WEYBURN – As a family man, businessman, oilman and producer, Dan Cugnet has worn many hats in his life, and now he’s added one more, as a musician.
He wrote and recorded songs and has put them together in an album, “Rodeo Cabaret”, which is currently available on a variety of music platforms.
The songs started to develop as a way for him to relax while taking his MBA studies, as he found there were times he needed to put his attention on something else to clear his head.
“I’ve always had music in my life. I took piano lessons from June Barber and music theory from Helen Davidson, and I played in a rock band, garage band kind of stuff,” said Dan. “When I was doing my school thing, it was a good way to clear my mind. I’d go to my spot in the garage and pick away.”
He said this process gradually started to yield new songs rather than just covers of songs he already knew. He returned to his studies, and then found when he returned to playing, the break helped him work through some of the creative process in writing songs.
“I wrote a few songs, and I thought I should record some of these just to have them for posterity. I started searching around and people would recommend names for producers, and one name kept coming up, Bart McKay,” said Dan, referring to a former bandmate and producer for the Johner Brothers.
He reached out to him and paid a visit to his studio in Saskatoon. Dan told him what he wanted to do, and after playing some of his songs for McKay, the producer asked if he could bring in some musicians he knew to lay down tracks, and he “took the songs to a whole other level.”
COVID hit during this time, and Dan found the forced isolation gave him more time to write and channel his thoughts towards songs.
“It just seemed to be a positive thing to work on, and it became much more of a project, having the time,” said Dan. “The whole process was so fun for me. I’ve learned a lot about the process of how this works, and you learn a lot about yourself when you’re doing something new.”
He describes his songs as “old-school country”, in the style of Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings. “I think I can sell this music and myself a lot more as a country singer than trying to do metal or punk rock.”
He added a friend of his told him, “You have to write your own truth.”
Some of the songs he writes are about people he knows or grew up with, and places and times that mean something to him.
One example is the song, “Where the Buffalo Roam”, which makes reference to the prairies and Regina back to the time when buffalo freely roamed the region.
Stories relating to his dad, Ken Cugnet, and oilman John Kmita, figured into the song, “Outlaw Buckers and Oil Kings”, as he spoke of how Kmita had an interest in rodeo stock which went on to be used in the Rodeo Finals.
The song, “Floatin’ Down the Highwood” shared the story of a number of years ago when he and some friends enjoyed summer days floating down the Highwood River south of Calgary, “without a care in the world.”
He wrote the song, “Welcome to the Ryman”, after he had visited the famed auditorium in Nashville two and a half years ago, and he couldn’t believe that no one had written a song about the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, with so many great musicians who had played there.
“I wasn’t aware of anyone writing about the Ryman Theatre. How is it there’s no songs about this?” said Dan.
The album title, “Rodeo Cabaret”, is “a real Saskatchewan thing, a real southeast Saskatchewan thing. When I grew up, every town had a rodeo and a cabaret. I just thought, ‘what a great title for an album’.”
The finished album dropped on streaming platforms on Nov. 11, as Dan had arranged through distributor, CD Baby, to get it out, and they were able to have the album available on about 150 digital platforms, from well-known ones like Spotify and iTunes to obscure ones that he had never heard of.
“The whole thing has been a series of surprises all along the way,” he said. “It’s been a really cool experience.”
The process of songwriting is continuing, as he is at work on new songs for a second album to come out some time in the new year.