Terry Tufts
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Terry Tufts


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The best kept secret in music


"Scott Sheldon Review of The Better Fight"

Over his thirty-year career, Ontario's Terry Tufts has perhaps been best-known as the brilliant go-to guitar and mandolin player for a host of Canadian recording artists. However, he has honed a powerful and passionate body of his own songs, of which The Better Fight is a mature and self-assured collection.

Seeing Terry perform live, there is no doubt about the sort of person and performer he is. In his black wool cap, braided blonde sideburns studded with precious stones, and decidedly un-hip black glasses, he delivers his anthemic songs with unstinting passion and candor. His songs feature his dead-honest authenticity and unwavering (though not preachy) message of protecting the Earth and living life as "the better fight" without compromise. Terry cleverly wraps up this view of life in his song Black Velvet Elvis, an infectious folk/rocker that asks, "What'll it be? Black Velvet Elvis or Georgia O'Keefe?" That is, a life of artifice or a life of authenticity?

The remainder of The Better Fight makes clear that Terry Tufts has chosen Georgia O'Keefe.. The title song, an anthemic folk song that could as easily have been penned by David Wilcox, begins "With some fine skills and my pocket and a small sense of adventure I will build myself a rocket, leave myself-imposed indenture…"and celebrates a life where you "might never get it right" but will have "fought the good fight." In the powerful anti-war (whether against humans, animals, or the environment) song Embracing the Addiction, a poetic rocker that brings to mind U2 or The Cranberries, Terry sings about war: "Every father destined to perpetuate this cruel charade/ Every mother destined to give birth astride an open grave."

These are intentionally not overtly commercial songs: They don't feature poppy hooks and they often run more than five minutes. However, they are beautifully melodic and feature Terry's remarkable guitar, mandolin, and citern playing, as well as hot piano playing from Mark Ferguson and a guest vocal appearance by Jesse Winchester.

Terry pointedly weaves together a number of genres (the liner notes for each song suggest a point of comparison, like "Think James Taylor Via Pat Matheny"). That Was You, This Was Me is a nostalgic love song filled with lush major sevenths and arpeggiated piano runs in the Motown tradition. Open Letter to the Earth" is like a closing prayer, in which Terry
confesses that he had "stopped listening" to Mother Earth but wants to hear her again. Fly Away celebrates the February 1909 flight of the Silver Dart - the first heavier-than-air flight in the British Empire - with the beautiful and playful lines: We still love the wind in our hair and still tend to grow toward the light, still enthused at the thought of a motorbike engine on a tricycle strapped to a kite.

Rock on, Terry. A forceful and moving album.
- Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

"Roger Levesque Interview"

Friday January 13, 2006

SOCIAL CONCERNS DRIVE TUFTS issues such as environment, consumer culture inspire Ottawa-area songwriter.

Relationships or romance, lost and found, have been a regular source of inspiration for many singer-songwriters, but now and then you come across a folksinger who’s bent on social or political commentary with real conviction.

Ontario native Terry Tufts allows that growing up in the 1960s and hearing the protest songs of the day “might have tweaked that gene” in his own consciousness. He’s also often motivated by wondering what kind of world his three-year-old daughter will grow up to experience.

Either way, Tufts leaves you with some thought-provoking songs on The Better Fight, his eclectic recent CD on the Borealis label. You can judge for yourself when the singer-guitarist returns to Edmonton to play The Blue Chair Café tonight (9624 76th Ave. at 9 p.m.; $10 cover; call 989-2861 for reservations).

As a kid, Tufts gained a larger world view earlier than most when his father’s job as a diplomat took the family to the Midwest United States, Europe, and finally back to the Ottawa area (he’s enjoyed a rural base in the Ottawa Valley for a decade now).

“The first time I flew over Europe at night,” recalls Tufts, “my biggest impression was how little darkness there was because there are so many people. There’s so much stress on their water and so much of the wild gone. Coming back here, you realize we have so much that we take for granted.”

