Friday, May 18, 2018

A Conversation With .. Steve Anthony

I’ve watched more Steve Anthony on television than I have had contact with him in real life. When I arranged this interview, I was reasonably sure which lane to inhabit. I usually try to have a cup of coffee or tea lined up for our guests alongside with my co-pilot Jessica Bellamy. Anthony texts me beforehand: “If you don’t have coffee when I get there, I promise I’ll make this the worst interview you’ve done in your entire life!” To avoid a disastrous encounter, I make sure Stevie’s coffee was in play.

Anthony: Have you seen this scene in Swimming for Sharks? Kevin Spacey plays a vicious movie executive. Then this intern comes in replacing another intern. Kevan Spacey asks for a coffee with sweet n’ low, and the intern comes back with something other. Spacey does this classic ripping diatribe - “Stop. Learn and Listen! You don’t have a brain; you can’t think.”
The cruelest ever. I’m glad I got him three sugars – that’s brown sugars. Here’s a bit of that fun!
Any drama growing up in Montreal? Did you terrorize the neighbourhood or were you just a terrific kid?
I think my brother was a goody two shoes and still is one of the greatest guys on the planet. We never got in trouble, yet my sister got in tons of trouble. So that kind of steered the way for me to be able to get away with stuff. The one thing I think that got me through was that somehow my dad instilled a level of goodness and of caring about people and for one, he never did evil things and also worked hard. I think I got my first job when I was five.
Did you start in radio at five?
I still talk about Mr Paguette down the way. Mr Paquette had the perfect golf-green lawn, and everyone was afraid of him because if you walked on the street and you kicked a stone on it, he'd come out with a shotgun or something. Mr Paquette made dandelion wine, and there were fields and fields around where we were. He would pay us; I don't know 25 cents to bring a garbage bag full. I mean, this is slave labour. But that's fine. 25 cents is 25 cents to bring dandelions to him, just the buds and he’d make wine which he didn’t share with the kids. Don't worry about that. I remember working from the age of five and then even in college I had three jobs, and I was running a radio station, and I was going to school.
Getting into radio?
My brother went to McGill and McGill had a radio station much like this one (CIUT 89.5), and I would sit in with my brother, and I was fascinated. My brother was integral to my music tastes because they were eclectic. He was just smart. I knew Joni Mitchell before people knew Joni Mitchell. I knew Captain Beefheart before people knew Captain Beefheart and The Mothers of Invention. Does anyone even remember a band called the Fugs?
River of Shit?
Also, at the same time, the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The first two albums I purchased with my own money were Paul McCartney's RAM, and Cast Your Fate to the Wind, the soundtrack. My brother got me into this thing. I did everything I could and not to emulate him; I just thought he was cool. And then we discovered something called “skip”. When I say 'we,' I mean me with an enormous ego. I refer to myself in the plural. We would voraciously consume “skip.”
What happens is the sun ionizes the atmosphere and then a.m. signals can't get through they will beam off of it and bounce back down to earth and then bounce off water sometimes and bounce back up. You can listen to stations from all over. We would listen to stations from the United States of America. Not that Montreal is a small place, it's a big place, but not a lot of worldly travelling at the age of fourteen. You just listened to these guys like John “Records” Landecker from Chicago and even stay up all night listen to a Larry “Superjock” Lujack in the morning because it was still dark and when the moon comes up you can't get “skip” anymore. The sun comes up again.
We would listen to’ skip,’ and all these things and I would record them and I would study them, and I would know all their breaks and the tonality. When it came time to speak myself, it wasn't from a starting point of not knowing anything. It's like your own poetry. But if you memorize, you know Kubla Khan ‘a stately pleasure dome decree,’ you memorized it, and it’s stayed with you forever. So, when you say something like that, you're more comfortable with it.
Getting into radio was the whole bit. I said I ran the college radio station and it was nothing. It was turntables and black light posters and a lot of guys smoking pot and going on air. I just took it over and made it into a radio station. It was a coup. I had like a hundred people on the radio station. You’re doing the news, and there's three of you on the show as opposed the one guy that was there.
There's a guy named Mike Cool. I think it's a mentalist Mike Cool or something like that and I a remember line I stole. I give credit where credit is due. You can't be stoned if he's trying to hypnotize you. He said, ‘here’s who can't come up and volunteer to come up on stage. If you've heard the word ‘ear’ in the last three hours, you can't come up.’ Everybody’s scratching their heads. He pretends too suck in a long drag of weed and holds and goes….’eeear.’ I would always use that. If you heard the word ear, you can't be on this radio station.
More history. CFOX was a Montreal Top Forty station on the west island. I got to know a couple of the jocks over-night. I would drop in, and I learned how to use a professional board, and they would work from the booth. You have someone who's operating and engineering the show for you which back then disc jockeys managed their board and did their own thing. I would run the board. I got all this experience of knowing what to do and where to take cues and blah blah blah blah. I had all that stuff, and then I went to college and did the same and I was then encouraged to send tapes out.
I don't know if that hadn’t happened I’d probably have stayed in college or university forever like a lot of people. How many degrees? You’re forty-five, and you have seven degrees. And you've never had sex. Except with yourself. When I sent it out, I got offers, and so I took one.
The big break was here in Toronto, Q-107. That must have been a lot of fun!
It was. It was when Andy Frost was there, and John Derringer, Jake... Jake was doing mornings, Gene Valaitis was there, and you were on Sunday mornings doing Q-Jazz, and there was Shirley McQueen. Who else was there? John Dickie! We had this crazy collection of personalities, and it was big fun. Now to pat ourselves on the back. OK, listen you guys talking about like its old school. They were the glory days at that time there.
There were record reps and people in the industry across the country, and this is true what they said. There were two radio formats in this country: Q -107 and everything else. That's how it was. Bob Mackowycz! Bob Mackowycz was integral to that as well. And Gary Slaight, who was the general manager/ owner. They just encouraged us, and there was a time when that worked. In any other time, it might not have worked. If you took a radio station of people and they are all energetic, they're all inspirational, and all creative, and let them do what they want to do, it wouldn't necessarily be successful. In fact, I don't even know how successful Q107 was other than word of mouth. I don't remember what the ratings were.
