Fond Memories of Toronto’s Michael Laderoute (1947-2021)
From the mystery of the root, in its mud and manure, with all its worms and groundwater working away, the blossom appears, and draws us, with all of its beauty and fragrance, into the realms of a particular magic. What attracts us is a gorgeous expression of the complex and invisible spirit of that one spot.
But some plants develop from rhizomes, which are sort of horizontal trunks growing and spreading underground, manifesting at the surface only at those opportune places where their blossoms can survive and thrive.
Michael Laderoute (Dec. 29, 1947 – May 29, 2021)
“Michael and I were fans of each other’s work for 30 years. He could pack a room and only sing his own songs. We played together many times. I’ll miss him.” – John Jackson
Michael will be remembered fondly for his kindness, humour, generosity and honest friendship. He was a poet, songwriter, fisherman, and all-around good guy to hang out with. He was also a brother extraordinaire. Michael worked for 17 years in the educational department at TD Bank. Before that, he rocked a telecaster in various Ontario bands. He attended Arnprior District High School, and graduated in English Literature from the University of Toronto at Erindale. This is from his obituary at: https://pilonfamily.ca/tribute/details/2615/Michael-Laderoute/obituary.html?fbclid=IwAR0UlpeUxJdATvIEb0FJkyKZYpj6JZI3MIRo2VzR378X4zuFUwE2D94c-uo
From an appreciation by Kerry Doole at FYIMusicNews:
“His debut CD, A River I Know, was recorded in 2004, with David Baxter producing and playing alongside Michael and Bazil Donovan, and it was well-received in North America and Europe.
David forwarded this eloquent tribute to FYI: “In 2004 I was fortunate enough to produce A River I Know for my friend Michael Laderoute. It turned out to be his only album, but it was full of some of the best crafted songs I’ve had the pleasure to work on. Michael mined the same vein as the romantic Texas poet/singers he admired so much, with just enough Ottawa Valley mixed in to make his own unique sound. He loved songs and the people who wrote them, he loved his old guitars, he loved Mexico and fishing for marlin every winter. He was never in it for fame and fortune. The process for him was its own reward. I will miss him terribly.”
Over the last 20 years, Michael could be seen performing his own music at local clubs in Toronto. His monthly shows at the Tranzac Club were a thing of magic. He had a strong love for Mexico and had many friends all across North America.
Howard Gladstone remembers: “I knew Michael Laderoute for about 20 years and heard him play dozens of times. By then, he was a fully developed artist/songwriter/performer. He was always enthusiastic about performing and deeply committed to his art. He wrote moving, simple and powerful songs that always rang true and spoke truth. He was an excellent guitar player and had a voice perfectly suited to deliver his own brand of folk/country/Americana. With such a strong catalogue of original songs, Michael’s reluctance to record his songs was surprising. He fought every encouragement given him to do so until finally he didn’t. He recorded an excellent album. Listen to the title track “The River I Know” and you hear a song that will last until “we all meet again on the other side.”
In December 2020, a stellar line-up of Michael’s musical friends and colleagues came together and produced a compelling compilation tribute featuring some of Michael’s finest songs (Hats off to Greg Hobbs for organizing it all.)
You can listen to it here.
Greg Hobbs recalls, “When Ben Sures came to me saying we had to do something for Michael, I put the word out to a few mutual friends, and before long, suggestions and volunteers came calling. In terms of organization, this was the easiest project I’d ever worked on. Dave Lang and Rob Fenton shared board tapes from some of Michael’s shows, people listened to Michael’s CD, and the next thing I knew, songs were picked and musicians got to work.
The enthusiasm and efficiency with which people came onboard says a lot about Michael’s talent and character. He affected more people than he ever knew. Michael was private about his health, so I didn’t spread the word too wide about this project, but I can guarantee that many more tributes could be done by groups of completely different songwriters and musicians who were just as moved by Michael and his music. Maybe it’ll happen down the road. Adios.”
