Vern Cheechoo loved everything about his wife, and his new album will be dedicated to her memory.
Cheechoo, 64, is a Moose Cree First Nation member, a singer, songwriter and the director of lands and resources at Mushkegowuk Council.
His upcoming fourth album will be in memory of his late wife Karen Pine-Cheechoo, whom he was married for to 40 years.
Cheechoo will be taking a week off from work in September to go to Toronto and record with producer Bill Bell. The album is currently in pre-production and is expected to be released by November.
It will be a personal album, he says. It will include 10 songs about his experiences since the loss of his wife who died two and a half years ago.
His wife had a passion for life and she cared a lot about people, Cheechoo says.
“I loved everything about her. The way she was passionate and very dedicated to family, very dedicated to the grandchildren,” he says. “She was a really good friend, to not only me but her friends. She had a spirit to always be looking out for people and helping people, so I really liked that about her.”
Cheechoo doesn’t have a title for the album yet but once he’s in the studio and has a chance to hear all the songs, he’ll make a decision then.
Writing the songs helped him cope with the loss of his wife.
They met in Timmins in the ‘70s when they were about 17 or 18 years old. One could say, they basically grew up together since they met at a young age, Cheechoo says.
They got married in the spring of 1978 and they had two children: a boy and a girl. However, their daughter died in 1985 at the age of five.
Cheechoo has another son from a different relationship and a total of nine grandchildren who live in Manitoba. He hasn’t seen them in almost two years and he can’t wait to visit them soon.
Cheechoo was born in Moose Factory in a family with five sisters and three brothers. He grew up listening to country music and rock country. As he watched his brothers play, he would try to mimic them and play by ear. When he was six years old, he started playing the guitar. Later, he would play at talent shows and chord for his father, who was a fiddle player.
When he was in Grade 8, Cheechoo and one of his cousins would come together and write songs. In high school, he met Lawrence Martin, with whom he also performed in a band.
Playing music in front of people, entertaining them is something he has been doing for years since he was a little boy. Cheechoo says he always enjoyed being out on stage and ensuring people are having a good time.
In 1993, he was signed to a Toronto-based recording company and released his first solo recording Lonesome and Hurting.
The single, Lonesome and Hurting, was featured on the CBS’ television series Northern Exposure.
Cheechoo also made an appearance in the Dance Me Outside movie. His two tracks, Lonesome and Hurting and Love Me Tonight, were part of the movie’s soundtrack.
“It was very interesting and exciting because I hadn’t released my first solo album, Lonesome and Hurting. And the director of the movie really liked my music,” he says. “And then he asked if I could come and do the songs in the movie.”
At some point in the future, Cheechoo wants to record some of his favourite songs and mix the cover songs with his songs.
He was nominated for a Juno Award twice. He’s a two-time Saskatchewan Country Music Award nominee, a seven-time Aboriginal Music Award nominee and a winner of the Best Produced Album of the Year at the 2000 Aboriginal Music Awards.
Looking back at his past music, Cheechoo says he has grown a lot.
“I’ve experienced life, the ups and downs of life and whatever life throws at you. I have been able to get through it and learn from it,” he says. “That comes out in the music that I play, in my writing.”
His You’re my woman song, which he wrote for his wife, is one of his favourite tracks and one of the most popular songs among the people on the James Bay coast. Why? Because it’s a love song, he says laughing.
Cheechoo has worked as Mushkegowuk Council’s director of lands and resources for eight years. Before that, he used to work with Mushkegowuk on different projects.
For the past four years, he’s been working on land and water conservation efforts. He’s been involved in the National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) project. Mushkegowuk also used to hold climate summits where Elders and scientists shared their knowledge with each other.
Cheechoo is also passionate about hunting geese and moose. He was eight or nine years old when his father started taking him out hunting. Cheechoo recalls he was allowed to handle a small gun and hunt shorebirds.
“I was taught to respect what you’re hunting, you’re not just to shoot anything. You’re also taught safety when you’re out there,” he says.
Cheechoo doesn’t plan on stopping doing music.
“I’m going to keep going. As long as I can. As long as people want me to sing for them, I will,” he says.