Origin: Manitoba - Whitehorse, Yukon
Joe Loutchan was born in southern Manitoba just after the depression. Like most families, money was in short supply so entertainment was provided at home. Joe grew up listening to music performed by his father on accordion, uncle on harmonica, and cousin on fiddle. At the age of four Joe’s granddad gave him his first fiddle. He had crafted it from local wood, and it featured strings made of snare wire with a willow bow.
It wasn’t until the age of 14 that Joe finally convinced his father to buy him a real fiddle. His father went to a local second-hand store and for ten dollars bought the instrument that Joe would begin his career on. By this time the Loutchan family had moved to Winnipeg, and Joe had enrolled in an apprenticeship program, learning to wind electric motors. As an apprentice he was paid 95 cents an hour, whereas musicians were being paid twenty dollars a night, equivalent to a week’s pay for Joe.
Therefore, within three years Joe had a band of his own and was playing weekend dances around Winnipeg. Quickly his prowess on the fiddle was recognized, and shortly thereafter, he began his own radio show playing 30 minutes a week on CKSB Saint Boniface. He later joined a bluegrass band and began traveling to communities throughout Manitoba. However, this stint would only last for six months as Joe became weary of living on garlic sausage, drinking draft beer and eating dust. He decided to pack his fiddle in its case, throw it in the trunk, and head to the Yukon where he could return to the joys of his childhood, trapping and hunting.
Once in the Yukon, it didn’t take long for word to get out, that he could play fiddle. He formed a band and began playing dances in Whitehorse and all over the territory. He has since become known as the legendary “Fiddler on the Loose.” He has been an advocate for Tourism Yukon, promoting the north by playing in Mexico, Texas, Seattle and Disneyland’s 25 Anniversary in California. He has been invited to play on the steps of Parliament on Canada Day, for the Governor General at Fort Selkirk and for Prime Minister Mulroney in Whitehorse. Joe has traveled Alaska and the N.W.T from Iqualuit to Ellesmere Island. He has made four C.B.C. recordings and has been selected Yukon Fiddle Champion so many times that they had to make him a judge.
Joe loves to play fiddle. Recently folk singer, Valdy, was interviewed on C.B.C radio. He was asked what his fondest memory of the Yukon was. Valdy recalled a night in Faro when Joe played all night. He wore out four guitars players, Valdy included. This captures what the “Fiddler on the Loose” has become famous for. He has been playing with Merv Bales and Joe Alain for 30 years and is now teaching his wife Nicole Morgan Old Thyme fiddle and guitar.
Joe still practices 4-6 hours most days and collects and repairs fiddles. He can be heard Thursday nights at the 98 Hotel, a booking he has played for 25 years.
Joe Loutchan, Yukon's beloved 'fiddler on the loose,' has died
CBC News · Posted: Feb 05, 2021 6:00 AM MST | Last Updated: February 5, 2021
Yukon fiddler Joe Loutchan performing in the CBC Yukon studio in 2018. Loutchan has died at age 82. (CBC)
Joe Loutchan, a Manitoba-born fiddler who became a local legend in Yukon playing a long-standing weekly gig at a Whitehorse bar, has died. He was 82.
Loutchan's family confirmed his death on Thursday.
Besides his regular Thursday night gig at the 98 Hotel in Whitehorse, Loutchan often served as a kind of musical ambassador for the territory. He rosined up his bow in Mexico, the United States and across Canada, including on Parliament Hill. He's played for a prime minister, and a governor general, when they visited Whitehorse years ago.
His family was living in Winnipeg and Loutchan soon had a band playing weekend dances around the city. He then began travelling further afield, throughout Manitoba with a bluegrass band.
Speaking to CBC-TV in the 1990s, he recalled how he was lured North by the mountains.
"I had never seen anything bigger than a gopher hill 'til I was about 27 years old. Went out, finally left Manitoba, saw the mountains — that did it, right there on the spot I said, 'I want to go hunting, I want to go live in the mountains,'" he recalled.
"So, back in 1963, I guess it was, decided to come up and give it a whirl."
He came to Yukon and never left.
He was soon playing regular gigs — Red River Jig was a perennial favourite — and winning local fiddling contests. He made several records with the CBC and was dubbed Yukon's "fiddler on the loose."
"You get going, and things are coming to you, bang — you're doing things like you've never done before," he told CBC-TV in the 1990s, describing what it's like to lose himself in his playing.
"That's when you have to be into it. If you stop for even a split second, even just to blow a fart, you've lost it."
In a written statement on Friday, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell called Loutchan "a gentleman legend" and a national treasure who could have gone anywhere with his talent, but chose to stay in Yukon.
"What inspired me most about Joe was his humility. I was so moved that he would refuse to enter fiddle contests that he would obviously win, so that others could reap the trophies and prizes," Bagnell's statement reads.
"This is truly a sad day for the Yukon."
In 2018, Loutchan celebrated his 80th birthday with a celebratory show on stage at the 98 Hotel in Whitehorse.
Speaking to CBC at the celebration, he was asked how it felt to be called a "living legend."
"To me, it's just a normal life, I don't think much different than anybody else. To them it's a legend, to me it's just a day's work," he said.
When the birthday cake came out, the interview was wrapped up so Loutchan could go enjoy a piece.
"I don't need cake, but I'm going to go have a beer," he said.