But guys like Jake, you know, Brother Jake and Gene Valaitis doing stuff and running with it, and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted on the radio, who gets that opportunity? Then I translated it to MuchMusic, and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted as long as the cops weren’t breaking down the door.
I’m sure in practice this made the transition from radio to television a bit easier other than you had to be visual now. 
Exactly. And there's a big difference there. Except that it was the same vibe. I mean obviously there's the visual part of it, but the Much Music thing had the same vibe. Meaning, a bunch of people get together, and they are creative, and you give them the keys to the car. Hopefully, they won’t crash it and will bring it back and put it in the garage when they’re finished. We'll see you again tomorrow. That was it. And that was just awesome. Like we weren't the best people. We certainly weren't ,you know. Our infamy was that we were just on a fame level, above petty thieves.
I think with respect to how famous we were, we were accessible to people, and they realize that so that we got away with more because we weren't that untouchable person. We were just Steve, Erica and Michael.
You all had big personality especially on the doorstep of the coming video revolution. It was all new. And then you had the bands you got to interview. What interview has stuck with you through time?
One that I remember, and it turns out that it's not exactly the way I tell it because someone found a videotape of it. It's all kind of mangled up, but it’s the spirit of it. How I remember it. It was with Joey Ramone, and I don’t know who else. One of the other Ramones. Joey had the sunglasses on all the time, and he had the bangs sometimes over his head like a sheepdog. I think I was dressed in army fatigues or something. I must have turned him off right away. The first thing we do when we come on is me saying, “you’re were late because you were spending so much time in goddamn makeup, right?” They go, “yeah sure.” You know, put down these hardcore punkers that took so long. They weren't very giving. I would ask questions and I thought they were pretty well-thought-out questions, and I would get these horrible almost monosyllabic answers.
It’s getting tedious because they're doing the Ramones thing. We play a video, and then I get a pair of hair scissors, and when we come back I warn him; “if I get any more monosyllabic answers, I'm going to cut your bangs.” And he says, “I will take those scissors from you, and I'll slash your throat.” I went, “wow, that's rock n’ roll.”
You had a long run of great interviews.
When Much Music celebrated 30 years, which is a bunch of years ago, it was a 30-minute special! It was insane. Somebody from Much Music PR brought down a bunch of 8x10 snaps they had for me for a morning show on CP 24 to go through, so I could flag a couple that were cool so when the hosts of the 30-minute special come down and do the interview we have all of this stuff that’s relatable. It was a bag about five inches tall. These photos were only taken between 1990 and 1992. That's all there was. I was on the air there from 1987 to 1996.
If that was just for a year and a half or a two-year period, extrapolate those numbers to another seven years or more, eight years - imagine how many other interviews that is. It's unfathomable how many I did myself. It's honestly a blur. I remember that REM was the cat's pajamas. REM was considered the greatest band on the planet, at least that's how Rolling Stone had that covered. And I was assigned to interview them. Everybody was flipped out. Because you got the assignment? No, that I was going to mess it up. This was a really important rock band, and I was going to screw it all up. A social conscience band. You know, they have something to say. They've got a message. But they liked the interview.
Interviewing six guys from Aerosmith at a time. That was like chaotic. I remember vividly. Remember a song called “The Voice”? “We live in fear .. ooooh," Oh, that guy. I don’t remember his name, and it was probably the best interview I ever did. I don't recall the guy's name. Interviews you didn’t think were going to be great turned out to be great interviews.
How did you end up in a helicopter and how did you handle that?
They were launching a show. Those of you who don't know this, stop it. Bell Media owns CP24 Breakfast. Breakfast Television is the competition. Rogers owns them. They both are on at the same time of day against each other. Stop writing the people at CP24 and saying, ‘Oh I really love you on BT.’ Do you have any idea how irritating that is? Ten years on the air and they're still doing that.
What was happening was that Bell Media bought everything belonging to CHUM. They bought all the CHUM properties and then the CRTC said - CHUM owns City TV, and that's a network across the country, and you are CTV, and you’re a network, and you can't have both, it's a monopoly, so you have to sell City TV. So, that's why they sold City TV including Breakfast Television to someone, and that someone was Rogers. Up until then, because they're the same company, CP24 had a news program. What they did was simulcast on Breakfast Television in the morning slot.
But the moment that these things got separated, obviously there's a blank there because Breakfast Television went along with City TV to Rogers, so they had to fill in them with the show that they were launching called CP 24 Breakfast. CP 24 Breakfast was to confuse people. They weren't sure if I was going to go, but they auditioned me and then decided to go with the guy from MuchMusic. I won’t mention his name because they thought he would bring a youthful kind of appeal to it, but they wanted me on the show.
So, the only way to do it that made some sense was they shoved me in a helicopter and said do traffic, but I don't even know how to do traffic, and they knew that, so I was told to go and play. So I did. I was messing with people going – ‘Yeah, I think there’s traffic here’ - because we have people doing traffic on the ground and they didn’t need me. In those days when we couldn't fly, I'd be messing around doing stuff from wherever they keep the chopper up in Buttonville. One day they said, come in. Then they put me behind a desk, and that was it. I did the helicopter for about three months out of nine.
Did you enjoy your years at BT?
I had a great time. Breakfast Television again, precisely the same thing as Much Music for me - for the Live Eye. I was allowed to do whatever EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER I wanted, and there were no rules. If you wanted to have an asbestos eating contest, we could. If we wanted to go on top of the CN Tower and get sterile because of the radio signals, we could. Nobody said, there were no rules. Here we go again. Now there are all kinds of safety rules that are in place.
You’ve said you had no issues getting up early morning? 
No, no, no problem. In fact, I still do, but that has to do with the prostate. I have no trouble sleeping which is great. If I wake up in the middle the night, I can go right back to sleep.
And what about the future?
I’ve got businesses. I’m president of one company and V.P. of another company.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

CMW 2018 Wrap – Panels

11:00 a.m. - Spotify Master Class:
If you are a musician, you’ll either love or hate Spotify. The chance to get heard by millions is seductive. Royalties? Negligible! Then, why should you supply your fruits of labour to a site that harbours billions of recorded tracks and adds new ones daily? It depends on your needs and aspirations. Spotify’s Nathan Wiszniak – Head of Artist & Label Marketing - broke it down nicely during a 40-minute early morning session. He said that Spotify is much more than a tap-and-play entity: It expands and adapts to musicians' needs. Wiszniak's tutorial advice: build your followers, socialize, tease new content, brand your playlist, empower fans, share with followers, include audio ads, keep content fresh, go viral and embed it on your website. Just get engaged in your career and take advantage of the tools presented to you.
 Wiszniak senses that the issue of artist compensation will eventually sort itself out through copyright legislation. He also keeps in mind the innovators who do the work for them. Spotify survives on serious investment capital, and for their employees, it’s no less demanding than your stress-filled day job. When wearing my radio hat, I see Spotify as the future. Programming and discovery have never been sweeter! (Bill King)

Exhibit Hall: Spotlight on USA: Georgia

I have a soft spot for Atlanta, having lived there and been part of the music scene 1978-1979. I was able to sit down for a quick chat about tourism with Lisa Love, Division Director of Economic Development, who quickly reminded me of Georgia's impressive musical legacy.
“We are working on music as a hook to visit Georgia," she told me. "We are here to tell people about live music in Georgia and its musical heritage. There’s a rich history and incredibly vibrant scene today that spans geography, genres and generations. We have that soul and R&B musical dynasty:  Ray Charles, Otis Redding, James Brown, Gladys Knight. But we also had Gram Parsons: Americana would not be what we know it to be today without Gram Parsons. There’s iconic songwriter Johnny Mercer from Savannah; Norman Blake, one of the greatest flat-pickers and roots musicians and we have the ‘Mother of the Blues,’ Ma Rainey. Georgia has helped shape the fabric of American music.” With local Atlanta artist Alicia Bridges scoring a massive disco hit in 1978 with “I Love the Nightlife," how could I ever forget the blazing backroads of Georgia? Windows down, radio up, roaring around in my red Camaro. There’s also Cameo, R.E.M., Dixie Dregs and Peabo Bryson, The B-52s, The Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers Band, TLC, Ludacris, Usher, OutKast and on and on... Visit: (Bill King)

1:00 p.m - The Evolution of Hip-Hop 

Hip-Hop has been around a good 45 years, displacing rock n’ roll some 20 years ago as America’s music. Along with a groove and attitude to counter once-prominent genres, hip-hop doesn’t need to curry favour with traditional avenues of exporting music. As the rise of hip-hop and the technological revolution runs parallel to each other, they continue to aide and abet one another. Any aspiring producer can record from his bedroom, mix, master and drop it on the public on a whim: an artist and a few inspired/enterprising friends can easily mount a campaign, collect emails, market and sell.  
“I feel when artists put their music on the internet and not monetize it, they are just giving it away, and the track could be a hit,” says Teddy Riley, Father of the New Jack Swing movement of the late '80s/early '90s. “For me to have over 1000 records in my catalog, I never gave anything away.  If I did, it would be for a favour.”
Andre Harrell, Revolt Media & TV's vice-president, said the hip-hop industry is on the rebound.
“When album sales went down, the business lost a lot of money. From 2001 – 2010, those were lean years. It’s just starting to be profitable again, based on streaming. We are getting the monetary part right. Now, we have to figure out how to get the creative part right and make great albums,” he notes. (Bill King)

1:40 p.m. -The Top-of-the Top Executive Session

Talk about a stark contrast between worlds: Hip-hop is all swagger and confidence and certain of their audience appeal. Radio, not so much! As Caroline Beasley, CEO of Naples, Florida-based Beasley Media Group and owner of 63 radio stations mentioned, terrestrial radio has been losing audience share the past 20 years. Advertising dollars that flowed so easily into the coffers of most listened-to stations is now divided up over numerous platforms with Facebook and Google being primary competitors. “Money is the best way to measure the health of the industry,” observed moderator Sharon Taylor. “Is radio making real dollars like it did 20 years ago”?

