We Have Lost A Legend 

It is hard to find the words that might adequately describe the deep sense of loss and utter sadness that Ellen and I feel today.

We learned early this morning that our dear friend and Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame member Johnny Burke passed away.

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Johnny Burke performing at The Loft in Newcastle, Ontario

I first met Johnny at a surprise birthday party for my wife Ellen. I am the self-described poster boy for introverts. Ellen is almost the polar opposite. I found myself in a house filled with people who by and large I did not know so I found a comfortable spot on a piano bench from which I could quietly survey the partying. Before long I was joined by a man who like me found himself in a room full of strangers. We introduced ourselves over a handshake. “Hi, I’m Johnny.” Simple, quiet and easy. We watched the party play out before us. I think we exchanged some small talk but not a lot. As it turned out there would be lots of conversations with Johnny over the many following years.

HADDEN Ian with Ellen Johnny and Teresa Burke April 2000

Ellen (far left) at her birthday party with Teresa and Johnny Burke along with yours truly

Over the years Ellen and I have enjoyed the company of Johnny and his wife Teresa through many special occasions, especially Johnny’s many concerts. We would visit Johnny and Teresa at their home in Newcastle, Ontario where Johnny had built a home ‘concert hall’ called The Loft. There Johnny would perform sometimes in a solo concert but usually with a notable friend from the country music scene. It was there that we met and spent time with notables George Hamilton IV from the Grand Ole Opry and Larry Mercey, a Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer as a member of the Mercey Brothers group. We spent one particularly memorable weekend at their home in Haliburton, Ontario where we enjoyed meals and a concert by Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame members the Good Brothers (Bruce, Brian and Larry). There wasn’t anyone in country music that didn’t know and admire Johnny Burke. He played with them all in a career dating back to about 1960 when he left his native New Brunswick and headed off to Nashville.

Through the late 1960s and early 1970s, Johnny lead the Caribou Showband and hosted the television series At The Caribou. Johnny and his band evolved into the still ever popular Johnny Burke and Eastwind. In 1977, they recorded Wild Honey, Johnny’s signature song which became a gold record and one of the most played country records in Canada through the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Well deserved recognition soon followed for Johnny and in 2005 he was inducted into the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame. Ellen and I decided early on that we needed to be there to bear witness to our friend being inducted into a Hall of Fame so, we made the drive to Moncton where I was honoured to be part of the ceremony by presenting a tribute to Johnny on behalf of the Province of Ontario signed by then-Premier Dalton McGuinty. Johnny of course made the most of the trip by performing at some of the towns around Moncton and as I was there, he put me to work as a roadie. When we last saw Johnny and Teresa, just a short while ago, we were still chuckling about that ‘tour.’

HADDEN Ian as Johnny Burke NB hall of fame roadie 2005

Yours Truly, the roadie

In 2010, just days after Ellen and I attended a special concert marking Johnny’s 50th anniversary in country music, when I ended up in the hospital paralyzed by GBS, Johnny and Teresa were at my bedside to ensure I was okay and lend support to Ellen. When Johnny informed us in 2012 that he had received the call informing him that he was to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Ellen and I again quickly decided that we needed to be there to witness that special honour as well.

Where Johnny was able to facilitate our attendance at his induction in New Brunswick fairly easily (I think), getting into the Canadian Hall of Fame induction ceremony was much more challenging. It is not a public event, rather it is closed to country music industry members only. It is a really big show. Somehow I was able to convince the Canadian Country Music Association that in addition to being a good friend of Johnny’s, I was a music consultant. My rationale was simple: Johnny and I had discussed his music, his songs. Therefore, he had consulted with me. It worked and so we made the drive to Saskatoon to join Johnny and become members of his posse.

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Johnny Burke (centre wearing the brown hat) with his posse at his Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame induction, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, September 2012

 

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Ellen Hadden with Johnny Burke, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 2012

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Johnny Burke with fellow Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer Michelle Wright, induction ceremony reception, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 2012

BOURQUE Johnny and Teresa at Hall of Hame Induction Saskatoon SK Sept 2012

Johnny Burke with his wife Teresa, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 2012

Johnny experienced serious health problems over the last number of months of his life but he remained as popular as ever to his fans and admirers. Even when he was showing signs of serious illness, Johnny somehow was able to muster the strength and expend the stamina, beaming his trademark smile, to put on a show for hundreds who would come to hear him perform.

I will miss his phone calls early on each of my birthdays. I will miss that wry smile and wink he so freely shared. I will miss his attempts to teach me how to play the bass guitar (not as much as he won’t miss my frustration at not getting it!). But most of all, I will miss a very good friend and the world will miss a LEGEND!

Rest In Peace, Johnny.

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Johnny Burke, Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, inductee, 2012

 

 

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9 thoughts on “We Have Lost A Legend 

  1. My condolences, Ian. What a nicely written tribute to your good friend. Going by your description of Johnny, he was a good Canadian – a good man.

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  2. Thank you for this lovely tribute to my brother. Johnny was such a “good guy”, besides being such a great entertainer.My siblings and I often remark on his similarity with our dad. Pure goodness! Had a last visit with him about a week ago,
    And as much as we knew he was going to leave us, last evening’s call, was like a brick thru the heart! We will miss him terribly. Known him all my life, will miss him all my life.
    One of his 5 sisters, 7 brothers. We were 13, now only 12!

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  3. A wonderful tribute Ian and it made me wish that I had goy yo know him a lot better than I did! We folks in Haliburton were very proud to be able t brag that he lived among and felt very privileged to be able to attend some of the wonderful concerts that he hosted at his home here. Haliburton has lost a good friend and generous contributor to our country music scene. He will truly be missed by all of us who were fortunate enough to shake his hand. May you enjoy meeting, playing and singing with all the great legends who have passed through those pearly gates ahead of you Johny and God bless!

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  4. we the chambers family are all heartbroken today and will never forget that wonderful man.he has left a precious mark in all our lives. rolly played with johnny when he first came to Toronto and remained great friends ,our son Darrell became part of jahnnys band when he was 21.he made my son a better man.he then had our daughter cheryle sing with him on many occasions..he has a piece of all our hearts.will never be forgotten.the chambers family,

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  5. When Dick Nolan went out west with Carl Smith for a short tour, the Horseshoe Tavern Hired me to replace him for a week. While there, Johnny showed me an old Martin guitar from the thirties that he had. He told me that Johnny Cash wanted to buy it for $5,000, but he wouldn’t sell it. I met Johnny a few times since then, and he always had a smile. RIP Johnny.

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    • I met Johnny during one of his tours here with a country show- I believe Bob Lucier was on steel-,,Byron Barron on fiddle ,, He was very pleasant , and a great bass player- true blue country- so sorry for his passing- I`m sure he had a lot of musician friends here in NFLD—we did talk here on facebook too—RIP Johnny– God Speed-

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  6. i met johnny in 1975. i went with his band members roddy lee, brian barron to see the band do their live t.v. show called the ( the funny farm ) freddy weller was there to do an appearance on the show. i played with the three of them many a time over the yrs. after that. yes johnny was a real country gentleman. a great singer&song writer who was loved by all his country fans. he was also inducted into the canadian country music hall of fame. r.i.p in peace johnny burke .

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