The opening line of Harvey Sawler’s truly engaging One Man Grand Band: The Lyrical Life of Ron Hynes, is, “If there’s anything I learned through my time with Ron Hynes, it was this: expect the unexpected.”
Readers will be treated to plenty of the unexpected: on page 1, we learn he was a student at the Arthur Murray School of Dance in British Columbia.
Who knew? After all, Ron was a reserved man when it came to interviews. But something about Sawler and his approach put Ron at ease. In fact, it’s clear Hynes died feeling excited about the book.
He’d be happy with the final product: it’s sincere not saccharine, fascinating not celebratory, and will reveal much to even his biggest fans and closest friends. It was written by Harvey Sawler, who’s not from here, so his perspective is a fascinated fan with an outsider’s view, not a cloying self congratulating “look at this gem our island produced” type of affair.
What Sawler serves up is a terrifically presented life in glossy images and heartfelt chats with those who knew Ron best. The end result doesn’t just demonstrate what a life Ron Hynes lived: it also demonstrates what a force in writing Sawler is. The bio reads with all the grip and intrigue of a novel.
To make his passages really resonate with readers, he fuses Ron’s memories with background on the people and places that made him who he is. He will write two paragraphs worth of history about Ferryland before telling us about something that happened to Hynes there. The result is that we care more, we’re better gripped by the words, we’re further dipped into the life of the man, and in understanding the transformative effects of Hynes colliding with certain places, people, and events.
For example, Del Shannon was a huge influence on Ron Hynes, which in itself is not an interesting fact. But Sawler makes you care about Shannon. He tells us who he was and why, specifically, he was an influence. By the time you’re done with that section, you’ll be checking out, or revisiting the music of Del Shannon.
A good biography does not just list the details of a person’s life: it paints a psychological profile of why this person existed, how they came to be, and why they did what they did. It’s like solving a mystery — and Ron was certainly part mystery; bigger than life, yet nobody’s hero, troubled, yet ambitious.
Say what you will about him: he was the first Newfoundlander bold and creative enough to record an album of entirely original music, and he veered from trad music. That sent waves of influence into the music community. So much so, that a young Sandy Morris insisted on building a band around Hynes that ultimately grew into the phenomenon of The Wonderful Grand Band — The Beatles of Newfoundland.
The book is laid out as a series of little snippets, little looks into the life that shaped him and made him and broke him and moulded his ability to capture such relatable humanity in his music. You will get no more music from Ron Hynes, but with this book you will get a treasure trove more of this “man of 1000 songs.” (Including where that moniker came from.)