Nfld. & Labrador

'He was an angel, he was a devil': Friends remember music legend Ron Hynes

Friends, fellow performers, and all of Newfoundland and Labrador are sharing memories of legendary singer-songwriter Ron Hynes who died Thursday night.

'Just after Ron died, downtown St. John's was plunged into darkness': Greg Malone on power outage

Ron Hynes, "the man of a thousand songs," died Thursday night at the age of 64. Friends and fellow performers are sharing their memories of the legendary singer-songwriter. (CBC archive photo)

Friends, fellow performers, and all of Newfoundland and Labrador are sharing memories of legendary singer-songwriter Ron Hynes who died Thursday night. 

Hynes, known as "the man of a thousand songs," had been battling cancer. He died in hospital in St. John's at the age of 64.

Greg Malone, who played in the Wonderful Grand Band (WGB) with Hynes, said he was just about to go on stage for a show after getting the news Thursday night when the power went out in downtown St. John's.

Malone said two other bandmates, Sandy Morris and Paul "Boomer" Stamp, were also getting ready for a separate show just across the street.

He sang who we were as Newfoundlanders and who we are, the beauty but also the pain.- Sheilagh O'Leary

"Just after Ron died downtown St. John's was plunged into darkness for an hour … shows were cancelled and his three old bandmates were prevented from performing that night," Malone told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"It was just like surreal. I was greatly relieved, I really was. I didn't realize how upset I was," he added, joking that Hynes did him a favour.

"It's so appropriate for the lights to go out in St. John's in honour of Ron."

Candle left at Ron Hynes statue

7 years ago
Duration 0:58
A candle was left glowing at the base of the Ron Hynes statue on George Street overnight Thursday by a fan who learned of the singer's death

Newfoundland Power said Thursday's power outage, which affected 1,700 customers in downtown St. John's, was a result of equipment failure caused by a pole fire.

Hynes announced in late October he was again battling cancer, but this time it had spread to his hip and lung. In 2013, Hynes said he was pronounced cancer free after undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

'Generous person'

Fiddler Kelly Russell also played with the WGB, and said while he knew his former bandmate was sick, the news of his death was still a hard blow.

"It's always a shock and it always hits you hard when it happens," said Russell.

"Ron was such a generous person with his talent and just with himself, you know. There's no other guy like him."

Russell said Hynes's first solo album Discovery, released in 1972, was the first time he ever heard him sing.

Ron Hynes plays an intimate house show on Nov. 8, likely one of his final performances. (Submitted by Christina Smith)

"I remember thinking, 'Wow this guy is local and he's writing songs?' It was one of the early inspirations."

Russell added that Hynes was an exceptionally talented lyricist, who was always playing with words.

"He was a wordsmith and he always was twisting a rhyme around and he took such joy and such pleasure in it, it was almost like a little boy's pleasure for him — he just loved his craft and he was just so damn good at it," he said.

"It's about the art and it's about the craft and Ron's life was entirely about that."

'Never be another Ron Hynes'

St. John's musician Colleen Power first sang with Hynes when she was 24, and said the musical heavyweight took her "under his wing."

"Probably the main reason why I became a songwriter is because of Ron," said an emotional Power.

She added that as a friend, Hynes was good for a laugh, but even then was still a strong mentor for her and other local musicians.

There will never be another Ron Hynes and I don't know what we're gonna do without him.- Colleen Power

"It was kind of hard to separate the mentor from the friend, because as a friend he was very encouraging to me as a songwriter and gave me all kinds of advice over the years," said Power.

"We didn't have a lot of money, and he never ever did either, but he was very generous as a friend. If you showed up at his gig he'd be like, 'Do you want $50? How you doing? Do you have any groceries?' That's the kind of friend he was."

His death, Power said, has created a hole in the music and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"There will never be another Ron Hynes and I don't know what we're gonna do without him."

Shepherd of 'cultural renaissance'

Meanwhile, former St. John's city coun. Sheilagh O'Leary said she grew up listening to his music, adding Hynes was "obviously a legend."

Ron Hynes, seen here performing in archival footage, previously battled throat cancer in 2012. He announced in October the cancer was back and spread to his lungs and hip. (CBC archives)

"I was one of many who grew up on Ron and WGB and CODCO, I mean that was the generation for me — that was our staple. There was a cultural renaissance happening in Newfoundland," said O'Leary.

"He sang who we were as Newfoundlanders and who we are, the beauty but also the pain and some of the ugly stuff too — there was no brushing it over."

'Biggest rock star'

According to O'Leary, Hynes was a fellow activist who was out ahead of any slight against Newfoundland and Labrador's cultural heritage.

"He's moved us in so many different ways, he's supported us in so many ways," she said.

"He was an angel, he was a devil. He was just a good friend."

Ron Hynes, seen here in a CBC studio in St. John's, was battling cancer that had spread to his hip and lungs. (CBC)

Great Big Sea singer Alan Doyle said Hynes was a leader for musicians in the province, and across the world, who remained a leader even late in his career.

We had somebody who could record our history in songs that he could sing at a concert and it's just a beautiful testament.- Alan Doyle

"I think the void for us is that we don't have that guy leading the charge about what the coolest thing is anymore, we're gonna have to do it ourselves," he said.

Doyle added the work Hynes left behind will be hard to live up to.

"The body of work that he has left with us is such an enormous treasure for our province and for our people because it is us, it's our stories and our songs," he said.

"We had somebody who could record our history in songs that he could sing at a concert and it's just a beautiful testament."

Doyle said Hynes was "the biggest rock star in the world" to him, and he felt lucky he had the chance to write music when he and Hynes wrote for Doyle's Boy on Bridge album.

Ron Hynes was a staple of Newfoundland and Labrador's music, says former St. John's city councillor Sheilagh O'Leary. (CBC archive photo)

Premier Paul Davis said Friday that the death of Hynes is "a very sad day" for the province.

"So talented, so much respect," said Davis. "We're blessed to have his music and contribution."


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