John Mann, Spirit of the West Singer, Dies at 57

John Fraser Mann
Lisa MacIntosh Photography

John Fraser Mann

John Mann, the inimitable singer of Canadian folk-rock legends Spirit of the West, whose rousing drinking song “Home For a Rest” has been a party anthem since 1990, died today (Nov. 20) at home in Vancouver from early-onset Alzheimer’s. He was 57.    

Mann was diagnosed with the incurable progressive brain disorder when he was 50, going public with the news in 2014.   

“Surrounded by friends and loving family until the end, all were reminded of John’s rich legacy,” reads a statement, issued by the band. “He was a potent force in music, acting -- onstage, in movies and on television, and was world renowned as a songwriter. As well, he was a foresightful activist and charitable figure for several worthwhile organizations. His work will resound long after his untimely passing.   

“His career spanned nearly 40 years and included multiple film roles, numerous star turns in theatre, and fame as lead singer and spell-binding front-person of Canadian musical group Spirit of the West,’ it continued. “John was a man of uncommon courage, was a loyal and beloved friend, a gentleman of great social conscience, and a soul brimming with creativity and enthusiasm.  

“Most importantly he was a loving father to Harlan & Hattie and a wonderful husband to Jill Daum,” it concludes. “A private memorial service will be held later.”    

In 2015, Spirit of the West performed their farewell concerts. A Peter McCormack-directed documentary was released called Spirit Unforgettable covering the band’s preparation and June performance at Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall. The film premiered at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and later aired on HBO Canada.

The music community and Spirit of the West fans, who also helped make hits out of singles “Venice Is Sinking,” “Save This House,” and “Political,” rallied and helped raise money for his continuing care, including an experimental stem cell procedure in Mexico in 2016.

Two years ago, close to 50 musicians — including Sarah McLachlan, Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, ex-Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle, Colin James, and Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies — came together at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom for the Spirit of Canada benefit concert. Mann was onstage with them, as they all sang “Home For a Rest.” Doyle spearheaded an all-star charity single and video of the song, setting up a makeshift studio on-site to record a version of the enduring hit. The GoFundMe campaign raised more than C$43,000 ($32,000).

Similar events were held in Toronto called Spirit of John, organized by ex-Chalk Circle frontman Chris Tait, which raised money for the Alzheimer Society Music Project to purchase MP3 players to load with music and distribute to patients. The fundraiser was also staged in Vancouver. 

“Oh my. Here’s to the biggest influence this singer and performer ever had,” wrote Doyle on Twitter upon learning of Mann’s passing. “Much Love to family and all the @sotwcanada clan. Go Johnny Go. And wherever you’re going, that’s where I wants to go, too.”

Bob Hallett, also formerly of Great Big Sea, wrote: “John Mann was the smartest musician I ever met, a wonderful storyteller, a superb and fearless performer, a volcano of energy, and a great friend. I'll miss him, and so should you.”

The band Lowest of the Low said, “We want to note, with great sadness, the passing of John Mann from Spirit Of The West, a great talent who left an indelible mark on Canadian music. Rest in peace, fellow traveler.”

The Commodore Ballroom tweeted: “His spirit will live on, in the west and far beyond. RIP John Mann, 1962 - 2019 #SpiritOfTheWest”

Inspired by Celtic music, Spirit of the West formed in Vancouver 1983 and released their self-titled debut album the following year. They earned two platinum-selling albums, 1990’s Save This House and 1993’s Faithlift. The one in between, 1991’s Go Figure went gold. The band’s final album for Warner Music Canada was Weights and Measures in 1997.  Their final album of new material was 2004’s Star Trails.

The Calgary native, who resided in Vancouver, also released three solo albums, Acoutsic Kitty, December Looms, and 2014’s The Waiting Room, the latter addressing his 2009 diagnosis and subsequent treatment for colorectal cancer, which was adapted into a play.

Mann also had dozens of acting credits, appearing in such stage productions as Miss Saigon, Les Misérable, Beyond Eden, Of Mice and Men, The Three Penny Opera, and Joni Mitchell: The River, and as well as recurring roles in the TV series Intelligence, Whistler, and Haunted. Other credits include Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, DaVinci’s Inquest, and Bionic Woman.