George Canyon Biography
Last updated: 12/15/2012 09:54:53 AM
George Canyon doesn't make any excuses for himself. He doesn't make excuses when things go wrong or brag when they don't. He knows how it feels to work hard, to sacrifice without complaint and to feel a quiet responsibility toward those who have sacrificed on his behalf. He's comfortable with his faith, his family, and in his own skin.
In a word, he's got character -- a quality that's as important in country music as it is in politics.
America saw it in his rise to the finals in last year's Nashville Star. And the world will feel it throughout One Good Friend, the album that completes his journey into the spotlight.
It began in Nova Scotia, not far from the wild Atlantic coastline. Growing up, George saw forests and fields outside his bedroom window; a hint of ocean mist dampened the piney air. And everywhere, in the bars that drew men from the lumber mills and fishing boats, in family gatherings, in the rhythms of trains and the whistle of the wind, there was music.
Celtic roots run deep in this part of Canada, where Ashley MacIsaac and his cousin Natalie MacMaster first resined their bows. There's country too, going back to the great Hank Snow and his songs of restless travel. From these influences George came to believe that a song should take listeners to maybe a better place.
"I grew up listening to Charley Pride, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley," he says. "It was all just music to me; I didn't think in terms of genre. But folk, country, and Celtic music all seemed to suit my voice, which was fine because that's where you find the songs that tell stories -- and that's huge for me."
His parents built him a three-quarter-sized acoustic guitar and taught him the essential chords when he was five years old. By fifth grade he had made his debut at the school variety show, singing "The Rose" and "A Hard Day's Night." Music was already a big part of his life; he had his dreams about tooling down the road with a band in their tour bus. But another dream stirred him more deeply.
"I wanted to join the Air Force and learn how to fly," he remembers. "I built model aircraft and hung them everywhere in my room. I had pictures of planes all over the wall. And so, when I was twelve, I joined the Air Cadets."
In Canada the Cadets -- Air, Sea and Army -- offer a first step toward children of age who want a military career. "I was so proud to wear the uniform," George says. "To me, that was it. I remember polishing my boots for hours."
He might have gone from his first glider lessons all the way to the Air Force had fate not intervened. At age fourteen George was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. At that time Canadian law prohibited diabetics from obtaining a pilot's license, so in one moment a future filled with needle injections replaced his ambitions to fly. Bitter news -- yet George dealt with it as he would deal with other challenges that lay ahead.
"Because both my parents worked in health care, and because my grandmother had diabetes, I knew what was going on. A nurse gave me my first injection, and from then on I did it myself. I wasn't depressed. I accepted what the Lord had given me; I knew there had to be reasons. I stopped the Air Cadets because there was no longer a purpose to it. And I decided to become a doctor so that I could help people with this disease."
To this day, as a spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in Canada, George stands up for those who battle against the ailment. "You cannot stereotype these people," he insists, "especially since there are airline pilots up there who will die from a heart attack before someone with diabetes. This disease should not be a barrier for anyone."
Accepted at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, as a pre-med student, George was soon distracted when a recruiter for an officer cadet training program told him that the rules had changed and diabetics were cleared to fly. Exhilarated, he plunged into the program, only to learn that he had been misinformed; the law hadn't changed after all. "I remember laughing out loud," he says. "I went through two weeks of having my hopes resurrected, only to be shoved back down again."
Characteristically, rather than whine about it, he simply walked away, went back to class -- and rekindled his passion for music. After auditioning for a minor chorus role in Camelot he was called back and given the lead role of King Arthur. The show ran for eleven nights; after one performance some guys from a country rock band made their way backstage and invited George to take a shot at becoming their lead singer. "Next thing you know I'm on the road. And I never looked back."
For nearly six years they kept a grueling schedule: six nights at some club in the city or out in the boondocks, then drive all day Sunday, in a van packed with so much gear that most of the band had to lay on top of their speakers. Days off were rare. It was hardly an easy routine, but it taught George the most important lesson of his life.
"I learned that I was addicted to music," he explains. "I learned that music would be my career, which was a surprise to my parents and even to me. In all honesty, I expected that I would do the responsible thing: I'd get a solid job, get married, raise a family … and I wanted that too. It's just that the creative side of me was suppressed until the Good Lord finally opened the floodgates."
He learned how to comport himself onstage too. Before each show he would watch a Garth Brooks tape he carried with him. "It always pumped me up because of his amazing showmanship," George recalls. "I'd feel like I was a part of his family, even though I was just watching him on a TV show. That never failed to inspire me -- and at the same time I identified a lot with George Strait because he had that same kind of stable, level confidence."
When the band broke up George briefly tried to return to a more "normal" life. He was hooked, however, and soon was doing shows again, this time under his own name. Married by this time, with two young children, he admits to being stretched between love for his family and his musical ambitions. For nine years he worked around the clock, sometimes holding down as many as three jobs, playing gigs at night, producing and engineering for other artists in his home studio, and working by day as a police officer.
"I put in a year of being an auxiliary constable," he says. "We're talking about nine hundred hours for no money whatsoever, and often being in harm's way, just to get the experience under my belt so I could apply for a position and have a career that could help support my music and put food on the table."
Eventually he was certified as a policeman, even as his backbreaking regimen of travel and performing started to pay off. He released an independent album, cut three videos, and even opened gigs for Brooks & Dunn and Loretta Lynn.
… and, in 2003, he was asked to audition for the upcoming season of Nashville Star. His near-victory led to an invitation from Tony Brown and Tim DuBois to showcase for a record deal at Universal South. "For years I'd spoken their names with reverence," he says. "I still do, in fact. I was tickled just to meet them, so I didn't really concern myself with how I sounded. I'd heard of acts playing for record executives and getting signed on the spot, but never had I imagined that would happen to me. It wasn't a dream of mine. It was beyond being a dream. But that's exactly what happened."
From that boardroom to the studio, from youthful hours spent at home in the deep woods, tuning into The Grand Ole Opry, to his debut at the Opry itself, from one ambition thwarted to another one come true, George Canyon has kept a steady course through life. He's still on the move, even toward the skies themselves; the day will come when he gets that license to fly.
Until then, it's his music that soars, throughout One Good Friend. Buckle up -- this ride is just beginning.