"Hank Williams, he came up from Montgomery/ with a heart full of hurtin' country songs/ but when he finally made it to the Grand Ole Opry/ he made it stand still, he ended up on alcohol and pills." - Alcohol & Pills - Fred Eaglesmith.

Canadian troubadour Fred Eaglesmith believes a fire that burned down his home and studio on a Port Dover houseboat was a not so subtle spiritual message.

Eaglesmith, 49, survived the blaze but lost invaluable guitars, recording equipment, tapes and personal treasures including his original paintings.

"It's a reminder that I don't need all this crap," Eaglesmith, a latter day Buddhist, told Nu Country TV in a call from his new home and studio - a Masonic Lodge.

"The Buddhist way allows 17 possessions. I had too many."

Eaglesmith was rushed to hospital after he suffered smoke inhalation but the master tape of his 15th album Milly's Café had already been sent to the manufacturer.

"I got smoked but it's no big deal," the singing artist confessed on the eve of his fifth Australian tour with his band The Flying Squirrels.

"I woke up about 8:30 and smelled smoke," says Eaglesmith, who tried to pour water on the fire.

"I thought the whole building would go, so I got out onto the roof and started yelling."

The singer escaped a fiery immolation with his soul and karma intact.

"I was only in hospital for 20 minutes. I still have my hands and no one got hurt. I was lucky the firemen let me back in to salvage some of my guitars. Worse things have happened to me."

Eaglesmith, real name Frederick J Elgersma and single father of three, suffered a bank foreclosure on his family's southern Ontario farm as a teenager and divorce as an adult.

But he has bounced back - with a little help from his huge song catalogue that boasts covers by major and minor stars.

"I'm now living in a Masonic Lodge where I have built another studio at Vittoria," says Fred - born in Hamilton, Ontario - and one of nine children.

"It's about seven kilometres from the remains of the gutted houseboat at Port Dover. I was insured for about a third of what I lost. But, like all human beings, I have lots of junk again."


"I'm thinking about you/ I'm thinking about the way you walk/ I'm thinking about the way you talk/ and the things you do." - I'm Thinking About You - Fred Eaglesmith

Eaglesmith's vintage song Thinking About You is a highlight of 2006 movie Broken Bridges with rebel country superstars Toby Keith and Willie Nelson, Kelly Preston, Burt Reynolds, Tess Harper, Anna Maria Horsford and singing starlet Lindsey Haun.

Broken Bridges is a bittersweet story of former high school sweethearts who return home after the deaths of their younger brothers.

The film features original music and performances by Keith (real name Toby Keith Covel,) Haun and Eaglesmith and came out on DVD in January.

"The movie came out six or seven months ago but I just flew to Nashville and made a video clip movie for Thinking About You - the second single from the movie," Fred revealed.

"They cut in scenes from the movie. Apparently Toby likes my music a lot. He has also covered another of my songs White Rose for his next album."

Keith's 15th album Big Dog Daddy - sequel to White Trash With Money - is due in June on his indie Show Dog label.

Thinking About You was originally on Fred's 1997 album Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline.

Eaglesmith songs have also embroidered other lucrative movie ventures by director Martin Scorsese; James Caan film Viva Los Nowhere also featured two of his songs.

And Eaglesmith's music was also used in short film 50 Odd Dollars.

But Oklahoma-born Keith, 45, whose other indie record label Big Machine features Texans Jack Ingram and Sunny Sweeney, is the leader of the posse to cut Fred's songs.

Others include Cowboy Junkies, Todd Snider, Chris Knight, Dar Williams, Wendy Newcomer, Mary Gauthier and a brace of bluegrass artists.

Homegrown artists earning royalties for Fred include Kasey and Bill Chambers, Catherine Britt, Audrey Auld Mezera and Greencards.


"Some say it's a tragedy, some say it's a shame; some say it's the water that we never got to drink; Some blame Jesus; Some blame rock n' roll; I think we were just trying to gain a little bit of control." - The Rains - Fred Eaglesmith.

Eaglesmith became the first Canadian songwriter to top U.S. bluegrass charts when James King covered 30 Years Of Farming.

"It was just 25 years after I wrote it," Fred quipped.

"James also covered Flowers In The Dell. Another bluegrass artist Doug Sparks phoned me today and told me he had recorded three of my songs. Another group The McCleans also covered one."

Eaglesmith concedes that being a cult artist means he is a slow burner, so to speak, with many covers having a long incubation.

"People get excited about an album about four years later," Eaglesmith confessed.

"That's the beauty of not being too well known."

Eaglesmith's new disc features 18 Wheels (a truckie's twisted romance), The Rains (a fiery end to a drought), Summer Is Over (a seasonal ruptured romance) and the title track - a Texas crime narrative.

"The Rains is about guys in a town who had drought forever," Eaglesmith explains.

"When the rains come they just pour gasoline down the middle of town and set it on fire.

That's their reaction. They go crazy - it's comical. They burn the town and again say we lost our mind."

