Nobody really knows who J.P. Cormier is for sure. That’s to be expected, believe me.
In 1974, when he was just five years old, discovering an innate talent for playing the guitar, he learned faster than anyone could teach him. Not yet out of his teens, he was a sideman for bands and artists of many different genres in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and all across the Deep South. As he traveled and worked he added more and more instruments to his arsenal of capabilities. He became indispensable to the bands he worked for.
In the early Nineties, he became a sideman for one of Canada’s favourite sons, Stompin’ Tom Connors and also became a staple of the recordings at Studio H in Halifax. His work with the CBC there, spanned musical, production and arranging duties. All of this before he was 20.
In the mid-nineties he re-entered the musical scene of his beloved East Coast and Cape Breton Island. He exploded onto the traditional music scene there as a fiddler, performing some of the most difficult music ever produced by legends like Winston Fitzgerald and Angus Chisholm with a facility that stunned onlookers. Especially those who knew he wasn’t born there, but born in Ontario to Cape Breton parents. Somehow, some way, his music was the real thing, sounding like he had been steeped continually in a handed-down brew of family tradition from the old country. Nothing could be further from the truth.
His previous gig was in Nashville playing mandolin and banjo in a Grammy nominated bluegrass gospel band, performing on the Opry Stage, and playing television shows with the likes of Waylon Jennings. All those people also thought he was one of them, American, reared in the ways of bluegrass, old time and Americana music. They knew he was from Canada, but it just didn’t seem possible.
Then in 1997, something amazing happened. JP released an album in Canada, called Another Morning. This time it was him as a songwriter and lead singer. And what an incredible songwriter he turned out to be! Some of the songs on that album are literally part of the musical vocabulary today on the East Coast. Songs like the title cut, and Kelly’s Mountain, The Molly May (co-written with his cousin Gervais) and others. It inspired, 25 years ago, some of the biggest names in the business today. People like Dave Gunning, Matt Andersen, David Myles, Joel Plaskett, all of which will tell you: that record changed things. The Canadian industry thought so too, it received a JUNO Award nomination and won an East Coast Music Award.
And that was just the beginning, 36 years later after stepping on stage as professional union musician for the first time at the tender age of 13, JP is still going strong, and frighteningly, still getting better. 16 albums followed the success of Another Morning, winning 12 more East Coast Music Awards, another JUNO Award nomination, a Canadian Folk Music Award and 5 Music Nova Scotia Awards. Each album is a snapshot of his many talents. There are fiddle albums, Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar, tribute records, song writing collections, a truly astounding spectrum of talent and musical vision.
His catalogue of recordings and the 150 or so records he’s produced for other artists, resemble the tapestry he weaves in live performance. Where he used to carry 3 and 4 piece bands, he tours alone now. Just him and the instruments. People still leave his shows confused, amazed and wondering what they just saw. Did they see a storyteller? A Songwriter? Arguably one of the best guitar players in the business today? Someone who crosses the lines between different instruments like there are no lines? Who was that masked man, anyway?
Accolades aside, and there are many from people like Chet Atkins, Marty Stuart, Waylon Jennings, Gordon Lightfoot; JP sees himself as just a performer. He’s shy, but has a razor sharp wit and lightning sense of humour. He can be reserved or edgy to the point no return. He speaks for soldiers, first responders, other artists, the forgotten and lost. He speaks sometimes only for himself and refuses rebuttal. But of all the things he is, first and foremost he is an entertainer. Certainly one of the best.