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Michael T. Wall is still singing Newfoundland’s praises

Michael T. Wall (right) poses for a picture with Harry Hibbs during their time together in Toronto. The picture was taken in 1975.
Michael T. Wall (right) poses for a picture with Harry Hibbs during their time together in Toronto. The picture was taken in 1975. - Submitted

I’ve been in sitting at my desk at the Western Star for close to 365 days.

For the majority of that time, a picture of musician Michael T. Wall has been taped on the wall to the left of my computer screen.

It’s a shot of Wall — a Corner Brook native — wearing a black leather jacket, his back turned towards the camera, giving two thumbs up.

With his head turned slightly to the left, the picture gives a perfect view of his iconic map of the island of Newfoundland made of 500 green and white rhinestones.

Let’s talk about the jacket for a minute. At $2 per rhinestone, it’s a pricey jacket for sure and Wall hopes to donate it to the Corner Brook Museum when his career is all said and done.

It’s also more than a jacket to Wall. It is more like the physical manifestation of the pride he feels for this province.

“I’ve been carrying Newfoundland on my back since 1961,” he said from his home in Toronto, Ont. this week.

Wall spoke about making the move to the mainland and playing his own brand of music for longer than I’ve been alive.

Pictures of his various stops around the globe dot the walls inside the room of his home. They’re joined by various awards — Wall has guitars in five different music hall of fames — lined on a shelf that he refers to as his wall of fame.

So, why is 1961 significant?

That is the year Wall packed up his guitar and his black stetson hat, moved to Toronto with eyes on becoming a singer. He would dub himself The Singing Newfoundlander, a name he came up with after seeing Hank Snow.

Wall thought if Snow could call himself The Singing Cowboy, he could use something similar and substitute Newfoundland for this province.

Following in the footsteps of Dick Nolan, another one of Corner Brook’s favourite sons, Wall was going to bring his Newfoundland music to the masses while singing the praises of his home wherever he could.

It wasn’t always easy.

Initially, people didn’t take to his brand of music and clubs struggled to bring in enough customers to make it worth their while.

He remembers getting tossed out of a bar with Canadian legend Stompin’ Tom Connors because their music wasn’t being played on top-40 radio.

But, Wall stayed the course and things eventually turned.

The 300 Club opened and fans started packing the joint in advance of their shows. Then, Harry Hibbs and his startling ability to play the accordion turned things up, as did the new Caribou Club.

The growing diaspora of ex-pats in southern Ontario were longing for a taste of home.

Wall, Nolan, Hibbs, Roy Payne and others rode the wave.

Wall cut his first album, “The Singing Newfoundlander,” in 1973 on Banff Records. The word Newfoundland appears in the titles of seven songs, and another features Corner Brook, on the 12 song LP.

The man with Newfoundland on his back is still riding the wave and still slugging it out on the road and in the studio. Even now, he’s planning on recording both a Christmas and gospel album in the near future.

We’ve all heard the song “I’ve been everywhere, man” and Wall is the living embodiment of the lyrics.

If you can name a place, chances are he’s played there. His guitar case has the stickers to prove it.

Places like Australia, China, Israel and India are all prominently displayed. Wall played in Warsaw, Poland in 1984 at a time when western music rarely made its way behind the Iron Curtain.

He still gets mail from Polish fans.

He has also been baptized in the Jordan River during his stop in the Holy Land in 2014.

Wall rubbed elbows with the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and George Jones.

He turns 80 in November and has a three-month tour of Australia set for August of this year. It’ll be the fifth time Wall has toured the continent since becoming the first Newfoundlander to sing there.

He might event return to Corner Brook for some shows if the planned 2019 come home year goes ahead.

Turns out Wall has no plans on slowing down.

“I’ve always believed in what I was doing,” he said. “I want to play as long as I can. It doesn’t bother me.

“It’s what I want to do.”

That brings me back to the picture.

For a time, when people asked who was in the picture, we told them he was my dad. Obviously, he isn’t, but it was a fun gag to play for a little bit.

It’s joined by a new picture now. It’s Wall, guitar in hand and wearing his familiar Newfoundland jacket, with his back turned, next to a motorcycle. His head is turned to the left as if he’s scanning the horizon in anticipation of what’s coming next.

In a way, the picture is a truer representation of Michael T. Wall.

Six decades into career that’s brought him around the world, and back again, Wall is still carrying his beloved home province on his back, all the while looking for somewhere new to play.

A little later in life, Michael T. Wall is still hitting the road and playing shows all over the world. This submitted photo was shot in Ontario.
A little later in life, Michael T. Wall is still hitting the road and playing shows all over the world. This submitted photo was shot in Ontario.

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