As a young fella growing up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Rik Barron wanted to be a folk singer. He was weaned on the music of accordion players Wilf Doyle and Harry Hibbs, and was an avid fan of “All Around the Circle” – a weekly folk-music program produced in St. John’s for CBC television in the late 60s and early 70s. But the template for launching a career as a folk singer was hard to find. “I didn’t know anyone who played music for a living; in fact, I’d never heard of that. I met people who taught music, but even the people who were on TV had day jobs, so I figured I had to go that route.”
Tall and strong, Rik thought he would be a good candidate for the Mounties. He enlisted, and became a member of the RCMP’s prestigious Musical Ride. Then, his career just beginning, he suffered a life-changing injury: “I was on the Musical Ride and broke a few vertebrae. Through Veteran’s Affairs, I was categorized as disabled. During my recovery I decided to be a folk singer. When I left the Mounties, I walked out of “N” division on St. Laurent in Ottawa, went straight to the Ottawa Folklore Centre, and bought a set of strings from Arthur McGregor.”
In the early days of his physical recuperation and his career, Rik was sustained by sheer tenacity, and by the fact that folk music was now his day job. He set about becoming the best that he could be. He learned to build and repair guitars. He travelled and cultivated relationships with other musicians. He played banjo, guitar, and mandolin, and sang as much as he could. He met and married an American woman and had two children. Life was wonderful, and then it became even better.
Through his father-in-law, former Sunshine Skiffle Band leader Gil Carter, Rik met American banjo legend, Tony Ellis. “The first time we met, we sat for hours playing, and I picked his brain. He said, ‘Oh, you got one of those Martin D 28s. That’s nice! I’m hankering to get rid of this banjo. Would you trade?’ I now have his original Mastertone banjo,” laughs Rik.
To this day, Tony remains Rik’s close friend and mentor, and Rik has been responsible for bringing much of Tony’s music to the listening public. Tony recently gave Rik his unpublished catalogue, and Rik’s next project will be to record some of that material. Rik is also working with PEI singer-songwriter Allan Rankin, and performing both as a solo artist and as a member of a small ensemble, doing both roots music and children’s shows.
Since the day he bought that set of strings from Arthur McGregor, Rik has excelled in his field. He has toured throughout Canada, the States, and Europe. His eight recordings have garnered him a host of honours, including three ECMA awards for Children’s Recording of the Year, two Indie Award nominations for Children’s Recording of the Year, and three CFMA nominations: Children’s Album of the Year (2008), Traditional Singer of the Year (2010), and Instrumental Solo Artist of the Year (2012).
Playing live is still where Rik feels most at home. His warm baritone voice, expert musicianship, and wicked Newfoundland wit serve him well, both in front of large audiences and at the kitchen tables of his many musical friends. Fate may have dealt the young Mountie a hard hand, but thirty years later, there is no doubt that he has landed firmly on both feet, simply trading one musical ride for another.
By Jean Hewson