Terry Kozachenko’s latest song, released Tuesday, is a tribute to a friend. But beyond that, it’s also a paean to friendship in general, and a cautionary reminder to the listener to stop putting off what needs to be said until it’s too late to say it.
To A Friend premiered this week on Kozachenko’s YouTube channel (Terry K 3TL). The stunning video was shot and produced by local videographer Stacey Koudys, who has also done work for local bands Fat Moth and Moonfox, as well as Niagara-on-the-Lake musician Michaela Bekenn. The song itself was produced by NOTL resident Rayburn Blake.
Backed by Alan Ash (co-founder of the Niagara Ukesters) on bass and Kirk Smith on violin, Kozachenko’s song is reflective, mournful and celebratory all at the same time. In it he laments “plans we had and dreams we couldn’t complete,” and “all that we were and never will be.”
During a visit to Kozachenko’s Virgil home, he speaks of many of his friends through the years for whom the song fits. But one in particular takes the bulk of the conversation.
Kozachenko lost his friend Richard Howard in 2020. The co-owner of Bogart’s Bed & Breakfast with his husband David Johnston, Howard lost his battle to glioblastoma, the same form of brain cancer that claimed the lives of both Rush drummer Neil Peart and Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie.
The singer-songwriter met Howard more than 35 years ago when he recognized him as a fellow member of a Toronto tennis club while at an LCBO on Lakeshore Road. They struck up a conversation and became fast friends.
“Over the years, through relationship changes and divorces and various other traumas, Richard was always there,” the 69-year-old tells The Local. “He always had my back.”
He talks of reaching crossroads in his life twice, once while living in England and another while living and working in Vancouver. In both cases, Kozachenko turned to Howard for moral support. And, he says, Howard turned to him when issues arose in his own life.
“There were times when he was on the verge of various resolutions to his problems,” Kozachenko says. “I remember one time he called and wanted to talk. I told him I was willing to talk to him as long as he didn’t cry. He held onto that thing about not crying for years. It became part of it.”
Kozachenko was shocked to learn about Howard’s illness.
“He had these little affectations that we attributed to just getting older,” he remembers. “But it started to get more serious. His husband would call with concerns about how much he was sleeping. It didn’t take long. When he died, I posted on Facebook that most people are fortunate if they can count their close friends on the fingers of one hand, and I had just lost a finger.”
The death of Richard Howard was a significant loss for Kozachenko.
“You kind of know when you get to a certain age,” he reflects, “that you’re not going to get a friend of 35 years anymore, unless you live to 108. I realize that I’m fortunate. I have Richard and I have my friend Dennis back in Toronto. He’s 97-and-a-half. I visit him once a week, we sit down and have lunch and a couple beers. We met at the same tennis club around the same time.”
The Sudbury-area native goes on to talk about his weekly golf outings with
another group of area men. He’s the self-professed old guy in the group of about 10. He claims the others are often a little surprised at the things that come out of his mouth.
He’s noticed that the recent addition of a new member, a doctor, has ramped up the level of conversation when they gather post-round for drinks or a barbecue. And he places a high value on those conversations. It is clear that close, meaningful friendships are important to Kozachenko, something that is clearly felt when listening to To A Friend.
“Even though there’s not going to be a 35-year relationship,” he says, “we’re getting some pretty good relationships in our little male group. You kind of need some people who almost in a parental kind of way say ‘it’s alright to talk about that’. My wife and I have a great relationship and can talk about anything, but sometimes you just need a male perspective.”
Kozachenko first picked up a guitar when he was in Grade 7. He joined a band but was never confident enough to be the guitar player. Instead, he sang as they toured the Northern Ontario bar circuit covering Steely Dan, the Allman Brothers and the Doobie Brothers. In the early 1970s, he toured the U.S. in an old school bus performing in a lounge act at various hotels.
As a mature student, he attended various universities, but says he never finished anything. The one post-secondary experience that turned out to be relevant was the graphic arts program in printing and publishing at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Before Kozachenko could finish the program, he was hired by Campbell Printing, and his career in the industry began.
Over the years, as printing technology changed, he kept up with the changes, going on to work for Siemens in Germany and the U.K., and for WorldCom in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Six months after retiring in April 2018, a heart problem landed Kozachenko in the Hamilton General Hospital’s intensive care unit for 13 days.
“It was a big wake-up call,” he says now. “There’s a certain urgency to get stuff done.”
That’s about when he connected with Rayburn Blake. Visiting the NOTL post office, he stumbled upon Blake’s poster advertising guitar lessons. He had recently picked up his guitar again, and was hoping to improve his technique.
Realizing that what he really wanted to do was record the songs he had written over the years, he convinced Blake to help him learn how to properly use his Tascam DP-24 digital portastudio. They assembled a collective they call 3TL — Third Time Lucky — and set about making a CD.
“Rayburn is a special gift to me,” Kozachenko gushes. “Sometimes we’re down here working on a song and I’m in heaven, working on my song with the lead guitar player from (pioneering 1960s Canadian rock band) Mashmakhan. I’ve learned more from him than I ever could in a course.”
The collective’s 2020 album Take A Little Ride, produced by Blake, clearly shows the influence of Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell and Lyle Lovett on Kozachenko’s songwriting. Tracks such as The Queen of Broken Hearts and Hardrock Town (not the Murray McLachlan song) tell stories set to acoustic guitar in a mix of folk, country and gospel.
The album earned the group a Niagara Music Award nomination for best album, while the track Pretty Baby was nominated for best country song.
To A Friend is set to become the centrepiece in the group’s next release. Kozachenko hopes to have all the songs for Tell Me a Story ready for the end of March, 2022. He plans to eventually conclude the trilogy he calls Songs for Old Men with an album tentatively titled Rest in Peace.
“That (title) can be a metaphor for whatever,” he laughs, “but I’m looking at it as referring to the project resting in peace, not necessarily my imminent death.”
Both projects will give him further opportunities to, as the lyrics of To A Friend say, “sing about life, and stories never told, sing about youth and growing old.” And he knows he has to sing those songs now.
“The sky’s the limit,” says Kozachenko. “It doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are. Sometimes you are on a road and it has obstacles and sometimes it’s smooth sailing. You have to see where it goes.”