Gene MacLellan

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Who was Gene MacLellan

Gene MacLellan was a country and folk music songwriter, singer and musician who wrote songs from the heart.

He was born in Val d'Or, Québec in 1939. Raised in Toronto,Ontario he grew up listening to gospel and country music. He eventually joined a rock band named Little Caesar and the Consuls and moved to Prince Edward Island in 1964, where he appeared on the television programs Singalong Jubilee and The Don Messer Jubilee. It was on one of these shows that he met up-and-coming singer Anne Murray, who went on to record "Snowbird," the song that made his reputation and won him a Juno Award for Composer of the Year.

He won a Juno Award in 1971 as best songwriter.

MacLellan was a frequent guest on Don Messer's Jubilee and later a regular cast member of "Singalong Jubilee" with Anne Murray and Bill Langstroth.

Gene started writing songs in 1968.

"Snowbird" was only his second composition and was written in about 25 minutes. However, radio stations loved it and it went on to become one of North America's most played songs of 1970. And for the first time in history, an American gold record was awarded to a solo Canadian female - Anne Murray.

"Snowbird" was covered by Anne Murray, Elvis Presely, Chet Atkins, Loretta Lynn, Perry Como, Hank Snow, Bing Crosby, Percy Faith, Rita McNeil and Mark Eitzel.

MacLellan's road to the top was a winding one. He moved to Pownall, Prince Edward Island in 1964 and worked as an orderly in a psychiatric hospital while continuing to write. His big break finally came when he made an uncharacteristically brash bid to get the attention of Don Messer, barging into Messer's home with bass player Blair Doucette to play a quick song. The ploy worked; Messer put them on Don Messer's Jubilee, which featured a young singer named Anne Murray. MacLellan penned his most famous song with Murray in mind. Snowbird, which took him 20 minutes to write, became a massive international hit, launched Murray's career, and has also been covered by more than 100 other artists including Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins and Englebert Humperdinck. Another big hit for MacLellan was Put Your Hand in the Hand, a cheerful gospel tune which was recorded by Ocean in the 60s and climbed the pop charts.

MacLellan, usually described as self-effacing and shy by those who knew him, was uneasy with success and periodically disappeared from public view. (His facial disfigurement, the result of childhood polio and a car accident made him uncomfortable in the spotlight.)

(Eventually, he gave away his money, moved to Europe and later became involved in fundamentalist Christianity and prison ministries)-this source needs to be verified.

An unassuming, compassionate, and spiritual person, MacLellan eschewed the spotlight for more intimate settings. He performed on occasion during the 1980s and 1990s in churches, penitentiaries, retirement homes, and at benefits. He appeared on gospel broadcasts and PEI cable TV programs, as well as providing counselling to prison inmates.

After taking a break from the music industry for five years, he performed sporiadically throughout the 1980's, mostly in settings like churches, prisons, retirement homes and benefit shows. He made a video for Corrections Canada.

But the depression that dogged him through life eventually got the better of him, and he ended his life in Summerside, Prince Edward Island on January 19, 1995.

After his death, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association's Hall of Fame, received the East Coast Music Association's (ECMA's) Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award (1996), and was honoured at the ECMA awards in both 1995 and 1996. John Gracie released the album A Gene MacLellan Tribute (1995, 02 50492 Atlantica Music). Several Gene MacLellan Song Festivals have been held at Victoria, PEI.


Gene MacLellan's Impact on Music

Gene MacLellan was a Canadian icon. He penned the international hits Snowbird, Put Your Hand In The Hand, Just Bidin My Time and many more. His music sold over 80 million records. His music was recorded by superstars like Elvis Presley, Anne Murray, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Chet Atkins, Chris Connor, Joan Baez, Sammy Davis Jr., Count Basie, Alden David, Cactus Country Band and Randy Stonehill.

