From the Russ Gurr Archive
|2003 THE PORCUPINE HALL
OF FAME AWARD
Sun Beams Column ~ Brandon Sun ~ September 1968
Takes "Federal Train" On Western Fair Route ~ Free Press Weekly ~ July 3, 1971
FEDERAL GRAIN MUSIC GROUP TO PLAY IN UNITY ~ The Northwest Herald - Wednesday, June 30, 1971
IN THE TOP 20 ACROSS CANADA ~ Calgary Herald ~ Aug. 20, 1971
German Music Magazine ~ Thursday, 2 December, 1971
RUSS GURR: THE SINGING FARMER ~ The Western Producer, Thursday, April 27, 1972
Russ Gurr: Lorna Smith Column ~ Brandon Sun ~ circa 1972
"BARD OF BRANDON" ENTERTAINS AT BARBECUE ~ North Battleford, Saskatchewan ~ Tuesday, August 7, 1973
RUSS GURR, THE SINGING FARMER ~ LANDHANDLER MAGAZINE: Fall 1979
NOTORIETY SURPRISES CROONING COWBOY ~ Ted Stone's Country Music Column ~ 22 papers across Canada ~ 1987
RUSS GURR IS A SINGING FARMER ~ "Hogs are Beautiful" on the hit parade ~ Ted Stone Column ~ February 1987
Russ Gurr, Brandon, MB
Truly what you could call a 'real' country troubadour, Russ has always used wit and sassiness in his songs to tell stories about things that he knows through experience. Known as "The Singing Farmer", Russ didn't start his recording career until into his 50s. But before that he was a well known force in rural Manitoba, so much so that the PC Party recruited him to be their campaign chairman in the 1950s, simply because they wanted his name. His songs are about Magpies, Hogs, John Diefenbaker, getting his tonsils pulled and having lost 1500 albums down the drain! Recognized at the age of 5 for his perfect pitch, he was encouraged by his teachers to enter contests singing classical songs. Thus his unusual enunciation. Now, at 84, he gets asked to sing a funerals. But I can just see him now, driving his pick up truck singing "Hogs Are Beautiful" down the back roads of Brandon.
A rare previously unrecorded version of Russ singing his Stompin' Tom and Me. Recorded by Steve Fruitman in Russ's Brandon living room in the summer of 2003.
Russ Gurr sings Stompin' Tom and Me
SUN BEAMS COLUMN
By F.A. Rosser
Brandon Sun ~ September 1968
Letter from a reader:
"Regarding your article of September 17, 1968, I was impressed. These avenues should always be run down for a plug about our city.
"While travelling this year throughout western Canada, I ran across the man that probably gave Brandon more publicity and promotion than any one single individual. Standing in an open air crowd of about 4,000 people in front of an open air stage at Lethbridge, Alta., this man came up to the mike and said with a lot of professional ability and showmanship, 'This is the Federal Grain Train' from Brandon, Manitoba;" introduced all his Brandon personnel, kept a captivated audience for 2-2 1/2 hours and never failed to mention Brandon nine or ten times during the show. It made me feel like nudging the persons next to me and telling them I was from Brandon and knew the entertainers. They did a hell of a job entertaining thousands of people throughout Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Peace River. My hat goes off and Brandon's hat should go off to a promoter for the City of Brandon -- Russ Gurr and his group of entertainers."Thank you A.B. Thank you Russ Gurr and Federal Grain.I was not aware that Arrow River is where Russ Gurr has his roots down, and the new "Arrow River - Miniota Historic Supplement" contains a fine tribute to that fine singer. Russ has commemorated his arrival with a song which begins...
On the 23rd day of December, I began
My long, long journey in a big, big land.
I was born one day
By the town of Arrow River
Where the winds were cold
And made a little boy shiver.
Where the Grand Trunk winding
Through the hills would blow,
And her whistle would rattle
In the drifting snow . . .
Free Press Weekly ~ July 3, 1971
WINNIPEG: Musically you can climb aboard the Federal Grain Train at any of 18 whistle stops as recording artist Russ Gurr and the Western Union make their fifth successvie western exhibition and fair tour, sponsored by Federal Grain Ltd. this season.
Highlighting the musical swing will be Saskatchewan, in the midst of Homecoming '71, and BC.'s Centennial activities, as the schedule which began in Burstall , June 25-27 and Unity, July 1, 2 is to move to Kenaston, by July 3.
