Speaking over the phone with Dave Gunning, one can immediately tell what kind of artist he is.
He doesn’t mention the 10 albums he’s created since hitting the Eastern Canadian music scene back in ‘98. He doesn’t hint at the many (many) nominations he’s received from the East Coast Music Association. He speaks nothing of the roughly 16 awards he’s earned over the course of his 20-year dip into the music industry.
But when asked what his story is, he does say this:
“I’m not going to claim to have a story that’s any better than any of your readers.”
Gunning said he believes everyone has a story, and he hopes to zone in on that with his music. At his upcoming show at the Vic Juba Community Theatre this Thursday, he just hopes that he can allow a space to let people kick back, “think about their loved ones and family,” and “just become proud of who they are, when they’re sitting, listening, reflecting on the lyrics.”
Back to his story, though.
While he might be a little apprehensive in “selling himself,” as he puts it, undeniably, he is a folk singer and songwriter who has caught the attention of Canadians who are beginning to say his name in the same breath as many of the country’s greatest musicians; singers and song-writers that Gunning looks up to.
“David Francey, Stan Rogers, Lightfoot ... guys that write about real things,” he says. He’s inspired by people like that, and it’s reflected in his music and the things he writes about. Funny, then, how one of those idols took a shining to him; East Coast folk singer and songwriter Ron Hynes.
“He’d been inviting me to co-write with him for two or three years and I never followed up, ‘cause I was ... you know, sometimes, I get in the way of my own opportunities,” says Gunning.
It may have also been that Gunning had always looked up to Hynes, as an artist; maybe he was just too nervous to put himself out there for one of his idols. Whatever it was, even after Hynes told him not to be foolish, that they were all in this together, he still didn’t follow up. He says this with a bit of a guilty chuckle.
But it was one night in a Halifax bar that would change everything. “With his hat on and his swagger,” Hynes approached Gunning without a word. He just took a seat at the bar down the way from him, wrote on a piece of paper with a sharpie and slid it his way. “Read that,” he said. And the paper read “take a look at these hard working hands.”
Gunning had no idea what that meant, so Hynes spelled it out for him; the words he had written on that paper would become the inspiration for a song, come hell or high water, that they would write together.
“And that was my homework assignment from the Jedi, Ron Hynes, really,” said Gunning. Hynes had finally prodded him into a collaboration, and the song that would emerge, Hard Workin’ Hands, would go on to win first place in the Indie Interna- tional Song Contest.
“Take a look at these hard working hands.” It was one sentence that could have meant anything, but Gunning feels he has some idea of why Hynes chose them.
“He had this idea of older guys, men or women, who’ve earned the right to not have to say anything, you know?” says Gunning. “You know the kind I’m talking about – these strong, silent types, who might be an Albertan pea farmer who does it the old way ... or whether it’s an old fisherman or a welder, factory worker, whatever ... the idea was that, if you want to know about me, just look at my hands (and you can see that) I’ve had a good, honest, hardworking life.”
When asked if he’d ever get there, to the point where he’d be a man with many years behind him, with the wisdom and experience to show for it, he has no idea. He just says, “well, my hands are embarrassingly soft, these days.”
But with the calloused fingertips, he can, of course, unscrew a hot light bulb without feeling it. “I’m just kind of enjoying the journey and I certainly don’t take any of this for granted,” he says. “And I feel extremely lucky to be able to travel around and play music for a living.
“I think I’ve been sort of working on the craft of songwriting and storytelling. The live shows have evolved. Hopefully people will see something that they didn’t quite expect to see. I’m a folk song-writer, but I enjoy performing and seeing people have a good time.”
Gunning will be playing at the Vic Juba Community Theatre this Thursday at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $38 for regular admission and $5 for students and can be bought at the box office, on vicjubatheatre.ca, or over the phone at 780-872-7400.