The next time you start singing along to your favourite song on the radio, I want you to think of a guy named Tom Hudson. He used to spend a lot of time singing along to the radio when he was growing up in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. Tom Hudson is a Metis and except for the fact that he says he sang all the time, his upbringing as a trapper's son was probably pretty typical for a northern teenager.
Tom grew up in the '50s and '60s and he says his favourite singer was Elvis Presley. But it didn't really matter who was on the radio, because Tom says he sang along with anyone. He just sang and he sang and he sang.
Tom Hudson is 36 years old now and he's still singing. The difference is that he's now the singer for a five-man band from Yellowknife called the Komatiks. The band doesn't play Elvis Presley tunes so Tom isn't singing about hound dogs or blue suede shoes. Instead, he's more likely to be singing about apartheid and outer space, among other things.
I was in a recording studio recently where I was lucky enough to listen to him sing the vocals for the band's first album. The songs were done in a variety of styles but they were all mainstream rock-and-roll. The songs were written by the Komatiks and they cover a lot of musical territory - everything from hard-driving California rock to a funky cosmic tune set in outer space; from a scorching message on the fight for freedom in South Africa to a haunting big-city soul song.
The music of the Komatiks is smooth and tight but what sets it on fire is the way Tom sings the lyrics. He doesn't play an instrument. He can't. The only thing he can do is sing - but then he does it extremely well. He can make a line in a song sound as sharp and clear as a rifle shot. And just like Elvis, he can use a catch in his throat to squeeze all the hurt and all the feeling out of a love song 'til he makes your backbone squirm.
The fact that Tom can sing with strength and tenderness is probably not that unusual, especially when you consider that he's been singing all his life. The funny thing, though, is that Tom Hudson doesn't look, or act anything like what you might expect. For starters, he's big enough and he's probably strong enough to make Hulk Hogan hang up his wrestling trunks. But he's no tough guy. He's polite, very quiet and very modest - especially for someone with his talent. He certainly doesn't look like a rock-and-roll singer, either. There's no wild hair-do, no wild clothes.
If anything, he looks like a bureaucrat - which is just what he is. Tom works as a personnel officer for the Government of the Northwest Territories. His job is one of the ironies in his life. For the past ten years he's helped to guide the careers of dozens of his government colleagues while his own musical career has been stalled somewhat between dream and reality.
But if the Komatiks album catches on, Tom Hudson's musical career will finally take off. I'm not the only one who thinks highly of him and his singing. Some of the pros in the music business say he's this close to stardom.
He just might make it and I'm not bashful about cheering him on. The reason is simple - it's time one of our people became a big-league rock-and-roll star.
Rock music is, without question, a major cultural force all over the world. In fact, one of the few things that unites young Native people across this country is their overwhelming interest in rock-and-roll. It goes without saying that a Native rock star would have a colossal impact on Native youth. I think a Native rock star would spread pride, confidence and the knowledge the Native people can make it in anywhere in society.
A Native rock star would automatically become a role model for Native youth. Since I don't have a high opinion of most rock stars, I'd feel pretty good about Tom Hudson filling that role because the one thing Native young people don't need is a loud-mouthed, hard-drinking hell-raiser for a role model.
It will still be a cuple more months before anyone will be able to listen to the Komatiks on the radio. When you do get to hear their music, though, I want you to think back to 20 years ago, to a little Metis boy sitting in a cabin in Fort Smith, singing along to the radio, dreaming about a career as a singer. I also want you to think about the Native kids who are listening to the radio today, singing along to the music and dreaming. I like to think that 20 years from now some of those kids will be singing in the big time. And I like to think that some of them will say their favourite singer wasn't Elvis Presley. It was Tom Hudson.