What about Summer Is Over - not a meteorological metaphor.

"Yes, it's a seasonal song, the summer is over, the carnival and tours have gone and the relationship is over," Fred said.

18 Wheels is a trucking song with a twist.

"The guy has a tank truck full of alcohol and he keeps stopping in these storms - the stops are metaphors, he keeps calling the girl, she's not there so in a snow storm he swings around and goes back but it's too late," is Fred's pithy précis.


Then there's Mrs Hank Williams.

Was that Miss Audrey - first Mrs Williams - or Billy Jean - the second Mrs Hank who lost both Hank and Johnny Horton on the Lost Highway after their final concerts at the Skyline Club in Austin?

"It's more about Audrey and musicians' girlfriends in general, how they get these bad reputations and how everyone says they're great gals until their backs are turned," he explained.

"Priscilla Presley is a great one to read about, what she went through, that was a pretty good relationship."

Unlike Paul McCartney and recent but dearly departed Heather who interrupted their personal clubbing to protest seal clubbing.

"Paul flew into Canada six months ago to protest the seal hunt," Eaglesmith recalled, "He flew in a helicopter with his wife and they lay down beside a white baby seal. We don't do white baby seals - we do brown ones. I thought really, why don't you just send us the money. We'll get the guys to stop sealing if you give them the meagre $7,000 a year they make. That's about the royalties of Hey Jude an hour."

Sounds like it could make a good video clip.


Or maybe the armed robbery fuelled title track - Milly's Café.

"The song starts with the girl closing the café in Texas," Eaglesmith said.

"She and her partner do a robbery with guns and a getaway vehicle."

It's a narrative in a similar vein to the Toms - Pacheco and Russell - or the Robison boys Bruce and Charlie.

And, with supreme serendipity, Fred performs with Russell, Bruce Robison, Lloyd Maines and Terri Hendrix at the fourth annual Fredhead festival at Gruene Hall on the eve of his Australian tour with the Flying Squirrels.

Gruene - the oldest dance hall in Texas - is next door to the festival caterers Gristmill - one of the oldest gin mills in the Lone Star state.

"Yes, it's now this famous old restaurant above the old cotton gin on the Guadalupe River," Fred explains.

"It looks bigger than it is but everything's big in Texas."


Fred has long slept with his guitar beside his bed - one of the reasons he keeps his door locked - so he can write if a song interrupts a dream.

But will he have time to write on this whirlwind trip with his Flying Squirrels and touring partner Bill Chambers?

"I'd like to but I'm usually a little whacked out from the flight," he added.

"Maybe Bill and I could do something."

So what is Fred's biggest earner in his ever-growing catalogue?

"I can't keep up with the source of the royalty cheques," explained Fred - also subject of two tribute discs.

"That's all controlled by the publishing company. I never see the royalty cheques - the book-keeper just banks them."


March 29 - East Brunswick Club Hotel
March 30 - Peninsula Lounge - Moorooduc
March 31 - Palais - Hepburn Springs
April 1 - Ruby's Lounge - Belgrave
April 3 and 4 - The Vanguard Newtown
April 5 - Lizotte's - Kincumber
April 6 and 7 - East Coast Blues Festival Byron Bay.


Milly's Café (2006)
The Official Fred Eaglesmith Bootleg Vol. 2 (2005)
Dusty (2004)
The Official Fred Eaglesmith Bootleg Vol. 1 (2003)
Balin (2003)
Falling Stars and Broken Hearts (2002)
Ralph's Last Show: Live in Santa Cruz (2001)
50-Odd Dollars (1999)
Lipstick Lies & Gasoline (1997)
Drive-In Movie (1995)
From the Paradise Motel (1994)
Things Is Changin' (1993)
There Ain't No Easy Road (1991)
Indiana Road (1987)
The Boy That Just Went Wrong (1983)
Fred J. Eaglesmith (1980)

Tribute Disc 1 - Songs Of Fred Eaglesmith - 2003.

1. Slaid Cleaves - White Rose
2. Bill & Kasey Chambers - Carter
3. Jeff Plankenhorn - Thirty Years of Farming
4. Teddy Morgan - Bell
5. Gurf Morlix - 49 Tons
6. Outlaw Family Band - I'm Just Dreaming
7. Robbie Fulks - Flowers in the Dell
8. Hillbilly Winos - Drive-in Movie
9. Mary Gauthier - Your Sister Cried
10. Charlie Pierce - Thinking
11. Audrey Auld - He's a Good Dog
12. Rod Picott - Pontiac
13. Rex Hobart & Lee Gutowski - Drinking Too Much
14. Jay Bennett - Angel of the Lord
15. Old No. 8 - Indiana Road

Tribute Disc 2 - 20 Odd Hollers - 2000

CLICK HERE for a previous feature on Fred in the Diary on March 27, 2005.
CLICK HERE for another Fred feature from the Diary on November 6, 2003

top / back to diary