After 45 years in entertainment, Fred Penner still creating new music

Fred Penner, who will be performing in Thompson’s Letkemann Theatre on April 8 in a performance sponsored by the Thompson Public Library, is already midway through his fifth decade as a professional musician and entertainer and plans to continue as long as he can.

“As long as my health maintains and my creativity is there then I’m prepared to continue as long as I can,” said Penner, who was in Thompson earlier this month to take part in the Dreamcatchers Workshop at the Boys & Girls Club.

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Penner made a choice to pursue music and entertainment as a career in 1972 and performed in many of Winnipeg’s theatres. He recorded “The Cat Came Back” in 1979 and then had a long stint on TV with “Fred Penner’s Place,” which began in 1985 and continued until 1997, reaching nearly 1,000 episodes.

“It was quite a huge body of work,” he told the Nickel Belt News March 6, the same day that his latest CD went on presale.

By now, Penner says, his audience isn’t just children, but also the adults who remember singing along to his songs and watching his show from their own childhoods.

“That generation of baby boomers’ children are now the young adults affectionately know as Fredheads and they’re now having their own children,” he said. “There’s this multigenerational thing that has been happening for me where there’s a new group of children who are coming into the world and the parents really want them to experience what they had, which is not an uncommon path, so I’m being carried along by the generations.”

It isn’t always easy to come up with new material but the benefit of being older is having more experience to draw on.

“It can be challenging sitting down and actually getting it to fruition,” Penner said. “This CD is sort of an example of that. We started about a year ago here in Toronto with Ken Whitely, my producer, and I had many songs and pieces of songs that I needed to flesh out and get into a completed level and now that is done. I know that it’s always possible for me. I trust my creativity and eventually it will step forward and take me to a finished product.”

With musical influences ranging from his parents’ favourites to those of the ensuing decades, Penner said his range is not limited to any one genre.

“I grew up with a lot of classical, orchestral opera music from my mom and dad’s side of the world and they loved the swing era from the ‘40s,” he said. “I have an older brother and sister who brought in the early rock’n’roll in the ‘50s and then when the sixties came, in the ‘60s was the folk scene and the protest world. I have this vast array of musical styles that are at my disposal basically, so when I’m writing a song I don’t feel like I’m tied to one particular genre or pattern of music. It’s quite broad so I can create things that have different directions and imagination. I’m not limited in my creative process.”

And no matter what changes on the outside, Penner says inside people are the same as they were when he got his start.

“The external can change and things can progress around you,” he says. “You’ve got a fancier car than you did 30 years ago but still, what I try to relate to is that positive inner spirit, the love that you can have for yourself and the people around you, the cooperation that can happen. The songs that I do are all about that, they always have been, about home and family and pets, certainly, and that doesn’t change.”

“What people are, bottom line, is loving, caring, creative human beings and trying to make it all work in his absolutely insane world – and I think it is an insane world - what we try to do as individuals, as families from day to day in just making positive communication within our family units and with the people in our work world, you really have to develop a strength inside of you, a courage, just that positive energy that will allow you to go through life without hurting yourself or others,” says Penner. “That’s the constant. That’s what it always is like in life.”

Penner performs at 2 p.m. on April 8 and tickets are available at the library and CHTM.

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