Considered by many to be the unsung hero of Canadian music, in 1987 McLellan received PRO Canada's William Harold Moon Award for international achievement. He was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Country Music Associations Hall of Honour in 1995 and awarded the East Coast Music Association's Helen Cheighton Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. Put Your Hand in the Hand was declared a Canadian classic by SOCAN and is a standard in any gospel repertoire, having been recorded in 25 countries by over 100 different artists.

Catherine MacLellan's Memories of Her Father

"I picked up music in the same way that a carpenter's son learns the trade. He passed it on," says Catherine MacLellan.

Growing up, music always played an important part in their family. Whether they were living in Burlington, Ontario, or Summerside, where they moved in 1991, musicians were always knocking at their door.

'They were always dropping in. Once (her father's music partner) Marty Reno lived with us for a while. It was just normal stuff to us,' she says.

s the youngest of MacLellan's three children, Catherine, now 23, has many musical memories of her father, who died in 1995.

'I remember hearing Dad downstairs in the mornings whenever I woke up. He'd be sitting around playing Johnny B. Goode or Puerto Vallarta. He was always singing,' she says.

Although MacLellan encouraged his daughter to sing along and pick up the guitar, at first it didn't work.

'He tried to show me some chords. But the first ones were just really frustrating for anybody who is starting to learn,' says the performer who has since learned the music man's craft.

Since 1995, she has been writing songs and performing as a solo artist as well as with different musical groups.

Her musical career started shortly after her father's death when she spent most of the next year in her room playing the guitar.

'It was such a sad time. I felt like I was in a big cloud, but the music gave me such comfort.

'I couldn't play anybody else's songs because I didn't know them. So it seemed that immediately I was writing my own songs,' says MacLellan, who has been busy performing with her band Saddle River.

John Gracie Records a Tribute to Gene MacLellan

The desire to tribute Gene was two-fold; firstly, to ensure this musical legacy is kept alive and well and re-introduced to the audience of today and secondly and simply, the great thrill for John to sing songs that are some of the best the industry has known.

The idea to undertake the production of this tribute album came at a time when John Gracie was about to enter into his next major commercial recording, something long-awaited from this two-time ECMA Male Vocalist of the Year. He had recently showcased at the Canadian Country Music Association's Conference and had created quite a buzz. It was felt that the tribute album would get done and things would get back on track fairly quickly but this would not be...the Gene MacLellan Tribute became all consuming. For the next seven months, John lived and breathed his tribute to Gene MacLellan, he secured the dollars to complete it, he studied and analyzed Gene's writing and his own interpretations of it, he better acquainted himself with Gene's friends and family to better understand Gene, all in hopes of creating a tribute album of which Gene would be proud. John Gracie's commercial career would go on hold for this time with no regrets and only a great sense of pride in his accomplishment.

The project always seemed driven or guided by an outside force. From the first day of the recording session when an elderly retired boxer entered Terry Pulliam's Sound Market Studio on Gottingen Street in Halifax, mistaking it for a video shop. He innocently questioned if he could purchase a VCR there and the band members on lunch break explained that he was in a recording studio. The old man replied that maybe he would come in to the studio someday and record a hit like that "Gene MacLellan's Snowbird"....he followed that comment by saying, "That Gene MacLellan never got the recognition he deserved". What a bizarre coincidence, there was no prior publicity that John was doing this project and there was no signage outside the studio that would indicate John Gracie was recording inside. The band was on lunch when the old man wandered in and the studio doors which are usually locked were for some reason left open to allow his entrance...everyone took this as a sign from above that this was the right thing to do and someone, somewhere was giving the project the thumbs up. When money was low or deadlines approached there was always something that occurred to get the project closer to completion.

