Decades ago, a young Dick Damron hopped on a train to Nashville to try to jump start his country music career.
The long ride from Lacombe to Tennessee included an overnight stop in Winnipeg. Since the cash-strapped Bentley native didn’t have enough money for a hotel, he spent the night at an all-night movie theatre.
When Damron finally showed up to meet the record industry brass, he’d freshened up by donning a formal suit and bow tie.
He was an oddity to the casually dressed Nashville execs, who eyed him curiously, said local filmmaker Harley Hay, who heard this story while co-producing a documentary on Damron’s life. “They said, ‘OK, we’ll see what you can do. …’ ”
And Damron showed them, all right.
Over the span of his 32-year recording career, he put out 25 albums and 500 songs — many later covered by Charley Pride, George Hamilton IV, Carroll Baker and other big-time country artists.
Among Damron’s best-loved hits are Jesus It’s Me Again, Countryfied, Rise ’n’ Shine, The Long Green Line, Mother Love and Country, Susan Flowers, Silver and Shine, Whiskey Jack, Honky Tonk Angels and Good Ol’ Boys and Good Ol’ Time Country Rock ’n’ Roll.
Now in his 80th year (and 54th as a country artist), the Central Albertan has been repeatedly honoured by the Canadian Country Music Association, won a 1984 Juno, and was inducted into both the Canadian and International Country Music Halls of Fame.
Last year, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) recognized Damron, along with Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings. David Foster and Bryan Adams, for protecting Canadian songwriters’ rights. He was also given a spot in the Canada’s Recording Legacy Music Industry Hall of Fame.
But one of his greatest legacies could turn out to be a feature-length documentary being made of his life and career by Calgary-based filmmaker Richard Harrow of HB Media Inc. and Hay of Harley Hay Studios.
The project sprang from video footage from a Dick Damron and Friends tribute concert organized by his Calgary supporters. The 2009 show featured performances by many country artists who owed Damron a debt of gratitude for their recording success with his material. Such “heavy hitters” as Pride, Hamilton, Baker, Ronnie Prophet, The Good Brothers, Michelle Wright, Patricia Conroy and Joan Kennedy performed his songs.
Damron was touched by this honour, and later took some of filmed footage from the concert to Harrow to ask for his help in editing it for YouTube viewing.
Harrow saw the potential for much more than online videos. “We knew we could do something more with it. … There was a story to be told,” said the former Red Deer resident, who brought his friend Hay on board to co-produce a documentary on Damron.
The two are making The Long Green Line, named for the artist’s signature song about the hardships of making it in the country music business.
In the first 25 minutes, the affable Damron regales viewers with tales of his early days — such as his train trip to Nashville, and the time he sent some songs on spec to a recording company. (The label ended up pressing them onto records and sending them out to radio stations, unbeknownst to Damron, who hadn’t yet even signed a contract.)
“We really have quite a wealth of material. He’s such as storyteller — and he’s not getting any younger,” said Hay, who wants to preserve Damron’s contributions for future generations.
Harrow believes CBC or CMT might be interested in the film. The TV stations are on a list of potential buyers he intends to approach for the funding needed to finish the 60-to-90-minute documentary — which will entail the filmmakers flying to Mexico in April to interview Damron about his 2002 stroke and remarkable recovery.
Harrow, a former musician with The Original Cast (of One Tin Soldier fame), has moved in the same circles as the Bentley singer/songwriter since the mid-1960s, when he opened for Damron at a performance at Red Deer’s Westerner Days exhibition. And he has always been impressed by his down-to-earth manner.
“Dick is not only a very nice man, he’s also very humble. He’s been that same character as long as I’ve ever known him. If there was a Canadian Willie Nelson, that’s what Dick’s like,” said Harrow.
Despite all of his accolades, including honours in Europe and Texas, Damron has never forgotten where he came from. While he spends much of his time in Mexico, he still regularly returns to Bentley to perform at the Monkey Top Saloon, where he’s also known to have lunch.