Jaimie Vernon – Life’s A Canadian Rock: The Making of Takin’ Care of Christmas

We interrupt the chronological saga of my musical come-uppance to bring you a tale of Christmas future –  some 20 years from where my band The Swindle had long been forgotten. Though for you, dear reader, it is a tale of a Christmas, or two, past.

It’s no secret to many who know me that I would go on from being a snot-nosed guitar player in a punk band to CEO and resident curmudgeon of my own label called Bullseye Records. That all started in 1985.

But things really got rolling at the end of ‘90s when I found myself retired from my full-time day gig with the Civil Service; I did 11 years hard-time working for the former City of Scarborough before it unceremonious crawled back into the City of Toronto’s womb and shut most of its unionized employees out. They paid me good money to fuck-off and leave them the hell alone. And though I was tempted  to take the money (plus the sizeable advance I got for writing the Canadian Pop Encyclopedia for www.canoe.ca ), and make Bullseye Records a full-time concern, my son had just been born and I thought it best to save my schillings and keep working until such time as my bank account’s cup runneth over.

The stars had aligned and my departure from the City coincided with an offer to become the content editor of the newly launched Sam The Record Man.com website all because my editor at CANOE told them I could do it [me, I wasn’t so sure]. I moved effortlessly from my old job into two weeks paid vacation and then, on December 7, 1998 I began to work for the Sniderman family. It was a harrowing 18 months whose story will have to wait for another time but the reason I mention it here is that they were the springboard from which Bullseye became a full-time concern.

The 2000 Juno Awards gave Sam Sniderman a mandate to showcase Canadian talent and have the newly launched corporate website be the bridge between the live telecast and the consumer’s wallets. I was instructed to compile a list of every nominated and winning artist since the Junos were conceived as the Red Leaf Awards in 1964. Only problem was, 80% of all 1,078 names on the list were not available on CD (what with this being pre-Napster days).   In fact, about 65% of those had NEVER been available on CD — EVER. It seems Canadian labels just didn’t give a shit about the past…only about corralling and force feeding the young. And as recent history has show, this business model came back to bite them in their fat, bloated asses. But it was a springboard for me to launch Bullseye full-time. By this point I had made the acquaintance of an American investor who was willing to help the label get off the ground but only if I had a business plan. And I did. Bullseye would track down and re-issue long-lost classic rock and other Canadiana collecting dust in vaults or, in the majority of cases, musicians’ basements.

Terry Draper and Dee Long from Klaatu were already firmly embedded in Bullseye’s roster with several solo albums each by this point. We’d also successfully tapped the nostalgia craze with two tribute albums: “Around The Universe In 80 Minutes: A Tribute To Klaatu” and “Men In Plaid: A Tribute to the Bay City Rollers” with help from my old Canadian music writer friend Gary Pig Gold whose personal phone book reads like the history of Rock.

We’d had a successful BBQ gathering in the summer so all the Bulleye artists could meet and threw together a short run various artists CD for all the guests called ‘The BBQ Sampler’. This went over quite well and I discussed the idea of a full-blown commercial release with Terry Draper as he was in the midst of working on his 2nd solo album.

Terry happened to mention that he had crafted a few Christmas song ideas a this point and that might be the best way to test the water on a Bullseye artist-specific commercial release. But we didn’t have enough time to get everyone recording new songs, manufacture and put it in the stores. What we were able to muster for the Christmas of 2000 was a 7 song “Bullseye’s Compact Christmas” CD which we gave to guests at our 2nd annual Christmas party at Blues-on-Belair in Yorkville. It featured Terry’s original track “A Song for Christmas” http://youtu.be/Q0TbW8h7qaA , his rendition of The Beatles’ ridiculous “Christmas Time Is Here Again”, and a jug-band version of same with Terry singing and playing piano, me (on bass and vocals) and former Moving Targetz guitarist Glenn Belcher on banjo. Added to the stew was Greg Godovitz & The Carpet Frog’s 1995 new Christmas classic “Christmas All Over The World” http://youtu.be/sbWCt2saSYc and a beautiful original track by Klaatu fan Joel-Steven entitled “All I Want For Christmas (Is Peace On Earth)” plus a Zappa-esque bit of craziness called “Christmas Spasmas” from Terry & The Twilight Zone keyboardist Dr. Lotech (aka John Baird). The disc closed with a greeting from Bullseye and with Draper and Lotech putting on silly voices and wishing everyone a merry merry.

By this point I was working with Randy Bachman finalizing a deal to release his old band Brave Belt’s two albums on CD and a Guess Who rarities collection called ‘This Time Long Ago’.  As with most of my business contacts that year, I sent Randy’s manager Paul Whittaker the Christmas mini-EP [Randy, in turn sent back a Christmas card…autographed]. In January Paul called me to say that Randy had done a remake of “Takin’ Care of Business” called ‘Takin’ Care of Christmas’ and we could use it if there was a need for it to help launch a proper commercial release for the 2001 season.

I kept that in mind as the New Year presented a number of ongoing opportunities including breaking new releases by the likes of Jeff Jones, The Kings, Goddo and heading stateside to tour Civil War battle sights with Terry Draper as a promotional push for his new disc “Civil War…And Other Love Songs”. When we returned from the US, I signed Klaatu to a five year distribution deal and turned my focus to compiling the new Christmas CD.

