It was the ‘70s, and Inuvik’s hottest rock band The Cordells was cooking up a sweat at a community dance in Inuvik. Drummer Willie Thrasher and his mates were taking a break when an older gentleman approached and asked why they weren’t playing songs about their Inuit culture. So began a shift in direction in Thrasher’s musical journey that culminated in a 2016 Grammy nomination for the compilation album Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985 (he has three songs on it).
Thrasher was born in in 1948 in Aklavik, N.W.T., into a traditional Inuit hunting culture – his father was a whaler and hunter. His early life was tragic, although sadly not unique. At five, Thrasher was taken from his family and placed in a residential school where he was robbed of his language and culture. He learned the drums there and left at 16, eventually co-founding one of the first Indigenous rock groups in the north. After they disbanded, he taught himself guitar and started playing in the country folk style popular at the time. Thrasher took the elder’s advice and wrote songs about his people – songs like “Wolves Don’t Live by the Rules” and “Old Man Carver” that you’ll find on his recently re-released 1981 album Spirit Child. Regarding the resurgence of interest in his music, Thrasher says people are listening to his music from the heart. They’re listening to the words. And it means even more today than it did then.
Biography by Eric Rosenbaum