Along the way he was listening to everyone from Gordon Lightfoot and Lenny Breau to Tommy Smothers, and reading the romantic English poets. He started playing mandolin first at nine, picked up guitar later on, and says he was moved to start penning his own songs around 13. Today, he draws as much notice for his agile guitar as he does for the songs he shapes with it.

After joining a few bands as a teenager, he wound up going solo in 1979, but since then he’s backed up a variety of artists, including members of The Family Brown and Susan Aglukark. Tufts put out his first album in 1987.

Six albums down the road, The Better Fight has its share of relationship songs, a fresh cover of the Isley Brothers’ I Got Work To Do, and even a historical tune about the Silver Dart airplane commissioned by the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa, but you can really hear his passion in the tracks about bigger issues. For instance, Dirty Little War is a piece about civilians on opposite sides of a conflict. Embracing The Addiction is a critique of what consumer culture is doing to the planet, and the album closes with Open Letter To The Earth, an apology of sorts for what’s happening to the environment. I love people in general but I feel there are far too many of us, and we live for ourselves, we don’t live in balance with the rest of things. If that sounds pessimistic, it’s not. It’s just a plea to start trying.”
- Edmonton Journal

"John Threlfall"

Veteran guitarist Terry Tufts keeps the better fight alive.

If you’re one of those people who likes to put singers into boxes, you wouldn’t have much trouble categorizing Terry Tufts as simply an environmentalist musician. Which would be a shame, as this veteran singer-songwriter has so much more to offer than just that. True, the Ottawa-based musician has never been afraid of being up-front with his passions especially on The Better Fight, his sixth and most recent album but ultimately it’s the music that drives him.

A session guitarist for the past 30 years, who’s most recently been supporting the likes of David Francey and Susan Aglukark, Tufts laughs when I ask about the messages behind his latest disc. “Oh I just love to bitch about stuff,” he chuckles. Still, there’s no mistaking his musical sincerity; not only does The Better Fight contain a statement about concerns both local and global (“Refuse unrecycled materials, kill your television and clean up the Great Lakes at all costs”), but the songs themselves revolve around topics like rampant consumerism, and end to war, mother earth and our collective need to keep fighting that good fight.

Yet while that may all sound terribly serious, Tufts’ characteristic folk-jazz-pop fusion can’t help but remind you of Crosby, Stills, & Nash…not that everyone today is keen on that particular sound. “There’s a whole new generation of kids out there more into dance beats,” the 51-year-old Tufts chuckles again. “They figure my music smells a little bit too much of patchouli. But I find people my age are more concerned with this kind of thing that people that age were when I was 18.”

Tufts, who cites Leo Kottke, Lenny Breau, Red Shea and Tommy Smothers as influences (“Although it’s all Gordon Lightfoot’s fault,” he laughs), will play here this week as part of the ongoing Pondside Music House concert series. “House concerts are wonderful things,” he says. “Most people know each other so the atmosphere is established right away. It’s not like playing a soft-seater somewhere it’s very homey and easy to converse with people.”

As well as being a husband to noted pianist Kathryn Briggs and father to a three-year-old daughter, Tufts also manages to find time to play more than 150 gigs a year. “Three a week, at least, year-round,” he laughs. “Hell, I don’t know how to do anything else, and I’ve still got a mortgage. Plus, I enjoy it too much.”

But don’t think he’s just in it for the money. (Is any acoustic guitarist in it for the money?) In fact, that’s what The Better Fight is all about. “When I wrote that song, it was to aspire to inspire, to try and find something you can do that’s better than making money,” he explains. “I mean, there’s nothing wrong with making money, but it’s the love of money that’s going to cause you problems. As far as finding something that needs fixing form diversity to cleaning up a mess that’s the better fight: what you leave behind you.”

Of course, leaving behind a solid body of work can’t hurt, either. And that’s one thing Terry Tufts doesn’t have to worry about.
- Monday Magazine, Victoria, BC

"Cam Hayden Interview"

Terry Tufts evokes instrumental passion with little protest.