Randy Bachman gave me “Takin’ Care of Christmas” http://www.youtu.be/Gw8NBRgPD5Y  as promised and so, with his name attached, it made sense to name the compilation the same. At this point former Grapes of Wrath member Tom Hooper was working on a solo album ‘The Unexplored Cosmos’ for me and he was excited to add a tune as well so he sent us a cute ditty called “Christmas Kiss”. Tom would re-record it with his two sons and lovely wife Suzanne Little (Lava Hay) a few years back that you can hear here. http://www.youtu.be/ZIEXLxP0-Gw

I similarly tapped the other acts that were in the studio already and got “Silent Night” from Jeff Jones who had already delivered a Top30 hit to radio for us called “I’ll Be There”. It was recorded at Cherry Beach studio and produced by Red Rider’s Ken Greer based on an arrangement Jonesy played with Molly Johnson in The Infidels. http://youtu.be/E_JM_HHTSog

Singer –songwriter John Boswell (not to be confused with piano lounge artist by the same name) had contributed two songs to Jones’s ‘Positive’ album and I signed him to a solo album deal. While he was producing that with Creighton Doane (Harem Scarem, Honeymoon Suite), they knocked off a stoic version of “What Child Is This”. http://youtu.be/WH6tv0sZ-QM

Ex-Teenage Head/Shakers guitarist & vocalist Dave Rave had re-issued both his first solo album and a Shakers’ ‘best of’ on Bullseye and threw together a ragtag band of musical buddies from Hamilton and called it The Dave Rave Xmas Spirits. They recorded  the Lauren Agnelli/Dave Rave penned track “Xmas Wish List”.  We were about to re-issue a CD by Vancouver music journalist Tom Harrison’s old band Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion when he sent me a disc by the band’s later incarnation as Little Games. On it was a Christmas tune called ‘Faith in the Season’ which I thought was most apropos following the devastation on September 11th.

With The Kings’ “Party Live in ‘85” CD fresh out of the Bullseye gate, guitarist Zero offered up their 1983  track “This Christmas” from the ‘RSVP’ EP and was newly remastered and sounded as good as it ever had. Similarly, Bob Segarini dug out his 1979 track ‘It’s Christmas’ that had been recorded at Maclear Place. The song featured sax player Margo Davidson and was done ‘live-off-the-floor’. Alas, it was on a 7” single and so we had mutual friend – and former Sam The Record Man floor manager – Garwood Wallace pull all the clicks and pops out of it and give it a new coat of paint. The instrumental ‘Jingle-oake’ flipside was re-issued along with the vocal version on Bullseye’s  re-issue of ‘Goodbye L.A.’ in 2006. http://youtu.be/CHNRSs7V-6Q

We resuscitated four tracks from the ‘Bullseye Compact Christmas 2000’ release with Joel-Steven’s “All I Want For Christmas” (the only non-Canadian on the compilation) and Greg Godoviz & The Carpet Frogs’ “Christmas All Over The World”. But The Carpet Frogs had built up a steady following and lengthy resume in the years that Godovitz had been out of the band and guitarist Michael Zweig wanted to showcase their newest Christmas song “Christmas Would Not Be Christmas” for this disc. The Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound original would also be released as a single on the heels of Bachman’s title track and it continues to get massive airplay annually on all-Christmas radio programming every year in Canada. Terry Draper revived the previous version of The Beatles’ “Christmas Time Is Here Again” as a remix but we didn’t want to have more than one song on per artist so we let my sister-in-law Maureen Leeson take a crack at his “A Song For Christmas” which she brought back to life. We also nicked the Dr. Lotech “Christmas Spasmas” madness and tacked it onto the end of the CD.

Finally, I had been in the studio with Moving Targetz guitarist and engineer Glenn Belcher at Prisma Sound in Toronto remixing our old band’s multi-track recordings when we came up with the idea to take our modest radio hit from 1990, “Here As Now (If One Day Were 2)”, and massage it into an ode for Christmas. Ivan Judd’s lyrics were already geared towards peace so it was an easy transition to make it about peace at Christmas time. We renamed it “Hear Us Now” and it became the final track added to the compilation. http://youtu.be/7HV-KCIBvZ4

‘Takin’ Care of Christmas’ would go on to sell several thousand copies (with a reprint in 2002 and 2004) and most of the tracks continue to get airplay on Canadian radio every Christmas. If you’re looking for MP3s you can download Bachman, Tom Hooper, Segarini, Jeff Jones and John Boswell from iTunes. Everything else can only be found on a copy of the original CD. They’re plentiful and cheap on Amazon.com or on Ebay. I highly recommend it for a rocking good Christmas time.

– Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and is the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. He keeps a copy of Lightfoot’s “Sundown” under his pillow at night.

One Response to “Jaimie Vernon – Life’s A Canadian Rock: The Making of Takin’ Care of Christmas”

  1. […] You gotta love a label which gets the whole Christmas thing beyond the hey-this-is-a-good-way-to-make-more-money thing.  Sure, Columbia and Capitol and Warner Brothers are good at putting together compilations of all kinds, including Christmas, but I have always thought them worrying more about promoting artists as a time of year consumers are open to just about anything.  Jaimie Vernon over at Bullseye Canada takes it more personally.  For him, it was more about the artists and what they could do.  I believe he put together three projects which were Christmas-oriented, two of which are available today.  In fact, one is on CD and is very limited in quantities.  That one is the aforementioned Taking Care of Christmas.  Rather than bore you with the details, I will let Jaimie bore you.  Here is a link to a column he wrote some time ago which tells the story behind the release.  Read it.  It is interesting.  Click here. […]

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