Tom Wilson Tehoháhake Shows Us More Of His Scars

This past April, the personal odyssey of Indigenous Canadian musician Tom Wilson Tehohàhake hit a new milestone when his 2017 novel, Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home—which had already been adapted into a 2022 film documentary—was presented as a stage musical at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius. Now, Wilson’s own take on one of the big numbers from that show, “Death Row Love Affair,” is being released as a single, adding yet another chapter to his perpetually captivating story of healing while acting as a tantalizing preview of a new album he’ll be delivering later this year.

In the show – co-conceived by Wilson and writer/actor Shaun Smyth – the song provides a powerful closer to Act One. Wilson’s own rendition is an achingly honest rumination, with a hovering ominousness that perfectly befits its depiction of a human soul at a reckoning point:

Who’s kiddin’ who about where love goes
Some speed away
Some are going down slow
Oh I’m going nowhere in this death row love affair

Wilson calls the song’s sentiments “words of love from the silence between heartbeats.” The recorded track fills those silences perfectly: With no percussion to interfere with its almost free-time introspection, it paints an exquisitely unhurried portrait of wistfulness. Completing that portrait was a task Wilson entrusted to producer/engineer Gary Furniss, who also played guitar, bass and keys on the track, augmenting Wilson’s own lead vocal and acoustic guitar. Thompson Wilson provided additional vocals, with Jesse O’Brien on piano and Aaron Goldstein on pedal steel and baritone guitar.

“Death Row Love Affair” is the latest installment in the Beautiful Scars project, an ongoing chronicle of the culture shock Wilson experienced upon discovering the Mohawk heritage that had been kept from him by his adoptive parents. As a musician, he’s taken to branding himself as Tom Wilson Tehoháhake to better reflect that heritage (“Tehoháhake” being Mohawk for “two roads”). And he’s made the trials of people like him a key focus of his efforts as a musician, writer, and visual artist.

Check out Death Row Love Affair onYouTube here:

“The intention of my writing, my music and my art is to reduce the gap between my Indigenous culture and colonialists to make a more patient, loving community,” he says.

He certainly has the artistic pedigree to get people to listen. Wilson’s tireless efforts as a musician have netted him numerous nominations and awards, from the Hamilton Music Awards to the Polaris Prize to the JUNO Awards. And he’s gone gold and platinum over the course of his storied recording career, which has encompassed releases as not just a solo artist but with his popular bands Junkhouse, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and the Lee Harvey Osmond band, winner of a 2020 JUNO for their album Mohawk.

As a songwriter, Wilson has seen his work recorded by and with artists like Sarah McLachlan, City and Colour, Jason Isbell, Colin James, Lucinda Williams, Billy Ray Cyrus, Mavis Staples and The Rankin Family.

Listen on Spotify here:

His forays into fine art have included Beautiful Scars: Mohawk Warriors, Hunters and Chiefs, a successful exhibit at the Art Gallery of Burlington. In its wake, Wilson’s paintings have been displayed in various galleries across Canada— including the Toronto’s Cultural Goods Gallery and Tom Beckett Fine Art in Hamilton—and collected in a book, the recently published Mohawk Warriors, Hunters and Chiefs: The Art Of Tom Wilson Tehoháhake, available from New Brunswick’s Goose Lane Editions.

In 2020, he established the Tom Wilson Indigenous Bursary in Honour of Bunny Wilson, his adoptive mother, at McMaster University. The bursary helps first-year Indigenous students from Ontario secondary schools to complete their undergraduate education.

All that activity hasn’t gone unnoticed by his country. Last year, Wilson was named a Companion of the Order of Canada—the second-highest honor the system bestows — “for his multifaceted contributions to the arts in Canada, notably as an iconic musician, as well as for his advocacy of Indigenous communities in Canada.” This September, he’ll be formally appointed to the Order. And that isn’t the only honor coming to Wilson this year. On June 6, as part of Canadian Music Week, he’ll receive the 2024 CMW Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award during the Jim Beam INDIE Awards at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. His Tom Wilson Tehahàhake Trio will also be performing one song that evening, warming them up for a series of full concerts they’ll be performing through the end of the year. Dates are as follows:
June 15 – Markham Village Music Festival, Main Street, Markham, ON
Oct. 4 – Creemore Festival of Arts, St John’s United Church, Creemore, ON
Oct. 5 – Market Hall Performance Centre, Peterborough, ON
Oct. 18 – Festival of Small Halls, St. John’s United Church, Brockville ON
Oct. 19 – Festival of Small Halls -Westmeath Recreation Centre, Westmeath ON
Oct. 26 – Festival of Small Halls -Old Town Hall, Waterford ON
Wilson has plenty of additional activity booked with Junkhouse, who will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of their debut album, Strays, in a pair of shows that will also pay tribute to their late bandmate, Russell Wilson. The first show will be held June 22 in Uxbridge, ON at a location that’ll be disclosed to ticket buyers upon making a reservation. The second show is set for July 18 at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville, ON. Further Junkhouse gigs for 2024 are:
July 19 – Crewfest 2024, Lions Park, Brantford, ON
Aug. 2 – Rockin’ the Fields of Minnedosa 2024, Minto, MB
And if that weren’t enough to make his already overstuffed schedule creak from the weight, Wilson has a couple of shows lined up with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings:
July 13 – Hope Volleyball Summerfest 2024, Mooney’s Bay Beach Park, Ottawa, ON
July 21 – Hillside Festival 2024, Guelph Lake Conservation Area, Guelph, ON
Yes, it’s going to be a heck of a 2024. But Wilson isn’t afraid of a little hard work. After all, he already has the Scars to show for it.