John McNeil is a wiry guy with a rumpled cowboy hat and a song to sing. His voice is like Canadian Club in a velvet bag. His lyrics echo a well-travelled life with experiences good and bad all rolled up into songs that speak from the heart.
McNeil is a singer/songwriter with two CDs behind him and another in front.
While many in Sooke may not have heard of him, he’s been heard across the country and his albums have gotten excellent reviews. His album Straight form the Heart is a testament to his past. Lyrics such as, “We thank our luck stars we ain’t dying in a rundown bar,” speak of sad lives on the streets. A Youtube video of the song dredges up images one looks away from on the dirty streets in cities across the country. He said this song was nominated for an Honourable Mention at the 1997 Juno Awards.
“A few songs on there made some waves across the country,” said McNeil. “I wasn’t expecting to be treated so kindly.”
McNeil is a modest man, one whose luck hasn’t always been the best. He was raised in three provinces, his first 11 years in Cape Breton where home was an orphanage. He now calls Sooke home and he seems to have settled into a lifestyle he enjoys. He’s a storyteller with a lot to tell and at about 60 years old he has had the life to bring honesty to his songs.
Of his country songs he said, “You got to get married a couple of times to enjoy a good country song.”
His new CD, Ol’ sweet dream was released on Sept. 29 at the Q building in Victoria. It took him 12 years to get that album together. Two years ago he won the writer’s competition at the Sooke Fall Fair which likely spurred him on to complete the new album. “ol’ sweet dream” is mostly country with a bit of his Celtic roots thrown in. He was told he should write about bigger places, but that’s not his style.
“I write only about Canada and things I know,” he said.
Forty years of writing and performing, hosting open mikes at the 17 Mile Pub and performing across the country labels him a great Canadian secret. He’s a painter by day and a singer by night.
For his latest CD, he has enlisted the talents of some pretty amazing people. Backing him up are Doug Edwards from the band Chilliwack on bass, Chillwack’s Jerry Adolf on drums, Johnny Pimm on guitar, Morry Sterns on piano, Dennis Ferby on bass and Calvin Bolrath on fiddle. He is proud to sing a duet with his daughter Laura on the album.
The CDs will be sold through Indie Records on the Internet and most likely somewhere in Sooke.