Terry's stool, one of his guitars and a bottle of Gatorade

by Randy Owen
Country 107 3

His tour bus was parked outside the venue, this time at Purple Hill Country Hall in Thorndale, Ont. His lights and Bose sound system were set up on stage. His stool, guitar and a bottle of Gatorade (with a few swigs already taken from it) seemed to huddle together waiting for the star of the show. His band was waiting in the wings. A sell-out crowd of about 400 fans sat in their seats eagerly ready to be entertained. But the only thing missing was the star.

Canadian country music icon Terry Sumsion had passed away almost four months earlier from esophegeal cancer. But this show, "A Celebration of His Legacy in Country Music," was planned to go on without him and, at the same time, for him, his family, friends and fans. As one of the MC's, I opened the show by announcing we would start by remembering one of the inspirational songs Terry had recorded for his last album, "Encore." To the amazement of the concert organizers, the family, the other entertainers and myself, the fans rose for a standing ovation as only the song was played from a CD! And the ovation continued for the entire song! It was overwhelming. Country 107 3 morning man, Craig Fox, another close, personal friend of Terry's, and I shared the MC duties for the afternoon, with a few personal stories about the man.

Tammy, Terry's daughter singingTammy, Terry's daughter singingSinger and songwriter Paul Weber kicked off the live entertainment with a rousing set of traditional country music. Indeed, all the artists were picked to perform, not just for the style of music they played, but also for their connection to Terry: Paul had travelled down the same roads as Terry, sometimes sharing stages, especially since Paul had become the owner of The Commercial Hotel in Maryhill, where Sumsion played many times; -Jim & Cindy Dixon, who had been personally encouraged by Terry (he even appeared on their first album as a small-town radio DJ); -Jay Allan, another singer/songwriter Terry took an almost fatherly interest in (among the songs he performed, Jay sang his personal tribute to Sumsion, a song lamenting the fact Terry has yet to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame...which also drew rousing cheers and a standing ovation from the fans); -singer/songwriter Suzie Sweetman, who not only wrote several songs with Terry, but in a personal tribute, sang as his body was being removed from the hospice where he had passed away just a few months earlier; -Marie Bottrell, a former Canadian Country Music Female Artist of the Year and one of last year's inductees into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (many of Terry's band members had worked with Marie in her band at one time or another), -Larry Mercey, another Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductee (Larry and Terry were mutual fans and friends of each other).

Matthew Norris, Terry's grandson singingMatthew Norris, Terry's grandson singingThe most personal tribute performances, however, came from members of the Sumsion family. Terry's daughter, Tammy, moved the crowd with her version of "Stand By Me." Matthew Norris, Terry's grandson, had some very big shoes to fill (boots, really) when he sat down on the stage by himself with just his acoustic guitar and asked the fans to stand. They did, as Matt sang "Highway of Heroes," Terry's tribute song to the fallen Canadian soldiers brought back from the war in Afghanistan. They stood as they did for his grandfather whenever he performed the song, out of respect for those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. But this time, the applause at the end of the song was louder than usual, out of respect for the fallen creator of the song, too. And everyone in the room could not help but feel for Jeff, the son who bears more than a strong resemblance to his father, as he sang another special Sumsion song, "Friends That Are Forever."

Many members of Terry's legendary backup band Stagecoach reunited to support many of the entertaners, both out of a shared stage camaraderie and in tribute to the man who had brought them together in the first place. Dwayne Friesen did double-duty as band member and sound man. But before the finale, the man who tirelessly brought everyone together for this show addressed the crowd to say his thank yous.
Al Ross and his wife, Wanda, had been big fans of country music and became big fans of Terry's. But fanship turned to friendship as Al, a very adept handiman, and Terry, a former truck driver, worked together to redo the Sumsion tour bus. At Terry's concerts, Al and Wanda became part of the crew, right down to the very last live show. The work brought the two men closer, becoming as some might say "like brothers." Actually, except for the genetics, they did become brothers, and Al and Wanda became Sumsion family members. As a tribute to his friend, Al organized just about every detail of this show, devoting many weeks of constant attention to "get it right."

Group FinaleGroup FinaleAfter Ross thanked everyone involved in putting the show together, he introduced each of the entertainers back to the stage, to be joined by members of the Sumsion family for a group rendition of the song Terry was so much identified with: "Our Lovin' Place." The entertaners then left the stage to the family and, as Terry usually ended his shows, the audience stood yet again to clap along as they sang "Midnight Invitation." Tammy signaled the end of the tribute by repeating something her father usually said to his fans at show's end, urging them to drive home safely and be aware because "For every mile of road, there's two miles of ditch."

I looked at the back of the hall toward the entrance doors, picturing a surprised Terry walking in, stopping at the sight of the hall filled from wall-to-wall and literally up to the rafters, looking around, taken aback, and then, in a just-loud-enough-to-be-heard, deep, baritone voice, slowed down to emphasize and slightly over-pronounce each word to be clearly heard by all, express his overwhelming flood of emotions with "Holy Moly!"

Only one thing was missing that would have made the show absolutely perfect: Terry Sumsion