Like a maple tree for its syrup, Canada has been tapped for its talent by the USA.
This talent-drain has been going on for many years, but recently, one of our greatest exports is reversing the flow. After 20 years in the US, the “First Lady of the Guitar” is coming home. Liona Boyd aptly announced her return to Canada with a tribute album: The Return…To Canada With Love.
However, don’t expect this self-titled “gypsy” to halt her globe-trotting lifestyle anytime soon.
“I have the privilege of paying taxes in both countries,” she says to me over the phone from her winter home in Palm Beach, Florida—just one example of her deep-seated jet-setting ways. “I enjoy the snowbird lifestyle, which is to get the heck out of Toronto when it gets too cold,” she laughs.
Despite soaking up rays at the time, when we spoke Liona was preparing to head on an early Spring tour of frosty Western Canada, to which she said “I’m tough. I’m a Canadian.”
Tough indeed. In addition to toughing out a life on the road, Liona pioneered the way for women guitar players in the business.
“Yes, I mean the guitar world was very much dominated by men for many years…Really it was a man’s world in the rock and the classical, and there was a lot of chauvinistic attitudes in the record companies too towards me. They said ‘Ah you’ll never succeed you’re just a pretty face’ and I supposed I played that up sometimes.”
Turning the remark on its pretty little head, Liona posed in a see-through blouse hiked high up her leg and straddled a white horse for the cover of The Best of Liona Boyd.
“Needless to say it went Platinum in North America.” She says of the daring—let me remind you—classical album.
“It was my good-luck trademark,” she laughs, “so I stuck the same leg out of the canoe.” referring to the cover of The Return.
Eleven years ago, Liona was faced with another challenge to her success when she was diagnosed with “incurable” neurological damage in her hand—termed Musician’s Focal Dystonia. Incurable? Not for Liona. During a six-year hiatus from the stage she reinvented her playing style, added singing to her repertoire, and returned triumphant in 2009 with two new albums.
And now, it’s a return to Canada.
“I think it’s a significant contribution to Canada’s musical landscape, because it’s all inspired by Canada.”
The album opens with “Spirit of the Canadian Northlands,” a track sure to be played in yoga-classes across the country. Although, if your practice is outdoors, you might prefer the soothing “Silver Birch,” with its references to nature and Ojibwe lyrics.
“I really love the native languages,” she says. “The musicality and the sounds that they make.” In addition to Ojibwe, you’ll hear Cree and Inuktitut, which Liona sought special coaching for pronunciation.
Liona’s voice on “Canadian Summer Dreams” is especially beautiful.
But it’s not just Liona’s voice you’ll hear, as the Canadian guitar legend shuffles special guests like a respected card dealer. The tribute album includes appearances by Olivia Newton-John, Dan Hill, Jann Arden, Randy Bachman, Serena Ryder, Chris Hadfield, Maria Aragon, Daniel Lavoie, John McDermott, Eleanor McCain, Mark Masri, Divine Brown and many others.
But despite her many friendships (for a peek at her impressive rolodex, view the trophy photos on her website or in her autobiography In My Own Key) Liona finds herself alone.
Who would have thought that by this time I’d be living my life alone/After all the romances, and courtships and dances, I still have no love of my own she sings on the very personal track “Living My Life Alone.”
“Unfortunately that’s the way it is” laughs Liona. “I wish it weren’t that way, but I haven’t met the right man yet, and who knows if I ever will. I don’t know. I don’t know if he’ll be a musician. I’ve met a lot of great composers, and some composers have been interested in coming onto me, but they just weren’t the right ones.”
For now, her guitar remains her companion, solidifying her moniker as the First Lady of the Guitar.
Read more about Liona’s views of love in our article “So you wanna’ date a rock star – 5 musicians offer advice” and view her extensive tour dates here.