by Scott Roos
*photo courtesy of Eric Alper
It may be hard to believe, but next year will mark the 50th anniversary of touchstone Murray McLauchlan track “The Farmer’s Song”. It’s lyrics were to the point, straight forward and immediately memorable. When McLauchlan reflected on his gratitude towards farmers with the line “thanks for the meal, here’s a song that is real” he meant it with the utmost sincerity.
“It was written with a really kind of simple message in mind. It just said 'thank you'. It struck me that there wasn't enough of that going around (for farmers) and it seemed like a pretty good message to write,” explained McLauchlan in a recent conversation with NSMZ.
Written in the heart of Manhattan during the recording sessions for his self-titled sophomore release, the epiphany about rural life hit him in the midst of urban sprawl. It’s a moment maybe that many might view as ironic but to McLauchlan, the heart of the “Big Apple” was the perfect backdrop to pen a touching tribute to life in the country. .
“I wrote it in the middle of Manhattan while I was making the album with the song on it,” continued McLauchlan, “I wrote this little song because it seemed like we're a long way from where our food comes from in the middle of Manhattan. That's how the writing process works. Sometimes you just blurt something out and you go 'oh yeah that's true'.”
Murray took the song to producer Ed Freeman and asked if he felt the song was worthy of inclusion on the record. Freeman was agreeable but that’s not what cemented the song’s legacy. “The Farmer’s Song” was initially a B side of a McLauchlan single that a radio show host in the Ottawa Valley decided to play because he didn’t like the A side. The song ended up getting a lot of momentum from DJ’s across the country and also got put into jukeboxes - All because the DJ liked what he heard in “The Farmers Song” and took a chance by playing it.
“It was all because of that guy going 'I like this song. I'm going to play it’,” recounted McLauchlan.”It astonishes me that people still really love the song as much as they do. I mean concert audiences go batshit crazy when I sing it.”
At the end of the day the song is a timeless classic and still as relevant as the day it was written. With harvest coming up here in Saskatchewan, it’s important that we keep thanking farmers for that meal and with the pandemic in fourth wave territory, their jobs are as essential as they ever have been. In fact, farmers will always be essential no matter the time or place we are living in in history. We need them... Always...
“The really important thing is I've lost track of the number of old guys, or their kids, or their grandkids on behalf of their fathers or their grandpa or their husband - you know, just thanking me for writing that song because nobody had written one. It's in the song. There's all kinds of songs about truck drivers, and you know drinking, pain and divorce but there had never really been a song for farmers. And they were really happy to have one," said McLauchlan.
Speaking of the song’s impact in more recent times, Regina roots artist JJ Voss recorded a fantastic cover version of the song last year along with Darlene Tulita and special guest Charlie Major. It’s a fitting tribute from a strong cast of Saskatchewan based performers. When asked about the cover version, Voss was sentimental. The song was as real as real could be to someone who comes from an agricultural background himself.
“‘The Farmer’s Song’ is special to me because it was the anthem of my early childhood. That dusty old farmer was my Dad and his Dad before him. Every year when harvest rolls around, that first smell of dust is in the air - it always takes me back home to a simpler time,” said Voss.
Like most rural kids in Saskatchewan, Voss grew up with “Farm Cable” - a sarcastic title for the two channels that country folk had access to back in the day. “Growing up with 2 channels of TV to watch ‘The Tommy Hunter Show’ for me was must-see viewing every week. Most of the acts were pretty traditional and slickly produced. It was such a treat when Murray was a guest because he brought honest songs with a rootsy/raw delivery. The characters in his songs were a little more rough around the edges and human. That connects with me,” said Voss.
So thus the tradition continues in the voices of those who understand the words that McLauchlan penned all those years ago. They perhaps understand McLauchlan’s words even more than McLauchlan himself. So in their own way, with Voss's cover, they’ve turned the tables and can now say to McLauchlan “Thanks for the song”.