Singer/songwriter Tom Wilson recently found out from a stranger that the couple who raised him were not his biological parents.
He also discovered that the person he’s always thought of as a cousin is really his birth mother.
Yet none of this potentially explosive knowledge rocked his life in any negative way — in fact, Wilson said it actually explained a lot of things.
The Blackie and the Rodeo Kings/ LeE HARVeY OsMOND singer, who performs on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer, said he always felt like an “outsider” while growing up as an only child to older parents, who are both now deceased.
His dad, George, was a former soldier who was blinded in the Second World War. He remembers his mom, Bunny, as a kind, quiet woman who didn’t have a large circle of friends outside the family.
He was raised in a loving home, yet there was always something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, said Wilson.
For one thing, he felt he looked different than most of his classmates — which was later explained by his birth mother’s Mohawk ancestry.
He also felt, somehow, apart from the other people he knew. “I always felt like the guy who didn’t belong— almost like there was a story that I didn’t know that everybody else knows.”
Two years ago, Wilson met a tour handler who inadvertently spilled the beans and told him the story.
She introduced herself as a big fan, and also as someone whose relatives knew his family in Hamilton really well.
She told the singer they were so close to his parents that they were there when he was brought home after being adopted.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I didn’t know anything about being adopted,” said Wilson.
He took a while to process this information but never doubted it, because suddenly parts of his past started making sense.
Eventually, he told an older cousin he had known all of his life about what he heard. She broke down in tears and confessed she was really his mother.
Wilson had to reconfigure his own history, based on this new knowledge, which he publicly revealed earlier this year on CBC Radio. But he believes he’s at peace with it.
“If I’d lived 53 years in a loving household with the most wonderful people on Earth, this opened my heart up to them even more.”
As for the cousin who is his birth mother, Wilson said he’s always had a close, loving relationship with her. She has always been a part of his life and will continue to be. “She knows my kids and my grandkids — which are her great-grandchildren.”
The biggest change is the new knowledge has helped him make better sense of things — such as why he became an artist in the first place.
“I do what I do for a living because I had to define myself to myself. Music became my creative outlet because I had the ability to perform,” said Wilson, who became a punk rock musician as a teen.
He’s had great success since, starting with the 1990s rock group Junkhouse, then the eight acclaimed albums he made with the Juno Award-winning roots rockers Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. Wilson continues on an upward trajectory with LeE HARVeY OsMOND, whose moody second album, The Folk Sinner, features guest vocals from Margo Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), Hawksley Workman, Colin Linden, Oh Susanna, Andy Maize, the Sadies and Paul Reddick.
“The fact that I spent a lifetime being an artist speaks volumes. I knew I wanted to do this ever since I was four years old. I’ve never wanted to do anything else with my life,” said Wilson, “and if I get hit by a car tomorrow, I will die as a writer of music and an artist — so it’s mission accomplished.”
He admitted he felt a little like “someone who wakes up lying beside someone he doesn’t know, wearing somebody else’s clothes” after telling his adoption story on public radio. But he isn’t sorry, because it’s finally his story to tell.
“People have been wanting to talk to me about it and the story is there,” said Wilson.
Although he’s had to slow down his touring schedule for health reasons, he added he always looks forward to returning to Red Deer to play.
This time it will be just him, his acoustic guitar, and his extensive catalogue of original music — including tunes he’s written for other artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Colin James, Lucinda Williams, Billy Ray Cyrus, Mavis Staples, The Rankin Family, as well as his own band Junkhouse, which scored 11 Top 10 hits.
Advance tickets are $20 (or $25 at the door) from Fratters, 53rd Street Music, or The Soundhouse Guitar & Record Shop. For more information, call 403-356-0033.