Theo Fleury dishes on addiction, Johnny Cash and Graham James’ day parole

The former NHL star has released his own country music album and he doesn’t pull any punches with his raw, real lyrics. Find out how his life influenced the music he is now performing.

Theo Fleury left everything on the ice during his 15 seasons in the NHL, so it stands to reason that the Stanley Cup winner would do the same when it came to recording an album. But how far would he go? Turns out, no subject is too delicate for Fleury to tackle.

The retired right winger has released a country music album entitled “I Am Who I Am” and though that sounds like the old hockey player cliche (“It is what it is”), Fleury’s statement cuts way deeper.

The substance abuse that ravaged Fleury’s life is a near-constant theme through the record, with lyrics that reflect the struggles Fleury went through over the years.

“I wanted it to be authentic, I wanted it to be real,” Fleury said. “It came fairly naturally and easy, but I also had two incredible writing partners, so most of the songs came together quickly.”

One of those partners was an old drinking buddy from Calgary, but now their efforts are pointed in a more constructive direction. Citing Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Willie Nelson as influences, Fleury sings in a low register and doesn’t try to do do anything flashy with his voice; his lyrics about going through hell and finally being free make enough of an impact on their own. In that respect, the nod to The Man in Black makes perfect sense.

“Johnny Cash wasn’t the greatest singer in the world,” Fleury said, “but man, could he tell a story.”

And while it’s not a fun story to tell – tales of Fleury’s battles with alcohol and drugs are legion – there’s definitely a lot of value in hearing him tell his tale. For the former player himself, it’s about dealing with issues that most folks would rather not know about.

“Substance abuse is the medicine we use to deal with the emotional scars we have from trauma,” he said. “Looking at the big picture, I want to end mental health issues in Canada. It’s about the bigger conversation. We need to create a safe place for people to tell their stories, no matter what those stories may be.”

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In Fleury’s case, that story begins with the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of WHL coach Graham James back in junior. James was back in the headlines two weeks ago when a federal parole board granted the convicted child molester day parole. Needless to say, the move left Fleury more than a little confused.

“I’m so far past getting angry and upset,” he said. “I’m like most Canadians: I want answers from our government, I want answers from our justice system.”

Specifically, Fleury noted that similar cases in the United States would not be treated with such perceived leniency – and the Penn State football scandal is a perfect example.

“Jerry Sandusky is never getting out of jail,” Fleury said. “James is a repeat offender, but he gets held by the hand. It’s hard to understand. That’s why I’ve focused more on healing and taking care of myself.”

And Fleury does have his touchstones. His love of country music came from childhood days hanging out with his grandfather and his dad. When he needs peace, any river can sub in for the Assiniboine, which he grew up near and still holds a special place in his heart. In fact, on the track “My Life is a Country Song,” Fleury sings about a time in New York City, where he found himself gazing at the Hudson River and thinking about home back in Western Canada.

There are obviously dark memories in Fleury’s past, but there’s definitely some light in there, as well.