Back to the land of dreams

Every performer who tours this vast country from end to end has war stories to share. One of Johnny Reid’s tales of woe involves his first gig in Red Deer six years ago. The Scottish-Canadian country singer recalled, “We pulled up in this wee U-Haul truck we’d rented and here they’d booked us at the Arlington Hotel!”

Johnny Reid comes to Red Deer on Wednesday

Every performer who tours this vast country from end to end has war stories to share.

One of Johnny Reid’s tales of woe involves his first gig in Red Deer six years ago. The Scottish-Canadian country singer recalled, “We pulled up in this wee U-Haul truck we’d rented and here they’d booked us at the Arlington Hotel!”

The city’s century-old downtown inn made an instant impression on his band. “Holy cow! . . . Everybody looked at me as if to say, ‘Are we staying here?’” said Reid.

The Arlington Inn, which is now closed and slated for demolition, was certainly rustic, from its uneven floors, to its low ceilings and panelled walls.

“You could say it had character . . . I swung open one bedroom door and, I’m not kidding you, there was a calendar on the wall from 1981! I’ll never forget it, it had a horse on it,” said the 34-year-old, chuckling at the memory.

“You call it paying your dues, and I’ve had many years of paying my dues.”

But Reid, who’s since come up in the world (his next Red Deer gig is a Wednesday night concert at the Centrium), can now afford to savour his many successes.

The singer/songwriter was named the Canadian Country Music Association’s 2008 Top Male Artist of the Year and had the top-selling Canadian recording, Kicking Stones.

His newest release, Dance With Me, went gold in just 48 hours earlier this month. In fact, this album and two of Reid’s previous releases held three of the top-five spots on the Canadian country sales charts last week.

Not bad for someone who emigrated to Canada with his family at age 17.

Reid thanked his “tartan army” of fans and admitted, “For the Canadian Country Music Association to name me, someone who wasn’t even born in Canada, as their male vocalist of the year is extremely humbling.”

While Reid spent much of the last decade living in the U.S., where he operates a music production company in Tennessee, he sounds eternally grateful to this country for helping make his dreams happen.

“My mother and father left Scotland for better opportunities for my brother and I. . . . For me to be able to accept a national award and look out at my mom and dad, it just (confirms) that they made a good decision. That’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.

Reid still spends his summers in Ontario with his family because he thinks his children (two of his three sons are American) should know where their mother hails from.

“I tell people Canada’s like a big bowl of confetti, there are all these little pieces of different sizes, shapes and colours, but you throw them up in the air and it looks beautiful,” he said, referring to this country’s multicultural policies, which differ from the melting pot U.S.

“Maybe sometimes ignorance is bliss . . . but with all the different cultures, ethnicities and diversity in the world, to know other people is key, and there’s no better way to know them than when they’re living right next door to you,” Reid added.

As far as his own ethnicity is concerned, the singer admitted he still feels squarely Scottish. He spent all his formative years in Scotland and it was there that he first started writing down words. “My pockets used to be full of these little bits of paper and my Mom used to get after me because she’d put them through the laundry,” he recalled.

“But I kept on writing these wee poems and I guess they were my first songs.”

Dance With Me contains characteristically poignant love songs, based on Reid’s relationship with his wife. It also contains a tribute to someone Reid loved and lost, called My Old Friend.

The singer confessed the tune is about a yellow Lab named Wallace that he first got when he was a student. “He was there when I met my wife and when we got engaged. He was there for all three of our boys” — until the old dog finally got sick last year and a broken-hearted Reid had to take him on a one-way trip to the vet.

“He’s a dear friend of mine. He was my best friend,” said the singer, who had originally wanted to keep Wallace’s identity a secret so the song would have more universal appeal.

He hopes people in need will still obtain comfort from My Old Friend, regardless of who they lost.

Who: Country singer Johnny Reid, with special guests One More Girl

When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 1

Where: Centrium in Red Deer

Tickets: $39.50 or $29.50 plus service charges from Ticketmaster

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