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Norm Hacking's Prose
Race Track Hack:
"A Folk Singer's Riches"



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Taxi News, June 2004, Vol 20 No 6 p.15
© Norm Hacking 2004

A friend of mine, the brilliant songwriter Bob Snider, wrote in one of his songs that “The only thing a darn folksinger cares about is money.”

His tongue is planted firmly in his cheek, of course. And, when he performs the tune, nobody in the audience laughs louder than the other musicians in attendance.

Personally, I never actually “decided” to become a folksinger, or a singer-songwriter, or whatever you want to call it. I just sort of slipped into it.

It was back in first year University, and I knew a few chords on the guitar. Even with limited musical expertise, I was already writing songs.

Someone from the students’ council heard me noodling away on my guitar one day, before (or instead of) classes.

He offered me a gig, which turned out to be a half hour concert in the college’s main concert venue.

After I stopped laughing, I explained that there was no way I was ever going to get up in front of an audience and play. No sir.

He countered with an offer of 50 bucks.

He had me.

Back then, $50 could keep you in cheap wine and bus fare for a month. I couldn’t say no. I was terrified.

Luckily, on the bus home that day, I ran into an old friend, Jim Pett. Jim had been the hot shot guitar player at my high school, and I pleaded with him to do the gig with me.

He graciously accepted, we rehearsed a little, played six original songs (none of which I can remember now), and nobody threw anything at us.

Not only that, several attractive young women wandered up, after we got off stage.

They were quite complimentary in their remarks.

I wasn’t used to this.

The same guy who booked us for the concert, immediately came up and asked me to play the college pub the following week.

On pub night, I faked three or four sets, playing with another friend, Paul Corby.

The crowd was so loud they probably didn’t know we were there.

Then, at the end of the night, when I was trying to close with a sensitive song about someone’s dead father, the table of people directly in front of the stage - a group that had been playing euchre and cursing each other all night - rose up in unison and mooned the stage!

I was learning early that each gig had its own unique charms.

Paul and I played a few more University shows, then he told me about a nightclub on Kingston Road that hired solo singer-songwriters.

“Just go in and play three Cat Stevens songs and three Lightfoot songs, and they’ll hire you,” assured Paul.

I auditioned a few nights later at the club. I played six original tunes, and the pub managers, Ronnie and Danny, hired me anyway.

The club was called The Moustache, the gig was a six nighter, Monday through Saturday, and I was eventually getting booked in for weeks at a time.

And that’s where I cut my teeth as a “professional performer.”

There were bad nights.

I had beer spit on me while I was singing on stage, I got hit by a formica table that got thrown across the room during a bar fight, and one night, just as I was about to open the big metal back door to help the upstairs maitre’d, Yvonne, put out some garbage bags, we heard a sound like “ping, ping, ping.”

When we opened the door, there were several bullet holes in the outside of the door.

It wasn’t glamourous, but at least three or four nights a week, people listened.

Then, Monique, the slightly aging blonde waitress, pulled me aside one night and whispered, “How do you do it? You shut the whole room up when you played! They were screaming, and yelling, and swinging from the goddamn ceiling - and you started playing, and they shut up!”

It was always hard work, but there was no way to describe the satisfaction of authoring songs that actually made people stop and listen. And applaud. Sometimes...

After 34 years of this, I think I appreciate the humor of Bob Snider’s parody song about money and folksingers more than most.

I’ve learned there’s more kinds of payback than strictly monetary.

I’ve met and shared stages with Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Taj Mahal, Ritchie Havens, Shawn Phillips, John Lee Hooker, Bruce Cockburn, John Prine, Michael Smith, Jackie Washington, Josh White Jr., Tom Rush, etc., etc.

I’ve never been able to put a price tag on that...

P.S. - And, it’s not just musical heroes. I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with many TV and radio on-air personalities. I’ve met and assisted America’s greatest living playwright, Arthur Miller, with a reading night at Massey Hall.

In the green room, after Miller’s reading, I was going to suggest he think about a sequel titled, “Death of a Folksinger” but the old gentleman looked pretty tired.

And, of the many politicians I’ve met, one stands out.

Every time I played a benefit for the homeless, or for legal aid clinics, or the white ribbon campaign against spousal abuse, Jack Layton seemed to be here, supporting the cause, acting as M.C., or keynote speaker, or, in one case, auctioneer.

Just as music heals and brings renewed hope, so too can intelligent, humane, committed elected representatives make a difference. You’ve just got to believe that not every “gosh darn politician is in it for the money.”

Being a musician, I’ve got lots of spare time in the day. I think this time, I’ll use some of it to go out and vote on June 28th.

It’ll be the first federal election in a very long time where a truly exciting and positive voice has entered into the fray. Maybe there’s a song in that, somewhere.

Webmaster's Notes:

See the list of Norm's on-line lyrics, poetry and prose, including other "Race Track Hack" columns for Taxi News.

Taxi News website is with Norm's current monthly column at and a few archived issues in .pdf format at (check the last few pages of each issue). Taxi News is a monthly publication with news and commentary on Toronto's taxi industry and is available by subscription or free at distribution points.


Added to Norm's website June 30, 2004