Corb Lund: Boot-Kickin' Canadian Cowboy Why Corb Lund's wry storytelling and driving tempos aren't better known outside of his native Canada is a mystery. His new album, Losin' Lately Gambler, could change all that, and bust some south-of-the-border stereotypes about Canadians in the process.
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Corb Lund: Boot-Kickin' Canadian Cowboy

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Corb Lund: Boot-Kickin' Canadian Cowboy

Corb Lund: Boot-Kickin' Canadian Cowboy

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Maybe you're getting set to carve the turkey or put the pie in the oven. Maybe you're done and sleepy and stretched out on the couch. Well, we've musical company today from someone who writes songs about ranchers and cowboys, rodeo stars, drinkers and gamblers.

(Soundbite of song, "Losin' Lately Gambler")

Mr. CORB LUND (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) I'm a losin' lately gambler but that's not all I ever been. Cutting back your loss is just another way to win.

BLOCK: "Losin' Lately Gambler" is the name of the new CD from Canadian singer Corb Lund and his band, the Hurtin' Albertans.

Mr. LUND: Somebody referred to us as the Hurtin' Albanians once.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LUND: Yeah. And the Hurtin' Albertains - that was a good one, too.

BLOCK: Albertains. You should collect all those.

Mr. LUND: Yeah. Yeah. That's what I do. I have lots of misspellings in my name, too. Corb Lund is a really bizarre name to have to put on a playbill or something, when they don't know you. Gord Lang and Gordie and Curvy and Gurvy and Herman, and all kinds of stuff.

BLOCK: But it's Corb Lund, C-O-R-B L-U-N-D. I talked with Corb Lund about his music, his family and his native Canada.

Corb Lund, welcome to the program.

Mr. LUND: Hey.

BLOCK: And you Canadians beat us to the punch on this Thanksgiving thing. You guys already celebrated back in October, right?

Mr. LUND: Yeah. If we leave it to November, nobody can get out of their driveways, there's so much snow. So...

BLOCK: Well, you know, I'm curious about the kind of running Canada theme through a bunch of your songs. And particularly, one that talks about a little bit of - sort of cross-border rivalry between Alberta and your neighbor to the east, Saskatchewan.

Mr. LUND: Yeah.

(Singing) Well, I'm long gone to Saskatchewan. Long gone to Saskatchewan where the getting's good if you're getting gone. I'm going to put my boots and my hat back on, �cause I'm long gone...

Mr. LUND: Saskatchewan is a little bit like everybody's little brother, sort of. We all love Saskatchewan, but they get a lot of jokes made about them.

BLOCK: Oh, what kind of jokes?

Mr. LUND: Like, it's so flat you can see your dog run away for three days.

BLOCK: Oooh.

Mr. LUND: That kind of thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: And what do they say about Albertans?

Mr. LUND: They think we're rednecks, mostly. It's partially true but Alberta is much like - for those of you who don't know about Canadian geography, it's like directly north of Montana. It's got the Rockies on the west side and the Plains on the right. And it's culturally very similar to Montana or Colorado or Wyoming. We've got all the cattle and all the oil.

BLOCK: And Saskatchewan has?

Mr. LUND: They have a lot of wheat. It's flatland farming there, kind of like Kansas or something.

(Singing) Well, I like Alberta. Dang, ain't you heard of how much it could cost to buy oats? Lala is lover, think kindly of her but I got no money left over for smokes. Well, I'm long gone to Saskatchewan. Long gone to Saskatchewan...

BLOCK: So, Corb, I guess the idea here is if you're a rancher, you can get a pretty good deal across the border in Saskatchewan.

Mr. LUND: Yeah, it's kind of a fun song but it's actually about a real phenomenon. See, Alberta has had a real oil and gas boom. It's driving land prices really crazily high, and so the ranchers can't afford to raise cattle there anymore. So they're selling their places in the foothills and buying places that are way bigger in Saskatchewan, that are just as good for cattle - they're not quite as scenic but - my buddy did it, actually. A bunch of my friends bought places in Saskatchewan now.

BLOCK: And you say you owe them a song because you've made so many jokes about them all these years.

Mr. LUND: Well, hey. Yeah.

(Singing) Now I got to give honors to Stompin' Tom Connors for rolling on Saskatchewan first. Hus put his touk on, long gone to the Yukon, figured he owed us a verse. But I was coming out bringing my T-shirts and singing to my good eastern neighbors so long, he put up with dumb jokes about your province and so, and figured, hey, I owed you song.

