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 Loutchan, Yukon's beloved 'fiddler on the loose,' died February 5, 2021
Joe Loutchan: fiddle
Paul Gurry: bass
Serge Bougie: drums
Dougie Trineer: guitar
Graham Townsend: piano
Produced by Les McLaughlin
Engineered by Jean Guy Simard
Cover photo by Richard Desmarais
Photo of Joe Loutchan by L.W. Christopher, National Film Board
Album design by Banfield-Seguin Ltd., Ottawa, Ontario