One of the Canadian artist J.J. Voss’s best songs, “Innocent Man,” began when he was falsely accused of assault by local police, his own boss, and several well-connected Sasktachewan thugs.
After these hoodlums terrorized Voss and his girlfriend, the cops and even J.J.’s managers at the club where he was working and the incident had taken place believed the thugs’ story and not his. Over a period of several months battling the cops, shyster lawyers, and the courts, J.J. says he faced a possible 10 years in jail, before at last being cleared of the charges.
Like many top songwriters, he put this traumatic incident and his own anger into a new song. “One, two, it happened to you,” he says during the intro. “It was one against five,” the verse continues, “I didn’t want no trouble, I’m an Innocent Man.”
It’s clear that Canadians, like the American country icons Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash, have had their own battles with the court system in their respective countries.
Musically, “Innocent Man” shows Voss’s country influences, which began early because his parents loved Row stars such as Hank, Hag, and Cash, but also his love for the more open-minded Americana movement. The production includes accordion and Jew’s Harp.
Canada has only about 10 percent of the population of the USA, but for generations Canadian singers and songwriters, whose financial support from their own government dwarfs that of American artists, have made gigantic contributions to our music industry.. The Opry legend Hank Snow, “the Singing Ranger,” was a huge star on both sides of the border starting in the 1950s. So is Ontario’s Shania Twain, whose Come On Over is the only 20-Million selling album ever by a female country artist. Terri Clark, Prairie Oyster, Paul Brandt, Anne Murray, and Gordon Lightfoot are among Canada’s contributors in country, while their fellow Canucks Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, Josh Groban, and the power trio Rush have been huge stars on the pop charts.
Now Voss hopes to follow their footsteps, while crafting his own musical journey to Music City and American radio.
As a kid growing up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, one of Canada’s prairie provinces located north of Montana, J.J.’s musical highlight came each week when his older brother returned home with one new album. One that had a huge impact on young J.J. was Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, the in-your-face Texas product’s lone No. 1 album and also a major influence on a young California singer and songwriter named Jeffrey Steele.
Now, decades later, Voss’s musical journey has come full circle, since J.J. has hired Earle’s longtime drummer Harry Stinson, a Grammy-winning artists and producer who’s also worked with Peter Frampton and Elton John, to produce Voss’s new album, called Show ’Em Who’s Voss.
Voss is a great friend of fellow Canadian artist Craig Moritz, and was proud to be on hand at Pick’s Nashville when Craig was shooting a video there in early December. J.J., like Moritz, has gotten to become friends with Nashville Music Guide owner Randy Matthews and NMG staffers Kym and Joe Matthews and Glenda Montgomery.
He has made three Nashville trips so far, including one to the Americana Music Conference last September. The variety of J.J.’s music, which shows his own love for artists as diverse as heavy-metal band Skid Row, country legends, and singer/songwriters including John Mellencamp and Tom Petty.
“That was straight-ahead guitar rock, and spirit-wise that was my approach and soul,” he says of Petty and Mellencamp’s music, in a phone conversation from Canada on New Year’s Day. “I loved those singer/songwriter types. It wasn’t air-brushed stuff.”
An earlier EP, Hillbilly Storybook, earned him Producer of the Year nominations from the Western Canadian Music Assn., which helped J.J. expand his production work and raise money for his American trips. As an artist, he’s opened for country stars including Trace Adkins and Joe Nichols at the Craven Country Jamboree, one of Canada’s premiere country festivals each summer.
Another Voss song, “Holy Man,” deals with his own feelings about Canada’s involvement in the War on Terror. He even covered a song by the American alt-country quartet the Bottle Rockets called “Nancy Sinatra,” which opens with the signature bass line of Nancy’s proto-punk 1966 smash “These Boots Are Made For Walkin.’ ”
So J.J. Voss is already making plans for bringing his very diverse music south to Nashville again in 2011, and putting the finishing touches on an album he hopes will make noise on both sides of the border.
By Phil Sweetland | firstname.lastname@example.org