We shared an affinity for Texas songwriters, blues music, tequila and Telecasters. We also shared a birthday, Dec. 29. He was exactly 20 years older than me though it felt more like five. His tastes and activities seemed quite clear. He liked fishing, he was a bit of a loner but had a lot of friends and people that liked him. My partner Shauna and I visited him in Melaque, Mexico one winter. He picked us up in his jeep at the airport, stuck a mini beer in each of our hands and whisked us off to our hotel. There were quite a few Canadians that frequented Melaque, musicians as well, but he wasn’t one to congregate with them, I never knew why. He was a puzzle in some ways, I kept asking him if he was going to record another album or document his songs? he would just answer ‘why?’ I didn’t press it.
I know he liked Stetson hats and concerts. I lived in his apartment every February for a dozen years or so while he was away. The place hardly changed in all that time. What I discovered was his home environment only changed if his health was affected or things were thrust upon him. He had some heart trouble a few years back so a walker was added to the apartment. I think he had to use it briefly while recovering, then after that it served as a table to put clothing on. Otherwise it was unchanging: a bike showed up a few years later when he started working on his heart health. I found a life-sized hula girl in a grass dress at a drug store in northern Ontario, I left it with all the other gifts I would leave at the end of each visit; she became a permanent and unchanging fixture hanging on one of the doors. There were a couple posters on the wall but no art really. I think he was concerned the landlord would give him a hard time if he put holes in the wall. I would have bought him some kind of black velvet Mexican-flavoured Jesus painting otherwise.
His guitar stuff was always meticulously organized, guitar cables perfectly rolled. There were at least seven espresso makers in the cupboard. I think he got a new TV at one point, but otherwise the furniture remained in the same spots year in year out. I don’t think he liked to trouble the landlord but he did get a new fridge, well an old fridge from the laundry room when the plug of the old one caught fire during one of my stays.
When he was in town, we’d usually have a visit, I played him my blues album when we had just finished it. He loved it. Maybe the drinks helped, but it was nice to see the otherwise steady demeanour perk up a little. He also gave me a monster embrace once after a concert I did at Hugh’s room. The gesture was sincere and, as a result, meaningful. Maybe that’s what I learned about Michael, when he really felt a thing he showed it. I will miss him and his apartment. Our friendship was tied into both. I am so glad we recorded his songs to share with him. [I’m] also glad his musical partner, slide player Rob Fenton, recorded a bunch of their shows in secret, so we had a document of songs that would otherwise have been lost. I know that record meant a lot to him and that meant a lot to me, to be able to give something back. He told me he couldn’t breathe for a couple days after it was presented to him. After he got his breath back, he would choose one of the songs, listen to it three or four times and then send a heartfelt note to the artist that had covered his song. He wasn’t really allowed many visitors while in the hospital. I asked him if he missed his guitars. He said he missed hugging people more. The pandemic robbed him of affection at the end of his life, but I think that the recording was helpful. Rest in Peace Michael.”
“Michael Laderoute and I go back a long way – we found each other at Norm Hacking’s open mic at various places. Norm was a good host and his open mic was almost like a workshop. He was the hub. He was the center of songwriting in Toronto. He had the best open mic.
We cheered each other on as we attempted to make our one and only CD https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_msNWoSmzg_LSl8qOZ8M0D5pi4cExDUVwY < (listen here on YouTube) that would do justice to our music. It was a very expensive process if you were to do it right. He sure made a good one – should have won a Juno – but hey, little guys don’t win Junos. He was a great songwriter – “A River I Know” being one of the best songs about dying ever written – a perfect song – Michael knew all about “crossing that river” – he was always full of beans and full of great stories. Always sitting at the bar with a Molson’s in front of him – he always made fun of my drinking Coronas. He actually met Townes and Guy and John Prine during his travels – now that’s pretty cool, and it was fitting, since his music always had that inflection of Texas Blues. He should have lived in Austin, not Toronto. He used to talk about playing in Dallas at the Sons of Herman bar – sort of like a Legion in Canada – sitting in a song-circle guitar pull with Guy Clark and the boys – that’s I think how he accidentally ended up with Guy Clark’s capo. I’ll have to get there someday. Maybe he’s somewhere right now playing with those guys, taking turns playing tunes. He was a great songwriter and despite his sometimes cranky demeanor, he really had a heart of gold. See you along the way Amigo – you brought a lot of love and laughter to the world – you will be sorely missed – but always remembered in our hearts.”