Upon listening to Terry Tufts’s disc The Better Fight (released last fall on Borealis Records), you could be forgiven for assuming he’s a throwback to a bygone era of protest singers who dished out “message” songs. “Dirty Little War,” Embracing The Addiction,” and the traditional “Awake Ye Drowsie Sleeper” could be heard as calls to action. Thing is, you’d be on the wrong track.

On the phone from Denman Island in the midst of a 13-day, three-week tour of B.C. and Alberta, the 51-year-old has an entirely different take on his music.

“I did come out of that era, and although I learned how to play guitar through a lot of those old records (he sites Stephen Stills, Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, Pentangle, and even Pat Metheny as musical references), it’s more about the music that the lyrics for me. I think in terms of putting words to the music that I write…naturally there are things that I think of in terms of my new daughter and what the world will be like for her in 70 years, but really, the music comes first, the lyrics second.”

Tufts, who has played guitar for David Francey and Susan Aglukark, among others, laid down the instrumental beds for the CD in a week. “We then constructed each tune in terms of what served the music best as opposed to, ‘Here’s Terry’s song, now what do we need to do?’ I was changing lyrics on some of the songs right up to the last moment. That was a marvelous opportunity for me as a songwriter.”

He believes that in live performance as a solo artist this approach serves him well. “There isn’t a song on the disc that I can’t do solo. They all have a rhythmic feel that can be translated to solo performance. I’ve been playing guitar for people for a long time, and because I love the instrument and people, it always works out. Plus, I always have fun with it and bring humour to the show.”
- See Magazine, Edmonton, AB

"Terry Tufts Punches Far Above His Weight"

Near the start of the recording sessions for his current CD, a 30-ft. tree limb smashed through his daughter's bedroom just moments after Terry Tufts lifted her from her crib. It was an arboreal grace note not lost on a songwriter who worships the wilderness and has spent most of his life massaging gem-like sounds out of wooden instruments.

The house roof repaired, six months later fate struck again. Listening to board mixes and returning from a wake on an icy winter night last year, Terry made way for an oncoming motorist only to spin out into a ditch, totaling his van. Upside down and miraculously unharmed as he wrestled his prized Martin guitar out of the wreck, he might have been forgiven for wondering if his CD title was perhaps better suited to a David Cronenberg movie.

The Better Fight has been fraught with far less peril since its launch before the folknicenti at Kingston’s Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference in October. Totally unscathed by reviewers, audiences, airplay, trees or vehicles, Terry Tufts is supremely motivated, and thankful.

With five others under his belt, his latest “make-or-break” CD is making it. He’s relentlessly touring his new music to enthusiastic club, coffeehouse and house concert audiences right across the country and into the States. He also kicked off 2006 with 20 anointing minutes on CBC’s Sounds Like Canada national radio show in January.

The new 13-song CD’s stocked in chains like HMV, selling out locally, and has full-on support from a respected record label (Borealis Records’ co-founder Bill Garrett not only backed it, but decided to produce it).

Fresh from a string of performances up and down the left coast and speaking from fellow guitar ace Dave Clarke’s (of bluegrass band Steel Rails fame) home in Victoria, Terry’s enthusiasm lights the wire when he gauges reaction to The Better Fight:

“When I’m doing interviews eyes are opening up a lot wider because my bread and butter has been acoustic folk. With this one it was all about serving the song, so while the acoustic guitar is present because that’s the core of what I do, there are Motown influences where there need to be as well as jazz and other influences. A three-minute tune called Black Velvet Elvis (aka Live Right) is getting a lot of attention because it’s short enough to block a show around, and it moves.”

The song, co-written with Terry’s wife Kathryn Briggs and friend and fellow songwriter David Francey, offers a whimsical art-as-life lesson on making choices with the refrain: “Toss up a coin. What’ll it be? Black Velvet Elvis or Georgia O’Keefe?”

