There’s few people who can say one of their songs has served three wars.
But Murray McLauchlan’s song Honky Red has been used in reference to three separate international conflicts.
“The lyrics have been modified so it’s been through three different wars,” McLauchlan says in a phone interview with the Mirror from his cottage at Stony Lake, Ont.
There’s a line in the song where the character, an aged, down-and-out alcoholic says in McLauchlan’s original 1971 version, “I fought in your wars, now I sleep in your doors, an’ I left my leg in France.”
Later, the song was picked up by John Rhys Eddins, who McLauchlan said produced Warren Zevon’s first album. He started performing the song and changed the reference to “left my leg in ‘Nam’” – referencing Vietnam, of course. But then Eddins’ son, Dave Schools, liked the song and began using it in his band Widespread Panic and they changed the lyric to “left my leg in Iraq.”
“It’s now a three-war song,” McLauchlan says.
McLauchlan says “It’s kinda cool” that people are still singing his songs.
His most influential years were in the 70’s when he recorded hits like Farmer’s Song and Whispering Rain. Recently, he’s been performing with Lunch at Allens with fellow Canadian music veterans Marc Jordan, Cindy Church and Ian Thomas. He recently returned to recording new material with Human Writes, released in 2011.
The singer-songwriter hasn’t toured solo out here in over a decade. That ends this month when his tour brings him out west again, including a stop at Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
When asked whether his show will comprise old songs, new songs, a mix of both or what? He replied, “The answer to all of those questions is ‘Yes.’”
McLauchlan was speaking about his upcoming tour while on the phone in his cottage at Stony Lake, contemplating closing up his summer residence as the “cold north wind” starts to whip up the lake in anticipation of the Ontario winter settling in.
“I just spent about an hour and a half playing guitar,” McLauchlan says.
He plays anything these days from working on jazz improvisation to accompanying a James Taylor album to just noodling around. McLauchlan said he currently likes jazz improv playing and launches into a complicated explanation about jazz chord voicings that leaves an early intermediate guitarist behind.
“So I get really interested in doing that because I just love playing the guitar,” McLauchlan says.
His preferred music to listen to these days is “classic jazz. like Charlie Mingus, Myles Davis, Dave Brubeck and the like. But it’s not limited to that.
“I love all kinds of music but I love – like any body else – the kind of music that is honest, that people are actually playing, that there’s some level of virtuosity, and that it’s communicative and it’s emotional,” he says.
And that applies to classical music, as well, and even ballet.
“I love ballet,” McLauchlan says. “A day without Tchaikovsky is like a day without sunshine.”
And how does all that variety influence his own performance, particularly songs that people identify him by?
“It’s always evolving, some songs I have slightly altered,” he said.
He points to Child’s Song as an example of a song people will find is different from how it was originally recorded.
In Campbell River, McLauchlan will be performing as a duo with bassist Victor Bateman.
“We travel light and we travel fast,” he says.
McLauchlan was convinced to go on tour by the tour’s producer because he liked how he runs things.
Given his longevity in the Canadian music scene, you get the impression he’s not interested in hauling his guitar around in the back of a VW van and staying in seedy hotels, hitting up the house manager for his cut of the box office. He credits Shantero for being the kind of promoter that takes care of everything.
“This is exactly how it should be,” he said. “The routine is completely logical.”
Touring and playing music is how McLauchlan, 67, still defines himself.
“I love making music,” he says. “If I don’t do this, who am I?”
And as his songs speak to younger generations making sense of modern society as much as they did when originally produced, the answer to McLauchlan’s question is a musician of lasting impact and ongoing relevance.