To celebrate Neil Young’s 74th birthday, world music collective Sultans of String have released a rousing rendition of Young’s 1972 classic Heart of Gold — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
“Heart of Gold has a lot of meaning to me personally,” explains Sultans co-founder and violinist Chris McKhool. “I grew up in a classical music-loving house; my mother was a piano teacher, and all the kids from the neighbourhood would come to our living room for lessons. My first instrument was a classical violin.
“But by the time I was a teenager, violin was kind of a ‘square’ instrument. When I got to high school, I had learned enough about music already that I could teach myself how to play guitar. I bought my first steel string guitar from Steve’s Music in my hometown of Ottawa — a plywood model by Yamaha! Neil Young’s Heart of Gold was the very first song I learned on it.”
At the time, McKhool worked as a short-order cook at a place called TJ’s Speakeasy Café. “It had a great open stage night,” he recalls. “I saw some amazing Ottawa folk performers there. One night during my shift at TJ’s, I came out from the back and played Heart of Gold. I didn’t have enough money for a guitar strap so I was just kind of clutching the guitar under my arm as I strummed away. I was so nervous in my first public singing/playing appearance that my arms were trembling a little bit, and halfway through the song I literally dropped the guitar. The crowd went wild with applause!
“ I decided that was a good place to leave it. They all knew and loved me at TJ’s — it was a very supportive place. But I slinked away back to the kitchen and practised a lot more before I tried that again. Now I play violin in this band, but I still own that old Yamaha guitar and love singing this song! I hope Neil gets a chance to hear this — a birthday present from me and Sultans of String!”
Sultans of String features McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Drew Birston, Eddie Paton and Rosendo Chendy Leon. Together, their inimitable musical synergy has earned them three Juno nominations, four Canadian Folk Music Awards and many more accolades. The internationally touring ensemble are currently marking their 12th year with an extensive national trek and, additionally, the release of their forthcoming album — their seventh and most historic to date, Refuge. Set for spring 2020, Refuge finds the group collaborating with a roster of world-class talents that arrived to Canada and the U.S. as immigrants and refugees — many of whom are Grammy and Juno Award winners as well.