Fronted by Terry’s six-string, held down with unapologetic rhythm by John Dymond on bass (John Geggie plays on most other tunes) Ross Murray on drums and Rob Graves on percussion, and topped with the flourishing keyboards of Mark Ferguson and backing vocals of Montreal folk-rock legend Jesse Winchester, Black Velvet Elvis is a signature song for this record. It’s got a great groove. It’s got a lyric that lifts you higher. And it lets Terry riff on a low-down southern-fried electric lead as well as his exacting and melodic finger-style acoustic orchestrations.

While Terry and his hand-picked band provide many pleasures on The Better Fight, what’s most satisfying about this CD are the songwriter’s vocals, coaxed out by long-time collaborator and sound engineer Ken Friesen at Almonte’s Signal Path studios.

Tufts confesses that in the past his recorded vocals have been sometimes forced or “churchy”. But with trust, friendship, humour and an insistence that it’s often the first take that makes the song, Friesen captured the essential Terry Tufts – the one who can convince you to change your life’s path or weep with joy at the kindness of strangers in the span of one live set. What you hear on the new CD is someone giving marrow and soul to his music – from the stunning dynamics and almost shocking intimacy of Appalachian traditional Awake Ye Drowsy Sleeper to the righteous anger of his own anti-war anthem Embracing the Addiction.

The Better Fight is the culmination of Terry Tufts' career as a gifted and passionate songwriter. Whether he's tackling the dilemma posed by an unjust war or savouring moments in time most of us don’t make time for, he displays a boxer's heart wrapped inside a troubadour's spirit. That said, may he thrive and delight us with another 50 years of his inspired life, and the last word, from his new CD’s title track, goes to him:

“If I live to be 100, I may never get it right. But there’ll be no small consolation, for having fought the better fight.”
- Nathan Sloniowski, The Humm

"Review By Joanne F. Villeneuve"

By Joanne F. Villeneuve

The type of music that Ottawa-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Terry Tufts creates has a magical way of transporting me to the many evenings I have spent at folk festivals, under leafy branches and starlit sky.

However, his new album, The Better Fight, is more than merely an addition to the Canadian folk landscape as the rich instrumental accompaniment polishes his 13 songs - 11 of which are his own - into individual, multi-dimensional gems. Stylistically, it may be easiest to pigeonhole Tufts as a folk performer, but he embraces many different genres - folk, country, pop, funk, jazz, and rock - in this project, and convincingly so, with his voice as the strong, unifying thread.

Lyrically, the songwriter uses his art to engage his listener and encourage thinking about the things that really matter: family; love; and the environment. And though each cut is thoroughly unique, musically, there are allusions to other writers and performers - Marc Cohn, James Taylor and Bruce Hornsby immediately come to mind - in licks or harmonies.

With a tenor voice that is at once grave, edgy, and fluid, Tufts appeals to and entices the listener as he weaves his timely messages. As an instrumentalist, the award-winning Tufts is more than adept on the acoustic guitar, the mandolin and the citern. The two instrumental tracks, Pursuant To My Nature and Idyll, are things of beauty, especially the jazz-infused latter.

Notable are Mark Ferguson's fabulous trombone solo in Tufts' version of the Isley Brothers' I Got To Work and the additional vocals of the legendary Jesse Winchester on Black Velvet Elvis. Even stripped down to vocals and guitar, these songs could stand on their own. However, this version with input from bassists John Dymond and John Geggie, keyboardist/trombonist Mark Ferguson, percussionist Rob Graves, and drummer Ross Murray renders them into delectable morsels.

The Better Fight by Terry Tufts is available on Borealis Records. - The Brandon Sun

"Greg Quill Review of THE BETTER FIGHT"

The Better Fight (Borealis Records)
Ottawa songwriter and guitarist Terry Tufts is a gifted musician with a strong sense of melody and structure, and sensibilities rooted in the golden age of the big-voiced folk-pop troubadour, circa 1975. This collection of 13 originals, produced by Borealis boss Bill Garrett, is as good as or better than anything those guys ever did. Always eminently listenable, and notwithstanding the anachronistic overtones, Tufts takes a big step out of the folk realm that has been his home for the past few years and onto a musical stage that embraces elegant, almost symphonic arrangements, world music, jazz and progressive pop elements, as well as traditional forms. Melodies are breathtakingly beautiful, as is Tufts' pure and steely tenor, and his stunning guitar work is allowed to anchor every piece, though he's surrounded in these songs of warning and diminishing hope for a better world by some exceptionally fine players, among whom pianist Mark Ferguson, drummer Ross Murray and back-up singer Jesse Winchester are outstanding.
-Greg Quill - Toronto Star


