Hero of the Rock

Michael T. Wall has been playing gigs from Newfoundland to Nashville for more than 40 years. wall, shown here displaying his trademark guitar at the 1996 Cambridge Garden Party in Ontario, is still playing, recording and promoting his native province wherever he goes.

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'Singing Newfoundlander' still sings praises of his homeland

He stands almost six feet tall, is well-built, and has wavy brown hair, soft dreamy blue eyes, and a slow sexy smile. Men respect him and ladies love him. But there is much more to this man than what you see on the surface. Michael T. Wall is special - both as an entertainer and as a person. His voice is soft, his handshake sincere, and his smile contagious. Few have met him without succumbing to the friendly warmth of his charm. None have met him without learning something about Newfoundland. To meet Michael is a pleasure and to call him your friend is a privilege.

Born in Corner Brook, Wall was educated in Stephenville and in Harbour Main, Conception Bay. He grew up on 'the Rock' and still has relatives and friends in the province.

Wall has been serious about singing country music since the age of eight. He sang at parties, picnics and concerts, entertaining his school friends.

Later on, when he sang as he walked home late at night, people sometimes told him to 'Shut up!' But that didn't deter him from his dream. In 1954 he earned his first performance fee and two years later he was touted as Corner Brook's first Elvis impersonator.

When Wall decided to pursue a professional music career, he realized it could not be obtained at home. In 1961 he moved to Toronto. But he had another goal in mind, too.

'I had a dream, and that was to promote Newfoundland to the rest of the world,' he said.

Billed as 'The Singing Newfoundlander', Wall proudly displayed his love for the island while charming audiences with his energetic performances. In the early years he wore a specially designed, gold lame stage suit with a green map of Newfoundland emblazoned on the back.

Initial audiences were mostly transplanted Newfoundlanders. As his popularity grew, however, others came to see for themselves this man who talked about his home province with the same enthusiasm that he gave to his stage performances.

Wall's first appearance on Nashville's prestigious Grand Ole Opry was in 1967. How did Music City residents respond to his Newfoundland style of music?

'They loved it,' he exclaims.

Standing where legendary stars like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley had stood was a big thrill for Michael.

'You just get goosebumps all over,' he once told Peter Miller of CBC Radio in St. John's.

Then there was Tootsie's Orchard Lounge and the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.

'I sang with Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadour Band back in 1970 in Nashville,' he says.

'It's not the voice that counts, it's the communication.'

In 1984 he did four shows in Warsaw, Poland, the first Newfoundlander to sing behind the Iron Curtain, though he was representing Canada. He was the first Newfoundlander to record in Nashville (1970), using Elvis' former drummer, D.J. Fontana. He has appeared on stage with top country stars like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Porter Waggoner.

'I do what I do best,' is how he describes his style of music.

In March 1997, he received the Stompin' Tom Award from the East Coast Music Association. This recognizes artists who have helped lay the foundation of the East Coast music industry.

Wall is known worldwide for his music and promotion of Canadian country artists. In September 1997 he received the King Eagle (Trailblazer) Award, in recognition of his overall contribution to the music industry, from Around the World Promotions, Nashville. During this two-day event, Michael sold CD's, signed autographs, met lots of people, and also distributed material about Newfoundland.

'I was told that Newfoundland was unknown to most people until I gave out information on it,' he says.

Wall is still very active. In the last two years there have been two albums: Back To Rock-A-Billy Days (1996) and 500 Years Ago (1997), He participates in numerous festivals and other events, and does concerts. And he's not quitting yet. More albums and performances are in the works.

His energy level is high and he looks young enough to keep you guessing. What's his secret?

'Don't smoke, don't drink, and don't do drugs!'

© Fay Herridge, Special to The Telegram
TV Week/The Evening Telegram, July 18-24, 1998

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