The project was endorsed by Gene's family, Judith, Catherine, Rachel and Gene's 21 year old son, Philip. It meant a lot to John that Philip took an active role in the project and was on hand during the recording sessions. Late night talks and supper conversations revealed parts of Gene to which John could relate. These along with stories and information supplied by friends and articles by Stephen Pederson and Larry Delaney helped John get closer to Gene, the man. The music is so filled with heart-felt emotion that it is inevitable that there comes to be a deep curiosity on what the man was like and what he was feeling when he wrote such moving lyrics. People say Gene was troubled, others say he was an ordinary guy with ordinary problems but to some, ordinary problems need solving and sometimes this is the real struggle. Artists like Gene spend their days trying to find higher meaning to everything in life. Perhaps this is best seen in Gene's inability to cope with his overwhelming financial success while children were starving in third world countries or while the homeless were not cared for on our streets here in the western world. As a result, Gene gave much of what he made to charity. John feels this himself, the need to analyze every little item in your life, the need to work it all out, the need to make it right so that you can just be happy.


Gene MacLellan Song Festival

The Gene MacLellan Song Festival was held on the waterfront in the town of Summerside Prince Edward Island. Scott Parsons was the founder and Producer/AD of the Gene MacLellan Song Festival from 1995 to 1997. Gene was Scott's long time friend and mentor.


The September 18, 19 and 20, 1999 festival was organized by Carolyn MacKinnon Phillip MacLellan phone 902-888-2254

Gene MacLellan's Discography

"That The World May Know"

Produced by Bill Cole
Distributed by Light Records, 1974
Gene MacLellan performed on this album along with the following artists: Larry Wayne, Jessy Dion, Danniebelle Hall, Russ Peavy, Pat Boone, Len Mink, Andrae Crouch, and Gene MacLellan Source:Larry Wayne Morbitt


"Gene Maclellan"

Capitol Records Catalogue ST-6348 year:1970


If It's Alright with You

Capitol Records Catalogue ST-11535 year:1977



Gene & Marty

Pilgrim PMC-7005 year:1979
This was a collection of gospel songs with Marty Reno.



"Street Corner Preacher"

Released in Canada 1970
Released in the U.S.A. on January 1, 1985
Brian Ahern, Arranger and Producer
Trish Ahern, Arranger and Producer
Capitol Records Catalogue ST-660

  • Street Corner Preacher 2:35
  • Thorn in My Shoe 2:08
  • Pages of Time 2:25
  • The Call 2:25
  • Isle of Saint Jean 2:25
  • Face in the Mirror 2:16
  • What Can You Do? 2:45
  • Snowbird 2:33
  • Hard As I Try 2:43
  • Death of the Black Donnellys


"Lonesome River"

Released in Canada June 17, 1997
EMI Canada UPC: 724385758720

  • Face In The Mirror
  • I Got Drunk On Monday
  • When You're Not Around
  • Put Your Hand In The Hand
  • Snowbird
  • Faces
  • Won't Talk About Love Anymore
  • Death Of The Black Donnellys
  • Shilo Song
  • One With You
  • The Call
  • Song To A Young Seagull
  • Street Corner Preacher
  • Thorn In My Shoe
  • Days Of The Looking Glass
  • Continental Blues
  • If It's Alright With You
  • Lonesome River
  • On The Banks Of A Daydream
  • Mary's On My Mind
  • Just Bidin' My Time

Bibliography

Books and Articles

  • MacDonald, Dick. 'So little snowbird take me with you when you go,' Weekend Magazine, 23 Jan 1971
  • Kareda, Urjo. 'Snowbird's composer, a born loner, will face the hoards at the CNE,' Toronto Star, 15 Aug 1971
  • LeBlanc, Larry. 'Country music, country living are Gene MacLellan's life,' The Music Scene, 261, Sep - Oct 1971
  • Hopkins, Tom. 'Orpheus ascending,' Maclean's, 18 Apr 1977
  • MacDonald, Dick. 'Singer lost pot and found God,' Toronto Star, 30 Jul 1983
  • Delaney, Larry. "Gene MacLellan: Through the pages of time," Country Music News, Nov 1992
  • MacAndrews, Barbara. "Songwriter 'born with a thorn' in his shoe," Toronto Globe and Mail, 28 Jan 1995
  • Scott Parsons produced the Gene MacLellan Song Festival