You may not know Tom Cochrane’s name, but you definitely know his hit song. Life is a highway, I wanna ride it all – night – long.
Love it or hate it, this contemporary classic rock hit’s airplay is 30 years strong and counting.
But what else is singer Tom Cochrane known for? Whatever happened to him?
Let’s find out!
The Story of Tom Cochrane
Tom Cochrane was born in Manitoba, Canada, in 1953. When he was eleven, he bought his first guitar by selling his toy train set. By the early 1970s, he was playing out in small pubs and coffee shops across Canada.
During the mid-70s, Cochrane took a couple of stabs as a songwriter in Los Angeles.
Although he got a few writing gigs, they were too sporadic to make a living. He came back to Canada, drove a taxi to pay the bills, and continued to write and record demos.
After these initial struggles with life as a full-time artist, his work in LA and continued efforts paid off. A Capitol records executive discovered his debut 1974 album and suggested checking out an up-and-coming band called Red Rider. Red Rider played mainly around Toronto, up to this point, performing covers and their own songs.
Joining Red Rider
The addition of Tom Cochrane to Red Rider was a brilliant pairing. Initially, the line-up shifted, with two members leaving the band due to differences in musical direction. The new line-up worked even better. Red Rider had Ken Greer on guitar, Jeff Jones on bass, Rob Baker on drums, and Peter Boyton on keys.
From 1980-84, Red Rider released four studio albums, garnering wide acclaim in Canada. The singles Lunatic Fringe and White Hot made waves on American rock radio. Cochrane’s writing style earned him the nickname “the thinking man’s rocker.”
Their sound fused imaginative musicianship with lyrical eloquence. Despite their popularity in Canada, however, Red Rider went undiscovered in America.
After another round of disagreements over the band’s musical direction and another lineup change, the band took a small hiatus. Cochrane continued to play out and garnered a healthy fan following. The new iteration of the band in 1986 was called Tom Cochrane and Red Rider. They produced three albums and kept up with relative success in Canada. But struggles remained, and the band broke up in 1990.
Tom Cochrane developed a strong interest in humanitarian work during all of this. In 1989, Cochrane traveled to West Africa with World Vision, a Canadian charity organization. His experiences on the months-long journey changed his life.
In the face of famine and helping people with lives much less fortunate, he vowed to never take anything in life for granted. That experience shaped his new solo album, Mad Mad World, which contained the internationally acclaimed hit single “Life is a Highway.”
Mad Mad World was released in 1991 in Canada and 1992 in the US. It earned Cochrane multiple awards in Canada and made him an overnight international success. The songs on Mad Mad World touch much more personal themes than past recordings. He writes about censorship and freedom on the track Brave and Crazy.
Other tracks focus on the lure of ambition and the loss of friends to drugs. The album was certified Diamond in Canada.
Cochrane went on to produce four more solo albums. In 2002, Cochrane, Greer, and Jones came together to play a benefit show for a former roadie who was tragically killed in a mugging. The gig revitalized the group, and the trio continued to perform as Tom Cochrane and Red Rider. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2003 inducted Cochrane in 2003.
“I think that I enjoy playing live now more than ever,” says Cochrane. “After all, [my fans] breathe life into the songs. Without one, the other does not exist.” – Canada Music Hall of Fame.
Is Tom Cochrane Still Married?
Tom and Kathleene have been married for 39 years. They live in Oakville, Ontario, and have two daughters. Cochrane enjoys golfing, flying planes, and watching hockey in his downtime. But, he also remains active in his charity work with World Vision Canada, amongst other causes. In addition, Kathleene helps to produce fundraising events for ALS.
Is Red Rider Still Together?
Yes, kind of. Technically, the band performing as Red Rider no longer plays live. But the new band, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, is still active. Tom, along with founding member Ken Greer and bassist Jeff Jones, perform gigs together every year in Ontario.
However, their last studio record was The Symphony Sessions, released in 1989.
Tom Cochrane’s Best Known Songs
Life Is A Highway
This number one hit was the song of the summer of 1992 in the United States. The belting lyrics describe taking life’s twists and turns with gusto and relentless appetite. Life is too short, so enjoy it. Cochrane felt inspired after working in Africa for World Vision, a famine relief organization. He wanted people in western, cozy countries to appreciate what they have.
Going with the theme of taking life as it comes, No Regrets’ title says it all. The musical style is lively and fun. It’s got a guitar-driven country rock kick to it. It charted to #3 in Canada upon its release there in 1991.
This memorial ballad was one of Cochrane’s most successful singles. It was released in 1988 when he was playing as Tom Cochrane and The Red Rockers. A young fan who was a hockey player and lost his life to a car accident inspired the song. Big League is often used to honor young Canadian hockey players who were lost too early in life.
Tom Cochrane’s Alive and Well
Tom Cochrane has lived an incredible life. To some, he’s a one-hit-wonder. But to many others, he’s an inspiring performer, a philanthropist, and a warm-hearted family man. Discovering what Cochrane did, and is still doing, on his life’s highway is pretty awesome.
Are you ready to explore his other work? If you’re a fan, what’s your favorite lesser-known track?