Corus Entertainment's Troy Reeb begged to differ.
“On an individual basis, revenues are going down," he declares. "If you look at terrestrial radio, it’s dropping by a couple points every year. On average it will tick up and then go down, but it’s in decline. That’s not surprising: We are in a world of fragmentation and everyone has a myriad of options in how they consume content."
A decade ago I could ask how many in this room watched this show at 9 o’clock and half the room would have put up their hand. If I asked how many listened this morning I’d be hard pressed to find a large number coalescing around a single source of entertainment.” (Bill King)

10:00 a.m - Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From Jersey

Choosing which forums to cover is a hit-and-miss adventure. Often, intuition and guesswork pay big dividends. If there was one session meant to be attended, this is it! Keynote speaker Bob Hoffman, a partner of Type A Group, an advertising and marketing consulting agency, spent more than 45 years in ad agencies creating campaigns meant to snag consumers and tether them to a product. In 2018, the battlefield is littered with the ad campaign "dead."
Reminding us that 85% of real dollars are in the accounts of those aged 50 years and above, he states that few agencies have anyone working in them anywhere near that age. Social media advertising? A bust!  Ad-blockers shut down your media buy, bots intercept, steal your purchase data and trash your buy. As Hoffman says, “We live in the age of delusion.” Retail sales? Only 2.1% occur through your smartphone, and you're getting five clicks per 10,000 on the display ads. There are 30B fraudulent ad impressions a minute, claims ad fraud researcher Dr. Augustine Fou. So, what remains the best buy for your advertising dollar? Radio! It targets the right people in the right place at the right time, and it’s the most cost-effective, claims Ebiquity, another media consultancy firm. (Bill King)

11:00 a.m. When Broadcast Meets Podcast: A Love Story?
Moderator: Matt Cundill: Owner/Host, Sound Off Podcast
Panelists: Chris Dunscombe, Director New Media, Corus Radio Vancouver – Fearless Fred Kennedy, Announcer, CFNY-FM (102.1 The Edge) – Jean-Marie Heimrath, President & CEO, The Podcast Exchange- Seth Resler, Digital Dot Connector, Jacobs Media, USA.
I’m not certain what I gained from this discussion that becomes applicable to the present situation. With over 500,000 podcasts floating about and all looking for traction and revenue, I view this region as confusing as getting on a playlist at Spotify or iTunes, and even when accomplished, who’s going to pay?
What is obvious, it’s those with something unique to offer – not just a chat about Kanye West or Donald Trump, but those small stories and passions. If you know something most don’t, you can more than likely share that through a podcast with a world of likeminded folks and build a niche following.
The forum basically spoke to those who had existing radio shows owned by big market enterprises looking to repackage and capitalize with the talent they have. As far as podcasting – they must decide if they are keeping it regional in content or going national.

10:00 a.m. - Exploring the World of Playlists

Do you want a full-time job? Here it is! In today’s self-reliant climate, getting heard and getting played have never been easier and harder at the same time. The more this panel rolls out the work slate, the deeper I sink into my folding chair. What would Mozart have said of today’s demands? “Fuck it; I’m becoming a mortician! Algorithms and streams? What about bar 178 when the second viola comes in a measure too early in Don Giovanni. That’s what keeps me up at night!”

So, this panel, moderated by IRR/IMMF/UK's Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt and including MomandPopMusic's Jessica Page, Believe Distribution Service's global head of trade marketing, Leigh Morgan, and LyricFind's Catherine Fournier, came to some good conclusions: that recordings have a longer lifespan when running across several formats and music has to be supplied on a continuous basis. (Bill King)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A Conversation With.. Terry Wilkins

The vibe inside is what you would expect from a British corner pub. There’s a celebratory force at play. Faces in the crowd look oh so familiar as if Saturday afternoons were meant to be a collective gathering of souls firmly planted in place for an afternoon a far distance from the usual business-like commotion of downtown Toronto and lost in the surreal confines of an ageing hotel given over to music and good times.

