Commentary – Looking forward to next Big Thing

Joe McWilliams

The older you get, it seems, the less interesting current events become, and the more time you spend reminiscing about the ‘good old days.’


This is not helpful if you happen to be in the news reporting business. But in my case, over 30 years of writing stories about people and things and events in the Lesser Slave Lake area does provide a lot to reflect on.
For example. . .
The other day I was going through copies of the local rag from 2010, looking for a story about a candidate for municipal council. He’s running again in 2021 and I wanted to see what I wrote about him 11 years ago. Leafing through the pages of 2010 papers I came across a story about a High Prairie songwriter by the name of Mike Halcrow. His song You’re the Reason had won an award in a Nashville-based songwriter contest.


What happened to that song is hard to say – at least no obvious answer comes up in an Internet search. Mike himself shows up, though, on bandmix.ca, as available for playing gigs, six to seven nights per week. Good luck to him!
One thing leads to another and I remembered a story I did way back in the early 1990s. A young woman – also from the High Prairie area – had penned the lyrics to a song she called Feed Jake. The story as I heard it was she had been successful in shopping the tune in Nashville, and had been paid something like $800 for it. That was quite the coup, but she told me she had to agree to give up any rights to the song, and kind of regretted it.


However, the deed was done; she’d accepted the money and had to live with it.
Well, it turned out Feed Jake was a nice little hit for a band called Pirates of the Mississippi. I found it last week online and listened to it. It’s even got its own Wikipedia article, which is saying something. Some guy named Danny Mayo is credited with writing the song. No mention at all that the words came from another source entirely. It doesn’t seem right. He might have written the music; but to claim credit for words that came from somebody else?


Not cool!
Not cool, but definitely not anything new in the music business, which as we know can be dirty and exploitative.
Not long after I did that interview, noted Canadian country musician Ian Tyson came to town. It was my job to interview him before his show at the Sports Palace in High Prairie. I asked him about songwriters being taken advantage of. It happens, he agreed. All you can do is keep trying.


Tyson himself got his big break in New York City back in 1961 or 1962, when he wrote Four Strong Winds. This was after hearing ‘this grubby little kid’ [Bob Dylan] showing off a song he’d just written, called Blowin’ in the Wind. If he can do that, thought Tyson, “I can do it, too!”


So he sat down and came up with his most famous tune. Luckily for him he was able to hang onto it. Having the right manager might have had something to do with it.


The world is full of exploiters, but thankfully also has its share of honest folks. Not to mention talented people, working away at creating things for the love of doing it.


Who knows where the Next Big Thing is going to come from? It might be from that grubby little neighbour kid of yours, dreaming up something in his or her basement.

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