With all of the music awards earned by Gary Fjellgaard over the years he has every right to be aloof, but the tall, willowy songwriter and consummate entertainer is as humble and unassuming as the simple hand-carved sign over their weathered gate.
He is known for his integrity in his song writing, in his business dealings and in his life. The Hall of Famer turned 79 on August 14, 2016, but there’s little sign of it on stage. His full voice and great guitar picking fill any concert hall and his stories make you lean in so you don’t miss a word. Audiences relate to Gary because he’s been there, done that and has amusing stories about his adventures.
He hails from Rose Valley, Sask., a long ways from the pounding surf and ocean breezes of Gabriola Island, B.C. It’s here on this Gulf Island that Gary and his wife, Lynne have called home for over three decades.
“I was about 15 when I left the prairies,” says Gary. “I didn’t want to be a farmer so I went to Prince George.” That’s where the couple met and married. “We came to Gabriola on our honeymoon,” he says. “Lynne’s grandmother lived here. Every once in a while we’d come back to the island and spend a few days. Then on one trip we saw this little shack. We bought it and moved here in ’83.”
The “little shack” is painted a cheery purple and sits on an acre of prime island property. The couple started adding on and created a homey oasis for their ever-expanding family. “I’m not the handiest guy, but give me a chainsaw and an axe and I can whack out three years supply of wood,” he says. Gary’s studio space is upstairs, filled with guitars, mandolins, and coveted award trophies that have sometimes been pressed into service as a door stop.
In July of 2016 the couple celebrated their Diamond wedding anniversary — sixty years. “We had a great party — all family — with grandkids and great-grandkids running around free.” he says. “We had four daughters, Cindy, Sheryl, Jenny and Karin. We lost Sheryl,” he pauses. “Now we’ve got 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, with one more on the way.”
The Gulf Islands are known as a haven so it’s no surprise that travelling musicians are also drawn to the area. “One time we ended up having a concert in our yard with Eli Barsi, Nathan Tinkham and me,” he says. “We had 150 people here with virtually no advertising.”
Like the tides, careers ebb and flow. Then one day Gary got a call from a rising star. “Brett Kissel called when he was about 15 years old and wanted to record a duo of ‘Will You Dance with this Old Cowboy’ which we did, and it became a very successful recording. (#1) It’s always nice to have a ‘career’ song or two; this one is a late career song for me.”
Another career song is “Ten Years Old & Barefoot”. “I remember when a Royalty record executive told me, ‘That’s a terrible song. You can’t write songs like that and expect to do anything with your career,’” laughs Gary.
“Forty years later I’m still singing it.”