After packing my piano away at Newstalk 1010, on occasion I try to slip into the Rex Hotel only yards away from Bell Media radio studios and catch the last couple of numbers. This is when the band is cruising to a finale and the crowd, jammed from door to door, is in a receptive celebratory mood. The room is alive and electric!
The band on stage and charged with keeping the energy high and the crowd engaged is led by the man with more activities scheduled in a week than most musician’s over a two-month period, bassist/vocalist Terry Wilkins.
Wilkins turned 70 a few months in the rear, and I made a point of dropping by to congratulate. Seventy is a milestone in any profession and deserves recognition.
I catch the rousing 2:45 p.m. closer and close in on Wilkins who by 3:01 is applying the outer skin to his acoustic bass and clearing the stage. Wilkins looks panicked yet pauses long enough to embrace a moment between two ageing music loyalists before jetting out a side door. Wilkins was on to the next gig.
Through the years, this is how I’ve got to see Terry Wilkins. Not long ago I trapped him early morning for an interview and here’s a portion of that conversation.
We first met in 1971 when you arrived from Australia. Why did you centre on Canada?
Actually, there was a sequence to it in 1970. McKenna Mendelson Mainline went to Australia. We played some shows with them. Personally, I loved McKenna Mendelson Mainline. They were an amazing live act and at one point we were playing in Melbourne and the bass player was a guy named Zeke Shepherd. He was actually a world-class harmonica player, and he was the bass player in Mainline for a little while. He was a very simple player, but fantastic. I thought the guy was amazing. We got to chatting backstage and he started talking about Toronto. At that point I knew nothing about Toronto other than the fact that all our schoolbooks were made by a publisher who published out of London, Toronto and Sydney. When I was at school I’d see the word Toronto which always reminded me of Tonto. He gave me a business card which I gave to our agent.
In 1971, that band, Flying Circus, moved to San Francisco. We were negotiating a deal with Capitol U.S., but couldn't work. We were just chilling and going to the Fillmore West, which was pretty amazing. Interestingly, Toronto band, James and the Good Brothers were living in San Francisco and managed by Bill Graham at the same time.
While in San Francisco our agent from Australia went to New York to do some business. He had a green card and decided to check out Toronto. He met with the Music Factory which was an agency at 80 Scarlett Rd. He saw that people worked a lot. And what people did work a lot at was high school dances. The drinking age was 21. Even when kids left school, they still went back for the school dances because it was the only action there was.
He called us up and said, ‘as long as you're waiting out your deal, why don’t you wait in Toronto,’ and we said great, we'd love to play. We were getting a little Jonesy at that point. The band took a bus to Vancouver, then on by train. We saw a good chunk of Canada right off and spent a few months in Toronto, and we decided that we'd rather be here. We got signed to a management deal with HP & Bell, Lighthouse's management. That was March of 1971. I’ve just had my forty-sixth anniversary of arriving in this country.
We were in the same package deal.  It was me, Bob McBride and Flying Circus, a three-way deal with Capitol Records. Every time I went to visit Paul Hoffert, Scientologists would stop me on the street in front of HP & Bell - harass and ask to evaluate my personality.
What was the name of that restaurant across the street? Plato's Symposium, right? Cool. And that was full of them too. I used to watch them berate each other. That was very interesting.
You got a foothold. Made that record. Got out to play and stayed in place in Toronto.
It did happen organically. I'm not much of a planner. I don't really like plans because they spoil life. We were winging it. It didn't take me long to realize I liked being here. I went from Flying Circus to Lighthouse and then I began feeling like I was deeply involved in the Canadian music scene at that point.
This was with Skip Prokop and Lighthouse, and they certainly did tour a lot.
One thing about touring is we did the first ever beer sponsored tour, with Labatt‘s which was interesting because they sent along a young rep who travelled on the bus with us. Frankly, I think we destroyed his life.
You took care of him, ‘real good’?
I think he never got over it. It was just too wild for him. I think we did sixty-eight concerts in seventy-five days, with some insane bus rides from Victoria to St. John's.
Were you comfortable driving a great distance between gigs?
I haven’t done much since that.
Leave that to the 20-year olds?
I don't have anything against that and don't try to do it. When I became a parent, which is thirty years ago, instead of being in one band that did a lot of things, I ended up being in a lot of groups doing a few things. Then I could be home all of the time.
I felt the same way when my son was born. I remember being in a club; it must have been in Belleville or somewhere. I'm in a hotel room with a band member and booked for a week. First night away I look around my hotel room and see another musician rolling up a pillow, and thought, ‘damn, that's not my family’. I’ve got to get back home. I realize it’s imperative for young bands, but rarely profitable.
It’s expensive to do. I don’t know of a situation where I would want to be that hardcore and on the road again. But that said, who knows. If anything, it would be with the Sinner’s Choir. I could get into that.
That’s your current project.
Yeah, we made an EP last year. We're currently mixing twelve new tunes; originals etc. The past EP has helped pay for new recording. We sell it off stage. I like that low overhead.
 It sounds like the first days of the record business, doesn't it?
I think that these days aren’t that dissimilar from the early days. In the early days, there was no industry. Right? Especially, for rock ‘n’ roll. I think there was like the ‘bright lights’, the A&R guys who were going out on the street and finding cool people. That was the record business. And then it became what it became, which is a bloated cocaine-filled behemoth.
