British Columbia country music legend Evan Kemp has died. He was 78.
Back when country music was still western, Kemp was the king of the west coast cowboys—a fan site calls
him "the golden voice of the golden west." His smooth, easy-listening style
and yodelling ability earned him fans all across Canada, peaking in the 1970s when he
hosted two national TV shows, "Cross-Canada Barn Dance" and "Circle Seven Ranch".
His biggest hit was Sweet Molly Malone, which cracked the top 50 in the United States in the 1960s. He appeared
on the Grand Ole Opry in the '60s and was squired around
Nashville by his hero, Eddy Arnold.
But his career was largely confined to rural western Canada. Kemp was a classic hard-working
country singer on the small-town circuit, selling his records off the stage and entertaining folks
with British Columbia-themed songs like My Home By The Fraser,
Bella Coola Baby and Queen Charlotte Schottische.
Kemp was born in Vancouver, but spent his early days in Pagman, Saskatchewan where he fell in love with country
and western music.
"I had a problem with my eyes," he recalled ina 1997 interview with the Vancouver Sun.
"I was practically blind. Of course, all you can do when you're like that is listen to radio.
I listened to Wilf Carter and all those yodelling entertainers and I learned to yodel. I could
yodel like crazy."
The Kemp family moved back to Vancouver when Kemp was 11, and he started selling Liberty
and Saturday Evening Post magazines. To entice customers, he would display his yodelling talent
if they purchased his wares.
One night, CJOR disc jockey Bill Rae heard Evan yodelling on Love's Cafe on Granville Street. Rae took
Kemp straight to the station and put him live on the air. The young yodeller became a staple of
Rea's shows on CJOR, CKMO and CKNW.
Kemp became a DJ himself for CKWX and CKMO, but he gave up radio to play live and make
records, first for Al Reusch's Aragon label and later for RCA.
Kemp's career earned him membership in the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame, which honoured
him with his own star on Granville Street. A 1989 stroke forced him to cut back on live
shows, but he was a regular at a Remembrance Day convert at the Orpheum, where he would
sing The Man We Never Knew.
Kemp died March 17 in his Burnaby home from a heart attack.
He was predeceased by his wife Laurie. He is survived by their three children, Kathryn,
Ken and Darcey.