The windshield wipers were slapping time as we motored north thorough Nova Scotia, on Highway 102, enclosed safely in a rented Hartbeat mobile. Blog Co-Curator, Vivian Hart and I were listening to Anne Murray through my personal distraction device that was wired into the steed's superb sound system.
Unknown to us, we were heading into the northern salvo of Hurricane Leslie, which was spinning wind and rain like a Leslie amplifier attached to the Hammond B3 of Booker T. Jones. In our weather innocence, we started to name musicians that were natives of our Northern neighbor. Hank Snow, Neil Young, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, Paul Shaffer, Bryan Adams, The Wailin' Jennys and Gordon Lightfoot entered our minds quickly, along with a host of others. The list continued, but we were also searching for a lunch stop at one of our Canadian friend's 3300 Tim Hortons restaurants, so we had to suspend our musical trivia conversation.
We passed the exit for Truro (which we later learned suffered severe flooding that day) and got on Miners Memorial Highway, Trans Canada 104. Anne Murray was singing as we passed the exit for the town of Springhill. Little did we know that on our return trip, as the post -hurricane sun was streaming through our windshield, our vision would not be obscured by the rain and we would see clearly the sign for the Anne Murray Centre. Our exit onto Hwy. 142 and into Springhill provided a musical experience that will now be relayed to you in this version of Hartbeat.
"Please let me know where you're singin' your song"
We pulled up to the Anne Murray Centre and noticed that it was across the street from a Tim Horton's. Those restaurants seemed to be around every tree in Canada and we envisioned another culinary opportunity in our future. Now, on to the Centre...
The Centre opened in July of 1989 and is a non-profit; the low cost you pay for admission goes back to the community. In addition to being the birthplace of the country's first female solo artist to reach #1 on the U.S. charts, Springhill has a place in Canada's history. More about that later, so please keep reading.
"I'll always remember the song they were playin'"
The day we visited, excitement was still in the air as Anne Murray herself had visited her namesake just a day earlier.
The tour starts out with a lock of Anne's baby hair and her "real" name, Morna Anne Murray revealed. The display visually traces her growing up in the small mining town of Springhill--her interest in sports (skiing), musical appearances on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Singing Jubilee", early records, album covers, awards, stage clothing, gold records and cassettes as well as many photos from throughout her life. I've included here a few images that I obtained (permission to use here was given) while walking through Anne's musical history.
Of particular interest to me was a video on the making of the "Duets: Friends and Legends" album. Interviews with the participants on the recording and how the final music evolved were revealing and informative-especially for the Hartbeat crew who own this album. (This Blog's Co-curator listens to it a few times per week!)
Any memorabilia location would not be complete without a gift shop and the Centre offers a wide variety of items for your own personal collection. We have a number of Anne's recordings so we settled on postcards that could be mailed just up the hill at the Springhill post office. Perhaps not as compelling as a postmark from Memphis or Tupelo, but it could keep your recipient guessing. Feeling hungry after the journey through the singer's life, the Hartbeat staff stopped at Tim Hortons to refuel. If you want more facts about the Anne Murray Centre please click here.
It's a long trip to the Anne Murray Centre from just about anywhere, but the journey is well worth it. Nova Scotia is a great place to visit for a variety of experiences involving the ocean, diversity (check out Halifax), history, nature and a vast variety of things to see and do. One can continue to Prince Edward Island to explore author L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables territory, expansive red-soiled coastlines of the Atlantic, foxes that walk right up to you and excellent seafood caught right outside your dining location.
There are musical connections to the Maritime Province, Anne Murray taught physical education at a high school in Summerside on PEI and Gene MacLellan, the songwriter of "Snowbird" and "Put your Hand" in the Hand" also lived on the Island.
So, why go to the Anne Murray Centre? The memorabilia is very interesting, the music is good and you can contribute to the community of Springhill which seems to need it. But, there is more to Springhill than being the birthplace of a famous singer. If you read this far in this popular culture free-fall, you are wondering what else makes Springhill significant?