Other stop-offs include: Milden (July 5); Swift Current (July 6-8); Kindersley (July 9 and 10); Govan (July 12); Moose Jaw (July 13-16); Buchanan (July 18); Yorkton (July 19-21); Melfort (July 22-24); Fulda (July 25); Jansen (July 26); North Battleford (July 28); Lloydminster (July 29-31); Prince Albert (Aug 3-7); Grande Prairie (Aug 9-11) and Dawson Creek (Aug 12-15).
Composer of the recording, The Federal Grain Train, Russ Gurr grew up on his father's one-half section mixed farm near Hamiota, Manitoba, and has combined a singing career with a 1,500 acre farming operation outside Brandon, Man.
It's grown into a family enterprise. Both sons attended agriculture at the University of Manitoba and while one entered agricultural business, the other returned to the farm.
Russ finds it works out beautifully. Of the increasing pressures of entertainment, "I can delegate some of the farming to my son." However, bookings are out during seeding and harvest times, he explains.
His young cohorts on the musical route, The Western Union, also from Manitoba-west are: Barry Forman, Rivers; Sue-On and Bill Hillman, and Kerry Morris, all of Strathclair and Jake Kroeger of Rapid City.
MUSIC GROUP TO PLAY IN UNITY
The Northwest Herald - Wednesday, June 30, 1971
The Federal Grain Limited signed a contract Wednesday with recording artist Russ Gurr to appear this summer at 18 different exhibitions and sports days throughout Western Canada.
Earlier this spring Mr. Gurr signed a contract with Rodeo International Records and his latest record, The Federal Grain Train, has been released internationally on the London label.
Appearing on stage with Mr. Gurr is the Western Union - a group of young musicians from Western Manitoba who had their own television show originating out of Brandon. Members of the Western Union are Barry Forman of Rivers, Sue-On and Bill Hillman of Strathclair, Jake Kroeger of Rapid City and Kerry Morris of Strathclair. The group is appearing in Unity during Homecoming activities this week under auspices of Federal Grain.
Russ and the Western Union toured Western Canada on behalf of Federal Grain during the past four summers and it was while on tour that Russ composed his first hit record, The Federal Grain Train.
Russ is one of the few remaining showmen left who is equally at home before television cameras or on the stage before a crowd at local fairs and exhibitions.
|IN THE TOP 20 ACROSS CANADA
Calgary Herald ~ Aug. 20, 1971
HOMEWARD BOUND: For the last two months Federal Grain Limited has had Russ Gurr (cowboy hat), Western singer and composer, on the road at Prairie fairs and exhibitions.
He is backed up by the Western Union, a Manitoba singing group.
Mr. Gurr is composer of the hit record, The Federal Grain Train.
Among their stops were Burstall, Kindersley, Lloydminster, and Grande
Prairie. They wound up at Dawson Creek last Sunday.
Thursday, 2 December, 1971
Most recorded music programmes from CFN at Lahr offer stereophonic sound. Here are some detailed listings for the next week. Most are being heard for the first time in stereo on CFN, in their entirety, and played without interruption.
WED 8 DEC. 1930 HOURS:
|RUSS GURR: THE SINGING FARMER
By Lilian McCullagh
The Western Producer, Thursday, April 27, 1972
Has it ever been your experience as you drive along the highway to hear a farmer yodeling happily as he manipulates his combine, tractor, seeder or fertilizing equipment? You may have this pleasant surprise if you happen to travel on Provincial Road Number 457 between Brandon and Shilo, Man., during spring operations or autumn harvesting.
Brandon's Singing Farmer, Russ Gurr who in 1970 produced his first album of Canadian songs, does much of his composing as he rides implements on his 1500-acre farm.
The record titled "Federal Grain Train" contains 12 original songs, each one describing some aspect of its life. The initial 2200 were sold in a matter of months and the public was clamoring for more of Gurr.
"Federal Grain Train," twelfth on RPM's list of the top country 50 last August has risen to fourth at the time of writing. Quoting the July 17 issue of RPM, "George Taylor's Rodeo Records may just have discovered the greatest country singer to ever tackle the stranglehold the Country Music Association has over this country's talent."
On Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. radio station CFN in Lahr, Germany played Russ' album "in its entirety, without interruption" according to the column Stereo Highlights in the radio bulletin published Dec. 2.
