Johnny Reid the biggest Scots star you’ve never heard of

Singer sells out arenas and lives a dream life in Nashville.

July 18, 1988, is a date forever etched in the mind of Johnny Reid.

It was the day the Reids, a working-class family from Lanarkshire emigrated to Canada to begin a new life.

But Johnny, a month shy of his 15th birthday, had no interest in starting again. He was quite happy playing football with his mates, going to the local disco and chatting up girls at Garrion Academy in Wishaw.

Life in a new country was a culture shock and lonely Johnny turned to the guitar to express his pent-up feelings.

Little did he know those tough times would lead to him becoming one of the most popular singers in Canada.

Today, 25 years after leaving Scotland behind, Johnny sells out arenas in his adopted home and lives a dream life with his family in the capital of country music, Nashville.

“My dad’s a diesel mechanic and, when Ravenscraig closed, he had to work away a lot,” says Johnny, his Scottish accent still strong.

“He was gone too often and my mum said they’d have to work something else out.

“So he came in one day and said he’d been offered a job in Toronto and we were leaving. I thought he was kidding.

“I was happy with my life so I wasn’t pleased, to say the least. But I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it.

“I consoled myself with the thought that there would be good weather. But then my mum told me Toronto was in Canada, not Spain, so I didn’t even have that to look forward to!

“I said goodbye to everything I’d ever known.”

Johnny moved into rented accommodation in Toronto with his parents, Davy and Helen, and younger brother David.

“I turned up at my new school wearing black and lime green trackies and Adidas trainers, thinking I looked the bee’s knees, but I saw all these smart-dressed pupils looking at me as if to say, who’s this idiot?

“I had to go through the new guy thing.

“I started playing football at school and scored a few goals, which got me noticed.

“But when school finished and I went back home, I was quite lonely. My parents were working, so my brother and I came back to a dark, empty house every night.

“It was then that I bought a guitar. My cousin kept one at my gran’s house in Hamilton and I would mess about with it, but I couldn’t play.

“I had all these words written down, wee poems, so I taught myself some chords.

“I was able to tell my guitar things I couldn’t speak to anyone else about.

“I realised I enjoyed singing, so when a play came up at school I went for it and got a major part. Now I was no longer just the Scottish guy, but the guy who could play sport and sing.”

Johnny also showed an aptitude for American football and, when he finished school, he was approached by Bishop’s University near Montreal to go there on a football scholarship.

“I had no way to pay for it, but the college said they’d take care of things. So I went in, put on shoulder pads, kicked field goals for the next four years and left with a degree in business and theatrical music.

“I also met my wife, Jenn, there in first year and we’ve been together for 19 years.”

Throughout his university days, Johnny played in pubs and clubs at the weekends to earn money. He also wrote his own songs and sent them to companies to try to win a writing contract.

Although they liked the songs, the record companies were more interested in who was singing them.

“I told them it was me. I was too cheap to hire someone to demo my songs, so I just sang them myself.”

After stints in Los Angeles and New York, Johnny settled in Nashville to become a songwriter.

Soon after, he signed a recording deal with Randy Lennox, president of Universal Canada, who loved his soulful, bluesy voice.

His first album, Born to Roll, was released in 2005 and was a surprise hit. Johnny even reached No. 1 in the Canadian country charts with a single from the album.

The follow-up was an even bigger success, staying in the Canadian Top 10 for weeks. All of a sudden, Johnny was a star.

He was making music videos, winning awards and playing headline shows to thousands of people. Johnny even started his own fan club, Johnny Reid’s Tartan Army, which currently has 27,500 members.

With six albums under his belt, Johnny is now playing 17,000-seater arenas and is working with legendary Pink Floyd producer Bob Ezrin on his new Christmas album.

But he remains as grounded as the day he thought Toronto was a Spanish hot spot.

“I still can’t believe all these people show up to see me. It’s humbling.

“I was up for Artist of the Year at the Juno Awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Brits) alongside Justin Bieber, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Carly Rae Jepsen. That’s pretty good company!

“I didn’t win, but I’m lucky to have already won three Junos and 29 Canadian Country Music Awards although I’m not really into awards.”

The good times don’t look to be stopping for the 38-year-old star.

“I have to pinch myself now and again,” Johnny admitted.

“I like to keep people around me that aren’t ‘yes men’. A couple of years ago my record company said they wanted to have someone accompany me while I was travelling.

“I didn’t think it was necessary but they insisted, so I contacted my old friend from Wishaw, who had gone on to become a Green Beret, and he’s now out here with me. He’s good craic, and I have another three Scots on my crew.”

His parents his dad still works as a diesel mechanic are proud of what he’s achieved and his brother helps with merchandise and production.

Scotland remains important to Johnny and now he’s looking to make an impression in his home country.

“I’ve got to a point in life where I don’t need to chase success, but I want to come home more often.

“I have four kids three boys and a girl aged 11, 10, six and three, and they’ve never been to Scotland. I want to reconnect with my history and family.

“I’m talking to international management companies and my intention is to record a new album next year that will be released globally.

“I’ve played with my band for more than 10 years and I want to bring them to Scotland to show them where I’m from. So I thought I might as well book a few shows while we’re visiting.

“We’re playing three intimate shows in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen from September 20-22.”

He added: “Nothing would fulfil me more than to come home. Being from Scotland has been a blessing for me, because I’m always remembered as the Scottish guy.

“I’m living proof you should always chase your dream

you never know, one day you might catch it.”

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