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  • Writer's pictureLiz Hill

Remembering Legendary Rock Icon Vince Fontaine (Aug. 2, 1959 - Jan. 11, 2022)

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

“The gift of a sunrise...” These words from my late client and friend the legendary rock icon Vince Fontaine are the first that come to my mind every morning. On Monday, January 10, just one day before he died of a heart attack on Tuesday, January 11, he sent me this photo, with a caption: “About 30 minutes ago. Lovely morning, a bit chilly -24 (Celsius).” I don’t know how this started but it got to be that every morning we would compare weather temperatures, me on the US east coast and Vince in Winnipeg, “the center of Turtle Island,” as he always would tell people. And about an hour after the weather check-in, even on weekends, I could always expect a text as he was on his way to get his daily morning coffee from Tim’s (those of you in the U.S., who don’t know “Tim’s,” that’s a Canadian restaurant chain, Tim Horton’s…). It was during this time that we typically had our daily phone meetings, with short- and long-term strategies and plans carefully laid out for his various projects. He would say, “I know you’re at your laptop and taking notes.” I have dozens of pages of detailed notes from our daily conversations.

I don’t know if there is anything I can possibly say about Vince that hasn’t been said before and much more eloquently especially by those who were close to him for many years. I was his Publicist for a little less than a year, starting in early 2021, but I had known of his reputation and his music for years. My dear friend Jennifer Robin, a fellow radio producer from northern California, started everything in motion with Vince and me after she featured him on her weekly radio program, “Resilience Radio” on KVMR 89.3 FM in northern California. I complimented Vince on social media about his interview. I was surprised when he reached out and asked me if I would I consider being his publicist.

I jumped at the opportunity and immediately accepted. Contracting with a new client usually takes some negotiation time but with Vince it was different. He signed a contract with my agency right away, and we were off and running. He immediately connected me with Maria Urso, who is a talented photographer, videographer and video and editor (many of the photographs and videos of Vince and his bands are Maria’s), graphic design (she designed the beautiful CD covers of Eagle & Hawk’s 2019 “Liberty” album and, most recently, the cover of “Code Red”) and was social media manager for Rising Sun Productions and all of Vince’s projects. Introducing Maria to me and insisting that we work closely together remains one of Vince’s greatest gifts to me, as Maria has become a truly wonderful and treasured friend. (Photo of my beautiful friend Maria Urso. Photo courtesy Maria Urso.)

During the past year, there were many successes culminating with the November release of his Indian City band’s 4th album, “Code Red.” There were a lot of plans being laid for 2022, including one for a U.S. tour of either Eagle & Hawk or Indian City – or both. He was eager to reconnect with his fans here in the U.S. — and he had so many. He was a legend in Canada for many years, of course. But he was also extremely well-known, respected and loved in the U.S. When we talked, he impressed me with his vast knowledge of U.S. history and politics and, especially, Indigenous history. He felt a closeness to the U.S., because his father was an American citizen and Vince spent some of his younger years in Clinton, Iowa. In fact, at the end of 2021, we received word that he had received a grant from the Canada Council on the Arts — a proposal that I had written for him to compose up to 40 minutes of new music inspired by the life of his father Henry Charles Fontaine, a WWII veteran and prisoner of war. He was so proud of his father and wanted the world to know his extraordinary story. I knew when we submitted the proposal that it would be successful because it was such an amazing and inspirational story and with Vince’s talent as a composer the proposal would be a winner.

Vince wasn’t sure because he said there was so much competition. I am so sorry that he didn’t live to see this project realized. (Photo of Vince's father Henry Charles Fontaine, courtesy Vince Fontaine)

There were other grant successes, as well, throughout the year, including a grant from the Manitoba Arts Council for a project called “Red Thunderbird Man,” a body of original music that would represent his inspiration and conviction to define and strengthen his Ojibwe identity as Rising Red Thunderbird Man. It was planned to be an opportunity for him to reflect on his life and ancestry and revisit all that has transpired with a new sense of purpose. Other grants made it possible for the promotion and marketing of “Code Red.”

There was still so much more to do with the “Code Red” CD that we discussed needed to happen in 2022 and Vince, as usual, was filled with ideas. I promised I would do whatever I could and do whatever he asked to make it a success. More reviews, more radio airplay, gigs (in the U.S., in particular) and more visibility overall.

I really miss his daily texts, which always started out with “Good day.” Or “Hello, quick call?” And occasionally he’d text a photo of his cup of coffee at Tim’s or some scene from his morning walks (after a big snowfall late last year, he texted a photo: “Stuck bus…” on Portage Avenue in downtown Winnipeg). These photo greetings were common and would often make me laugh, always a good start to the day.

After Vince’s death, we found out that Eagle & Hawk has been nominated for six Native American Music Awards! He would have been so happy and proud!

And on Saturday, February 19, a single from “Code Red,” a beautiful song titled, “ForGiving,” with lead vocals by the amazing Don Amero, reached #1 Canada’s Indigenous Music Countdown. Even now I can hear him chiding me not to talk about my hope that the band’s singles would reach #1. He would always say “to even get to the top 5 is an honour …and I would be happy with that…”

I miss you, Vince Fontaine. You were more than my client. You were my friend and because we are both Ojibwe, a relative. We had a contract at the time of your death and that contract continues to connect me to you. I will always be your Publicist and do what I can to keep your memory and legacy alive.

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