Shania's secret songs: Before she was a superstar, Twain worked with
Peterborough musicians Cyril Rawson and Barry Haggarty on her first demo in Nashville
By Ed Arnold
January 21, 2016
Eilleen Twain visits the home of Cyril and Eileen Rawson’s on Lee Street in Peterborough, Ontario in 1985. The young singer would go on to stardom as Shania Twain.
Thirty years ago, in a Nashville-area studio, a 20-year-old woman was belting out some songs for a demo record that her manager would use to pitch her artist to record companies.
She recorded seven songs in the fall of 1985 for producers Cyril Rawson and Tony Migliore. The songs were co-written by Peterborough's Rawson, then 38, along with Peterborough musician/writer Barry Haggarty on three, two with Nashville writer Don King and two others with John Gully, a Canadian musician/writer.
The demo was a mix of rock, to satisfy her desire to do rock and roll, and country tunes.
Those seven songs have never been played publicly, but buried in the hundreds of songs Rawson has written over the decades. The voice on them certainly went on to bigger things, though, selling more than 85 million records. The singer was Shania Twain.
Rawson and Migliore, a Nashville musician who has his own studio, have never shared the songs with anyone and aren't about to, unless of course Shania, who they knew as Eilleen Twain then, wants to dust them off and do an Eilleen Before She Was Shania record (my suggestion, not theirs).
The memories are foggy but the secret songs of Shania are clear and in good shape. We got to listen to all seven songs recorded and while they have an '80s hum to them, several of them stand up today.
Rawson, Migliore, Chuck Haines, Dave Heironymus and Eilleen's manager of the time, Mary Bailey, who was also a performer that Migliore recorded, set up North Word Music as the publishing outlet for the songs. Migliore and Rawson still have the contract and pay stubs.
Rawson met Bailey through Migliore. She had made a record on Cardinal Records at Chelsea Studio in Brentwood Tennessee near Nashville where Miglione worked (now he owns it).
The musician, songwriter Rawson and his wife Eileen had moved from Dallas to Nashville in 1979 before returning home to Peterborough where he continued making six week commutes to Nashville to write and produce songs.
"Mary (Bailey) called one day and asked me if I would help her with this new singer in Canada that she really was impressed with and wanted to develop," remembers Rawson.
Twain had been singing since the age of eight in Timmins, mainly to get a few dollars for her family during some financial problems. Bailey saw her years later performing in Sudbury as a teenager doing a couple of country songs, thought her talent was astounding and eventually became her manager.
Bailey brought Twain to Peterborough when Rawson and his wife Eileen were living on Lee St. in the city's north end, where Rawson had a studio with a small four-track set up in an extra room.
The young singer took an immediate liking to Eileen and their dog, while listening to songs Cyril had written or co written to see if she would like any. And she did.
"During their stay, which might have been a day or two, you have to remember it was 30 years ago, we decided to go to Nashville on one of my trips down there. There were some songs they liked that we thought might work well on a demo."
In the fall of that year Bailey, Twain and Rawson drove to Nashville.
When they got there they stayed at Migliore's house about 20 minutes from the studio.
"We would drive to the studio every day. I was working on other projects as well. She would do the vocals for the songs we had picked. There was a lot of mixing to do so Shania would go back to Tony's where she was always making notes, jotting down lyrics but not playing any instruments."
Singer Kelita Haverland was recording one of Rawson's songs, Too Hot To Handle, so Twain did background vocals for that one (it later became a hit in Canada).
Bailey was footing the costs for Twain. Rawson, Migliore and studio owners Chuck Haines and Dave Heironymus were fronting their talent, time and costs.
"It was just a project. We weren't making any money. We were doing it all on spec, certainly hoping something would come of it but nobody got paid other than the studio musicians."
They had neither prospects nor expectations. Twain was keen to work in the studio and had a strong voice but seemed to want to go in one direction. Her hair was curly, shoulder length and she was usually wearing a wool sweater or blouse with jeans. She wanted to sing rock and roll, as she had been a singer in some Ontario rock bands in the past.
"I was just doing my regular six-week commute, working with other artists, writing some songs and this was one of the projects. Mary was really high on her. Shania wasn't as exotic looking then, but none of us were thinking she would be a star or anything. We were just doing a project. I don't think the songs were aggressively shopped when we were finished. None of us were really connected, although we thought we were."
Bailey went back to Canada after a week. Twain and Rawson stayed behind for another few weeks before Rawson drove home and Twain caught a flight.
Nothing became of the songs.
"I saw Shania maybe twice after that at a CCMA night in Ottawa several years later and at a music convention in Nashville in the early '90s. We chatted for a while. I remember telling her that her time was coming. I'm not sure I really knew it, but I was hearing some good things."
Those good things didn't start happening until she started writing with her future husband, songwriter and producer Mutt Lange, who produced her second album The Woman in Me (her first album, after changing her name to Shania, hadn't been a financial success).
"I can remember hearing her first big hit, Whose Bed Have These Boots Been Under (1995). I think Eileen and I were watching her on a video on TV. Eileen always liked her and thought it was great."
She had certainly changed her appearance in the videos with longer, darker hair, sleeveless tops, and more makeup. But, she was 30 now, a mature woman and another "overnight success" after 22 years of trying. She no longer had manager Bailey who had spent several years promoting her.
As for the seven secret Shania songs, they are safe with Rawson. He doesn't let many people listen to them, very seldom listens to them nor looks at the photos of the now-superstar visiting their Lee Street living room or at the Nashville studio.
About 15 years ago he and Miglione tried to market the songs to the Mercury label that Twain was with. There was some initial interest but no follow-up. They certainly weren't going to take advantage of the star without her permission.
They remain the secret songs of Shania Twain and more fond career memories for the guy who has written hundreds of songs with, and for, such stars as Reba McIntyre, Anne Murray, Allan Jackson, Lorrie Morgan, Gretchen Wilson and Keith Urban.
Maybe one of Twain's marketing team members will think an 'Eilleen before Shania' CD might work and the now multi-millionaire superstar, or one of her agents, will come calling. The music on the demo is still great, the musicians all Nashville professionals. The voice is obviously Shania Twain's, though in a higher octave then some have heard her.
After hearing the songs and voice of one of Canada's, and the world's, most successful music stars, it's a shame few people have ever heard them. After all they are part of the star's past and history never made available for the adoring public.
The songs recorded by a singer then known as Eilleen Twain in 1985 included: