ONTARIO (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Terry Sumsion, a traditional country music singer and songwriter with local roots who has been a fixture of music festivals across Canada since the 1970s, has lost his long battle with cancer, according to Ontario's Brantford Expositor.
Mr. Sumsion died at the Stedman Community Hospice on Saturday. He was 64.
Known for his big stature and booming bass voice, the former truck driver would "establish himself as one of the most powerful voices in country music, of country music and for country music in Canada," wrote DJ Randy Owen of Country 107.3 in Tillsonburg, in a tribute posted on the station's website.
Although he was never signed to a major record label, Mr. Sumsion released 11 albums and more than 30 singles over his 40-year career. Ten of them made the Canadian country music charts on various independent labels.
He also dedicated himself to extensive charity work, never turning down a request to play a gig to help build a church roof, or raise money for the local food bank.
Born in Burford on Feb. 7, 1947, Mr. Sumsion was influenced by a young music teacher at the original Harley school and by his grandmother who recognized his talent and potential as a singer.
Around 1970, Mr. Sumsion and his band, the Moonlighters – which eventually became Terry Sumsion and Stagecoach – with longtime collaborator Wayne Heimbecker on guitar, hit the road, the four of them travelling from one smoke-filled bar to another in the back of a Plymouth Barracuda.
"That's when we kind of got serious about it," said Heimbecker on Monday. "We were mostly playing in bars and, in those days, the bars were full. We didn't make much money, but we had a lot of fun."
In 1981, in a humble, homemade backyard studio in St. George, Mr. Sumsion recorded Our Lovin' Place, co-written by Heimbecker. It became a Canadian hit that remained in regular rotation on radio for decades and the singer's signature song.
The tune was the single on Mr. Sumsion's first album, financed with winnings from a singing contest at BX93 radio in London. The song's success launched years of touring for the performer, who earned two Juno nominations for a 1984 follow-up disc, Midnight Invitation.
"We travelled across Canada like crazy people," he said in 2006. "I've been coast to coast 18 times."
Mr. Sumsion would enjoy a string of hits through the 1980s. Among them are Midnight Invitation, When You Leave That Way, There Go I, So Hard to Forget, Brand New Love Affair, One More Time, Shenandoah, Born Again, That's When You Know it's Over, Crazy Love Games, and Too Bad We're Only Friends.
Mr. Sumsion is the only male vocalist in Canadian history to win the prestigious Canadian Open Country Music Singing Contest three years in a row.
Bill Carruthers, Mr. Sumsion's longtime friend and his bandmate on and off for years, said the singer had a way of engaging his audience.
"There's no questioning his talent," said Carruthers. "He knew he wasn't the greatest technical singer in the world. But he said, 'I can stand up there and figure out how to entertain a person.' And he could. He could really connect."
Carruthers tells a story about a gig the pair played together in Stratford for a musicians' association.
"It was a 90-minute show and he talked for 40 minutes. He held them just like he did any audience. People just loved to sit there and listen."
Canadian country music artist Larry Mercey, formerly a member of The Mercey Brothers, had a passing acquaintance with Mr. Sumsion for decades as they crossed paths on the road.
The two became close friends over the past few years, as their careers slowed down and they had more time to just sit and talk.
"He was very respected by the industry," Mercey said during a phone call from Florida on Monday. "He had a drive and a fight like nobody I know. He just loved singing.
"He was one of the only traditional country music singers left. He kept it alive."
Mr. Sumsion was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in November 2007 and had surgery to remove a grapefruit-sized tumour from his esophageal tract.
Doctors predicted a 70% chance he'd lose his speech. But with his characteristic determination, Mr. Sumsion got through six songs only four months post surgery when he stepped up to the mike at the Simcoe legion.
His new acoustic trio with Doug Johnson and Dwayne Friesen began performing again in late 2008. He unveiled his 11th album, Encore, at a show on Dec. 19 at the Polish Hall in Brantford where he invited his audience to get "Up Close and Personal."
At his concerts he would take time to talk to the audience about his battle with cancer.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is not always a freight train," he said at the time. "You have to be positive."
In his tribute, Owen called Mr. Sumsion a fighter.
"He fought it because he wasn't finished sharing his remarkable talents and gifts. He'd write songs, he'd record those songs, he'd perform in concert. But he did so, sometimes in pain from the cancer and the medication he needed to fight it."
Mr. Sumsion is survived by his wife Jeannie, father, Jack, and children, Tammy and Chuck Norris, and Jeff and Judy, along with seven grandchildren. He is predeceased by his mother, Jean.
According to the Brantford Expositor.