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A long time coming

By Daron Letts
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 16, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Songwriter John Tees is holding a free concert at Northern Arts and Cultural Centre Jan. 16. The musician will introduce the community to his first album in his liftetime of music, What Metis Means To Me.

Recorded at Dancing Sky Studios, the disc went on sale last month at CD Plus and throughout the country in HMV music stores. The 18 tracks are available online through ITunes.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

John Tees launches his debut CD at Northern Arts and Cultural Centre at 8 p.m. Jan. 16. What Metis Means To Me features songs written throughout the singer's life. - photo courtesy of John Tees

"The album speaks to the connectedness we have as people," Tees explained. "Being Metis has always been a key piece of who I am, the diversity of my life and the ability to adapt."

Although Tees recorded the album in just a few months last year, he has carried many of his highly-personal lyrics and intimate melodies on the road with him for years.

Tees started writing his own songs at age 16. While he was a student at St. Pat's in the 1960s, he played venues like the Elks Hall and the Legion with the band Stained Glass Illusion, and later with a group called Friends alongside his brother, bassist Gary Tees, and musicians John Telgen, Tom Hudson and other contemporaries.

In 1979 Tees embarked on a live music career that brought him to honky tonk stages all over Alberta in the 1980s.

"We played from one end of the province to the other," he said. "From High Level to Coutts and most places in between."

A year studying classical guitar at the University of Calgary infused Tees' musical experience with a new depth that brought a musical maturity to his songwriting. Following a decade on the road and after an intense period of soul-searching, Tees focused more seriously on crafting original material.

"My need for serenity and peace is why I came back North," he said.

Tees returned to Yellowknife in the mid-1990s.

Since coming home, Tees has toured frequently in the territories with longtime friend and fellow musician George Tuccaro. They visit Northern schools to perform and deliver positive messages to students about staying in school and reaching for their dreams. They also broach issues like substance abuse and suicide.

Every winter Tees and Tuccaro hold a Christmas concert at Stanton Hospital for residents of the extended care facility. They often perform at funerals to help comfort communities in times of grief.

"John helps out a lot of people," Tuccaro said. "It's about reaching out to people and helping them through difficult times."

Many local musicians echo Tuccaro's praise.

"I think that John is a voice for the North," said musician and producer Rick Poltaruk. "He's a great musician and a really good wordsmith. His songs come from the heart."

The new album is already airing across the North on local radio stations. Songs like Take Time for Children, You Are My Flower and I Don't Want to Hear You also play on radios around the world through CBC's international broadcasts.

"I'm really grateful for all the airplay and support from the people of NWT and Nunavut," Tees said. "If it wasn't for those people the music wouldn't be what it is."

Other musicians featured on the new album are Gary Tees, Lee Mandeville and Norbert Poitras. Tees, Tuccaro and a tight-knit team of musicians take the stage Friday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m.