Alan Doyle had a full day of media interviews and appearances lined up in Ontario Wednesday to promote his new album, but the acclaimed musician called it off out of respect for a man who he said had a huge influence on him and the Canadian music industry.
After hearing the news that Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie had died following his year-and-a-half battle with brain cancer, Doyle’s heart just wasn’t in it.
“It’s just so sad,” Doyle told The Telegram during a telephone interview from Toronto Wednesday afternoon, hours after he received Twitter notification of Downie’s death.
“He was such a young man with a family who would’ve had a great chunk of his professional and personal life ahead of him. …
“It’s a big loss for everybody in the Canadian music business. It feels like we lost one of our best.”
Doyle was one of millions of Canadians expressing their sadness at Downie’s passing, remembering the lead singer for his gripping lyrics, intense performances, passion for music and love of Canada.
Doyle — both as a member of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most successful band, Great Big Sea, and as a solo artist — shared the stage with Downie and the Hip dozens of times.
“Every time, from the mid-’90s to very recently, he always treated you like you were on the same team,” Doyle said. “There was no star. It wasn’t a guy from a big band meeting someone from a smaller band. He made you feel accepted and included right away. There was no velvet rope separating his dressing room from yours.”
One of the last times Doyle saw Downie was at the Writers at Woody Point music and literary festival two or three summers ago, when the two hung out.
“He’s a massive fan of Newfoundland, especially Gros Morne National Park,” Doyle said. “He was a great guy — always curious and wanting to know about how people did things.”
Doyle remembers covering Tragically Hip songs when he first hit the bar scene.
“I think it’s impossible to play (cover songs) in Canada without playing The Hip,” he said.
Doyle said he looked up to Downie in many ways, especially for his humility and dignity.
“He was a leader. Gord paved the way for a bunch of us, in so many ways, and he did it with such grace and gratitude,” he said. “He showed us that we may be successful musicians, but this is how we conduct ourselves. …
“I’ll always remember his commitment to the concert. Nobody gave more than he did. He was in it. … That’s commitment. I learned a lot from him in that regard. People who buy tickets to see your concerts, they want everything, and that’s exactly what you give them.”
Doyle said he also admired Downie for staying true to who he was.
“He taught us that we don’t stop singing about hockey games or about snow or about the harbour. We’re glad to be our own selves. He taught us to look out our own windows and write about who we are,” Doyle said.
“He always remained true to himself and his home, and he taught us that we had to do that, too. It was our responsibility.
“(His) songs made us all feel like, no matter what, you’re more than likely to write about what was in your backyard … and he really made you feel good about it.”