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Q&A: Deric Ruttan on Performing at the 2012 CCMA Awards

Watch Deric Ruttan's video for his latest single, Main Street, 1979

The Canadian Country Music Association Awards will this year be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on Sunday, September 9. As announced May 10, they'll once again be broadcast on CBC Television. Like you, we can't wait to head out to Saskatoon to honour the best Canada has to offer in country music. As well as performances from Miranda Lambert and Pistol AnniesCCMA Award winner Deric Ruttan will take to the stage. To whet your appetite for the show, we spoke with the country star and one of the most revered Canadian songwriters himself:

Up All Night was released in September - how are things working out with the record?

Deric Ruttan: Things are great. Things are awesome. It's been a goal of mine - it was kind of on my bucket list - to record a live album. We took advantage of an opportunity we had last July when we played the Calgary Stampede and recorded that record. There are actually four new studio tracks too, including the last couple of singles that have been out. It's great, I enjoy the opportunity to showcase my live band because in the last couple of years I've been really trying to focus a lot of energy on cultivating a live show that's energetic and entertaining. The ability to showcase all that on a live record was wonderful.

You're heading to Saskatoon in September for the CCMA Awards, and you're going to be performing for us I do believe?

DR: Yeah! I'm really excited about that. We're just in the planning stages of the show - my performance rather - and I can tell you we've got some exciting things lined up. It's always a fun time. Every time I go to the CCMA Awards I think back to the very first time I went, as a fan, in the early '90s. It was a couple of years before I moved to Nashville. I was sitting in the back - actually it was in Hamilton too - and Michelle Wright opened the show. It was just incredible. All these years later, I've been fortunate each year to be nominated for some awards, I won one time, and this year I'm performing. It's great to be able to make a living doing what you've always wanted to do.

It was in 2007 that you won the award for Songwriter of the Year. What was it like to accept your award thinking that the next big Canadian country music star might have been a fan in the crowd that night just like you were?

DR: Well, oddly enough I wasn't there. It's funny because I was actually at home in Tennessee... that was one of the very few years - it may be the only year - that I didn't go to the awards for one reason or another. I was working on a new album at the time, First Time in a Long Time. I was nominated for a song called Hold My Beer that I wrote with Mitch Merrett and Aaron Pritchett; Aaron recorded it. The awards weren't even broadcast in the States that year so I didn't know what was going on. I got a text from a songwriter idol of mine in Nashville named Don Schlitz. Now Don was someone who befriended me very early on when I moved to Nashville, he made me feel welcome. He wrote The Gambler for Kenny Rogers and Forever and Ever Amen for Randy Travis. Anyway, Don was at the CCMA Awards that year and he texted me after I won and said, "where are you? I can't see you!" -- "I'm in Tennessee, why, where are you?" I replied. He's the one who told me and then I started to get text messages and my mom called me. Even though I wasn't onstage it was pretty exciting.

You mentioned Aaron Pritchett - you wrote his song My Way, which was the most played Canadian Country song of 2004.

DR: Yeah, that's right. My Way was a song that I wrote a long time ago with another Canadian, Tim Taylor, who comes from Oshawa but lives in Nashville. That was a very early song, we probably wrote that in 1996 or '97. Aaron had it I think in 2000 or '01, somewhere around there. It was actually one of my first tracks as a songwriter, it was probably among the first five things that I had recorded after I moved to Nashville. That was pretty cool, and to have it go on to be the most played Canadian country song of that year! I've been honoured a couple of times since then. Actually, Jimmy Rankin and I got a SOCAN Award just this past year in Toronto at Roy Thompson Hall for a song of mine called Up All Night, the title track of the live record, which was the most played Canadian Country Song of 2010, so I hope that I can keep it up!

When you released First Time in a Long Time it was quite the apt title - you'd been working on it for a long time. Was that because you were working on writing songs for other people? Is it not more satisfying to write a song for yourself?

DR: Well, I don't know... honestly, just from a pure human satisfaction level, I don't think that it's any more satisfying to write them for myself. Performing I find very enjoyable, whether I'm standing up there singing a song I wrote or a song someone else wrote. Any time anyone records one of my songs - whether it's me or someone else - I appreciate that and I always enjoy hearing it on the radio. I honestly... I enjoy hearing songs that I wrote but did not record on the radio better than I enjoy hearing songs I wrote and recorded on the radio. I don't really like to listen to myself sing... you know?

There's that old adage where nobody likes to listen to their own voice...

DR: Yeah, I don't like to hear my speaking voice... I don't mind hearing my singing voice as much as I don't like hearing my speaking voice, if that makes sense.

You've lived in Nashville now for almost eighteen years - is it nice to come back to Canada? How often do you get to come back, when it's not for the CCMAs?

DR: You know what's funny is I'm actually driving back to Nashville now from Ontario as I'm speaking to you - on my hands free device! I was just up in my hometown of Bracebridge, Ontario, and I was helping my dad split firewood that he's going to need to burn in his woodstove this coming winter. I know, how Canadian right? We split a bunch of firewood and then had a beer!

Did you watch some Hockey Night in Canada as well?

DR: That's the one thing we didn't do...! I know, right? I was wearing flannel, so there was that!

Come to think of it, were you following the Predators at all?

DR: You know, I actually wasn't. I'm probably one of the only Canadians you've met that didn't play hockey when they were growing up. I don't follow the Preds although I have had the pleasure of singing O Canada at several Predators games over the years, which has been fun. In answer to your question, when I first moved to Nashville I got back to Canada maybe every three or four months; I'd go home and visit. Once my first album came out in 2003 though, I started going up to Canada to perform and then most of my trips turned in to business trips, you know, so now I'm up maybe just once or twice a year for pleasure trips, so to speak.

There was one year when you closed the CCMA Awards with Randy Bachman. That must have been quite the experience?

DR: Yeah, that was awesome. It was Randy, myself and Beverley Mahood. I had actually known Randy... Randy saw me perform in Nashville when I had just moved and he was down there visiting. He reached out to me and wanted to write a song with me so we got together. I enjoyed meeting him immensely. My high school band used to cover American Woman and other Guess Who songs. It was a treat to get to meet Randy... and then to write with him.

I hadn't seen him for years, we exchanged emails and then when I was asked to perform that song with him - in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba - that was pretty cool, man. To get to stand up there with the man himself in his hometown and perform...



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