Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bill King Recalls The Junos And The Way It Was

When I first landed in Canada 46 years back I was confused by the uncertainty – the hyper-sensitivity to everything American. It didn’t quite register those first few years. I actually thought ‘all things American’ was what the people of Canada were lobbying for.

Maybe I was too close to the average consumer who thumbed through LPs at Sam the Record Man in search of the latest James Brown, Weather Report or one of a hundred British bands that played in every head shop – did I say Aqualung?

I remember thinking Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and The Stampeders were pleasant ‘middle of the lane’ artists, but absent in this patchwork of local radio programming was the imagined hard-core Canadian music – the stuff of burning passion – the Gil Scott Herons – the John Coltranes…. that ‘power to the people stuff’ – the Zappas, a local Jimi Hendrix – that raw hard-nose blues of Eric Clapton or wailing screams of a Janis Joplin. Nope – this was sea to sea polite stuff courtesy an even-tempered populous.

I caught a glimpse of the counter-culture hanging on basketball ball courts across America. We played hard – and the music drummed hard. In L.A., the basketball court was all about Santana, Malo - when the day smoothed out it was George Duke and Herbie Hancock. Late night games it got even mellower – Minnie Ripperton – Chaka Khan.

I played pick-up games every corner of Toronto and rarely was music played until a cassette recorder surfaced. Bingo – some funky David Sanborn – Exile on Main Street – the Funkadelics, tracks that matched the rhythm of the games. Every once and awhile someone would bring a radio along and tune in ‘hits radio’ and just as quick find themselves picking thistle out of their ass. You just couldn’t bounce rubber in time with Ginette Reno or slip past your opponent in step with Leonard Cohen.

1972 I’m invited to play the Maple Music Junket at Massey Hall backing singer/songwriter Chris Kearney. I didn’t really understand the effort at the time but did love playing ‘The hall.’ Then someone explained it was the industry organizing and reaching across the Atlantic hoping to close the distance between continents. Although the U.S. was nearby – it might as well been located ten miles closer to Quam.

Toronto clubs were crammed with cover bands – pop, jazz, rock, soul – you name it – music from abroad was getting a second and third read.

I then sign with RCA/Nimbus - then Capitol and begin the promo rounds. It was these dispiriting encounters that laid bare the system. It wasn’t as I suspected timid artists afraid to push the envelope but reticent radio folks who played from someone else’s playlist. They were practical and rigid.
I heard about Quebec and how the province stood behind their artists – in fact, sales of Francophone artists surpassed anything most Anglophones could ever dream. I thought a move should be in order but determined this city was the place to be – grow with it!

Then CANCON – the Junos – CASBY’s – awards, awards, awards. Awards for all kinds of bands. Rush, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Carole Pope, Parachute Club – Much Music – more CANCON – Alannah Myles, - all kinds of new faces, new bands unlike what had tread before.

The years pass – Philosopher Kings, Barenaked Ladies, Tragically Hip, – damn, we are pretty good. Then we began to dominate – that was – the women took over! Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan – just grab a category and own it!

Today the kids own that ball court I used to run back and forth on with ten year old Leo Rautins – a long retired pro basketball player and currently sportscaster. Now, they play Drake, The Weeknd, Arcade Fire, – maybe some Bieber. There’s real local bounce in those Spaldings and Wilsons. No looking back or over there for heroes – the industry and country came together! Sometimes you just have to help folks see how good they are even if it means regulating excellence!

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