Country gentleman coming to town

Tara Bradbury
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Tommy Hunter is on his final tour, and will perform two shows at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre Feb. 19 - one at 2 p.m. and one at 7 p.m.

For 27 years, TV viewers across the country were familiar with Tommy Hunter's Friday night closing: "Hope you enjoyed the show. Be the Good Lord willin', I'll see you next week."

It seems the Good Lord's got other plans for Hunter after the spring, when he'll rest his guitar against a stool one final time before heading into retirement, at the age of 75.

Hunter will embark on the second leg of his two-part farewell tour of Canada, with two shows at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre Feb. 19 - one at 2 p.m. and one at 7 p.m.

"This is it. You can go to the bank on that one," Hunter told The Telegram of his goodbye tour, adding he might do a casino show here and there, once in a while. His touring life will be done, though, and his recording life, too, since he doesn't plan on ever releasing another record.

"Pretty well all the CDs I've got are songs that covered my career. There's no sense in putting out a CD now because the radio stations aren't going to play it," Hunter said. "Imagine getting a guy playing records in there who's 22. He wouldn't even know who I am."

The younger crowd might not be familiar with him, but any Canadian over the age of 30 likely would be. Canada's "Travelin' Man," having first picked up a guitar at age nine, was on television for a total of 36 years - first on "Country Hoedown," and later on "The Tommy Hunter Show" on CBC. Along with special guests, Hunter was known for his rendition of songs like "King of the Road," "You Are My Sunshine" and "I'll Fly Away," among others. His gentle, genuine style earned him the nickname "Canada's Country Gentlemen," and he's a gentleman to this day, although his regular television appearances ended in 1992.

"I always felt that I was being invited into people's living rooms, and I respected that and that respect ran throughout the whole show," Hunter said. "Some of the new technical stuff, tricks they can play on TV, I would fight that because I wanted a straight performance - I wanted to stand in front of that camera and have it go through the camera and have it come out the other end with me in your living room."

It wasn't easy staying true all these years, especially when the show's writers sometimes had other ideas to make Hunter seem more edgy or current.

"Many times they'd show me something and I'd say, 'Nah, I can't put that in the show.' They'd say, 'Oh Tom, you're being so square. You've got to try this,'" he explained. "I'd say, 'Look, what do I say at the end of the show? I want you to work backwards from there. What I say at the end is the thread, and respect that all the way through.' That's how I got many of the writers to understand the show."

Hunter's definitely not a stranger to Newfoundland and Labrador. He's performed here many times over the years, but a lesser known fact, he said, is that he used to have a job here, as director of corporate affairs for Air Atlantic.

It may have been his only non-performing job, but the airline business isn't completely unlike television, he explained.

"When you get an airplane, it's aluminum and you paint it a certain colour because you hope that colour is pleasing to people. The way flight attendants talk to the public is exactly like talking on television or radio or in front of an audience. You provide a service and that service is for the public," he said.

"I used to say to the flight attendants, OK, people are coming now. Welcome to show business, girls! Smile!"

Once the tour finishes and he's back home in southern Ontario, Hunter will be content studying the Bible and visiting his grandchildren, he said. He's also got a home in Florida where he often spends time.

It's not a matter of being forced to slow down, he said - it's just a matter of wanting to.

"There comes a time when you have to face facts. Do you push it until you're 90?" he said.

"I'm able to perform and I want to go out on my terms. I want to go out when I'm on top of my game plan and people say, 'Why is he retiring?'"

Tickets for Hunter's shows in St. John's are $56.50 (including tax and surcharge) and are on sale now at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, by phone at 729-3900, or online at Twitter: @tara_bradbury


Organizations: CBC, Air Atlantic

Geographic location: Canada, St. John's, Country Gentlemen Newfoundland and Labrador Southern Ontario Florida

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