Born May 14, 1953 in Manitoba, Canada and moved to Ontario; son of Tuck (a bush pilot) and Violet Cochrane. Addresses: Record company-Capitol Records, 810 Seventh Avenue, 4th floor, New York, NY 10019.

After spending 20 years building a solid following in his native Canada with a repertoire of mainstream rock 'n' roll, Tom Cochrane has been gratified in the 1990s with increased notice south of the border, in the United States. The hit singles "Life Is a Highway" and "I Wish You Well" have contributed to Cochrane's commercial success and growing notoriety, while his increasingly personal, more musically adventurous compositions have made him an intriguing, less predictable performer. "Early on, the raspy-voiced Cochrane developed the sort of gritty sound that epitomizes classic rock 'n' roll," Maclean's magazine wrote. "But critics now see a new maturity in the musician's lyrics ... and a winning combination of folk-rock and rhythm-and-blues influences in his songs."

Tom was one of three children of Tuck Cochrane, a bush pilot, and his wife, Violet. The family lived in a small mining town called Lynn Lake in the province of Manitoba and later moved to the Toronto area. "[Cochrane] began writing tunes at 11," Maclean's reported, "soon after hocking a toy train set to raise money for his first guitar." He began playing his songs in bars across Canada in the early 1970s, and landed a recording deal with a small label, Daffodil Records, in 1974. However, his debut album, Hang On to Your Resistance, received little attention. He followed that up with the dubious achievement of writing and recording the theme song for a porn flick called My Pleasure is My Business. From there, Cochrane worked as a cab driver in Toronto, a crewman on a Caribbean steamer, and a dishwasher and deliveryman in Los Angeles-where he tried desperately to break into the music business. Unsuccessful, he returned to Toronto after a year.

Fate stepped in when Cochrane entered a downtown Toronto bar on a night the local band Red Rider was performing. He asked for an audition and soon became the group's lead singer. The band struck a deal with Vancouver manager Bruce Allen, the man who represented Canadian superstar Bryan Adams, and Red Rider's first album, 1980's Don't Fight It, sold 100,000 copies. From 1980 to 1989, Cochrane fronted Red Rider as the band released seven albums along with hit singles such as "White Hot," "Lunatic Fringe," and "Boy Inside the Man." Meanwhile, Cochrane gained a reputation as one of Canada's leading songwriters and entertainers.

In 1985 the band split from Allen after a falling-out, but its success continued. After renaming themselves Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, the group released four albums in four years and won the 1987 Juno Award-the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy-for group of the year. Two years later, Cochrane won the Juno for composer of the year. Despite the success, he could not escape the annoying references that characterized him as the Canada's Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp or Bob Seger. At the same time, Cochrane chafed at playing runner-up to Bryan Adams on his native soil; the pair shares a long-standing rivalry. In one interview, Cochrane criticized the England-dwelling Adams for "abandoning" Canada and even suggested that Adams' road crew sabotaged his sound system when they shared a venue.

Over the years, Cochrane has been active in a relief organization called World Vision. Before aligning himself with the agency, however, he traveled to five countries, including war-torn Mozambique, to examine World Vision in action. Upon his return, Cochrane penned the bouncy, infectious tune "Life is A Highway." It was included on his third solo album, 1991's Mad Mad World, and became a huge hit, giving Cochrane a foothold in the U.S. market that Red Rider had never achieved. "It was gratifying to finally break through in the U.S.," he was quoted in Billboard. "Previously, you had a lot of people saying, 'He's a success in Canada because he's Canada's own, and Canadians embrace him because of that.' There was the specter hanging over me that I was an esoteric artist, and people outside Canada couldn't relate to me. That was put to bed with Mad Mad World." Not everyone was convinced, however. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Dave DiMartino decried the album's "frighteningly commercial sound" and "well-crafted, extremely soulless radio fodder, a clever replica of music that wasn't even that interesting in the first place."

Cochrane followed Mad Mad World with 1995's Ragged Ass Road, one of the most eagerly awaited album's in Canada in years. It proved to be worth the wait: many critics and fans consider it Cochrane's most intimate, eclectic, and provocative record ever. "Ragged Ass Road is a rootsier, more rocking, more lyrically introspective piece of work than Mad Mad World," Shawn Osler wrote in the Southam News. Sadly, it also is Cochrane's darkest album, as it recounts the disintegration of his marriage in painful detail. "I guess I use [songwriting] as a cleansing," Cochrane told Billboard's Larry LeBlanc. "It's unavoidable at this stage. You have to write about what you've gone through." The album's title is taken from a stretch of highway in Canada's Northwest Territories. "One thing I've learned is that if life is a highway, it's not paved with gold," Cochrane said. "It's more a quest of the heart and soul than anything. You can get dragged down by analyzing the past instead of looking into the future. I'm trying to live more in the now [and] make the music I want to make."

Cochrane's 1997 release, Songs of Circling Spirit, is something of an "unplugged" venture featuring mostly acoustic guitar-and-harmonica versions of many of his songs. That strategy can result in an uninspired regurgitation of an artist's past glories-but not this time. When Cochrane's music is pared down, they better demonstrate his subtle talents as a singer and songwriter, wrote Paul Cantin of the Ottawa Sun. "Free of all the ordinary heavy rock band accouterments," Mary Dickie reported in Maclean's, "Tom Cochrane's direct, unpretentious songs come into sharp focus, and his raspy, world-weary voice makes them all the more affecting. The result is a record that feels more like a fresh view of a strong songwriter than a retread of past hits."

by Dave Wilkins

Tom Cochrane's Career

Struggled as a musician in the years before he joined the popular Toronto band Red Rider. With Cochrane as lead singer, Red Rider released a string of popular albums in the 1980s. His solo career proceeded with Victory Day, 1988; Symphony Sessions, 1989; Mad Mad World, 1991; Ragged Ass Road, 1995; and Song of a Circling Spirit, 1997.

Tom Cochrane's Awards

Juno Award, with Red Rider for best group of the year, 1987; Juno Award, for composer of the year, 1989.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

hello i saw red riderin 1981 i think august concert in new england area , i was hoping some one could tell me who was his opening band or who he opened for thanks so much .maru