Biographer nearing completion of Dick Nolan book; Looking to public to help finish project

ST. JOHN'S
JAMIE BENNETT
The Western Star

It was a long journey from his start in Corner Brook to his place among the legends in Newfoundland music for Dick Nolan and if Wayne Tucker has his way, you’ll soon be able to read all about it.

Prior to Nolan’s death in December 2005, Tucker was working with the performer on an autobiography and following Nolan’s passing, the St. John’s-based writer took on the task of completing the project himself.

After several years of researching off and on and being involved in other projects, Tucker said he’s ready to make the final push to put the finishing touches on the book.

“I’ve just decided in the last few weeks that it’s time to get on with it, move it on to the front burner and get a book out,” Tucker said from his home in St. John’s. “I’m sort of setting an unofficial target of having it done within a year.”

Nolan gave Tucker full access to his personal collection of photographs and other memorabilia and Tucker was able to compile some 30 hours of taped interviews in the months before Nolan’s passing.

As someone who met the musician in the last year of his life, Tucker said the pair developed a close bond and he’s eager to complete the project his friend started.

“One of the reasons I’m getting at it now is because I feel I owe it to him,” he said. “It was a major project for Dick, he put his heart and soul into that in the last several months of his life. If he was alive this would have been out long ago. It’s because he’s sort of tapping me on the shoulder now I feel and saying ‘Wayne come on boy, it’s time to get on with this.’”

Despite being an avid fan of Nolan’s work, Tucker said he’s been constantly surprised by the things he’s uncovered through his research. He said Nolan’s early career in Toronto was a particularly influential, yet seldom discussed period in the artist’s development.

“I was really amazed at how good a career he had going in the 1960s, for example, before he came famous at all,” he said. “It was in 1972 that he had that huge hit “Aunt Martha’s Sheep” and a lot of people aren’t aware that he had a career going before that. But he did, he recorded about a dozen albums in the 1960s and he spent a lot of years in the
Toronto area entertaining at the Horseshoe Tavern, which was the country music Mecca for all of Canada really.”

Tucker described Nolan as a musician who “did everything the hard way” a necessity for a Newfoundlander trying to make his way in an industry which wasn’t always as established as it is today.

“Dick Nolan never took a voice lesson in his life despite the fact that he had such a wonderful voice and earned a living from it,” he said. “There were no supports then like there is today. There was no Canadian Idol contest or funding of any kind. As a matter of fact, most people thought he was nuts to leave Newfoundland at that time. Corner Brook’s not very big compared to Toronto and to go up there and try to make a living as a musician, I know some of his family members pleaded with him to stay. But he proved them wrong.”

As one of the first Newfoundlanders to make a living as a full-time musician, Tucker said Nolan blazed a trail for popular acts like Great Big Sea who later followed in his footsteps.

“The succeeding generations have learned from people like Dick Nolan,” he said. “Poor old Dick, they learned not to do what he did in some cases but it shows how tough Dick Nolan was to survive all that. He kept going for two reasons really; because he loved what he was doing and he had great talent.”

A retired civil servant and current host of the NewFound Records Radio Show on CHMR, Tucker has written articles which have appeared in the Newfoundland Herald and Newfoundland Quarterly.

He said he’s hopeful that this book, his first, will serve as a tribute to the memory of artists as influential as Nolan.

“Let’s just remember these people because if we don’t, they’ll all be forgotten about,” he said. “I don’t think we should let that happen because knowledge of history helps us understand how we got to where we are today and where we might be going in the future. It’s not only the first book about Dick Nolan but ... I’m looking at the broader scene that he was a part of.”

To complete the book, Tucker would like the public to help by sharing with him any memorabilia they have related to Nolan. He can be reached at wayne@newfoundrecords.ca or by visiting www.dicknolan.com.

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