Sault native Hal Draper, a retired auto worker and singer/songwriter, with a heartfelt admiration and concern for first responders and essential service workers at risk during the COVID-19 crisis, has written and recorded a tribute song entitled Modern Day Heroes.
“All the events lately got me into writing Modern Day Heroes,” Hal said, speaking to SooToday by phone from his home in Peterborough.
“I’m so close to so many first responders. One of my neighbours is a very close friend and a firefighter, and my daughter’s best friend works in a long term care home, and her husband’s a paramedic.”
That long term care worker, Hal said, is ‘Jenny,’ a real life character who figures prominently in the lyrics of Modern Day Heroes.
“The nursing home deaths in Bobcaygeon really touched my heart, the deaths, and the fears of the staff who work there,” Hal said.
“I wrote this song to let everyone know, the first responders and essential service workers, my wife Donna and I are thinking of them and praying for them.”
Hal was also inspired to write a COVID-19 related song as the virus has threatened his own family.
As reported earlier in a Canadian Press story featured on SooToday, Jeff Pruce, Hal’s brother-in-law and also a Sault native, now based in Mississauga, was vacationing with three friends on the cruise ship Diamond Princess and touring east Asia when he found himself suddenly quarantined and docked in Japan along with 3,500 fellow passengers when COVID-19 struck the ship in February (though Pruce himself was not among the 355 people on board diagnosed as infected with the virus, 15 of them from Canada).
He was quarantined for two weeks on the Diamond Princess, then after arriving back in Canada at CFB Trenton, was quarantined for another two weeks (with fellow Canadians who had been on the cruise ship) at a facility in Cornwall, Ontario.
“It’s really hit home,” Hal said.
Hal’s wife Donna told us she kept in touch with her brother throughout the ordeal via Facebook, but still hasn’t had the chance to see her brother in person since his return to Canada, Pruce staying in self isolation in Mississauga.
“My mother lives in Thessalon, and my sister would spend time with her with the computer and we all messaged him together. He at least had a room on the ship with a balcony, but they were small rooms. Once every three days they would allow them out on the upper deck. We were so concerned he was going to become ill. We’re happy he’s home and never caught the virus,” Donna said.
Donna is also a Sault native, Hal having worked at Algoma Steel for 10 years before moving to Oshawa in the early 1980s.
There, he worked for General Motors for 30 years.
Hal then retired, the Drapers then moving to Peterborough to be closer to family members, Donna still working as a Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board administrative assistant.
Hal said “I’ve always loved music.”
During his days in the Sault, Hal played as a guitarist in a high school band with George Pinder, who went on to become a well-known local radio personality.
In later years, after moving to southern Ontario, Hal spoke with Pinder about his music in live radio interviews over the phone.
Shortly after starting at GM in Oshawa, Hal formed a band called The Bent Fenders and, apart from performing cover versions of rockabilly tunes at hotels, pubs and seniors homes, wrote his own material.
Tempted to go into the music business full time, Hal instead chose the safety of a GM paycheque, but still enjoyed success as a songwriter.
His original songs caught the ear of Sony Music, Hal writing songs for Sony artists for several years.
He wrote Save Me and What He Used To Do for Canadian country singer Tara Lyn Hart in 1999 and 2000 respectively, Save Me reaching number 5 on the Canadian country music charts.
Hal played guitar for Hart for 17 years.
He also wrote The Ring (2000), Big Star (2001), and End Of This Road (2002) for Canadian country artist Adam Gregory.
The Gregory album on which The Ring appeared, entitled The Way I’m Made, reached number 10 on Canadian country music charts and achieved gold record status.
That songwriting success, Hal said humorously, “paid our Visa.”