“My life is a country song.” When Theo Fleury says that, it’s hard to argue. From his small-town upbringing to the heights of hockey glory, from the depths of sexual abuse and alcoholism to his current health and happiness, the Canadian icon’s 47 years come packed with enough triumph and tragedy to inspire not just a single song but an entire album.
And now, Theo is launching his country music career with his debut album, I Am Who I Am (out October 23) and lead single My Life’s Been A Country Song.
I Am Who I Am, out October 23 on Entertainment One, finds the NHL superstar, Olympic gold medal winner, best-selling author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur tackling a new game: Country singer-songwriter. And it’s a more natural fit than you might expect.
“I know that when people hear that Theo Fleury made a country album, they’ll go, ‘Well … OK,’ ” he laughs. “And I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest singer in the world, but I’m a real singer. But I have a decent voice. I grew up around music. I’m a Metis person and music is really part of our DNA. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were listening to my grandfather play the fiddle. My dad sang and played guitar, my uncle sang and played the guitar. Music was always a huge part of any gathering we had as a family. And it was all country stuff, you know — Charley Pride, Buck Owens, Hank Snow, all those old guys. So that became my favourite genre of music. And making music was always in the back of my mind.”
But it wasn’t until 2009 — the same year he published his unflinching memoir Playing With Fire — that Fleury moved music to the forefront. Wanting to cross an item off his bucket list, he teamed with Winnipeg musician Phil Deschambault to write a song about his life. Once they heard the results, they decided to keep going. Over the next few years, the duo — who discovered their fathers had made music together in Russell, Man., before either of them were born — penned more than a dozen songs, each stronger and more personal than the last. Fleury also began collaborating with fellow Calgarian Paddy McCallion, a longtime drinking buddy who turned out to be a talented musician and composer. He assembled Fleury’s backing band The Death Valley Rebels for his future live shows, and produced the autobiographical I Am Who I Am, which merges the hockey star’s Cash-deep vocals with the classic country twang he grew up hearing in his father’s car.
“We wanted this to be a real grassroots album — ‘Let’s get back to fiddles and steel guitars and accordions and honky-tonk pianos, but put our own stamp on it,’ ” he says. “We’re a bunch of guys who love that old-school country sound.”
It’s about more than just entertainment or nostalgia, however. For Fleury, it’s also about helping others by sharing his story.
“The album is definitely dark,” he admits. “The songs are all about my life, my experience, my struggle. But they’re also about coming through that struggle. At the end of every song, there’s hope. That’s what the lyrics and music reflect: Hope and healing. If people listen to this and there’s a line or a word or a phrase that helps them get out of the situation they’re in or how they’re feeling, that’s really why we’re doing this. The message is that no matter how far we may fall, we can make it back.”
And turn it into a great country song.