2005 - THE BETTER FIGHT (Borealis Records)

2003 – BEAUTIFUL: A TRIBUTE TO GORDON LIGHTFOOT (Borealis Records) Terry records a version of FOR LOVIN’ ME, playing all the instruments but the upright bass.

2002 – SIX STRINGS NORTH OF THE BORDER (Borealis Records) Terry’s slide guitar piece DORVAL’S DESCENT opens the CD.

2002 – TWO NIGHTS SOLO: TERRY TUFTS LIVE (Borealis Records) Re-release.

2001 – WALK ON (Independent)


1995 - DOWN THE EIGHTH AND GONE (Independent) Terry's third album features the single LITTLE MISS DEMEANOR as his first radio release.

1993 - CHRISTMAS IN THE VALLEY (vol. 7) COLLAGE: A COLLECTION OF GOOD SONGS WELL PLAYED (CKBY) Terry's Christmas song BIG SIX was one of the highlights of this recording. Terry has 4 cuts on this compilation disc of Ottawa area artists, sponsored by adult-contemporary radio station MAJIC 100. One of Terry's songs, FLAG STATION FIREBALL, went to number 5 on an indie chart in France. Another, HARDER THAN DIAMONDS TO HOLD, became a playlist favourite in Germany.

1990 - TRANSPARENT BLUE (Snowy River Records) CD version of Terry's second album is released, with additional cuts HANGING ROSES FROM HER DOOR and STAND 'NEATH MY WINDOW. Both appeared on Canadian Country charts.

1989 - TRANSPARENT BLUE (Independent) Cassette version released.

1987 - TERRY TUFTS (Snowy River Records) First solo release.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Superb singer, writer and guitarist: those are words frequently used to describe Ottawa-area performer Terry Tufts. All of those attributes — and more — are on display in his new album, The Better Fight.

Terry’s songwriting contemporaries refer to him as a musical triple threat. He’s also an avid environmentalist, dedicated dad and loving husband, all elements that colour his striking original material. Terry’s lyrics speak straight from the heart — and from a charged social conscience. His stirring melodies are supported by sophisticated finger-style guitar orchestrations. The result: songs that are often anthemic, and always profoundly affecting.

Born on the shores of Lake Erie the son of a Canadian diplomat, Terry grew up in Denver, Rome, and Ottawa. He has been playing music since he was nine, starting off with the mandolin and later moving on to guitar. He cites influences ranging from Gordon Lightfoot and Red Shea through Keats, Byron and Shelley to Lenny Breau and Tommy Smothers.

Having released three independently self-produced albums, Terry spent much of his early career working with other singers as a guitarist. However in the mid-1990s, he released two albums of original material on Borealis records: Walk On and Two Nights Solo. Both were greeted with critical acclaim, and his songwriting was recognized when he was a winner in Standard Radio’s National Songwriting Competition in 1997. He is also the only two-time winner of the Ontario Council of Folk Festival’s Songs From the Heart competition, taking that honour in 1998 and 2001.

Terry’s latest recording, The Better Fight, reflects his continuing growth as songwriter and musician. In it, he explores the pop, jazz and folk idioms, moving seamlessly through all three in the company of some of the best musicians in Eastern Canada. Apart from the sheer musicality of the new recording, The Better Fight is, as one writer noted “the culmination of Terry Tufts’ career as a gifted and passionate songwriter. Whether he's tackling the dilemma posed by an unjust war or savouring moments in time, Tufts displays a boxer's heart wrapped inside a troubadour's spirit.”

The Better Fight was released in early October 2005.