When the Tragically Hip formed in 1983, singer and frontman Gord Downie, bassist Gord Sinclair and guitarist Rob Baker, were students at Queen’s University. But the three musicians already knew each other from their high school days at Kingston Collegiate, where drummer Johnny Fay was still studying at the time. As well as adding the younger Fay, they also added Davis Manning, a saxophone player from British Columbia. Davis was older than the others and had experience playing professional gigs, however, Manning left the band in 1986 and a second guitarist, Paul Langlois - living in the same house as Baker, Downie and Sinclair, at the time - joined the band. The band started to gain popularity playing at the pubs on Queen’s University Campus and became known as the campus’ favorites. After securing steady gigs at The Lakeview Manor in Kingston, - a strip joint by day, and a Rock’n Roll night club by night - the Tragically Hip was ready to start playing Toronto gigs. However, it was when MCA records president Bruce Dickenson saw them perform at the famous Horseshoe Tavern, on Queen Street in Toronto, that The Tragically Hip got their big break. They would go on to become one of Canada’s premier Rock, Pop, Pop-Rock, Country Music, and Alternative bands.
Canada recently, and sadly, bid farewell to this superstar band in what was billed by Media as their “Final Tour”. But, was this the “Final Tour” for the Tragically Hip? Not officially. The Band shocked fans on May 24th, when it announced that the group’s vocalist and frontman, Gord Downie was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. However, the Band’s announcement was simply meant to convey to fans that, in light of Gord Downie’s recent diagnosis, the Hip’s upcoming tour “could well be their last tour”. Stating that Gord is “fighting hard” and how the Tour “feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.” Media sources report that Gord Downie has undergone treatment, responding well to radiation and chemotherapy, but Doctors at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center are not very optimistic about Downie’s prognosis. This is due to the fact that Gord has an aggressive form of cancerous brain tumor (known as ‘glioblastoma’) that is not considered curable.
The Tragically Hip began their recent tour - to promote their new album - ‘Man Machine Poem’, in July in Victoria, British Columbia, and drew tens of thousands of fans throughout their fifteen performances across Canada, with a staggering 11.7 million Canadians - roughly onethird of the population - reportedly tuning-in to watch the last of their tour’s 15 performances televised on CBC from the K-Rock Center in Kingston, Ontario, Canada on August 20, 2016. Even the Prime Minister of Canada was on hand to enjoy the show, in a proud display of the their Nation’s recognition and support. The concert, already recognized as the second most watched event in Canada’s history, with only one other event ever having recorded more viewers (the 2010 Gold Metal Winter Olympics’ Men’s Hockey Tournament between Canada and the United States). Clearly, there can be no doubt that Canadians love Gord and The Tragically Hip.
The Band has received 14 Juno Awards and had nine No.1 Singles (Eleven hit Singles in Canada), and have been the recipients of numerous awards from 1990 until 2006, ranging from Most Promising Group, Canadian Entertainer of the Year 1991 and 1993, Group of the Year 1995 and 1997, Album of the Year 1997, and awards for Best Album Design, Best Single, and Best Music DVD of the Year 2006. With Gord Downie as frontman, guitarist, and vocalist, Tragically Hip, one of Canada’s most loved bands, offers a diverse style of music. The Tragically Hip also create innovative lyrics and music arrangements that are part of the nuanced Canadian music accent, with a hint of blues woven into the Tragically Hip’s signature rock pop beat. Gord Downie played down the lack of interest in the Tragically Hip in the U.S. in his usual laid-back manner and confident way. He indicated in a recent Rolling Stone Magazine interview that the Tragically Hip was unaffected by this. To Canadians, the Tragically Hip is much more than the country’s most famous band. They’ve become a legend among musicians internationally. One of the reasons Canadians are so enthused by the Tragically Hip is due to lyrics that strike a deep note within the national spirit of all Canadians: the ability to put into words the deepest feelings and observations of Canada’s history, land, water and demographics. This is bolstered by Gord Downie’s unique minimalistic, poignant vocals. For example, the lyrics to “Save the Planet”, from their album “Phantom Power”, allude to individuals who do nothing about the environment in which they live. Their album, “Fully Completely”, contains a song “Wheat Kings”, in which Downie takes his lyrics to a dark place, hinting at deep-rooted national issues.
As one of Canada’s most loved bands, not even the finality of a ‘Last Tour’ can dampen Canadian pride in the Tragically Hip’s accomplishments. Part of the reason the music industry has recognized the value of the aesthetic quality of the band’s music is due to the need to expose rock, pop-rock, alternative, blues, and country music lovers to a more qualitative sound and quantitative lyric value. Tragically Hip’s ability to spotlight Canadian culture, history, and art as a truly unique culture, is what the band’s music style does best. The band has created a Canadian music enigma that draws out of music lovers the need to focus on deeply meaningful lyrics. Unlike the folkies’ lyrics of the 60s and 70s, each line of the band’s lyrics, punctuated by Downie’s half-rant, half-soulful vocals, offers a familiar and meaningful message Canadian fans are drawn to with each Hip concert performance. This was proven as far back as July 1996, during their “Edenfest” tour where over 70,000 tickets were sold and another 20,000 uninvited fans attended, most of whom hopped fences or crept past Edenfest security at various points around the Mosport Park concert site. Their most recent record breaking 11.7 million viewers is proof that the popularity of the band ranks them as one of Canada’s most beloved bands of all time.
The Tragically Hip’s popularity isn’t limited to young adults. Their music is appreciated by a diverse age group, most of whom retain the lyrics to the recordings on their library of albums. In 2004, the band provided half-time entertainment at Ottawa’s Frank Clair Stadium for the 92nd Grey Cup championship. In 1992, the band’s “Up to Here” was recognized as a Canadian Music Industry “Diamond Certified Album” which sold over one million CDs, tapes, or LPs. The Great White North and its Music Industry recognition is yet another example of why the Tragically Hip’s status as one of Canada’s most beloved bands, remains intact.
As busy as the band may be, band members have always honored their commitment to give back in kind. Beginning with a performance in their hometown of Kingston, “The Hip,” as they are often referred to by Canadian fans, has also brought a deeper awareness of Canadian culture by uniting the country in a diverse music style that reminded the city of Toronto of its struggle with historic racism, the sad story of Maple Leafs’ player, Bill Barilko, and the murder of Quebec’s Deputy Premier, Pierre La Porte, during the crisis of 1970. Other contributions of one of Canada’s most loved bands to Canada’s music industry include numerous single recordings. Their willingness to use music as a force of energy helps Canadians discover their deepest roots. In their recording, “New Orleans is Sinking,” the lyrics tell of the gradual sinking of New Orleans. Yet, when Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans, the Hip immediately pulled the long standing record from circulation out of respect for the victims of the disaster. The band also took part in “Another Roadside Attraction” tour in the 90s which raised money for charity. It was with heavy hearts that fans recently said goodbye to Canada’s most loved band, but they remain optimistic that Gord Downie and The Hip, aren’t finished yet!
As one of Canada’s most prolific performing bands with an edgy music style, the Tragically Hip’s recordings since being signed with MCA in the 80’s include these best-selling albums: