Call it a fan’s ultimate collection.
The Canadian alt-country band Cowboy Junkies have donated their entire archives – including almost everything they have ever recorded – to the Media Commons at the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library.
The vast collection spans 20 years of Cowboy Junkies’ history, beginning in 1985. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s creative process, from lyric sheets and songwriting tapes to band rehearsals and studio-session outtakes. “It’s like the literary papers of an author that show different drafts of a book,” says Brock Silversides, director of the Media Commons. “They really saved everything.”
While musicologists will find plenty to listen to – more than 1,700 recordings, including live shows, every album the band released commercially and one, recorded in 1990, that they didn’t – the archive will also appeal to students of entertainment law and music business professionals. Among the band’s papers are its contracts, as well as documents related to an audit the Junkies forced on RCA Records over royalty payments.
For students of popular culture, the collection also boasts 13,000 photographs – taken both of and by the band – fan mail, tour posters, a video of the band’s 1989 appearance on Saturday Night Live and hundreds of press clippings. There’s even a stash of pre-Junkies history: recordings by guitarist and songwriter Michael Timmins’ earlier bands, The Hunger Project and Germinal.
Timmins formed Cowboy Junkies in Toronto with his sister Margo on vocals, brother Peter on drums and bassist Alan Anton. The band is best known for its 1988 album The Trinity Session, recorded live in a single day on a single microphone in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto.
Michael says the archival tapes include all the “jabbering between songs” from The Trinity Session and an early cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane.” The material was stacked in basements and offices and the band grew concerned that the audiotapes, in particular, wouldn’t survive. When they found out that U of T had a climate-controlled vault and was interested in acquiring music, the decision to donate was simple, he says.
U of T’s Media Commons also houses the complete archives of Canadian bands Blue Rodeo and Triumph.