The column further states, "This is the first album of country music by an authentic country boy, whose name will be known to anyone who comes from the Brandon area of Manitoba. Toe-tappin' and twangy are the words for this program.
About a week before Christmas while in Toronto, Russ visited the Tommy Hunter studios during a rehearsal. As he entered, Tommy Hunter hurried forward with outstretched hand. "Russ Gurr," he exclaimed, "it just can't be that you should walk in today!"
Rather puzzled, Russ awaited an explanation. Tommy Hunter and the Rhythm Pals were rehearsing the first song in Russ' album "Federal Grain Train" which they included in their January show on Friday, the 21st.
Russ was born in Arrow River, Man. His first public singing at the age of six was at the Hamiota Musical Festival, boy's solo, Grade 1.
In the days of Major Bowes amateur contests when Russ was just a lad, the Manitoba finals one year were held at the Viridian theatre. The adjudicator, a professional entertainer for the overseas troops during the First World War, was the manager of Brandon's Strand Theatre. In a class of more than 50 contestants, Russ Gurr, singing his own fist original composition placed first.
He married Phyllis Hunter of Lenore and they have four children. The family members all love music, but Sherrill, a pianist is the only one of the four who is a vocal soloist.
Russ Gurr has been a valued choir member since he was 16, singing in the Hamiota United Church choir until he moved to Brandon in 1949, then joining the Knox United choir under the leadership of Mrs. Muriel Bain. He is still there in the tenor section.
For some 15 years, Russ was an attraction at the Brandon Hills picnic which has been an annual event since about 1885. The picnics were famous in the days of Nellie McClung who mentioned one in her book "Clearing in the West."
In 1962, Russ flew to the Yukon on a singing tour and was heard in churches, hospitals, schools, a skating rink, a convent and in mining centres.
One day while singing in a Dawson City hospital corridor, the Mother Superior and a priest approached him. "We have a patient who is very low," said the Mother Superior. "She is requesting that you sing a verse of The Lord is my Shepherd."
Russ gladly complied. As he softly began the song, a hush fell over the whole hospital. Not a whisper was heard as he sang "Yea though I walk in death's dark vale Yet will I fear none ill, For Thou art with me..." Russ never tires of telling this story and always ends happily "And she recovered too."
For two months every summer, Russ Gurr tours the four western provinces and western Ontario where he entertains at fairs, rodeos, stampedes and, in 1971, at many Saskatchewan homecoming celebrations.
He is accompanied by a group of musicians, The Western Union. They travel in a fully equipped van and are sponsored by Federal Grain Limited. Their 1971 itinerary began in Saskatchewan in June, ending in August at Dawson Creek, B.C.
In 1970, Manitoba's Centennial year, Russ appeared at the Royal Command performance at the Winnipeg arena when 10,000 heard the CBC-produced national network program which was planned as a farewell to the Royal family in truly western style.
The two numbers he sang that July 15 were "Thresherman's Ball" and "You don't have to go to Switzerland." The highlight for Russ was the personal contact with the four members of Royalty who shook hands with the performers as they left the arena.
Queen Elizabeth complimented him on his voice. "Prince Charles shook hands with a real grip then said, 'You're a wonderful yodeller,'" Russ tells his friends. "Prince Charles and Princess Anne were warm and friendly too and chatted spontaneously."
The album which has proved so popular contains the two already mentioned as well as Brandon's theme song "The Blue Hills of Brandon." In addition there is "The City of Dauphin" which was on Dauphin's hit parade, "Bingo," a song Russ composed to honor his father and "Marlene Jackson," a song of an Indian princess.
The first 1500 albums travelling on a Gill transport van riding piggy-back on a freight train from Vancouver somehow jumped the track in the Rocky Mountains and plunged into Lake Abamun.
In spite of the work of insurance company divers, no more was heard of them until last summer. While touring Saskatchewan, Russ was surprised one day by a visitor who informed him that a diver friend had located one undamaged album and had given it to him.
Russ' second album (1500 Albums Down the Drain) is now being produced. One song is about his album loss. Another is entitled "Life History of the Province of Saskatchewan." In this, reference is made to a man-made mountain, a man-made lake, Gordie Howe, John Diefenbaker, Ernie Richardson, Rough Riders, RCMP and more.
He also hopes to produce this winter a sacred album, many times requested which will include such favorites as "The Holy City," "The Lord's Prayer," and "O Holy Night."
