Dallas Harms would come to Hamilton from Saskatchewan in 1938 at the ripe age of 3 years old and by his twenties, he’d start changing the course of Canadian music history. Sadly, the Hamilton country music legend passed away last weekend.
“In 1954, I met Jack Peddler, a die hard country fan,” recalled Harms back in 2016 when I interviewed him for his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hamilton Music Awards. “He had every record Hank Williams had ever made. Hank Williams voice crept into my heart. I knew right away this is what I wanted to do. I chased down that dream for 14 years, honing my skills as a songwriter, playing every dive bar within a hundred mile radius.”
Harms made his first record, for Reo, in 1959 that sounds more like classic fifties rock and roll. The 7-inch single of “You Mean The World To Me” / “Make Me Believe” helped establish Harms as a stand out in Hamilton. When Conway Twitty came to town, Harms was there. He recalls developing a friendship and hearing about Twitty writing his big hit “It’s Only Make Believe” at the Fisher Hotel in Hamilton. He’d travel to Nashville with Twitty and do demo recordings at places like Sun Records, and Harms would befriend another up and coming country rock and roller from Arkansas named Ronnie Hawkins.
Hamilton promoter Harold Kudlats had booked Twitty and more in a growing Southern Ontario circuit and Hawkins’ good looks and charisma made him poised to be the next Elvis. The first gig was at the corner of King and John Streets at the Golden Rail at Diamond Jim’s but Hawkins called Dallas Harms upon arriving in Hamilton to help get the word out.
“I used to run between the Flamingo and the Golden Rail to watch a set from each of the bands,” Harms said. “I became friends with a lot of the bands. When Hawkins came up to Canada, we went to this studio and I had cut my first record with Ronnie Hawkins’ band before Ronnie even had a record out. But I knew Hawkins was the real McCoy and when he came to Hamilton, I got a call at my job at HG Wright Manufacturing from Jimmy Ray Paulman about Ronnie playing. They were looking for some help and I invited all of my friends to come down in the middle of the week. It started slow on Wednesday but by the weekend, we had them lined up down John Street because Hawkins was such an amazing performer. I was a very well dressed person in those days and they were wearing these gabardine suits that had been so worn they looked like Italian silk. I took them to my tailor and got them all these suits, two suits a piece. It wasn’t long before Ronnie sent me a cheque and that’s why Ronnie always said, ‘when we were in trouble, Dallas helped us out.”
Harms would be hugely influential with his beneficence and selfless promotions, and he’d believe that good karma is what helped guide his own musical career.
“I took a leap of faith in 1968 and quit my job and there was no turning back,” Harms said. “I threw all of my dreams and wishes out into the universe and kept my nose to the grindstone. In 1975, I wrote “Paper Rosie”, “Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All The Time” and “The Old Man and His Horn”. Gene Watson and myself rode the wave of success."
Harms would release albums on the Broadland label including Paper Rosie, The Fastest Gun, and Painter of Words and when Gene Watson covered the Harms penned song “Paper Rosie”, Harms would reach the pinnacle. Last year, at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Hamilton, "Paper Rosie" was officially inducted into the Canadian Songwriting Hall of Fame. Harms retired but he and his wife of 59 years, Marie, always lived in downtown Hamilton.
“My career was like filling in the outside of the box of this big jigsaw puzzle,” Harms remarked. “When Gene covered “Paper Rosie”, it seemed all of the pieces in the puzzle came into place. They used “Paper Rosie” to open up the Eddie Murphy movie 48 Hours. They used “Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All The Time” in the Kris Kristofferson movie Convoy. When I threw my dreams into the universe, all that came true."
Hamilton country music legend Dallas Harms died at Hamilton's St. Peter's Hospice Saturday, October 12, after being diagnosed earlier this year with cancer. He was 84. At his request, there will be no visitation. Cremation has taken place.