I like music, and I think it is safe to say that most other people do as well. You may like classic rock or new country, and you may not like what I like (in fact, because my musical tastes are absurdly diverse, I’m almost certain that you don’t) but that’s okay because allegiance to certain bands or genres of music is strictly personal. I’m far from a music expert, and my analysis of an album may be skewed and entirely off-point, but I know what I like to hear.
Some people have a “desert island list” of songs or albums that they absolutely would need to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island; I have a “hunting camp list”, because there are some tunes that just put me in a hunting frame of mind. Some of the songs may seem ridiculous to you my dear reader, but that is just the reality of the situation. Likewise, some may be songs that you love as well and that equally remind you of a hunting camp, or your first deer, or other treasured hunting remembrance. Almost all of them could be considered ‘camp songs’ in the sense that they are best played in a cabin, cottage, or some other out-of-the-way place where you could hypothetically sing, dance, and let loose.
So in the interest of letting you know a bit more about me, and maybe turning you on to a more diverse spectrum of bands and songs, here is a list of my five favourite musicians and their songs/albums (in no particular order) that remind me of, or make me feel like going, hunting.
The Lowest of the Low, Shakespeare My Butt!
This Toronto band, fronted by Ron Hawkins (not the 1960’s Ronnie Hawkins, a different one) released the album Shakespeare My Butt! in 1991 and I had a cassette copy of it for years (when cassettes were still accepted as a medium for music). I picked up a CD copy about ten years ago and listening to this album while I make the 3 hour trek up to the Bruce Peninsula to hunt deer, waterfowl, or wild turkeys has become a ritual of mine; sometimes I listen to it three times in a single one way trip. When I slide this album into the CD player in the car, it is a sure sign that I’m ‘gone hunting!’
It is a blend of folk, pop, and rock which at the time fell into that cavernous, early 1990’s abyss of music that was known as ‘alternative’. I have a different name for the genre: campfire music. Every song on this album just has a vibe that could be sung by a guy with an acoustic guitar while sitting around a bonfire or a camp stove. For those who value music critic’s opinions, this album was named one of the Top Ten Greatest Canadian Albums ever released. My favourite tracks include 4 O’Clock Stop and Subversives, although honestly this album is strong top to bottom without a bad cut to be found on it.
Hank Williams, 40 Greatest Hits
This is classic country, and it just does not get any more ‘down home’ than this. Although I’m sure this is not the actual album that gets played three or four times a week at the deer hunting camp, many of the songs by the late, great Hank Williams that are vital to a week in our deer camp can be found here. From classic ‘heartbreak’ ballads like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your Cheatin’ Heart, to raucous good-time songs like Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin’, and Honky Tonkin’, for my money Hank Williams playing at the deer camp is just plain old right.
Again, you can’t really go wrong with any songs here, but my top Hank Williams song is a toss up between There’s a Tear in My Beer and Kaw-Liga.
I’m not certain if I equate Hank Williams songs with deer hunting because there is some rural, wilderness aesthetic inherent in Hank Williams music or because I’ve grown accustomed to hearing those songs at least every other day for a full week of deer hunting for the last 15 years or so. Probably a bit of both.
Don Messer & His Islanders
This is another classic deer camp album for me. Our deer camp patriarchs were all born in the early & mid-1950’s and all grew up in a world where for a period the CBC was primarily the only television station they could watch. Don Messer was a folk musician on the CBC who played the fiddle (violin to all you aficionados out there) and for a while was the star of the most popular television show in Canada (even outdrawing Hockey Night in Canada!) so the men who passed the deer hunting tradition down to myself, my brother, and my cousins also passed along an appreciation for this little-known (at least outside of Canada and the Eastern US seaboard) musician. Don Messer’s fiddle sings a lively brand of East Coast-style music; songs like Red Wing and Little Burnt Potato are alive with a spirit of good times.
I defy anyone who listens to this album (or any music by Don Messer period) to not be inclined to start skipping a little jig or to find themselves walking with a bit more of a spring in their step. One of the sadly deceased members of our deer camp was known for playing the spoons along with the tracks on this album; he also had a small pair of sticks he referred to as ‘bones’ that, when played similarly, would tap out a sprightly rhythm that was downright infectious.
I find that the musical stylings of Don Messer and His Islanders are best enjoyed after the dinner hour, when a hunter has a full belly and an inclination to enjoy their favourite drink and partake in some good conversation.
The Animals, House of the Rising Sun
This song has a lengthy and muddy history, and it has been covered more times than I can count (or research on the Internet). Bob Dylan’s version is excellent as he growls and throats his way through the story of a wayward young woman in his own inimitable fashion, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. Older versions I have heard (where it is entitled The Rising Sun Blues) also have their appeal but for this hunter the unmistakeably grim, rolling notes of the classic guitar riff that kicks off the version performed by Eric Burdon and the Animals is the definitive essence of this tune. So aside from being a great version of the song with a timeless riff and soaring, soulful vocals, what warrants the inclusion in this list of songs that remind me of hunting?
While slightly embarrassing to admit, I do occasionally get bored sitting in the ditch overlooking a few dozen goose decoys or while on stand during a lull in the action while deer or spring turkey hunting, and it is this song that I sing in my head during those (sometimes lengthy) periods. Usually something else grabs my attention after a few moments and I’m then engaged doing something else such as calling for game, watching a blue jay chase a chickadee, paying attention to my surroundings for some sign of game approaching, or enjoying a small snack (I find that those mini Coffee Crisp bars are the best for that). But at least two or three times a hunt, I find myself quietly listening to House of the Rising Sun and that iconic almost menacing lead guitar riff in my mind. Perhaps if I did less of that and more of the ‘paying attention to my surroundings’ thing I’d be more successful, but then again maybe not.
Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gumboot Cloggeroo
I have a younger brother who kind of likes Stompin’ Tom…except during deer season when that Canadian legend’s album (Stompin’ Tom’s, not my brother’s….he hasn’t even released an album yet) is played almost ad nauseam inside the cabin. That is when my brother quite quickly grows weary of Stompin’ Tom’s vibrant guitar playing and twangy but mellow singing tones. I’m actually a big fan of Stompin’ Tom but I will admit that by mid-day on the Friday of deer camp, after three or four days of The Hockey Song and Sudbury Saturday Night playing on a non-stop loop, even my normally tolerant orchestral nerves are beginning to become a bit jangled. But frankly, even when played constantly and at a volume bordering on the torturously loud, the Gumboot Cloggeroo never gets tiresome.
This song has a beat that makes want to do more than just tap your foot; it makes you want to hunker over, round down your shoulders, stomp your foot like Stompin’ Tom himself while simultaneously clapping your hands in time, shouting the lyrics, and generally rattling the cabin walls and windows with a raucous good time. For some unexplained reason, it feels like this song embodies all the camaraderie, spirit, and unbridled relaxing silliness of a hunting trip. Even my brother, jaded though he may be by the constant barrage of The Ketchup Song over the week of deer hunting, gets in on the act every time we “do a little gumboot cloggin’”
So there you have it, far from my complete list, which includes Charlie Pride, CCR, Bad Religion, The Mamas and The Papas, Rise Against, The Doors, George Thorogood, and Johnny Cash (see what I said earlier about diverse?), but definitely five songs or albums that make up part of my hunting tradition.
I’m sure you’ve got your own list too, but then again you might even add something from my list to yours…who knows?