Russ Gurr has composed possibly a hundred songs. Those who already own his album are clamoring for another. The toe-tapping melodies grow on one and the words please Canadian patriots.
|Lorna Smith Column
Brandon Sun ~ circa 1972
Interviewing Brandon's country gentleman of song, Russ Gurr, is neither laborious nor monotonous. Discussing his career as an entertainer Russ speaks enthusiastically and as his story unfolds, it becomes apparent he enjoys his work and meeting the public. And because of his zestful personality Russ has steadily been building a national image with his Federal Grain tours.
In the summer of 1972 Russ and a backup band, "The Western Union," will make their seventh consecutive tour on behalf of Federal Grain Ltd., the largest publicly owned grain handling company in Canada. "The Federal Grain Train," as the group is known, consists of Russ and band members, Barry Forman of Rivers, Jake Kroeger of Rapid City, Bill and Sue-On Hillman from Strathclair, and until this past summer, Brandon drummer, John Skinner. On the '71 tour Kerry Morris of Strathclair accompanied the group as drummer when John was unable to go.
All members of the band sing while Barry plays electric bass, violin and accordion, Jake plays rhythm guitar and Bill plays lead guitar.
Russ Gurr first became associated with the grain company six years ago when Dennis Stephens, director of corporate relations for Federal Grain recognized the entertainer's value in their public relations area. Urged by them, Russ recorded an album entitled, "The Federal Grain Train" featuring 12 songs he had written personally. Recorded at Century 21 Studios in Winnipeg, 2,500 copies proved inadequate to meet the demand even before it was released commercially. At this time, Rodeo, one of Canada's top recording firms, entered the picture and rushed the release of both the album and the single of the same name. At latest count the long play had risen to number four in a Canadian survey of Top 50 albums recorded by International artists.
Presently Century 21 Studios is working on the production of Russ' second album which should be available by spring with a third album, one of sacred selections, planned for the future.
Renowned for his yodeling ability, Russ spoke of the intriguing talent. "The first yodeled I ever heard was a fellow named Bradley Kincaid on a Chicago radio station," he said. "His brand of yodeling was simple but impressive and I began to practice it.
The best place to practice yodelling is in the field on the tractor," the grain farmer-entertainer laughed "but it's not unusual for me to break the silence of the early morning if I'm practicing after everyone else has gone to bed.
"In order to be able to yodel a singer must be able to flip his voice an octave or two higher than his normal singing voice into falsetto," he explained. "If you can do that then all it requires is practice."
Entertainers such as Russ Gurr experience many exciting moments in their career and according to Russ, two highlights stand out in his mind.
"While performing at the Moose Jaw exhibition in July, 1970, I received a phone call from CBC producer, Larry Brown in Winnipeg asking me to represent country entertainers at the Command Performance given for the Royal Family at the Winnipeg Arena on July 15. Performing before the Queen and meeting the Royal Family was certainly a great thrill.
"Another highlight occurred this summer at our final show in Prince Albert," Russ continued. "I had always wanted to perform in that city as it is the home town of John Diefenbaker whom I know well, I had written a song entitled "Hail to Prince Albert" telling Mr. Diefenbaker's non-political life history and at our final show I was proud to have him come up on our stage and stand beside me as I sang the song."
For an entertainer who began his singing career as a Grade 1 soloist in the festival Russ has advanced steadily over recent years. Born in Arrow River and educated in Crandall, he and his wife, Phyllis, have four children, Wayne and Sherrill (Mrs. John Arrell), both married and living in Winnipeg, Barry, also married and running the family farm near Brandon and Patricia, a Grade 8 student at Earl Oxford school. All the children enjoy music though none are interested in it as a career.
A dedicated family man and respected entertainer who attracts an audience every time he begins to perform, Russ Gurr is creating more than a slight stir in the country music world.
|"BARD OF BRANDON" ENTERTAINS
Dateline... The Battlefords:
North Battleford, Saskatchewan
Tuesday, August 7, 1973
Close to 750 persons, including a visitor from Brazil, South America, Thursday, were treated to special selections of Canadiana, written, composed and sung by "The Bard of Brandon."
Russ Gurr -- recording artist, family man and farmer from the Brandon area of Manitoba was in North Battleford in conjunction with a Treflan sponsored field trip through the area.