Well, I'm gone to Saskatchewan. Long gone to Saskatchewan where the getting's good if you're getting gone. I'm going to put my boots and my hat back on. Raise my cows like my granddaddy done, where the birch trees growing and the sharp tail rolls. Adios, good-bye, farewell, so long. I'm long gone to Saskatchewan. Long gone to Saskatchewan. Long gone. Long gone. I'm long gone to Saskatchewan.

BLOCK: You know, I do give you a lot of credit for coming up with a good rhyme for Saskatchewan.

Mr. LUND: Yeah. Yeah, it's a mouthful. And the locals always give me a hard time �cause it's actually Saskatchewon(ph). It's not Saskatchewan.

BLOCK: Oh. Mmm.

. Mr. LUND: But it's a better rhyme with Saskatchewan.

BLOCK: You know, you could - it's interesting to think about where this might lead. I mean, could do? Are you thinking Newfoundland, Nunavut...

Mr. LUND: Work my way east...

BLOCK: Uh-huh.

Mr. LUND: ...and Nova Scotia, Quebec. Yeah, there're lots of them.

BLOCK: You got a rhyme for Nunavut?

Mr. LUND: None of it.

BLOCK: Well, there you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LUND: I'll have none of it, Nunavut.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LUND: How do you know about Nunavut?

BLOCK: Oh, you know, we know about all sorts of things down here, on the other side of your border.

Mr. LUND: Some of you do. Some of you don't. Some of you do. I suspect most NPR listeners know more about Canada than non-NPR listeners.

BLOCK: Do you think we have, though, you know, misperceptions or sort of stereotypical views about Canada that are just wrong?

Mr. LUND: Well, the out-and-about thing is kind of interesting, �cause I'm from western Canada and, you know, it's a big country and there are three or four distinct - sort of accents within Canada. And the typical, sort of where's the car, by the bar, out-and-about thing is sort of an eastern Canadian accent. It doesn't really apply to the Westerners.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. Well, what would you say?

Mr. LUND: We talk more like Montanans, I'd say. The one stereotype that is very true is we do say "eh" all the time. Whenever you'd say, "huh," we would say, "eh."

BLOCK: Can you work it into a sentence for me?

Mr. LUND: This is a great interview, eh?

BLOCK: I think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LUND: NPR is great, eh?

BLOCK: I'm glad you like it.

Mr. LUND: Yeah, like that.

BLOCK: Corb, tell me about your family and your heritage there. Cattle culture, I think, runs really deep in your family.

Mr. LUND: Yeah. Yeah, a lot of people in the States don't know that we have a lot of cowboys up in Canada, but they're all in Alberta.

My family - on both sides, actually - were from Utah originally. They came over from Denmark in the 1830s, 1840s. And then they ranched in Utah,and I think Nevada, for a long time. And then a bunch of the family came north around the turn of the century.

BLOCK: And your dad, as I understand, is or was a veterinarian.

Mr. LUND: Yeah, he's kind of a renaissance man. He's a cattle guy, and he was a pro rodeo cowboy, and he's a watercolorist. And he's a veterinarian, yeah.

BLOCK: And it became a song.

Mr. LUND: Yeah, there's a few vet songs on the new record. There's one called "The Talking Veterinarian Blues," which is made up of true stories. It's all true stuff that happened to him and his buddy in his practice.

(Singing) Well, my dad is a vet and if I was one, too, the one thing he always taught me to do is to get paid, cash money. See, jam and eggs is a kind enough thank you, but not for the bookie or not for the banker. The margin's thin on sweet, large animals, unless it's a purebred or more understandable, a race horse of some kind.

BLOCK: So dad would come home from a day out with the animals and be telling you stories?

Mr. LUND: Yeah. There's a story in the next verse about how one of his interns, this woman - an old lady brought a bird with the wing that was injured and the intern somehow - I don't know if it was his fault - but the bird died over the weekend. Right? So the guy goes to the pet shop and buys a new bird. Right?

(Singing) There's a blind old woman brings in a bird with a busted wing and somewhere she heard we was good doctors. That night it died in the cage, under our care, of unknown cause, but we'll make it square. These things happen. Only one cure, though: Quick trip to the pet store. Well, morning come. I didn't want to upset her. For her own good, I didn't see a need to tell her. And not only you boys have fixed his wings, but it appears as though you've taught to sing. You are good doctors. He ain't never sung before, had him for years.

I suspect there's a veterinary code of ethics, and I think this is probably against it.

