Musician J.P. Cormier was simply meant to sing, perform, write music and most of all, communicate. There was no other road to explore, and fans will have a chance to hear that flat-out commitment to crafting superb tunes when he performs at Fratters on April 15th.
A 30-year veteran of the biz, Cormier is also a Juno Award nominee and multiple ECMA winner, but one gets the distinct feeling that recognition has never been at the heart of what compels him to do what he does. During his stop in the City, folks will be able to hear what contributes to his sheer power as an artist, conveyed through an array of tunes. There will be new material too – his latest project, The Chance, is released this month as well.
He was born in London, Ontario to a pair of Cape Bretoners who’d gone west looking for work. According to Cormier’s bio, his dad worked himself into the grave when Cormier was eight.
His mother and four brothers followed the eldest brother to Bridgewater, where they hoped to find work at the Michelin plant.
But Michelin was laying people off, and Cormier and his mom ended up on welfare. And that could’ve been the end of the story had the producers of a TV show called Up Home Tonight not discovered his formidable musical talent and made him a regular on the show when he was 13. He’s really never looked back since.
“I started playing the guitar when I was five.” He had no lessons. “I just picked it up by myself – it’s a God-given talent. So there was really no defining moment for me – I was born this way.”
Also fueling his passion and his skill were formative years in Nashville backing up legends and playing the Opry.
“When I was 15, I hitchhiked to the United States, way down to Alabama. I lived there, and worked in Nashville for 10 years.”
There, he played with legends such as Waylon Jennings, Marty Stuart, Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe; he also appeared at the Grand Ol’ Opry more than two dozen times; and became the mandolinist for the Sullivan family.
Then, in the mid-1990s, he returned to his ancestral home of Cape Breton to marry and launch a solo career. “I married a woman from my father’s hometown,” he said.
“I didn’t want to leave Nashville, she talked me into it.”
But returning north did nothing to diminish his output or raw creativity. “By 1997 I had made my biggest selling album – Another Morning.” It reached platinum and some of the cuts charted in Europe as well as Canada. “I was a reluctant star. I’ve always enjoyed being a side-man, but I’ve worked with some of the greatest front men in the world.”
Over the years, Cormier’s records and performances have earned a Juno nomination, 13 East Coast Music Awards and a Canadian Folk Music Award and he was the subject of a nationally-televised documentary on Bravo.
Meanwhile, a song entitled Hometown Battlefield, first posted to his facebook page last March, is a song about what happens after the war – vets fighting and dying from post-traumatic stress disorder. It landed hundreds of thousands of hits on his facebook page in the first two weeks.
“There’s almost a million now on YouTube as well, and another couple million on my fan page. It’s been shared 70,000 times,” he said.
Cormier has received thousands of letters from vets who are grateful for the song.
Nearly a year later, dozens still write to him each week. The lyric video is made entirely of personal photographs they sent him.
“It’s all you can really hope for when you are doing this sort of thing a living – you hope that something you do matters.”
Now Cormier, who did his own brief tour in Afghanistan – as a musician – is launching the full album from which the single derives.
He’s also asserted his instrumental dominance by winning the Canadian Open Guitar Championship, the Southern U.S. Fiddle Championship and the Southern U.S. Banjo Championship.
“I see the world through music,” he explains. And ultimately, he doesn’t care where he lives. “As long as I can get to my gig I don’t care where I’m living.”
As for what continues to keep him fired up and so focused on the day-to-day journey of making music, it really boils down to that rich back-and-forth relationship with audiences.
“I think it’s the connection between me and an audience. It’s probably cliché, but in all honestly that’s the only pay-off.” It’s a downright need, actually.
“I need that recharge – I need to get in front of an audience in the worst way when I’m away from it for awhile.”