A native of Manitoba, Gurr was born at a small place called Arrow River "On the 23rd Day" of December, although he declined to say what year.
Arrow River is now just an elevator stop, but "I'm still proud of it as being my birthplace" Gurr said, with the look of a travelling man in his eye.
Gurr has been on the road, crossing North America every year since 1961 when he toured the Yukon, and then in the following year he travelled across the Northwest Territories playing and singing for residents of the north.
Many of Gurr's self-composed hits are true and personal experiences.
The "38-year-old plus" artist who sings western-folk songs first recorded for Federal Grain Co., pressed 2,500 albums, but many of the albums never were seen by the general public as there were 1,500 Albums Down the Drain.
Part of Gurr's first album, entitled Federal Grain Train was being shipped to British Columbia when the train transporting the recordings was derailed and the 1,500 albums are now enjoyed by British Columbia salmon in Lake Abamun.
Gurr has written and recorded a song describing the fate of the Federal Grain Train album, and this song is among those on the On Tour With Russ Gurr album, which was recently released.
One of seven children, Gurr is married and the father of four, and a great lover of rock music.
"I think rock is beautiful music that only a musician could really appreciate because of the many chord structures it contains. It is quite evident that I am not of the rock age, but feel that this music permits everyone to get up and enjoy themselves, whether they know how to dance or not. A beautiful thing has happened with the advent of rock music, all of a sudden there aren't as many wallflowers as there were prior to rock music, and this is great to see. Before rock music arrived if a person didn't know the steps to a fox trot or even a waltz for that matter, they were just out of luck when it came to dancing, but now anyone and everyone can get up and dance," he said.
Gurr, a great admirer of little children and worshipper of God, describes himself as "sort of a perfectionist" and enjoys leading two different lives.
The musical side of life is "sort of a dream life, but the farming life is the best one I know and while I'm out in the field I'll always have a pencil and paper with me and often write down song ideas while I'm working," he said.
Gurr is currently working on his third album and is already planning a fourth, "that will be a religious album," he added, before packing up to move on to Wainwright, Alta., after a last minute change in plans altered the tour from the Lloydminster area, into Wainwright.
An Allis-Chalmers Publication
RUSS GURR, THE SINGING FARMER
Russ Gurr started singing as a youngster when he slopped the pigs, gathered the eggs and fetched the cows on his home farm at Lenore, Man.
"I began singing the day I was born," he told LANDHANDLER. "Even in public school the teacher would get me up to sing in front of the class. No piano. No guitar. Just me, singing."
In high school, Gurr had to sing what he called "good stuff". It was the "good stuff" that interested him in learning more about music. He took vocal lessons which taught him how to breathe, enunciate and pronounce words. "Things which I would never have learned just singing."
In the late 1930s, the W.R. Barn Dance Amateur Contest swept the prairies. Gurr attended all that he could, even some that meant driving 15 miles with a horse and sleigh through wind and snow to participate in these shows. Top Prize was $15.
"That was a lot of dough in those days," he said.
When the people came into the school room, town hall or wherever the contest was held, each was given a sheet of paper on which to vote for his favorite performer.
"Well, anyway, I knew one song and could yodel. This is what country folks loved," he reminisced.
Needless to say, Gurr walked away with his fair share of the top money. That year, the Manitoba Final was held in the Virden, Man. auditorium. "The first song I ever wrote, I sang on that stage."
Sang His Own Song
The adjudicator, he recalled, was an ex-farmer and member of the "Dumbbells" who performed for the soldiers during the First World War. With praise for each performer, he made Russ Gurr the champion.
From that humble beginning, Gurr moved to Brandon, Man. He then became actively involved in both federal and provincial politics and purchased a half section farm just outside of town. He has added to that first farm and now crops 2,000 acres along with his son, Barry.Gurr's ability to strum a guitar and sing has been known locally for years. He never refused to sing at a wedding or funeral. It wasn't until the mid-1960s that he became known to thousands across the prairies and Canada. It was through his contract with the now defunct Federal Grain Company, a large grain handling company, that his "Grain Train" song was released. For the last 7 years he has been under contract with Elanco to promote its line of herbicides and livestock feeds.
"I could spend one hundred per cent of my time singing and on tour but singing is a sideline," he said. Gurr writes his songs out of his experiences, about things that happen, and how his feelings are affected. "I like my songs to be filled with facts, then I add a few funny lines just to get the audiences with me.'
