The antithesis of the loud, distorted music of the alt-rock boom, Toronto's Cowboy Junkies became known for quieter, haunting material that explored country, blues and folk. Sustaining the same sibling-loaded lineup since 1985, the band features singer Margo Timmins, guitarist Michael Timmins, drummer Peter Timmins and bassist Alan Anton. Thanks to popularity through heavy MTV rotation, Margo Timmins actually earned a People magazine distinction as one of "the 50 most beautiful people in the world." The quartet's signature venture remains "The Trinity Sessions, an acclaimed 1987 album recorded at Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity with a single ambisonic microphone. In 2007, the band released "Trinity Revisited," a reinterpretation featuring guest appearances by Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Vic Chesnutt.
"The worst, worst, worst one that sort of affected me for life was our first major record label gig. This would have been '89, so we were not a young band, but we were new to the corporate world. We'd signed to RCA, and they were having their international conference. So all the heads from around the world were meeting in Marbella, Spain, to drink and get stupid. We were sort of going to be the surprise new act that they'd signed. A lot of them didn't know we were signed to RCA. That's what they do: They all stand up and say who they signed and what their plans are. Blah, blah, blah.
"So they had this big dinner up on top of a mountain where there was this famous bullring -- like a private bullring -- and it had a dining area. The only way to reach it was to get on the bus from the hotel and go there. So all these corporate dudes were pretty much trapped up there for all sorts of conference things: lots of speeches, lots of drinking, lots of eating. It goes on and on. We're stuffed in the bullring area, which was okay -- we didn't want to be in the party -- and we're waiting to be told to go on and play.
It's now really late, and they are pissed-drunk and tired. Just as we are about to go out, Heinz Henn, who was the president of the company in the states, comes up to me and says in his German accent -- which I can't do, but it was very stern -- 'I want you to sing "Mining for Gold."' And I never sang (the a cappella) 'Mining for Gold' in those days. It was not that I was shy, but I was not confident.
"I was like, 'I can't do that.'
"He was like, 'No, you have to sing it. You have to sing it.'
"Again, in those days you're feeling as a band that every gig is so important, and you got to do what you got to do. I don't know what I thought. I wish it was now and I could have turned to him and said, 'Go away!'
"And the boys were like, 'Look, Margo, we'll stand up behind you and get up onstage so you're not alone.'
"So I go out, and the place is either everybody's talking or they're literally asleep. There's a guy sitting in front of me -- and I'll never forget his face. He's a Japanese guy, and he's like drunk-asleep. His head is back in the most uncomfortable way, his mouth is wide open and he's drooling. And he's snoring.
"I'm like, 'This is hell.'
"They don't care. It's late. I'm tired. They're tired. Everybody wants to go home, and they're trapped. They can't go until we've done our thing.
"Heinz comes out and introduces us like they just signed U2 or something. So we go out, and I start to sing 'Mining for Gold.' The guy is snoring, like loud. I'm beginning to lose it because I can't focus. I can't find anybody to focus on. Nobody's listening. And then I look up and there's one guy listening, and he has a very large head. He's staring, like piercingly staring, from across the room.
"I'm like, 'Okay, I'm going to focus on that guy.'
"As I'm focusing on him I go, 'I know that guy. It's Gene Simmons of Kiss!'
"I'm like, 'I can't do this. I'm in some sort of weird alter-world. I don't know what's happening to me.'
"So we do our gig. No one listens except for Gene. Through the whole deal I was bonding with him. 'Thank you for listening.'
"He came up afterward, and he totally knew the gig.
"He said, 'That was a hard gig.'
"And I said, 'Just tell me they get better.'"
— Margo Timmins, Cowboy Junkies