By Genesee Keevil
At minus 25, the cowboy hat and snakeskin boots were a dead giveaway.
Tim Hus is not a Yukoner.
But that hasn’t stopped the Canadiana cowboy from singing about sled dogs and chainsaws, growing muttonchops like a Yukon riverboat gambler and that damned old Dempster Highway.
The rising Alberta country star finally made it North last week, driving up the highway that’s made it into lots of his truckin’ songs.
The Alaska Highway’s grades and curves weren’t as threatening as Hus expected.
Steamboat Mountain wasn’t much, he said.
But the Yukon is better than he imagined.
“Everything’s called the gold pan or the nugget, and even the beer has huskies and bears on it,” said Hus with a grin.
“Most of the places I write about, I’m familiar with, so I was itchin’ to get up here and see if what I had in mind was right—it is.”
Hus came to Whitehorse for a break, after a non-stop winter of gigging down south.
He wanted to do some ice fishing.
Hus didn’t catch anything, except an intimate gig at Music Yukon.
“I play anywhere they need a guy in a hat,” he said, the melting snow dripping off the wide tan brim onto the table.
Turns out tractor pulls, rodeos, the Calgary Stampede and plenty of bars all over Canada need a guy in a hat.
When Hus plays in boomtowns, like Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray, there’s a sense people don’t want to be there, he said.
“They’re just there to make money; there’s not a good sense of community,” he said.
“It’s all men and equipment. And everyplace has a big row of diesels out front—all running.
“I don’t get that impression from the Yukon—people here have chosen to be here.”
Hus would move to Whitehorse if it weren’t such a bad location to tour from.
Bushpilot Buckaroo, his latest release, is a frontier album.
And the North has that same frontier mythology to it, he said.
“I’m drawn to that here, with the paddlewheelers and sled dogs.”
There’s a romance to Hus’ music that lures more fans than the usual big-haired, tapered-jeans country scenesters.
There was a Lethbridge, Alberta, show where Hus walked into a room full of punks, with tall purple Mohawks, leather jackets and spiky studs.
“I was the only cowboy hat there,” he said.
“I thought, ‘This could be interesting.’”
But as soon as he started singing, the punked-out crowd joined in.
“They knew all my songs,” said Hus.
Great artists, like Johnny Cash, transcend their genres, and Hus is thrilled when fans who can’t stand country take to his tunes.
The songs are like touchstones, he said.
“I sing about the different provinces, forestry, fishing, cowboying, truckin’ and working the oil rigs, and it doesn’t take too long until I sing a song that hits home for everyone in the audience.”
It all started in a log camp.
Fresh out of high school, Hus was set to drive truck, just like his dad.
The brake course stared Friday, but on Thursday he got a call from the logging camp and that was it.
“I wrote my first song to entertain the guys in camp,” he said.
‘They’re a great audience—entertainment-starved and tone deaf from all those chainsaws.”
It was a song about work in the camp, and it was a hit.
“I’m always looking for that common thread people can grab hold of,” said Hus.
“And I got so good at writing songs about working, I don’t work anymore.”
Hus grew up listening to American folk and railway songs, in Nelson, BC.
Songs like the Wreck of the Old ‘97 are great, but music you can relate to is more inspiring, he said.
Stompin’ Tom Conners’ song about Vancouver’s Second Narrows bridge came to mind.
“It’s about places I’ve been,” he said.
“You can actually touch these places.”
Now, Stompin’ Tom has referred to Hus as an inspiration, mentioning him to local media when he last played Calgary.
Hus was playing the same night, and, unfortunately, missed the show.
Ian Tyson also came out to see Hus, who was just signed to Tyson’s label, Stony Plains Records.
But Hus doesn’t want to be “plugged into the hit machine,” and he doesn’t plan to move to Nashville, Tennessee.
He’s more interested in chronicling the Canadian experience.
Canadian country singers writing about Texas sound goofy, he said.
“They’ve never been there, it’s just what they think they should be doing.
“You do better if you write honestly about what you know.”
Hus, who plans to return to the North, keeps on applying for all the Yukon’s music festivals.
And he’s got lots to say about the territory.
“The trapline set and the cordwood split, racks in the smokehouse all filled up, fresh game in the backs of the hunters’ trucks,” he sings in Huskies and Husqvarnas.
“Where sled dogs and chainsaws won’t let you down.”
Contact Genesee Keevil at