If it weren’t for a growth spurt in his early teens, folksinger-songwriter Dave Gunning may never have found the guitar.
“Mom and dad ‘forgot’ to enroll me in hockey one year,” Gunning says with a sheepish laugh. “I think it’s because I needed new gear.” Looking for something to do in his hometown of Pictou, Nova Scotia, he picked up a guitar his father had brought home from a local flea market, learning a few chords from a neighbour. That’s when his parents told him that if he could learn and perform two songs, they would spring for lessons. He never thought it would lead to a career.
With eleven albums now under his belt, along with a substantial handful of prizes from the East Coast Music Awards, the Canadian Folk Music Awards and Music Nova Scotia, among others, Gunning says he still feels fortunate to be able to make music for a living.
“I’m not really built to do this,” he says, acknowledging an introverted nature and an early tendency for getting “nerved up.” (He was first encouraged onto the stage by his childhood friend JD Fortune, who went on to front INXS.) But Gunning is more than comfortable onstage these days, having logged hundreds of hours playing covers on the Maritime pub circuit until he was ready to take his own show on the road.
“I don’t think it’s uncommon in the folk world to have thousands of little moments, rather than one big one,”- Dave Gunning
Gunning, who affectionately describes his approach to songwriting as “blue collar,” says he’s drawn to the idea of telling stories and preserving history through his music. His most recent album, No More Pennies, made international headlines when the Canadian Mint wanted him to pay royalties for depicting the recently discontinued coins on his album cover. It relented, but not before Gunning amassed $6,200 through a penny drive, later donating the money to a Halifax children’s hospital.
While some have suggested he’s due for a big break, Gunning likes how things have unfolded so far. “I don’t think it’s uncommon in the folk world to have thousands of little moments, rather than one big one,” he says happily. “That’s definitely how it’s been for me.”