In devoting his life to music, Barney Bentall became the black sheep of his family - but few of his fans realize how much of a struggle it was.
For one thing, it's a lot cooler for a rock star to talk about how he overcame a poor family than how he overcame a rich one.
Playing an acoustic show in the Arden Theatre tonight, the 42-year-old singer is the grandson of Charles Bentall, who forged the Dominion Construction empire, now a huge, multinational corporation.
Barney's father became a Baptist minister, while the other two brothers took over the family business. In the "patriarchal culture" of the Bentall clan, young Barney, the only male among his siblings, was expected to one day work for the company, perhaps even run it. Imagine his family's chagrin when he picked up a guitar and hit the road instead.
"It was not a popular decision," he recalls. "It caused many years of tension and some alienation .... Certainly when I started I was sort of this black sheep and then all of a sudden I'm in the People section of Maclean's magazine and talking to Peter Gzowski.
"And then everybody's really proud of me. It changed quite dramatically with success."
It also became apparent that this music thing wasn't a lark with Barney, that he wasn't going to get it out of his system and then come back into the fold.
"My resolve was very strong," he says. "It's hard to come from a prominent family. I have a lot of relatives that have always questioned their identity because they come from a prominent family. I suppose my solution was to go out there and become more well-known than the family I came from. And it got me travelling, it got me seeing the world in a broader sense and realizing that my family name meant nothing in Toronto. I realized I had to make my own way in the world."
Bentall rarely looked back. He forged his own legacy, a musical one, with some six albums and a handful of modest hits to his credit. And while his 10-year relationship with Sony Music has ended - at his request - it doesn't look like Bentall's going back into the construction business any time soon.
"It's hard to leave that security of a major record label, but if it's not the right fit then I think you just have to move on and find something else. I'm not in a panic about it. I'll be writing and demo-ing songs and I'll go out there and look for somebody who really believes in it.
"I'm playing music better than I ever have and I still feel that I've got something that I want to say and there might be people out there who want to hear it."
Any takers? Tickets to An Evening With Barney Bentall are $18.50 and available at the Arden box office (459-1542).