Music

Chips off the old rock

NICHOLAS JENNINGS June 8 1998
Music

Chips off the old rock

NICHOLAS JENNINGS June 8 1998

Chips off the old rock

Music

NICHOLAS JENNINGS

Clay Tyson has an impeccable musical pedigree. The only son of Canadian folk legends Ian and Sylvia Tyson, he was born amid the string of gold records and sold-out tours that his parents enjoyed through the 1960s. Before they separated in 1975, Clay had attended countless rehearsals and performances and watched many giants of the music world—including Jerry Lee Lewis and Willie Nelson—pass through the family house. As he recalled last week while sitting in a midtown Toronto café not far from where he grew up, a career of his own in music seemed only natural. But rather than follow his parents into folk or country, Tyson pursued punk and avant-garde pop. As bassist for the Look People, a satirical, Frank Zappa-inspired band of the 1980s, he sported only a loin cloth and a half-shaved head—much to his cowboy-father’s chagrin. Says Tyson, who shares his father’s rugged good looks: “He told me, ‘Son, if

offspring of an earlier generation of pop icons—including Bob Marley and John Lennon—came of age. And this summer in Canada, the music scene will feature a number of pop progeny. First off the mark is Rufus Wainwright, son of acclaimed folksingers Loudon Wainwright III and Montreal-born Kate McGarrigle, who has just released an exuberant, self-titled debut on the Los Angeles-based DreamWorks label. It will be followed soon by albums from Adam Cohen, son of Montreal native Leonard Cohen, and Tal Bachman, son of Winnipeg’s Randy Bachman of Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (Takin’ Care of Business) fame.

Having the right pedigree and last name certainly opens doors for young artists, but most of the Canadian offspring are wary of

you become a star looking like that, I’ll eat my hat.’ ”

His father’s Stetson is still intact, but Clay may yet become a star. Recently, the 31-year-old musician (now fully clothed and with hair grown out) turned his hand to songwriting and began showcasing his straight-ahead, acoustic urban ballads to appreciative Toronto audiences. Last week, he joined his mother in a special songwriting workshop presented by the Art Gallery of Ontario. And in the next few months, he begins work on his debut album, scheduled for release in September, joining a growing number of children of established folk and rock stars who are following in their parents’ footsteps.

The phenomenon really started in the mid-1980s, when

being too closely associated with their famous parents. Beyond linking his own Web site to those of his parents, Clay Tyson refuses to cash in on the family connection. “I don’t want to be judged like that,” he says. “I’m doing totally different music, so it’s apples and dumptrucks anyway.”

While the others all have majorlabel deals, Tyson, who shares his father’s distaste for the music industry, is going the independent route. “I guess I in-

herited a stubborn streak from him,” laughs Tyson, a former bike courier who pedalled to the interview in blue and yellow cycling gear. “I used to think that a record deal was the end of the rainbow, but after my experience with the Look People I’d rather do it myself and have more control.” Tyson adds that he plans to finance his coming album, which he estimates will cost $8,000, with earnings from his current part-time job as a theatrical set painter.

Adam Cohen has clearly benefited from a prestigious lineage— and a helping hand from his father. Signed to his dad’s Los Angelesbased company, Stranger Music, Adam scored a record deal with Columbia, which also happens to be his father’s label. However, the 25-year-old Cohen, who is due to release his self-titled debut in July, cannot help feeling pressure over the inevitable comparisons with his revered father. As an advance biography from his record company notes: “One might have expected Adam to enter into this project with considerable baggage, if not outright trepidation.” The son of Suzanne Elrod, commemorated in Leonard Cohen’s famous song Suzanne, he was born in Montreal and grew up in France, seeing his father infrequently. And fortunately, the younger Cohen has a warm, rich tenor voice to distinguish himself from his dad’s infamously dry, flat baritone. While he may not yet be a chip off the old block in the poetry department, darkly hypnotic ballads like Cry Ophelia and This Pain reveal a similar taste for songs of romantic despair.

Growing up in a musical household—with access to instruments, instruction and the whole atmosphere of music-making—has obvious advantages. Tal Bachman was only 2 when he began climbing

children, is now poised to release a buoyant collection of sunny, Beatlesque tunes on Columbia Records, assisted by noted Vancouver producer Bob Rock. Says his proud father, with obvious understatement: “Things have really gone his way.”

Wainwright, too, was steeped in music as a child. During a recent interview with Maclean’s, the openly gay 24-year-old recalled that his mother, who divorced his father in the late 1970s, influenced him by restricting the amount of television he could watch as a child. “There wasn’t a lot of hardware around our house when I was a kid,” he says, “so the piano became like my computer.” McGarrigle enrolled Rufus in piano lessons at 6. By 13, he was performing at folk festivals with her, his sister, Martha, and his aunt, Anna. The following year, he wrote and sang I’m a-Runnin for the film Tommy Trickerand the Stamp Traveller, which earned him both a Genie and a Juno nomination. Says McGarrigle: “Rufus had the chops very

early on, where he could control what was a really nice sounding voice. And he’s always been enthusiastic about music.”

Wainwright readily acknowledges that his parents gave him instant cachet with DreamWorks, which ultimately invested nearly $1 million in his ambitious recording. “My dad got my tape to [ producer] Van Dyke Parks who in turn got it to [DreamWorks presi-

up to the drum kit to have a bash during breaks at B.T.O. rehearsals. ‘Tally just always had this intuitive thing with music,” his father, Randy, recalls, “and a natural affinity for instruments. Everything he touched he could figure out how to play within an hour—piano, fiddle, bass and guitar. It was uncanny.”

At first, Tal opted for academics over music, attending Utah State University, where he studied political philosophy. But he dropped out in his final year, and later joined his father’s band when the drummer cancelled due to injury. He never looked back. While Randy toured with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1996, Tal used his father’s studio in White Rock, B.C., where Randy now lives, to record a demo tape of his own music. The following year, Randy took the tape around to various record companies in the United States. Vancouver-based Tal, 28, who is married and has four

dent] Lenny Waronker,” says Wainwright, fiddling with his family signet ring. “It also helped that Lenny Waronker signed my mother to Warner Bros, in the 1970s. He was a real fan of hers. So I came with a lot of family credentials.” But, he quickly adds, “I knew that because I had all these opportunities, what I did really had to be good.”

It is. Brimming with theatricality and wit, and steeped more in Tin Pan Alley and romantic opera than the folk music of his parents, the album is a stunning debut. “Rufus actually likes just about every kind of music but folk,” laughs McGarrigle, whose fondness for folksinger Paul Robeson is contrasted with her son’s love of opera star Maria Callas in the song Beauty Mark. Which may prove that while talent can be passed from parent to child, taste seems to be a strictly generational thing. □