BLOCK: That was a violation right there.

Mr. LUND: I would think so.

BLOCK: Well, you do have not just one but two songs about veterinarians on this CD. I think that must be a record.

Mr. LUND: Yeah, I like to try to write about stuff that nobody has written about before. So I think scoring dope off your vet is a new topic.

BLOCK: You're talking about the song "Horse Doctor, Come Quick."

Mr. LUND: Yeah.

(Singing) Veterinarian, surgeon or doctor come quick �cause the old (unintelligible) took sick. Bring your little black bag with the medicines in, bring the tranq and the crank and the penicillicin. Well, I know you been busy pulling all them calves but you got something that the other vets don't have.

BLOCK: Well, how did this song come about?

Mr. LUND: Well, that happens, right? Like, there's the long tradition of people using vets as sort of a back door to get a hold of narcotics. Because it's the same stuff, right? Morphine is morphine or, you know, speed is speed. So I mean, a lot of the steroid guys get their steroids from vets.

The song is actually a good reflection of my life, in a way, because a lot of my music comes from the two chunks of my life. The first half is, you know, pretty cowboy and western and all that stuff. And the second half, I was in sort of an indy, sort of punk band for 15 years. So I like to write songs where those two worlds collide. I think this is a good example of that.

A-straight ahead western songwriter probably would not write about that.

BLOCK: And not that we're endorsing this practice. We should be clear.

Mr. LUND: Of course not. No.

(Singing)Veterinarian surgeon on stat to come quick. Whatever you've got, free to doing the trick. Bring your little black bag with the medicines in. Bring the tranq and the crank and the penicillicin.

BLOCK: And let's pause for a sec. Corb, translate there.

Mr. LUND: Well, tranq is tranquilizer, like Ketamine; and crank is speed; and penicillin is penicillin. I had to add an extra syllable because it wouldn't fit.

BLOCK: All right, hang on. Here's the rest of the verse.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LUND: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

BLOCK: Is it fun to play this song on stage?

Mr. LUND: Yeah, it's actually, aside from the lyrical content, it's got a cool feel to it. It's quite a groovy song to play. It's fun.

BLOCK: Well, Thanksgiving is all about family, and I wonder if you would favor us with a song. You have your guitar there, and you have a song about your family - your colorful family, it sounds like - called "Family Reunion." Could you play that for us?

Mr. LUND: Sure. Do you want the whole thing?

BLOCK: Yeah.

Mr. LUND: OK. Yeah, I'm lucky because I read a lot about family stuff and history. I'm kind of lucky. I've got a rogue's gallery of ancestors and cousins and stuff to write about. And it's good, too, because the more well-known I get in Canada, the more cousins I seem to have. So there's no shortage of topics.

BLOCK: And they work their way into this song?

Mr. LUND: Yeah, they do.

(Soundbite of song, "Family Reunion")

Mr. LUND: (Singing) Family reunion, she's gonna be a good one. So let me bend your ear, the clan's all here for the family reunion.

Well, my cowboy uncles sing cowboy songs, and they get drunk and the words get wrong. My Blackfoot cousins say they're comin' this year. Well, I hope they do, and I hope they bring beer to the family reunion, she's gonna be a good one. So let me bend your ear, the clan's all here for the family reunion.

You got the Mormons and the drinkers and the Mormons who drink. Well, pay attention �cause it ain't as simple as you think. They say there's some that don't believe in either, but I ain't met 'em yet, and my pa ain't neither at the family reunion, she's gonna be a good one. So let me bend your ear, the clan's all here for the family reunion.

Well, then I run into my favorite aunt, and she says Corb, you still playin' in that band? Well, I guess as long as you're havin' fun, and you make a little money but we're prayin' for ya, son. Family reunion, she's gonna be a good one. So let me bend your ear, the clan's all here for the family reunion.

There's a whole lot a cousins that I ain't met yet. So you can imagine the shock I get. There's one of them I think I might've dated back in school, but that's OK, in Alberta that's cool. Family reunion, she's gonna be a good one. So let me bend your ear, the clan's all here for the family reunion.

Mr. LUND: Something like that.

BLOCK: And on that note, Corb Lund, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LUND: Thank you.

BLOCK: Corb Lund from Alberta. His latest CD is "Losin' Lately Gambler." Coming up, an after-the-meal game involving a spoon, table scraps and a circle of chanting relatives, one of your not-so-traditional Thanksgiving traditions. That's next on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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