It’s a long way from being homeless on the streets of Toronto to earning a PhD in clinical psychology and recording seven well-received folk albums. Yet that’s exactly the road less travelled by Gibsons singer songwriter Ken Dunn who will be performing at the Gumboot Cafe on April 28. Dunn was determined to have a career as a musician, but “trying to make a living as a folk musician isn’t an easy gig,” he says. He was earning money busking, but eventually there wasn’t enough to pay the rent. He started crashing at friends’ places, until one day he woke up on a park bench covered in newspapers. “I didn’t have any money and didn’t have a fixed address,” he says. “From that moment I realized this could happen to anybody. It changed my song writing. I began focussing on social justice issues.”
Dunn changed tactics, applied to university and “one thing led to another.” He ended up working in health care for the next 25 years as a medical psychologist, helping people with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and death and dying issues. But he never gave up his music. “It was great because it gave me the ability pursue my music career on the side,” says Dunn of being a psychologist. “I was very fortunate to have a steady job and good career in terms of it being a worthwhile thing to do with a steady income.” Dunn would take breaks from working in hospitals, as a lecturer, and even from his private practice, to record albums and tour places like California, western Canada, Central America, Mexico, and Cuba. “There’s a limited market for folk music, so there’s lots of travel involved,” says Dunn. Though he originally wanted to “be a Beatle” he discovered the music of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot, especially his album, The Way I Feel. “That album turned it around for me,” says Dunn. “I just thought ‘this is the people’s music.’ You didn’t have to be rock star with an entire band behind you. You could go out on the street with an acoustic guitar and it was so accessible.” Dunn’s latest album, Wondrous Beauty, released in September of 2017, debuted in the top 10 on the Canadian folk music charts and is getting radio play all over the world on folk music programs.
For his upcoming concert, he will be playing with Anna Green, his life partner of 17 years, and his musical partner for the last 10. They will be opening for Desiree Dawson, CBC’s 2016 Searchlight winner. “She’s going to blow everyone away with her voice and her songs,” says Dunn. “She’s an upcoming talent, with a positive message. I think she’s going to make it big.”
Ken Dunn and Anna Green open for Desiree Dawson and Jody Okabe, Saturday, April 28 at the Gumboot Cafe at 7:30pm. Tickets $15 in advance at brownpapertickets.com or $20 at the door.