One last go-round for the Travelin’ Man

When Canada’s country gentleman Tommy Hunter says he’ll really miss his cross-country tours after his last farewell concert wraps up, he’s not just feeding you a line.

Tommy Hunter has seen a lot of Canada in his long career

Tommy Hunter has seen a lot of Canada in his long career

When Canada’s country gentleman Tommy Hunter says he’ll really miss his cross-country tours after his last farewell concert wraps up, he’s not just feeding you a line.

For one thing, he clearly enjoys the media phoners he does to promote his concerts, drawing one interview with a Vancouver newspaper reporter out 20 minutes into the next scheduled interview time with the Advocate.

Hunter later apologizes profusely for the delay, saying he hadn’t talked to the Vancouver reporter for about five years and they were just catching up.

“He has a child now and we were talking about kids, and the conversation was going in various interesting directions. . . . It was fun to talk to him. I couldn’t get off the phone,” said Hunter, who seems genuinely interested in other folks.

That’s the trouble with his decision to stop touring across Canada after he goes west one last time this spring and east early in 2012.

(Hunter makes his final Red Deer appearance on April 16 for two concerts at the Memorial Centre.)

“I’ll miss all the people,” said Canada’s 74-year-old Travelin’ Man.

And he’s not just talking about the fans he signs autographs for, but the reporters he’s built a rapport with over the years, the box office people he remembers from each town, and all the various arena and hotel managers. “There’s the people at the theatre that assisted you in getting a show on the stage, and all the technical staff. . . .”

And then there are the memories triggered by each port of call.

Hunter can still remember coming to Red Deer in December 1957 to help open the local television station, CHCA-TV (later RDTV), which has since closed. “I was up in the office of the head honcho and he had a sauna and shower upstairs,” the singer recalled.

He jumped in to take a shower when he dropped the soap. While bending to pick it up, he burned his “tush” on the hot sauna walls.

“I left part of my butt in that sauna!” said Hunter, who after a couple of painful performances, began thinking that he should have a doctor look at the burn.

Unfortunately for him, the hotel’s doctor-on-call turned out to be a female physician with a bedroom voice, and Hunter couldn’t bear the thought of dropping his undershorts for an examination. “For me, it was a delicate subject,” said the singer, whose posterior ended up healing on its own.

He remembers other, less traumatic stops in Red Deer, such as the time he decided to stay in his motor home at the Lion’s Campground near the Red Deer River instead of a hotel.

“I have fond memories of that visit. I stayed there and met the people next to me and we became good friends. . . . ”

It’s hard to imagine, added Hunter, that pretty soon “you’re singing the last song and saying goodbye to people for the last time. You’re never going to see them again . . . I know it’s going to be very emotional for me.”

So why retire at all — especially since touring only takes up a month or two of his entire year?

Hunter, who first started performing on TV in 1956 on the CBC television show Country Hoedown and began his own Tommy Hunter Show in 1960, said he wants to go out on a high, while he’s still performing at the level folks expect.

“I want people to say, ‘Gee, he can still sing great and play the guitar, I wish he wouldn’t say goodbye,’ ” said the singer.

While he never intends to tour cross-country again after March 2012, when he turns 75, Hunter doesn’t rule out playing the odd show at casinos now and again, “if they want me.”

The three-time Juno award winner was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1984. In 1986, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada, and a street, Tommy Hunter Way, was renamed in his honour in his hometown of London, Ont.

Hunter, who enjoys spending time reading — especially the Bible — promises not to disappoint fans during what will likely be their last chance to see him perform live. His final cross-Canada concerts will include popular songs such as You Are My Sunshine, I’ll Fly Away, Amazing Grace, Man of 87, King of The Road, Daisy A Day and his signature song, Travelin’ Man.

His performances will even close with a reading. Like his old television show, it will evoke a kinder, gentler time.

Hunter thinks it might be the all-time fan favourite — about a mom who counters her son’s bill for taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn with her own bill. “It says, for the nine months I carried you, no charge, for all the love and understanding, no charge. . . .”

Who: Canada’s legendary country singer Tommy Hunter

When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday, April 16

Where: Memorial Centre, Red Deer

Tickets: $49.80 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre