Canada's next icons?
by Kortney Jmaeff
Being from the great white north, there isn't a ton of rock and roll icons to go around. With the recent passing of Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, the world has lost another Canadian rock n' roll icon (more on good ole' Gord later). However, there is one more rock and roll singer (and actor) from Kingston that could fit the bill- Hugh Dillon of the Headstones.
Dillon is the singer and songwriter for the Headstones. After spending some time living like a street busker squatter in London, he formed the Headstones in 1987 in Kingston, Ontario. They were never accepted by many of their Toronto peers as some took a negative view of their place in the Ontario music scene. "Except for the Hip," Dillon remembers about another Kingston band. "I grew up with those guys and they were sweethearts. But Toronto bands were notorious for having an attitude. We were a different kind of band. You can't abide by other people's faux civility. I just wanna be honest and people have a problem with that" (quotes from Cam Lindsay "Headstones' Hugh Dillon Has Seen Some Shit," Vice, March 31, 2017).
Dillon had an early interest in hockey, rock and roll and crime as a teenager, and thankfully, rock and roll won out. After relocating from Kingston to Toronto in 1987, the Headstones worked hard, drank a lot of beer, and remained bizarrely focused at crafting songs and touring constantly to get their name out there. It worked, they hit their stride with their 1993 debut release Picture of Health, which went platinum, and their two following records, Teeth and Tissue and 1997's Smile and Wave, which went gold. These early records had a tough, gritty quality, coupled with great melodies and street smart lyrics.
But things didn't stay so rosy for Dillon. He spiralled into heroin addiction by their fifth release, 2002s The Oracle of Hi-Fi, which led to the temporary breakup of the band. He then headed to Northern Ontario and became a lumberjack in an attempt to get clean. It worked, after cleaning up, he began another career a full time actor in 2003. He appeared in such films as Hard Core Logo, Dance Me Outside, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie and Assault on Precinct 13. He also works in TV, appearing in shows like Durham County, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Flashpoint and Continuum.
One of his favorite roles was a recent appearance in an episode of the Twin Peaks revival. "It was awesome," he exclaims. "I'm in a single episode. It's so minor. But finally to be on set with a master like David Lynch was such a beautiful experience. To have David Lynch put the make up on you himself is just surreal. It all just lasted for a second, but it was such a career high. I got to work with a guy who was one of the reasons why I'm an actor. What a great experience" (Lindsay, Vice).
His acting experience evidently helped his role a musician. "The thing I got from acting that I applied to the band is my work ethic," he relates. "Because when I came back to the Headstones, after doing some acting, it was much easier. I wanted to rehearse, I wanted to be prepared, and I wanted to be organized" (Lindsay, Vice). The Headstones battled on, with three of the original members (Hugh Dillon, Trent Carr on guitar and Tim White on bass) playing a four show tour in 2011. This eventually led to the album Love & Fury, released in 2013.
They are currently on tour across Canada with their new album Little Army released June 2, 2017. Some cuts like "Little Army" are receiving regular airplay here in the great white north, and for good reason. Although well into his fifties, Dillon has created songs that still as raw and gritty as the early H'stones, veering away their more experimental work of 2013's Love + Fury and his solo release, 2005's High Cost of Low Living.
Is Hugh the next Canadian rock and roll icon? There is only one way to tell. For the Headstones newbie- grab a beer, (nothing harder for Hugh's sake), a copy of the Headstones 2002's Greatest Fits and soak up the grit and fury. Hey, if you don't agree, there's always Rush. I bet Geddy, Neil or Alex would appreciate the kudos. But for my money, Hugh and the Headstones are where it's at.
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