Lori Yates

Saturday, January 26, 2019

“A dark alt-country masterpiece… Lori Yates reclaims her title as Queen of Canada’s country singer-songwriters.”

Graham Rockingham, Hamilton Spectator

“A cross between a twanged-out Cowboy Junkies and a bluesy Emmylou Harris.”

A. Murray, comedian

Lori Yates is a renaissance artist. Her life provides ample source material for her art. Her evolution as a singer/songwriter echoes her journey as a human being.  At the top of her game lyrically and vocally, it’s no surprise her new recording, “Sweetheart of the Valley” is being called her best work.  Her lyrical observations are gritty, tender, and poignant, sung through a voice that few can equal. Some call her Canada’s answer to Emmylou Harris.

Born in Oshawa, Ontario, Yates grew up in a working class suburb of Toronto called Downsview.  She’s the kid who quit school at 15 to work in a gas station while secretly taking singing lessons.  The kid who listened to Tanya Tucker, Patti Smith and Dolly Parton while dreaming of a career in music, who’d never been on a plane until Sony Music bigshots sent her a ticket. Maturing into an artist whose scrappy spirit carried her through the peaks and valleys of the music business, she kept singing, writing and performing no matter what life threw at her.  Lori’s a lifer.

Her first major recording “Can’t Stop the Girl” (Sony Nashville) would prove prophetic. She’s an artist who battled and overcame her own personal addictions and quietly moved on to help others.  She’s planted graveyard flowers, painted houses, worked in record stores and homeless shelters, sold her paintings and photographs, and somehow found time to add stand-up comedy to her resume.  A writer, singer, poet, story teller, funny person, coach, mentor, mom and partner.  

Lori has the same determination as when she burst onto the Toronto Queen West roots/cow punk scene of the late 80s as the “cowgirl singing her heart out in the punk clubs.” This enigmatic, rebellious and hard-to-pin-down veteran singer/songwriter adeptly blends country, roots and rockabilly to create her own sound, eventually getting her signed to Sony Nashville.  Long recognized by her peers and respected as one of Canada’s top talents, Lori was called “alt-country” long before the phrase existed – the pioneer of a genre in the making. This is as artist who met Johnny Cash, hung out with Tammy Wynette, wrote with Guy Clark and Colin Linden, jammed with Jerry Jeff Walker, drank with Harlan Howard, sang with Greg Allman and Rick Danko, and ate jelly beans with Roy Acuff. As the saying goes, she’s “been to the show.”


Drawn to the post-industrial steel city of Hamilton, Ontario because of its rich musical heritage, Lori moved there with her baby son and partner in 2002.  That’s where Ronnie Hawkins and The Band cut their teeth in whisky-soaked bars like the Flamingo and the Golden Garter.  Where Conway Twitty wrote “It’s Only Make Believe” in a Herkimer Street apartment, and where the famous Washington family (Jackie Washington and his brothers) opened their home to Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Mississippi John Hurt when they gigged in town. And, where she played with the late and beloved Brian Griffith when he wasn’t touring with Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. 

Hamilton lovingly embraced Lori, awarding her with “Songwriter of the Year” and “Alt-Country Recording of the Year” at the 2007 Hamilton Music Awards for “The Book of Minerva.”

But when it came time to record “Sweetheart of the Valley” she called in old bandmates, friends, and roots heavyweights of Hey Stella –   Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo), David Baxter (acclaimed producer and guitarist), and Michelle Josef (Prairie Oyster). They recorded live off the floor in three whirlwind sessions. The results of which are pure magic. They have the confidence and maturity to leave holes, keep it sparse, and let the song do the talking. Not many artists come up with the best work of their career three decades in, but Lori Yates and Hey Stella! did just that with “Sweetheart of the Valley which has been “Longer Listed” for the Polaris Prize. 

Her words, from her song Angels with Bloody Knees has recently been immortalized in Hamilton’s Gore Park.  Artist Dave Kuruc created “Music City Markers” which included lyrics from prominent Hamilton and Hamilton influenced artists; Robbie Robertson, Terra Lightfoot, The Arkells etc. Look for Lori’s “Concrete rises hits you like a kiss”.


Share this with your friends