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How signing with a label meant new battles for Cowboy Junkies — and new pressure for singer Margo Timmins

"They wanted me to shorten my skirts and change my nose," the singer recalls.

'They wanted me to shorten my skirts and change my nose,' the singer recalls

“They wanted me to shorten my skirts and change my nose.” Cowboy Junkies' story will be featured alongside the stories of four more Hall of Fame inductees in the CBC Music special Inducted: The Road to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The special will feature extensive interviews with Canadian music legends Jann Arden, Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, Andy Kim and the family of singer Bobby Curtola. 2:04

The 2020 Junos have been cancelled since this article was first published.

After the massive success of their independently released 1988 album, The Trinity Session, Cowboy Junkies hesitantly signed to a record label. While the move opened new doors for the band, it also led to industry-driven pressure on singer Margo Timmins. 

"I never did anything that was not me," says Timmins, whose bandmates include her two brothers, Michael, on guitar, and Pete, on drums, as well as Alan Anton on bass. "And that, I think, was irritating to the industry because they felt if I glammed myself up a little more, we could have sold more records. But I would have not liked myself. So yeah, you know, they wanted me to shorten my skirts and change my nose."

Cowboy Junkies were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in November 2019. Last fall, CBC Music took Margo and Michael to Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity, where they recorded The Trinity Session, and asked how the band — now independent again — felt about their time working with labels.  

The Cowboy Junkies in Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity the day they recorded "The Trinity Session" album. (Courtesy of Michael Timmins)
 

"We went into that relationship with that in mind, knowing that there'll be some battles and we might have to give ground on a few weird things but we'll never give up on the music and it'll work out," Michael says.

One of those battles was the push for Margo to change her image. 

"All that fashion attention was hard because it was really not who I was or am," she says. "Getting my picture taken by all these people was not fun. But to me, it was a part of the job."

Margo Timmins was named one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine in 1990. (People)

At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the fall, Margo used her acceptance speech to call out sexism in the music business, asking industry professionals to make it more welcoming and supportive for women. 

"I know that there are many men and women in our industry who struggle every day to create change, and to you, I give you my respect and my support," she said. "But there are also many women and men who think that with time, things will become equal and all will be well eventually. And perhaps they're right. But what I say to that is, if you are thinking in this way, you have to remember, as we wait, the next generation of talented and creative women will be asked or allowed to join our industry by going through the side door — the way that women have entered the world of men for centuries, and it's just wrong."

The Cowboy Junkies' story will be featured alongside the stories of four more Hall of Fame inductees in the CBC Music special Inducted: The Road to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The special will feature extensive interviews with Canadian music legends Jann Arden, Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, Andy Kim and the family of singer Bobby Curtola. 

Inducted airs on CBC Television at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 15. You can watch it via CBC Gem now

With files from Reuben Maan. Video produced by Justin Chandler and Ryan Gassi. Sara Cornthwaite and Merik Williams on camera.

About the Author

Justin Chandler

Associate Producer

Justin Chandler reports and produces throughout the CBC in Toronto. He's worked as an associate producer for CBC Radio shows Cross Country Checkup and Day 6, as well as for CBC Music and CBC Arts. He previously worked as an editor for The Eyeopener newspaper and he co-hosts/produces the Radio Free Krypton podcast. Follow Justin on Twitter: @mr_lois_lane

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