At the time of the LANDHANDLER visit, Gurr had just composed a song to celebrate 100 years of the settlement of Grand Valley -- the site first settled in the Brandon area. While researching the facts and people involved he ran across the phrase "jackmeat and pemmican," which referred to the main food available in that early settlement. So that was his theme. Then, he built the history around this chorus, added verses of romance and had his song.
When asked how he categorized himself, as a western or folk singer, he replied, "I'm a farmer. My first love is farming and that comes first."
The Gurr farm is known as "Lost Island Farm" because of the island located in the Assiniboine River beside the farmstead. The island is part of the farm but can't be worked. This year Gurr seeded 1,800 acres of sunflowers, rapeseed, flax, wheat, triticale and barley. Gurr and his son, Barry, do all the work. "Barry is a real good marketer. He stays right on top of the prices," Gurr said. "You have to if you're going to make money."
Standing beside his first Allis-Chalmers tractor, the 190, Gurr said, "This probably kept us with Allis-Chalmers. It is fitted with a turbocharger." Because of its good performance, a D21 tractor, deep tiller, double disc and Gleaner L combine have all been added. Walking through the machine lineup at the farm, Gurr said, "Perhaps you can say my third love is Allis-Chalmers."
NOTORIETY SURPRISES CROONING COWBOY
Ted Stone's Country Music Column ~ 22 papers across Canada ~ 1987
Despite the Urban Cowboy craze of the early 1980s, cities don't have much to do with the kind of country music Russ Gurr performs. Gurr, a Brandon area farmer, singer, and songwriter, finds the inspiration for his songs in livestock, grain fields, western pioneers, and other rural topics.
Gurr 68, has been singing for Manitoba audiences since the 1930s. For the last 25 years, he has performed regularly at fairs and conventions all across Canada. Gurr's music is eclectic. It ranges from classical to pop-country, but he's undoubtedly best known as the writer of songs such as Hogs Are Beautiful, Federal Grain Train, The Blue Hills of Brandon, The Thresherman's Ball, and You Don't Have To Go To Switzerland To Hear A Yodel.
Born on a farm near Arrow River, Man., Gurr displays a surprisingly relaxed attitude about his music. IN an age where professional singing usually means show business and a hunger for stardom, he has been content to let his music take himwhere it may. Despite training in classical music when he was young, Gurr insists that his musical success has been fortuitous. "I've never really tried to do any of it," he says. "All I've ever really wanted was to be a farmer."
Sometimes, Gurr seems genuinely surprised at the notoriety his music has brought him. "Everything has just been thrown at me," he says. "The records, the concerts, it just seems like I get a phone call and there it is." He claims he didn't even have to work at learning to yodel. "The fact is," he saays, "I was born yodelling. It's just something I've always been able to do."
Gurr says his guitar playing came about almost by accident. When he was 12 he wond one in a raffle. "I won it on a 25-cent ticket," he says. "I guiess I must have stolen the money to buy it because no kid back then had any money. Anyway, somehow it happened that I won that guitar, so naturally I had to take it home and learn to play it.
As a teenager Gurr entered amateur contests all over southwestern Manitoba, often arriving in a horse drawn sleigh. First prize, he says, was usually five dollars. According to Gurr that was a "lot of dough" for a kid in the '30s. The problem with the contests, from Gurr's perpective, was that while most were decided by a vote of the audience, a few were judged by a local school principal or doctor. If there was a local judge, Gurr says he always came in second, behind a home-town favorite. When popular vote decided the outcome, however, Gurr says he never lost. When he was 17 Gurr won the Manitoba provincial finals, and took home prize money of $15.
In 1939, Gurr married and settled down to raising a family and looking after a farm. But he kept playing his music, entertaining regularly at local fairs and dances, and singing classical material for weddings and funerals as well. IN the 1960s, sponsored first by Federal Grain Company, and later by the farm chemical company Eli Lilly,Gurr decided to take his act on the road. Since then, he has performed at concerts, fairs, and festivals all over Canada. He has also recorded three record albums -- Federal Grain Train, On Tour With Russ Gurr, and Hogs Are Beautiful. Once, in Winnipeg, he performed at a concert for the Queen.
These days, Gurr continues to treat his musical career with the same nonchalance he always has. He still performs regularly. A fourth album is nearly completed. "All I need to finish it is the vocals," he says. "But with the farm and whatnot, I just never seem to have the time to do it."