The music industry in some ways has fallen apart, and it makes young musicians and just in general musicians not want to tailor what they do to the music industry but do what they think.
Subsequently, I think the demise of the music industry has made for better music.
There’s something reassuring about sticking with what you know.
I refer to it as the no alternative music. Just play what you play. How it falls is how it falls.
You’ve been playing the Rex Jazz Bar with Sinners Choir the past two years from noon to three every Saturday afternoon.
That's right. We've been there for a couple of years now. Indeed, the audience has grown.
Playing original music at noon was a little tricky at the beginning because people were a little befuddled. A couple of things happened. We realized that playing rock ‘n’ roll at noon is a little jarring. So, for the first of our three sets, we got ourselves a bluegrass mic and set that up in the middle of the stage. We do the first set with string bass, acoustic guitar, and washboard and three voices around one mic. Which is a nice gentle way to start the day. But it has also opened this up to a whole other way of presenting yourself. Especially, when you're playing what's basically a bluegrass instrumentation and bluegrass approach to playing, and the music isn't bluegrass. It's whatever we play and often we'll be playing in that format and will be counting off a tune and I realize I've never played this actual tune in this format before. I have no idea how I'm going to approach it, but I also have to sing. You know what I mean?
You‘ve said the more time you get in the recording studio, the easier it gets. You used the term ‘red light’ fever. What does that mean?
Well, sweaty palms. Let me just preface this by saying. In the [Toronto blues club] Albert’s Hall days, drummer Bucky Berger and I worked with Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson and became very good friends because he came up here quite a lot of times He took us under his wing and gave us some good advice and all kinds of things. And one of the things he said to us was, ‘you realize it's a 30 -year partnership,’ and I was in year twelve at the time. I thought that seems unreasonable. That's too long, and it only made sense when I got to thirty years.
I think that the ‘red-light fever business’, which is where a musician’s brain starts to seize up when the red light goes on in that recording studio, and he gets overly cautious. The music’s not as flowing. Now I don't care. I just go and play. I don't even think about it because I don't care about mistakes particularly. What's a mistake anyway? Who's to say what a mistake is?
Regarding how we initially viewed the recording studio, going back to let’s say a Sun Records - players showed up and played. They played what they knew and with big emotion. You didn’t overthink. Once music went corporate, it became a factory product. I think that's what kind of stressed everybody out – especially young musicians new to the process. It began limiting the creative process.
I think so. Even though in theory, as we both lived through the 24-track explosion and the thing about that was, …… I did Eddie Schwartz’s first record in the Catskills many years ago. The studio they used was the Record Plant - the remote set-up. They rented a house in the Catskills, a twenty-room mansion and, during the process of making that record, there was a huge kerfuffle with Bruce Springsteen who was recording at the Record Plant. It was with senior management of 3M, because Bruce had overdubbed so many times he wore out the two-inch tape before they got to mix. I think they lost tracks. They wore out the files or whatever the technical thing is.
Didn’t the same thing happen to Fleetwood Mac with Tusk? They spent a million making the record.
That was the first million-dollar recording.
They ran the tapes nearly every-day and overdubbed until the iron oxide had worn down. I’m with you – it’s still about the moment.
Perfection is overrated. And I think that multi-track recording, when it came in, did play to people's desire and ability to be perfect, which of course turned out to be a waste of time.
Are you still a fan of recorded music in its rawest form?
Think about it. Before there was the ability to overdub, the only people who could go into the studio were people who could play freely live. After multitrack, legions of people who couldn't do it were taken into the studio and overdubbed until they got it right.
When Sinners Choir went into the Rex, I sent Tom the boss a YouTube video of us playing live at the Gladstone. As crude and straightforward as you can get. Later, I was talking to him, and he said, ‘Well you know I could see what you guys do, and that was exactly what I was going to get.’ He then said, ‘sometimes people bring me in their recordings, and I put it on, and I think, I wonder if that's take fifty-six?’ That's the advantage and the disadvantage of modern recording. People can fix, so they will.
I like to play Sarah Vaughan for aspiring singers. Vaughan in the studio at nineteen or twenty. She just stands in in front of the band with one mic and sings ‘absolute’ perfection.
It's interesting you should pick Sarah Vaughan because in my run-throughs with young musicians and most especially with young female musicians, I always send them to Sarah Vaughan. Sarah was the perfect melody singer. She knew why those guys or gals, whoever wrote the music, why they chose that sequence of notes. They're lovely and then you realize so many people learn jazz songs that are interpretations of originals without actually learning the notes.
It’s the affectations that murder a song.
I blame Stevie Wonder. I would often say to the youngish about the standard format of jazz tunes, ‘A-A-B-A’ and I remind them the first ‘A-A-B-A’ is by the book. And what you do after the solo is; feel free. The other thing is, I encourage people to make the first line of improvisation about phrasing, rather than about note changing. You can take a perfect rendition of a Duke Ellington melody, and you can phrase it dozens of different ways that define an original approach to the song without ever altering one single note that Duke wrote. Whereas, you know yourself, how many times do you hear jazz singers who have changed a melody by bar three of the song? Not that I'm against improvising, don't get me wrong.
You’ve weathered and aged well with your music.