Memories from Nancy Dutra:
” I met him first at the Free Times Cafe, but I got to know him at the Tranzac. I was just starting out and I performed a song of mine called Mama Taught Me How To Pray, and he came up and offered to record it for me. And I was a bit scared to go to his apartment to do it, because I was young woman. But he was such a gentleman. It was all about getting a good recording. He became a friend and a mentor and he would invite me up when he was playing, and he was just fun to hang out with , you know? So a few years into our friendship, I found out he was going to Texas for this songwriting workshop, and I ended up going with him. Michael drove all the way to Wimberly Texas. I remember we were driving along the freeway past where they used to have a Willie Nelson radio station and he pointed it out to me and we kept going. Then there was this silence in the car, and after a minute he looked at me and said ‘Oh no. Are you about to cry?’, and he immediately got off and turned around and we went back and spent a few hours there. It was such a magical time, and it was so good to have my buddy there with me. It was one of the deepest honours of my life to perform on that tribute album. David Baxter made the process so easy, so when I went in I just tried my best to sing to Michael. It’s about that loneliness you feel when that person is gone.”
Steve Paul Simms:
“I met Michael Laderoute sometime in the late ’80s at the Free Times Cafe. He was a friend of Norm Hacking’s, and he always seemed like a very cool dude. A magnetic performer and great storyteller in song, he seemed to have fully lived the life he wrote about. An English major, he had a deep knowledge of literature. He loved Moby Dick and Cormac McCarthy. He loved old movies too, and whenever I tried a line of obscure dialogue from some Bogart or Cagney flick on him, he’d know the comeback line right on cue. Michael seemed to know a lot more than he said. Most of the time, he was joking around, occasionally grouchy, but never pompous or self-important. I learned a whole lot from watching him onstage and off, and I never spent an unpleasant hour in his company. He’ll be missed for a long time.”
Bill Heffernan reminisces: “Michael possessed a wry sense of humour, a sharp wit, and a keen appreciation for language and its proper use and purpose. You had to be on your toes at all times. You couldn’t get anything by him, and he would always one-up you or trump you in any wordplay. As serious as he was about it, he was always playful. In that sense he was a wonderful teacher.”
“I’m a singer-songwriter from out in Vancouver, BC. Michael was actually my cousin (my mother’s first cousin, so I guess that makes him my first cousin once removed). We sure had some great times over the years, and I’ll sure miss him. I learned about life and music from him. He was a fine singer and songwriter and has left some great music behind. He always had a cool story to share about meeting a country singer, or catching a giant fish, or about his travels in Mexico. ”
And finally, from Marianne Girard:
“Michael was a profound and gentle presence in my life, a quiet champion. We flowed in and out of each other’s lives, easily, always picking up where we’d left off. He was very private. I wanted to know more about him, but he held his deeper self somewhere inside his chest, and I was content to know that. He was fragile and strong at the same time. His sweet nature remained a constant for as long as I knew him. We played the same Tranzac Sundays for years. He triumphed over his heart attack and was able to go back to his beloved Mexico. I always wondered if he had a lover in Mexico, where no one knew, where it could be just for him. Maybe that was part of his fragileness.
His leaving hit me very hard. I could feel it a thousand miles away. I felt a sudden absence, a void that took my breath from me. It was like someone had opened a window and a backdraft of flame blasted him onwards and then, empty.
Adios, sweet Michael. Vaya con Dios.”
The blossom fades and leaves behind traces of its fragrance and maybe a photo or a painting by someone that it has truly touched as a symbolic remembrance of its meaning to them. But beyond the senses, under the ground, the rhizome continues to search for fresh new spaces to adorn.