Alternate later article for different markets:
RUSS GURR IS A SINGING FARMER
"Hogs are Beautiful" on the hit parade
Ted Stone Column ~ February 1987
A few years ago, I was driving in my care, listening to my radio, when somebody came on the air singing a song called Hogs Are Beautiful. It was a country and western song, of course, and although the lyrics seemed tongue and cheek, at least on the surface, there was also something genuine about the tune that made me take notice.
After the song ended, the deejay said the record had been by "the singing farmer" -- Russ Gurr, from Brandon, Manitoba. Occasionally, since then, I've heard that song or others by Gurr played on the radio. A few weeks ago, while driving to Brandon for some other business I had to attend to, I heard the song again.
Since I was approaching Gurr's hometown, I decided to look him up and find out just who "the singing farmer" really was. I called Gurr and arranged a short meeting. Sure enough, he really is a farmer, a grain farmer. Gurr and his son Barry crop 21 quarter sections of land in the Brandon and Rapid City area. In addition to his farming, Gurr has been singing "on the side" for over fifty years.
Gurr told me he was born near Arrow River, Manitoba and grew up on farms near Crandall and Lenore. As for his music, Gurr says, "It just came to me naturally. I've never really tried to do any of it. All I've ever really wanted to be was a farmer."
I found Gurr's attitude about his music refreshing. In a day when professional singing usually means show business and a hunger for stardom, Gurr has been content to let his music take him where it may. Sometimes, he seems genuinely surprised at the notoriety his music has brought him. "Everything has just been thrown at me," he says. "The records, the concerts, it just seems like I get a phone call and there it is."
Gurr claims he didn't even have to work at learning to yodel. "The fact is," he says, "I was born yodeling. It's just something I've always been able to do." Gurr did take vocal lessons as a youngster, however, and in school recitals he was always the one the teacher called on to sing in front of class.
Gurr says his guitar playing came about almost by accident. When he was about 12 he won one in a raffle. "I won it on a 25 cent ticket," he says. "I guess I must have stolen the money to buy it because no kid back then had any money. Anyway, somehow it happened and I won that guitar, so naturally I had to take it home and learn to play it."
As a teenager Gurr entered amateur contests all over southwestern Manitoba. The prize was usually five dollars and according to Gurr that was a "lot of dough" for a kid in the '30s. When he was 17 Gurr won the Manitoba provincial finals and took home prize money of 15 dollars.
Within a few years, Gurr had married and settled down to raising a family and looking after a farm. But he kept playing his music, performing regularly at local fairs and dances, and singing at weddings and funerals as well. By the 1960s Gurr's fame began to spread. Sponsored by the now defunct Federal Grain Company, he started singing at concerts, fairs, and festivals all over Canada, and he produced the first of his three record albums. Once, in Winnipeg, he performed for the Queen.
In recent years, Gurr has kept his entertaining closer to home. He says he still never turns down a chance to sing at a wedding or funeral. A fourth album is nearly completed. "All I need to finish it is the vocals," he says. "But with the farm and whatnot, I just never seem to have the time to do it."
Gurr's music is electric (sic). It ranges from classical and pop-country to his own compositions about rural life, songs such as Federal Grain Train, Clean Seed, and I'm Proud To Be A Farmer. During my visit, Gurr seemed anxious to tell me about his career, but he kept coming back to the classical music he sings at weddings and funerals, the music he calls "the good stuff", as if it's somehow more worthy than his own tunes.
I suppose the songs Gurr sings in churches are technically more sophisticated, but I'm still most impressed with the tunes he has written himself, songs that spring from his own life on the Manitoba prairie. As I listened to his story, I suddenly wondered what sort of material Gurr had sang (sic) for the Queen, and I was glad when he told me it had been two of his own compositions, The Thresherman's Ball and You Don't Have To Go To Switzerland To Hear A Yodel. I'm sure the monarch was delighted. I'm a little sorry, though, that she didn't get to hear Hogs Are Beautiful.Ted Stone is a Manitoba based Freelance writer.
ON OUR STAGE
Back to the
Hillman Musical Odyssey Main Page
Back to the
BILL AND SUE-ON HILLMAN MAIN SITE
WebMaster: Bill Hillman
Bill and Sue-On Hillman Eclectic Studio
Photos and Text Copyright 2001/2004/2016