Cover Story: TRUE Canadian Gems – Murray McLauchlan & Denise Donlon
By Cece Scott www.cecescott.com
At the age of 69, Murray McLauchlan is affectionately referred to as Murray Many Heads. His wife, Denise Donlon, agrees. The recipient of 11 Juno Awards, including Country Male Vocalist of the Year for a total of five times, McLauchlan may be best known as a musician and an award-winning song writer, but he is also a painter, a pilot, a husband and a father – and possesses a wonderful sense of humour.
McLauchlan’s song catalogue includes Farmer’s Song (1972), Down by the Henry Moore (1975), On the Boulevard (1976) and Whispering Rain (1971) – all of which have stood the test of time.
Denise Donlon, now 61, is a Broadcast Hall of Fame inductee, and a Fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music. She was the anchor for Much’s (formerly MuchMusic) Rockflash News (CityTv,1985), as well as the host and producer of The New Music (1986 to 1993) on the same network. Donlon has witnessed, firsthand, the changing face of pop culture through music videos, and has done more than 1,000 interviews with the likes of Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Sting and Leonard Cohen – to name a few.
Donlon’s 2016 book, Fearless As Possible (Under the Circumstances), chronicles her impressive, and storied career, on the front lines of the media and music industries. Donlon toured as a publicist with popular bands like Headpins, Whitesnake, and Doug and the Slugs. In the book, she also goes into detail about her business, and personal, relationships as the first female president of Sony Music Canada, and as the general manager and executive director of CBC English Radio.
Both McLauchlan (1993) and Donlon (2004) have received the Order of Canada, which recognizes their outstanding achievements, dedication to the community and service to the nation.
McLauchlan’s and Donlon’s home property abuts the Don Valley ravine in the east end of Toronto. During the interview, a coyote saunters into the backyard. As a child, McLauchlan dreamed of being a wildlife illustrator and a painter. “I had this wildly romantic idea of doing covers for Sports Illustrated magazine, as well as studying under the preeminent landscape painter, Doris McCarthy.”
McLauchlan did study with McCarthy, and also attended lectures given by Canadian naturalist and wildlife painter, Robert Bateman. “I went to Central Tech and studied and studied, and then realized that I didn’t want to be a commercial artist.”
It was around this time, that the-then 17-year-old McLauchlan headed for the hippie haunts of Yorkville and started performing at various coffee houses. In 1966 he performed at the Mariposa Folk Festival, followed by stints in New York’s Greenwich Village. McLaughlan’s songs have been performed by the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Tom Rush.
Donlon and McLauchlan met in the late 80s, married two years later and then welcomed their son, Duncan, into the world in 1992. Mclauchlan admits to feelings of angst when he calculated how old he’d be when his son would be in his teens. “I was worried about becoming a father at 43, because somewhere in my mind I had an idea of my golden years,” says McLauchlan. “But then, there comes the realization that you are no longer the centre of your own life. I was in the love bubble.”
After Duncan’s birth, McLaulan took time off, and Donlon went back to work after three months. Donlon’s career continued on an upward trajectory, and she became the first female president of Sony Music Canada in 2000. Soon after, Napster (a filesharing, internet service that emphasized sharing audio files) was launched. It wasn’t long before Napster ran into legal difficulties, but the damage was done.
It changed the landscape of the music industry, and, as a result, Donlon’s lack of confidence was triggered. She admits that she suffered from Imposter’s Syndrome. “In my private moments it was really tough sledding, but in my public moments it was about leadership and inspiration – I had to be there for my artists.”
Upon the completion of her book, Donlon reassessed her perspective on life. “I’m taking a deep breath and putting it out to the universe to see what comes back,” says Donlon. “My tendency has always been to put the pedal to the metal, and to try and fill everything up with busyness. So, I am trying to spend more time in the moment, fill my life with things that give me pleasure, and not be as frantic as I once was.”
Donlon never shied away from much – in both her professional, and personal, life. She’s rappelled down the side of a building, driven a 40-ton German tank and has tried bungee jumping. These days, she’s keeping closer to the ground, and is spending a great deal of time on her yoga mat. “The things on my list are now more about endurance. I’m trying, desperately, to keep my yearly, one-mile swim to under 30 minutes.”
Involved in the martial arts when he was younger, McLauchlan no longer practices combat training. “Basically, the body can’t take it anymore. Life, in general, is extremely active between keeping up the house and the cottage. And, of course, there’s the keeping up with Denise.”
When in his 40s, McLauchlan’s agent suggested to him (jokingly) that he was getting too old for the market. “I felt the whole idea was appalling and colossally stupid. I still do,” says McLauchlan. “There is a weird phenomenon in the music industry that ridicules old rockers – like the Rolling Stones. The media doesn’t talk about their music, just how wrinkled and prunelike they are.”
McLauchlan has performed at many concerts and benefits over the course of the past year, and has additional shows booked in 2018. “It has always been about reinvention for me – finding new ways to make contact with my music.”
“My best days are ahead of me,
even if I do hurt in the mornings.” – Murray McLauchlan
Giving back, in many different ways, is important to both of them. Donlon is currently involved with War Child Canada, MusiCounts and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, amongst others. “As I look at my third act, the fundamental priority, for me, is that I must make a contribution,” says Donlon. “It would be a waste if you didn’t make a positive contribution based on the wisdom acquired throughout your life.”
McLauchlan strongly believes that music has a profound effect on memory. He is on the board of the Room 217 Foundation, which trains medical professionals to utilize music in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Traveling, wine, laughter, nature and time are all high priorities for Donlon. “And don’t forget the seniors’ discount,” says McLauchlan.