"Deep in the Dark of the Cumberland Mine"
There were three separate mining disasters occurring in the Springhill coalfield between 1891 and 1958. The 1958 "bump" (underground earthquake) is the most famous of the incidents because of the causalities suffered and the economic impact on the town and the coal mining industry. The ordeal of waiting for days and the rescue gained an international audience who watched live coverage through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The media at the Springhill "bump" was one of the first examples of the live coverage of disasters we take for granted today.
On October 23, 1958, one hundred and seventy five miners (accounts vary by one) were buried in the coal mine 13,000 feet below the surface until Nov. 1st. Rescue efforts, including digging by off duty miners resulted in the rescue of one hundred of the trapped miners. Tragically seventy five perished in what was the most severe "bump" in North American mining history.
After that tragedy, the mines in Springhill closed and the economic impact was severe for the region. Today, the mine shafts are filled with water and are a source of geothermal energy for businesses that have been constructed in the industrial park built where the surface operations for the former coal mines were located.
Springhill has a museum chronicling the history of the coal mining industry in the area.More information can be obtained by clicking here.
The Hartbeat goes on...
What's cooking on the Hartbeat Grill?
A number of books have been filtering through Hartbeat World Headquarters recently. Some of the titles are: (1.) Greg Allman: My Cross to Bear, (2.) Mick: The Wild life and Mad Genius of Jagger, (3.) Hearts of Darkness: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and the Unlikely Rise of the Singer-Songwriter, (4.) Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury, (5.) The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, plus many issues of Vintage Guitar, Rolling Stone and Guitar Player magazines. I especially enjoy reading about the early years of the artists, their influences, music they listened to, when they learned to play instruments in early bands and how the first recordings evolved.
I read several books at the same time, skipping around between chapters looking for references to particular songs, recordings, tours, band members and other musical trivia. All the books have their merits, so visit your local library or bookseller and give them a try.
The Musical Notes
Anne Murray fans will recognize the lyric sub- headings. Murray always covered songs by great writers and her unique voice and phrasing made those songs her own.
"A Little Good News" was released in 1983. The song was her seventh number one on the country charts. (Working in the news business this song has a special meaning to me.) One of the songwriters, Rory Michael Bourke, also wrote, "You Look so Good in Love" a hit for George Strait and "Come Next Monday" a 1990 number one hit for K.T. Oslin.
"Hey! What About Me" was Anne Murray's debut studio record released in 1968. The album was produced by Canadian, Brian Ahern, who played guitar with Anne Murray on her Canadian television appearances and went on to produce records for many country artists. He produced twelve of Anne Murray's albums and eleven for Emmylou Harris.
An interesting note about "Hey! What About Me" is that it was written by Scott McKenzie who gained fame for his 1967 hit, "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) which was sung not written by McKenzie but was penned by John Phillips of Mamas and Papas fame.
Pete Seeger and Ewan McColl wrote "The Ballad of Springhill" based on the 1958 disaster and performed it as an a cappella duet. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded the song and released it on their 1965 album, "A Song Will Rise." U2 also has performed it for much wider audiences than the authors ever dreamed of achieving.
There was another song composed about the disaster by a miner that was trapped underground. Maurice Ruddick, the only black miner, composed the "The Springhill Disaster."
There are some accounts that state he wrote the song while trapped underground.
Previous to the "bump" Ruddick led his fellow miners in daily music as they descended into the depths of the mine by elevator. After the mineshaft collapsed, he boosted the morale of seven of his fellow miners in songs and prayers despite his broken leg. "Springhill Disaster" did not enjoy the commercial success of the Seeger/McColl composition, but he did continue to sing and perform music after the disaster. You can view a short CBC video about Maurice Ruddick by clicking here.
The Photo Notes
The pictures at the Centre were taken with an iPhone.
Here is one last verse in this edition of Hartbeat. Some of the Hartbeat staff has suggested that I need to put more television news references in the blog, so here is one.
While working as a television news photographer in Duluth in the mid 70's I filmed (on 16mm film with a CP 16A) a portion of an Anne Murray concert at the Duluth Auditorium. The film was used as part of an interview conducted by KDAL Sports Director Marsh Nelson with Anne Murray.