AFM Home

International Musician

Chris Cummings

Chris Cummings The Long Way Home

Chris Cummings of Local 815 (Saint John, NB) recently received the title “Ambassador for the Province of New Brunswick” for his efforts to help the province. Premier Shawn Graham gave the title to Cummings when he moved back to New Brunswick in 2007 after 16 years on the road making a name for himself in the country music industry. From his travels, Cummings learned that few people knew about his hometown of Saint John, and if they did, many had negative opinions of the area. Cummings wanted to do something to change the public's perception of the place he grew up.

Cummings' move back to New Brunswick was the perfect moment to do just that. Saint John was preparing several major projects to bring new jobs to the area and to rejuvenate its workforce. Seeing the opportunity to publicize these projects, along with the name of his hometown, Cummings chose to record the John Sebastian hit, “Welcome Back,” the theme song from the 1970s TV series, Welcome Back, Kotter. It was his first cover recording and had a special meaning for Cummings, as he made his way back home and, for the first time in his life, he felt settled.

“We wanted this to be a sort of theme song for the Province,” Cummings says. “I wanted to do it for a long time and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.” Cummings shot the video for “Welcome Back” in the city of Saint John and its surrounding communities. The shoot brought more than 3,000 community members out to participate in the making of the video.

The single will come out in January and is on Cummings' next album, set to be released in April. The album will be the latest addition to his five studio albums, EP, and Greatest Hits package. Cummings says this album is a continuation of his previous work, but through every album, he tries to grow and expand as a musician. This is not always an easy task for Cummings as he has been in the music industry since the age of 17.

A Tale for the Storybooks

Cummings admits his story is somewhat like a fairytale. Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Cummings grew up in nearby Norton, a riverside community. He attributes his father's record collection to his gravitation toward country music. He enjoys the storytelling aspect of the genre and began writing his own songs in the same fashion.

Cummings grew up in a musical family, but says he was the only family member who had the “jumping on stage gene.” It influenced him to start performing publicly in 1980 at local fairs and contests when he was just five years old. Encouraged by his family, Cummings learned to play several instruments at an early age and eventually settled on the guitar and piano.

During his early teen years, Cummings continued developing his songwriting, while traveling throughout Eastern Canada with his parents and two younger brothers. In 1990, at the age of 15, Cummings released an independent CD, which, after some media attention, found its way to Reprise Records President Jim Ed Norman. Two years later, much to his surprise, Cummings was called out of his high school math class to hear that the record label had signed him as its youngest artist.

“I wasn't out there trying to make it,” Cummings says. “I was doing local shows because I loved it and I made enough money that I didn't have to get a part-time job.”

Cummings' discovery took him to Los Angeles for six months during his senior year of high school, where he played rigorously five nights a week to get his music heard. After high school, Cummings moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to test the waters in country music USA. Cummings also toured throughout the US with well-known artists such as Tammy Wynette, George Jones of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), Clint Black of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX), and Garth Brooks.

Not Always Easy

During his time in Nashville, Cummings improved his songwriting by studying with some of Nashville's best including Mac McAnally and Gary Burr, both members of Local 257, and Don Schiltz, with whom he later wrote the Grammy nominated song, “Twentieth Century.” Although Cummings considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity to live and work with talented musicians in Nashville, not all his experiences were exceptional.

An observation Cummings made in Nashville was that most of the musicians trying to make it in country music are from the surrounding areas—Texas, Oklahoma, and other southern states. It was difficult, he says, being from Canada because his style of country music was different.

Cummings explains that Canadian country and US country are two slightly different styles under the same genre. “There are more folk and Celtic influences in country music from Canada,” Cummings says. “I found more bluegrass in Nashville.” Cummings also was not interested in writing with the same themes as other artists around him and felt this may have prohibited him from expanding more while in Nashville.

Keeping Inspiration

Spending 12 years in Nashville, Cummings released the albums Somewhere Inside, The Kind of Heart That Breaks, Chris Cummings, and Lonesomeville, with the chart-topping singles, “I Waited,” “Sure Enough,” “Somewhere Inside,” and “Almost Always,” among others.

“It was a strange experience,” Cummings says looking back on his time in Nashville. “Most of my success was in Canada, so because I was living in Nashville, I would hear I was doing well, but life didn't change much for me.”

Describing himself as a storyteller, Cummings gets inspiration for his songwriting by observing those around him, as well as from his own personal experiences. He also pulls influence from artists inside and outside country music such as James Taylor of Local 802 (New York City), Patty Griffin, Merle Haggard of Local 12 (Sacramento CA), and Lyle Lovett of Local 257.

“I just observe people going through what they go through out there,” Cummings says. “Then I write a song about something that hits a chord with me, looking at it like a threeminute novel.”

Because Cummings has been in the music industry all of his adult life, there are times he has to step away for a while to keep his career lively and fun. He says he also tries not to listen to the same things all of the time, searching for new artists who inspire him.

Over the years, Cummings' songwriting has evolved. When he first started writing songs, he says he would write 40 to 50 songs a year and end up with 12 or 15 good songs. Now, he writes around 25 songs a year and ends up with around the same amount. From experience, he can now understand what is going to make a good song, and only follows through on ideas he sees as advantageous.

“I now write less quantity wise,” Cummings says. “But I would like to think the quality of what I am writing is better.”

The Road Ahead

With an already long career behind him, Cummings, at the young age of 33, still has a lot in front of him. He signed with Koch Entertainment in 2006 releasing the album, Who Says You Can't?

An AFM member since 1991, Cummings has been in the union from the beginning of his career. Throughout this time, Cummings says the AFM has helped him reclaim money for projects on several occasions. “The AFM is an important organization because there is little out there to protect artists,” Cummings says. “It is the last line of defense when someone tries to take advantage of us.”

In the past year, Cummings has spent time extensively writing, recording, and even playing around with filmmaking. Now, with his latest album coming out in April, Cummings plans to spend the next months on tour to expand his market.

Never a person to be relax for long, Cummings looks forward to getting back out on the road, with the goal of “writing and singing songs from within.” This is not a new experience for Cummings, but there is a slight difference this time around—when the tour wraps up, he will return home.


All articles are available for AFM members

Log in to see all of the articles.

Not an AFM member?

Learn about the many reasons to join the AFM or join today!
GoPro
Music, Lessons and More. Your single source for online music.
Join Friends of AFM
Copyright © 2014 American Federation of Musicians. Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Site Map