -- another selection in this album. The album was arranged and produced by Dave Shaw of Winnipeg's Century 21 Studios. Who else would include in a hit song:
"Did you ever see a pig's head on the counter?
Did you notice how it greets you with a smile?"
A woman in Regina wrote in a letter: "I awoke this morning to a record of Russ Gurr. It was all about pigs, hogs and bacon. It was really quite funny and was being played as a special request over radio CKRM. The announcer said it was very popular."
Another admirer of Mr. Gurr and his songs of Canada is Stompin' Tom Connors, who said during a trip to Brandon, "I'm proud to be a Canadian. Most Canadian artists don't show the same pride, with the exception of singer Russ Gurr. I'm a good friend of Russ. I had him on my show, I like what he does."
Hogs Are Beautiful is Mr. Gurr's third album. His first, Federal Grain Train, established him as a professional in the composing and professional arts, not only in Canada, but internationally. This album was given special mention in Germany, and the British press gave him a five star rating in their magazine Country Music People. Because of the keen market for this first record London Records now is pressing Federal Grain Train.
After hearing his second record, On Tour With Russ Gurr, London Records of Canada telephoned Mr. Gurr and requested a contract. Singing under contract with the American international drug and chemical corporation, Eli Lilly, Mr. Gurr does tow tours annually. In 1976, he had a special fall tour for the animal health division of Lilly, Inc., which was an extra, making 1976 even busier than usual.
While on tour, farming operations are carried on by Mr. Gurr's two sons, Wayne and Barry, both graduates in agriculture from the University of Manitoba. His wife, Phyllis, well known in Brandon as a leader in church activities and other volunteer work, assists him in all his achievements, but has often wished they didn't keep him away from home so much. They also have two daughters, Sherrill, an alto soloist and Patricia.
Mr. and Mrs. Gurr live in Brandon, their 2000-acre farm somewhat scattered over various areas. Their farm buildings, however, are located on the bank of the Assiniboine River, three miles east of the city. Incidentally, the best fishing spot on the river happens to be near these buildings and because of fishermen's cars parked in his yard, it was sometimes difficult for Mr. Gurr to have access to his implements. A keen fisherman himself, he was usually happy to have these visitors, but one day in he middle of seeding his smile of welcome disappeared. He needed fuel for his tractor but found the yard full of fishermen's cars. It was impossible to get near his fuel tanks.
Noting the license plate number of the particular offender, Russ walked to the fishing area and found the owner whose car had caused the halt in the seeding operations. It was soon moved, but this episode prompted Mr. Gurr to build a gravel road across his farm especially for those who love to fish. He calls it the "Fisherman's Road."
Many of Mr. Gurr's songs show his love of nature. Salmon, trout and pickerel are all mentioned in his lyrics. Among his song titles are Magpie, Big Bear, Tommy (a beloved horse), BINGO (a favourite dog), and of course, Hogs Are Beautiful. Other animals mentioned are buffalo, jumping deer, elk, bull moose, caribou, grizzly bears, timber wolves, coyotes, lynx, beaver, muskrat and squirrels. He draws attention to a nighthawk, eagle, meadowlark, kingfisher, owls and loons.
His love for Canada is expressed in several of his songs. In the song Raging Waters, he sings of Niagara Falls:
"No guns along the border, no soldiers there to file.
Just a little line upon the map to mark five thousand miles.
Will it always be a symbol of peace between our lands
Or will the waters wither in dry unsettled sands?
In love there is no boundary, no U.S. -- Canada
It's hands across the border for North America."
Several lines point to his belief in and love for our creator: "The Man in all His glory looks down upon the scene." And in another song he sings, "Our prayer will always be 'The One Who made these waters --make us one.'" In the song, The Twenty-Third Day are the words, "For a baby in a manger Who would mean a lot to me," and "On Sunday we're back praying in the church there in our town. And we sang the hymns together." A number of years ago, when Mr. Gurr appeared on his first television show, many looked forward to his closing number which was always a sacred solo. Many of his friends are already eagerly awaiting his fourth album which will contain his favorite sacred classics.
Mr. Gurr is often asked to compose a song honoring a special person, group or city. This was how Go Raiders Go! came into being, also Hail To Prince Albert and The Legend of Tom Lamb.
Mr. Gurr, who is a member of Manitoba Pool Elevators, Canadian Rapeseed Association and Palliser Wheat Growers Association, loves the land. "I like the feel of that soil on my fingers," he sings joyously. In his plea for Clean Seed, he lists the dangers of sowing seed that is polluted with weeds and disease: "There are weeds that will blind us and plug up our sinus."
He has composed the words and music for well over 100 songs of Canada, 36 of them now recorded. Many originate in his study at home, but some are inspired while operating his tractor. If you happen to travel on Military Road #457 east of Brandon, it would be well to stop, look, and listen! Not only does the road wind over a railroad track, but you might just be lucky enough to hear the yodelling of a happy farmer.
ON OUR STAGE
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