When we were in our early 30s, we worked at Albert’s Hall a lot and played with ‘Cleanhead’ and Sunnyland Slim and lots of those old guys. The first one we worked with was Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson. Bucky and I spent 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. on a sound stage doing one of the first ever videos,  ‘All Touch and No Contact,’ for Rough Trade. At 9 p.m. we left the set and went to Albert’s Hall to play our first of six nights with ‘Cleanhead’. I don't know what we thought we were going to be doing but, I guess it was something like there was this old man and he needed a rhythm section. We were going to go in there and prop him up because he was a fossil. He was 68 at the time.
‘Cleanhead’ and Sunnyland and all of those old guys we played with were better than anyone we’d ever played with. No fat on the bone. Everything meant something. There was no waste. Amazing, amazing. It cured me of getting ‘old itis’.
A lot of people, especially from our era who grew up playing rock 'n' roll, the first thing was, you can't play rock ‘n’ roll after you're 30 if you recall that. Right? And then it was 40 and 50 and whatever. Those guys, as I say were better than anyone that I’d ever played with, and it changed my perspective on ageing as a musician to a much more tempered one because I was looking forward to a lot of it. That's the truth. After you've played a certain number of notes, things get easier in your brain, and you stop panicking. That may not be for everyone, but it certainly is for me because I'm essentially an autodidactic musician. I never had any lessons. Everything I’ve learned is by the seat of my pants, and I’m frankly still doing it that way. The ageing thing is not as bad as I expected.
Before the Beatles, it’s all about Elvis, and I look at the both of us and how fortunate we were to be at the front end of rock ‘n’ roll. The fifty years that follows is an amazing era of music. Being in the recording studio when it was monaural - the first time we hear stereo played through speakers, then 4 tracks, 8 tracks, 16 tracks, 24 tracks, 32 and to where we are now. You must think to yourself, WTF just happened?
It seems like 100 years. It did go way too fast. But the essence hasn't changed. The bottom line is, if you can do it, you can do it. If you can't do it, you can fix it, and it will never be the same.
You've taken good care of yourself. Sometimes you do three gigs a day. That's insane.  You say you’ve conditioned yourself to play until four in the morning and then up by noon.
I’m a night owl.
You don’t run low on energy?
I never run out of energy. I think that with ageing, as long as your body doesn't fall apart, touch wood, and the mind is holding up pretty good, your ability to meter your energy becomes way more refined. Even though you don't have as much explosive energy as you had when you were young, messy energy as I call it,  it's reliable and consistent.
Being a bass player, both my instruments are raised for high action and hard to play. I like that. I like the resistance. It means you’ve got to be in top shape all the time or you run out of energy. I've learned to stay below the red line. In other words, don't play too hard or you'll run out of steam. Nudging that line below playing too hard, which means you’re kicking it pretty hard, but you're not wearing yourself out. So that's  how I get through nine sets in a day.
Where did you grow up in Australia, and what was being a kid like?
I grew up in Sydney, Australia, Irish Catholic. I started playing music pretty late compared to most everyone I knew. I think I was seventeen when I first started playing music and everyone I knew had started when they were eleven or thirteen or something like that. So, I was kind of behind the ball, but I made up ground fast and think I turned pro in about a year and a half. As a matter of fact, the third of June of this year is my fiftieth anniversary since I've become a professional musician.
Let’s go back before that. What was the young kid running around the neighbourhood up to?
I lived in the city. Sydney is a big city. Have you ever been there? It's huge. It had a million people in 1948. I was a city boy educated by Irish nuns who grew up on farms. Whose approach to education was similar to their brother’s approach to breaking horses.
Did you get hand-slapped with a ruler?
I think I probably got hit every day from four years till sixteen years of age. I went through a conventional upbringing, and of course, in those days there was the beach. We were surfers. Nobody even thought about not being a surfer. I did own a surfboard.
Were you a smart kid in school?
I did well in school. But I always got into trouble a lot. I guess I was a smart mouth and they never liked that. There was a lot of music in my family, but it was all amateur. My mother was conservatory-trained but could only play with sheet music. My father knew nothing about music but would attempt everything, and he was a good singer.
There was an artist in the 50s’ who was huge in Australia named Winifred Atwell. Do you know who that is? That's very interesting you've never heard of Winifred. She was very big in Australia, and she was very big in England and came from Tunapuna in Trinidad and played boogie-woogie piano. And serious. I went and dug up some of her recordings lately. She was ‘intense’ fantastic. The only thing that my mother could play without sheet music was her rendition of a boogie-woogie by Winifred Atwell, and I loved that. I was five and I used to say, ‘play boogie-woogie’, and I would reach up and grab my mother’s right hand, so she couldn't use it. All I wanted was to hear the left hand and I was five. I think I was born into being a spy.
Did you ever get bit by anything lethal?
Nothing serious, but you know what, that's only luck. There's a spider called the ‘funnel web spider’ - and it's poisonous. The epicentre in Australia for the ‘funnel web spider’ is downtown Sydney. There are a couple of others; red backs that will bite through a leather shoe. There are also snakes.
I often wonder why all these things thrive in Australia. I mean there were other countries they could've picked.
I know. And as well as that, there's the weather. Right now, in Australia, there’s hurricanes and flooding. Australia is either flooding or burning. That's life. That's how it goes. It's no place for white people. It’s way too harsh.

