You might not have heard of Gord Bamford but he’s kind of a big deal in Canada. In fact, only one Canadian country music artist has won more awards than him.
You might have heard of her. Her name is Shania Twain.
Bamford has 24 Canadian Country Music Association and two Country Music Association awards to his name, as well as 23 top 10 singles. His first Australian album release, Tin Roof, achieved three top five singles.
Not that awards mean much to this down-to-earth singer-songwriter who was born in Traralgon, Victoria, and moved to Alberta, Canada, with his mother at the age of five.
“I’ve tried to build a career where you know you’re making it when people are buying a ticket to see your show. Not to watch you open for someone, but to see you play,” he tells Weekender.
“That’s the key. Awards are great, but selling tickets and selling music and impacting people’s lives is what really matters. It takes a lot of hard work and effort and it all starts and ends with a great song. Being a good person and having people believe in you and support you, that’s the next step.”
Bamford is in the middle of his biggest sell-out tour to date – 44 shows in 39 days – and is returning to our shores next month with his band for a whirlwind tour to celebrate the Australian release of his eighth studio album, Neon Smoke. The first single, Livin’ On Summertime, topped the charts in Canada.
He has always felt an affinity with Australia so it was no surprise that when he had the opportunity to perform here he found an instant connection with audiences.
“Australian audiences know how to have a good time,” he says.
“They love their beer, music and down-home lifestyle – it’s everything I am.
“It’s funny how life works. My dad lives over by the Gold Coast, I’ve got a brother in Melbourne and my sister is up in Mackay. I’ve also got cousins in the Traralgon area. I went back with my dad and saw the house I lived in, which was pretty neat.”
Bamford is also good mates with – and a fan of – Australia’s own Lee Kernaghan.
“He’s a wonderful guy and his story as well as his career is very, very similar to mine. It’s kinda haunting and surreal, to be honest. I keep trying to convince him to do a song with me. My grandpa told me to treat people the way you want to be treated. I’ve kinda lived that motto my whole life. It’s a really similar story with Lee.”
And, like Kernaghan, Bamford likes creating music that connects with an audience. That people can “have a good time” with.
“I’ve always been a fan of lyrics but, more importantly, a fan of stories. I sit down and write what other people want to hear as opposed to what I want to hear.”
The man can sing, there is no doubt. And he is, in his words, “the most decorated Canadian country artist apart from Shania Twain”. But that didn’t win over the notoriously fickle American country music industry. Then again, not many non-Americans make it.
“Look, Keith Urban is one of the best but I have heard, like, 10 Aussie artists who could make it over there like he has,” Bamford says.
“There are so many people across the world that will let you in and love your music outside of the US. I don’t have one iota of ambition to go there again and try pushing my music. I love the people and I love writing songs there, but if you’re not from there it seems to be an issue.
“That’s just the way it is. I’d rather share my music with Australian audiences.”
If he’s not making music or touring, though, he has the Gord Bamford Foundation to work on. His nice guy persona is no act.
“I go to the children’s hospitals in Canada and donate lots of money and I spend time with the kids and their families. I was at a hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, four years ago when I met a little girl by the name of Dakota. She was four years old and dying of cancer.
“Anyway, I had a show last night and I walked out and started singing my first song and I saw a little girl holding a sign – it said she’d met me at a children’s hospital four years ago, and said ‘Look at me now’. It was Dakota. She was healthy. I couldn’t hold it together. I thought of my two little girls and my son straight away and I couldn’t get through the song so I called her up on stage and thought that would help me.
“You can’t script that stuff. It was one of the coolest moments of my career.”