Murray McLauchlan says after 50-plus years as one of Canada’s finest troubadours, he just wants to get better

There’s no musician whose name has been misspelled by the media more than Murray McLauchlan.

Over the decades, the Scottish-born, Toronto singer and songwriter, who first came to national prominence with 1973’s “The Farmer’s Song,” has seen his name butchered as “McLaughlin,” “MacClauchlan,” “McLochlin” and every variation thereof.

Does it get to him?

“Well, I always spell it correctly,” he quips. “And it’s spelled correctly on the all the album covers. The sad truth is that people who are copyists or typists or whatever they are these days, will be looking at it correctly spelled on an album cover and they type it wrong.

“It bothers me in that, historically, my family name has been spelled a variety of ways … because largely of phonetics.

“There was a lot of back and forth historically between Ireland and Scotland because of Maclachlans; the clan originated in Northern Ireland. But the Irish pronunciation is ‘McLoughlin.’ There are various different spellings between lowland and highland Scots, you know, highland Scots are ‘MacLachlan’ and then it becomes ‘McLauchlan’ when you get to different parts of lowland Scotland.

“It’s the same name. But some of the American bastardizations? They’re unbelievable,” he laughs.

“But then, I don’t like laziness. I’m not a big fan of sloppiness,” he adds. “And when I was in radio I would make the effort to learn a person’s name correctly and spell it correctly. I just think it’s the polite thing to do.”

One thing that doesn’t need to be spelled out is McLauchlan’s success as one of Canada’s finest troubadours. Whether it’s his work in the folk, country or rock idioms through 50-plus years and 19 albums, including his just released “Hourglass,” the 11-time Juno Award winner remains at the top of his game with insightful observations and meaningful lyrics, the kind he’s given us with such prior classics as “Down by the Henry Moore,” “Whispering Rain,” “Little Dreamer” and “Swinging on a Star,” to name a few.

“My primary objective at this point is I want to be better at what I do,” says McLauchlan from his Stoney Lake cottage.

“My drive is that I want to create art. I’m not interested in adding to the dross of pop culture. If I sound like a snob, I guess I am. But I actually want to create art and elevate what I do to one point where it interests me and, for another, I hope it captures people’s attention and makes them think or be slightly different after they heard it.”

He views “Hourglass,” his first new album since 2017’s “Love Can’t Tell Time,” as another step in his artistic evolution.

“When we were in retreat in early lockdown a year ago, I had a lot of time for this stuff to boil up and come out in the form of poems,” McLauchlan says. “They later evolved and married themselves to little guitar pieces I’d been working on. They’re not conventional songs; they don’t have choruses. They all reference back to little musical themes universally. They were structurally different to what I did before, but I also wasn’t thinking about an album when I was doing these things.”

“Hourglass” is topical — McLauchlan addresses recent world events — focusing especially on the tumultuous year of 2020 that witnessed the fascist agenda pushed by then-president Donald Trump in the U.S. (“America”); the George Floyd murder and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement (“I Live on a White Cloud”); and the virus that we’ve all had to deal with (“Pandemic Blues.”)

There’s also the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee pictured lying lifeless on a beach in 2015 after a boating accident as his family tried to escape to Greece with the hope of eventually making their way to Canada (“Lying by the Sea”). “The One Percent” is inspired by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement protesting against economic inequality.

“They were things that I was passionate about and cared a great deal about or was affected greatly by,” says McLauchlan.

“A good example would be the photograph that went around the world of that poor little toddler boy, Alan Kurdi, who washed up on the Mediterranean. Sometimes we all have things we wish our country could do better, as current events would indicate, and we can be ashamed of, but we also have things that we can be proud of.

“I think that little boy’s image caused a lot of sympathy in Canada and allowed the impetus for our government to bring in a lot of Syrian refugees and I’m proud of that.”

Married since 1990 to former MuchMusic personality and broadcast executive Denise Donlon, McLauchlan says he doesn’t really differentiate between styles of music or embrace categorization.

“I’ve always thought of it as the music that I make,” he says. “Whatever journey or sound that you develop is just part of that process. The categories are marketing conveniences the people and radio stations who are at the other end selling it have to use.

“I’ve got louder. I’ve got softer. If I use a steel guitar, people go, ‘Oh, it’s country music’ … I just make the music I feel is appropriate for what I’m writing or what I feel like at the time.

“The only reason any of my songs have become successful in pop culture is because they came along at a certain time when people could attach the songs to their lives — that they had a certain meaning or a certain resonance in their lives at the time, whether they’d lost someone or fallen in love with someone, or whether there was a sociological trend like the civil rights movement.”

A painter, McLauchlan has engaged other interests over the years. At one point he earned his commercial pilot’s licence but lost it 20 years ago when an angiogram went horribly wrong.

“I had open-heart surgery as a result of some well-meaning doctors attempting to kill me,” he says. “I had to submit to an angiogram because the Ministry of Transport decided that an anomaly on my ECG reading — and by the way, I was doing four karate classes a week and was extremely fit — they decided that anomaly needed investigation and wouldn’t sign off on my medical until I had tests done.”

But during the procedure, his coronary artery was torn open. “If I’d taken a cab home, I’d have died. So, I decided not to take a cab home but across the road for open heart surgery to repair the damage that they’d done. And I lost the medical because of that.”

He also enjoyed a six-year stint as the host of the CBC Radio program “Swinging on a Star.”

“It was supposed to be a one-year thing, but it grew like topsy,” he says. “I actually liked doing that show, because I had an agenda and, at the forefront of that agenda, was to make the point that songwriting is an art as legitimate as any other.”

But right now, he’s focusing on mastering the guitar and being in top form.

“If I’m as honest as I can be, probably the best part of my life as an artist and as a musician is right now,” McLauchlan says. “I feel like I’m getting better at what I do. The fact that (‘Hourglass’) is getting attention from far flung corners of the world is very satisfying to me.”

TORONTO STAR