A Conversation With.. Leah Daniels

We are around my desk monitor, and I’m pulling up a video of an old music friend and compatriot still in her twenties. The two of us are marvelling at the big talent on the screen, and there’s a three-way connection. Stacey Kay and Leah Daniels have been best friends since age eleven when the two competed in talent contests.

The look in Daniels' eyes is that of a young woman that’s inspired and in awe of her good friend. In many ways, their careers mirror one another. Both are fiercely independent, have a clear vision where they want to go with their careers, and are determined to get it right. Both work outside the walls of a major record label and connect directly with their audiences.
Kay rocked it on America’s Got Talent and Daniels took home the Canadian Radio Music Award as the FACTOR 2016 Breakthrough Artist of the Year, earned four CCMA nominations, and has a new recording set to arrive in May 2018. There’s also something else that binds the two. I keep in mind what Warner Canada Music Steve Kane CEO said to me a few years back after I posed this question about evaluating talent.
BK: Is there a checklist?
SK: Yes, there’s a mental checklist.  I’ve got to tell you at the top of this checklist – “Does this artist know who they are?” Do they have a sense of self? Do they have a sense of where they want their career to go?
The answer?  A resounding yes! Here’s that conversation.

Coming out of Sheridan College’s arts program how focused on country music were you back then?
Country was not on my mind at that time.
I guess in high school it was more about musicals and pop and rock music and after Sheridan I wanted to create my own music. I wanted to write. After Sheridan I went to Humber College for music because I wanted to do my own thing and they had a new program that was a degree program that focused on songwriting specifically. I was like, that sounds perfect. I completed first year but was anxious. I wanted to create music instead of being in school for another four years.
I got a bunch of books on the music industry and spoked to anyone I could about music and started a band with people that I met at Humber and started writing. At that point I was still kind of into pop music. I loved Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys and that sort of thing. Once I started writing more and performing, it was through songwriting I got into country music. I grew up with country music. I'm from Uxbridge, Ontario, a small town.
There’s country music all around your area. Festivals, etc.
My grandpa is a musician. He's traditional and into Wilf Carter and Hank Snow. He plays guitar, accordion and harmonica and he yodels. I feel like when I was a kid, country music was kind of like, not cool. My grandfather was doing it, and it was so old-fashioned or something.
I suspect you were following the music you heard on the radio. Country music is a specific listening experience.
It's funny how I’ve come full circle. It was because I started writing and a friend of mine said that  I wrote a song that sounded like it could be a country song and I was like, really, you think so? I seriously thought about it and realized this is where my heart is. That’s totally where I fit in. The storytelling thing is kind of back to my roots.
Did you take classes in songwriting?
Not really. I just started doing it. I’ve composed ever since I was little. I met up with some people in Toronto. Karen Kosowski was one of the first people I wrote with and my friend Sam Ellis. They're both now in Nashville and prominent writers and producers. I started writing with these people and learning from that, and suddenly I was thrown in these situations with more prominent songwriters, like when I met Dan Hill for the first time. I was like, oh, my goodness. This guy is a legend, but you just do it.
Did he help you put the songs together or did he just coach you through it?
It was kind of a collaborative thing you do together; you come up with some great ideas. That's the thing with songwriting. I get so nervous at songwriting sessions. You're so vulnerable, and you can't censor yourself because if you have an idea, you’ve got to say it because otherwise, the song can't grow. You must be able to put yourself out there even if the concept is awful. You’ve just gotta’ say it so you can move forward. It’s tricky getting out of your head and allowing yourself the freedom to say what’s needed to be said. Life and relationships. A lot of that can be opposite of the song.
What’s most comfortable for you to write about?
Relationships. A lot about that.
Can you allow yourself to be open up enough to say things that sometimes go unspoken?
Yes. I think that's one of the things that’s complicated. When you're writing with someone for the first time, it's hard to open up your diary to them. That's the challenge. I feel like I've gotten better with that over time. It’s just sharing that.
As a songwriter you want the songs to be personal, and for me as an artist singing, I want to have a piece of me in the songs and want the stories that we're telling to be something that I've experienced as much as I can. I mean, there's sometimes when you write a song it may be the other songwriter's experience, and I'm not in the room that day, but I try to put a piece of me in it too. That can be a challenge sometimes. I've just met this person, and I'm going to tell them about my life story? Here we go.
When you first went out as a country artist, how did that feel?
I had a band, so I guess I started writing and recording my first album at that point. I started doing shows all the time and entering competitions and all that stuff. But it's funny. When I was younger though, the first competition I ever did was a country competition. I was nine or something, and the CNE had a Canadian open country singing competition, and I remember doing that.
I was a fan of Shania Twain and LeAnn Rimes when I was growing up. When I was a kid, I didn't picture myself doing country music. I was thinking about being a pop star.
Country crossed over to pop long ago.
It has crossed way over. The lines are so blurred, yet it's an exciting time for country music. I think it's bigger now than it ever has been.
If you go back twenty-five or thirty years ago certain instruments were forbidden in country.
It's just opened right up, and now it seems like you can take any song, and if you add a little bit banjo, it's a country song, suddenly.
In your teens, were you open to the Dixie Chicks?
Yeah, absolutely.
I think about how strong and powerful they were in live performance and such excellent instrumentalists.
They've got some great songs, and yeah, the harmonies are amazing.
Have you toured across the country?
I've been out west but not down east yet.
Will that come with the new recording?
The single is called, ‘First’ and then the album title is to be determined and then the tour.
What label is this on?
I'm independent, and it’s an EP with seven songs.
Were you able to get funding to do this?
Yes, I've built this up and feel like I've got a great team around me. I've got management now and a great booking agent and publicist and everything. It’s kind of what I had to do. I mean, when I was younger I wanted to be with a label so bad. But now, I have built it up on my own, and I feel like, I'm almost so attached to everything and so much a part of the process and it would be hard to give it up.
You know you are following in the footsteps of Canadian icons Loreena McKennitt and Emilie-Claire Barlow – one’s Celtic/folk the other jazz. They both manage their own affairs. It's kind of the world we live in now.
I feel like that's the way it's going. It just makes sense, and I get excited about it now. I get excited at the fact that I get to choose who I get to work with and surround myself with people who inspire me and that are like minded and that's exciting. I would love to build that up and one day have my record label help other artists.
In 2016 you captured a CRMA award.
I was female artist of the year. I had a good year. And radio was good.
I had my single ‘Go Back’, and it was my first song ever to go top 20 at Canadian country radio which was huge and exciting. Because of that, I got a couple of different awards. I got the Canadian Radio Music Award for the 2016 FACTOR Breakthrough Artist of the Year as well, which was huge because that wasn't just for country artists, it was for all genres across Canada. That was pretty cool.
It's the Radio Awards, so yeah, everybody was there, it was pretty cool. That's probably the award I'm most proud of up to this point. Radio is tough.
A song must turn a certain way before it’s accepted for radio play. I would imagine country radio is much more receptive than pop radio. Once you’re in the good graces of country audiences, you're there to stay.
Yes, I agree. I agree they're faithful, but it's still a challenge. I've released quite a few songs to radio even before ‘Go Back’ and it's tough. You're going to these stations and trying to prove yourself and show them you are here to stay. This isn't just the flavour of the month, and I’m actually doing this as a career.
You need to duet with a Brett Kissel or Johnny Reid.
Johnny would be amazing, and he's someone I really look up to, especially the way he's built his career. He’s amazing.
He puts together the tour, the recordings and does the work. He also knows what he's up against. It’s tough out there especially if you believe the American market is the place to crack. He’s a solid Canadian touring artist.
He can sell out shows here, which I think is amazing.
Where did you record the new EP?
The single ‘First” was done in LA, and that was my first writing trip there. It was a unique situation. I was there for a week writing with Brian Howes and JVP (Jason Van Poederooyen), who is his writing partner /co-producer. I had a week with them, so we weren't rushed.
In Nashville, it seems like everything is, you have three hours, write a song, and that's it. Bye, I’ll see you, and you might not see them ever again. Which I'm not a huge fan of. It's just too stressful. I feel like we need time to get into it and to come back to it and have that ability to come together the next day and be like, OK, what do we think, what do we need to change to make this better? That's what was really cool about writing this song. We came up with a melody and chords, and they said, you figure out the lyrics. Go home tonight and spend some time and I was like, oh, OK. It was like I better come up with something good by tomorrow.
I was able to dive into it on my own and not feel the pressure of the session and then come in the next day. We looked at these lyrics I came up with and then worked on that and then did it all again.
Recording in Hollywood is relaxing.
I loved it. Where we were, it's like the windows were all open. I could see the palm trees, So laid back.
How did you fall into this situation? Was this through management?
Jordyn Elliot (HJ MGMT) is my management, and she's a local girl from the Toronto area. She connected me with Brian, and I'm glad she did. It was a really neat experience.
What’s coming up for you?
We’ve got the album coming out, and right now we're kind of in planning mode for everything and getting ready for that. Final tweaks and I'm excited to do shows. That’s my favourite part. The album will be out the end of May.
You’ve played Boots and Hearts festival?
Boots and Hearts was awesome also because it's close to my hometown. It’s this big festival within an hour from Uxbridge. It was really cool because I saw all these familiar faces.
Is your hometown behind you?
I love my town. I would not be doing what I'm doing without them and all the opportunities that I had growing up there. Uxbridge is really rich in the arts. There are musicals all the time, and there are choirs you can join and open mics everywhere. So many wonderful volunteers that make it all happen. I'm very fortunate.