It’s a well-known moment in history.
February 3, 1959, musician Ritchie Valens flips a coin with one of Buddy Hollies’ musician’s Tommy Allsup, a moment that decided both of the men’s fate.
Through the words of Don McLean the historical date also became known as “The Day the Music Died.”
That coin flip sent Valens on the plane that crashed, killing Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. Allsup caught the bus.
Decades later, Vanderhoof musician Karen Cruise was awe-struck when she learnt that Allsup, the one that got away, would be producing one of her albums.
“I got approached by this fellow in Oklahoma – the man that produced my third country album … his name was Tommy Allsup.”
After looking up his name on the internet, Cruise’s reaction was “holy cow!”
“I was just blown away – this guy is history and he wants to produce my album?”
This was just one of a number of surreal moments for Karen Cruise, a small-town girl enjoying big musical success.
Cruise was born in Winnipeg but moved to Vanderhoof when she was six and has never left since.
Music has always been a big part of her life from a young age; her dad played guitar and along with her sister the three of them would often sing at weddings and other events.
It was only after she was married and her daughter was born that she started writing music.
“After my daughter was born I didn’t work so I stayed at home and my husband really encouraged me to try writing a song,” she said.
“So that’s how this whole other aspect of my life with the recording and everything took off.”
Cruise continued to perform during this time but started playing some of her own songs, to which she received an encouraging response.
“People at my performances would say “I really like your song do you have an album with just your song?” and so it went from there,” she said.
Cruise released three albums between 1997 and 2004 that she described as being in the “positive country” genre.
In 2004 she released her first gospel album.
The shift in musical genre from positive country to country gospel seemed be a natural course for Cruise.
“I’ve always been involved in church and doing gospel music, it just seemed like a natural progression to go that way,” she said.
While her first two albums were recorded in Vancouver, all her albums since then have been done in the states.
“My style of music is traditional country and Nashville, Tennessee is where the country music is,’ she said.
Cruise was originally contacted by producers there, who had heard her singles, and wanted to offer her the opportunity to work in their studios.
“It’s incredible in Nashville because they supply amazing musicians and they’re much more familiar with the country style,” she said.
Currently, Cruise is working on her sixth album that she hopes to release later this year.
The latest album will have a variety of traditional country songs and some more blues flavored. Cruise also said there are some very personal tracks going in.
“I’m really excited about this one…I didn’t just want to pick 12 songs just willy nilly, I wanted to pick the ones that meant something to me and the ones I thought would really enhance it,” said Cruise.
She added that the caliber of musicians on the album is incredible and includes Mark Beckett who also drummed for well-know artist Kenny Chesney.
Cruise has had very successful album sales, in particular with her last two albums that are available to purchase online.
“It’s been very successful – I get emails from people all around the world that have heard my music and want to buy an album or want to know more about it and as a songwriter that’s what you want,” she said.
This year, Cruise has been invited by her producer in Nashville to move down to the states as a song-writer, a decision which will be made easier once her two kids finish school.
“The people down in Nashville really believe in the songs and that they’re good.”
“My producer is saying I should be down there – it’s very exciting but it’s not feasible right now with the kids in school.”
Cruise also says that she would never move permanently as she loves Vanderhoof too much.
“I love living in Vanderhoof and it really is wonderful the way the town has supported me and encouraged me – it’s been an incredible ride,” she said.
Cruise says the most important message she tries to send through her music is hope.
“I always try to give people hope and a feeling that things are going to get better…that’s my desire.”
Cruise has played at a gospel festival in Drayton Valley, Alberta, two years in a row and she recalled a man who brought one of her albums at the festival the first year she played. The second year, he came back and told her how much her music helps him.
“This man came back the next year and he says to me – “I have to tell you there’s so many nights when I can’t sleep when things are bothering me, but I put your CD on and it just gives me such peace that I can just go right away to sleep” – you can’t put a price on that,” she said.
As well as playing concerts and festivals throughout BC and Alberta, locally Cruise and her husband Allen have started a Cowboy Church at the Nechako Community Church which happens on the last Sunday of every month.
“It is church but it’s different – it’s more laid back and informal and we just try to make it open to anybody and everybody,” said Cruise.
Cruises albums are available in the Vanderhoof dollar store and department store. The two most recent gospel albums can also be purchased on most major music download sites including amazon and itunes.