Alberta songwriter John Wort Hannam’s new album Long Haul delivers small-town moments amidst joy and heartache

It’s been one of those years. Songwriter John Wort Hannam lost his father to leukemia, watched his wife, Jenny, struggle with the frustration of moving her U of L field biology class online (field biology online — huh), and walked in on his son Charlie, in Grade 4 at the time, curled up on the floor in frustration over trying to learn via the omniscient flickering screen that had become an overlord for too many people since March, 2020.

But resilience is the sunflower that slips through the fractures in the pavement. “My son’s not the kind of person I can say, ‘Hey, kid go get online and I’ll be in the next room,’ ” Hammam says from his Lethbridge home. “I had to sit next to him and he had a couple of meltdowns there where I messaged the teacher and I just said, ‘We’re gonna go to the park.’ ”

Like that sunflower peeking from the pavement, Hannam’s songs for his eighth album, Long Haul, blossomed during challenging times. Hurry Up Kid, which tears up a parent’s eyes by the second verse, is much prettier and better written than the thematically parallel Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle, yet dashed with humour (“We had a big fight building your crib … hurry up kid.”)

“I found that with (Charlie) being home again, and me being home, and Jenny as well, I caught myself telling him to hurry up all the time. Like, ‘Hurry up and get out of bed, hurry up and eat your cereal, hurry up and get online.’ If we were going to the park, ‘Hurry up, we’ve got to get back online at 1:15.’ Charlie (named after Jenny’s father) is going to be double digits in less than two weeks, and it just sort of hit me: it’s going so fucking fast and here I am telling him to hurry up when all I want is for the whole thing to slow down.”

It’s one of several gems among 11 tracks. One could hit play on any of them and, without knowing in advance it was Hannam, they would realize it within moments. Over the 20 years since he’s been releasing music, Hannam has stamped his logo on his songs with voice and style.

“That’s nice to hear. Part of it is I’m 53 now, I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I mean that both as a human and as a songwriter.

“I used to start writing songs and I’d get just two or three lines down and I’d think to myself, ‘Oh, no, that’s not the kind of song John Wort Hannam sings.’ It was sort of, I don’t know what it was. I think I had these limitations on myself, and I’d think of my songwriting heroes and think Guy Clark or Fred Eaglesmith would never write this. I’d stop. I’d throw it out.

“And then I realized, fuck it, write about whatever comes out in the moment. Try and capture whatever it is.”

Hannam says he’s not worried about people liking his music. “I would love it if people listened to what I wrote and say, ‘I like it, I enjoy it, that sounds like a great song,’ but, whatever, at the same time the thought of trying to write a song to get somewhere or get onto a certain radio program or something like that, I don’t even think in those terms anymore. I just try and get something down that’s real … I’ve sort of carved a little niche for myself.”

And just as Corb Lund is a master at capturing the nuances of ranching life, Hannam excels at snapshots of vanishing small town life, whether it’s immortalizing the arrival of the first traffic light in Fort Macleod, singing a requiem for a small town, or, here, singing Small Town Meat Draw (“It’s the most small town thing you ever saw”), universal from Gimli to Barrhead, written while playing Wide Cut Weekend.

“The venue was the No. 1 Legion in Calgary. We were sitting in the green room and I said, ‘Oh, shit, I don’t have a legion song.’ And I actually wrote down probably 90 per cent of that song sitting in the green room waiting to go on.” He taped the new lyrics to the stand, and people wanted to know where to buy the CD for the song. Sometimes Hannam picks up a T-bone or pack of bacon and does a meat draw while singing the song live.

Knock-out emotional punch appears in Long Haul songs written for those lost. When Hannam moved to Canada from the UK, his new best friend Ken Rouleau lived around the corner in Southwood. While Hannam went to Bishop Carroll and Rouleau to Grandin, the two still headed to Republik’s three-for-one Thursdays or to the Westward Club and ended up at U of C together. Ten years ago, Rouleau died of ALS. Later, Hannam was watching a show where someone claimed they could talk to the dead, and the parent asked the medium to tell his dead daughter: “Don’t worry about us; we’re okay.”

“It got me thinking about Ken. I don’t believe in, well, I think when we’re dead, we’re dead, is what I personally think. It got me thinking about the memory of Ken and think about him and our childhood together. And I’ve got that line which I stole, ‘Don’t worry about us, were doing alright.’ ”

The album’s closer, Young at Heart (“May you die young at heart at a ripe old age”) was written for Hannam’s father, diagnosed with leukemia in December and gone in March. “My dad was one of those real lust for life kind of guys. That whole sense of adventure of seeing what’s over the next knoll, and what happens if we take this path instead of that one, that’s something I got from my dad.”

And while the album features Hannam’s trademark poignant moments, it also has its share of fun and joy, like his delightful duet with Shaela Miller on Beautiful Mess, about a mismatched couple who ironically could not be better suited for each other.

Talking about the trail to now, Hannam mentions seeing the late, great Herald music writer James Muretich talking about Billy Bragg on FM Moving Pictures, then seeing the video. 

“I grew up with A.M. radio, and music was made with a band and full production … and all of a sudden there’s one guy playing his crunchy guitar and singing about stuff that kind of made sense to me. Because, you know, think about what was on the radio at the time, it was probably songs like Boys in the Bright White Sports Car. I don’t have a white sports car, but all of a sudden here’s Billy Bragg singing about working class stuff, and I could see my dad in those songs, and see my upbringing. If it wasn’t for James Muretich bringing Billy Bragg onto the TV, maybe I wouldn’t have done this.”

Which begs gazing down to the far end of that trail. “I think about that sometimes. I don’t feel like I’m an old man, but at what point will this stop? I’m not going to be 80 years old driving around playing my little folk songs.”

Time will tell, but if you do, may you be young at heart at a ripe old age.

John Wort Hannam plays the Ironwood Stage Oct. 15 for the release of Long Haul. For more information, go to or