Jaimie Vernon: LIFE’S A CANADIAN ROCK – THE MIGHTY Q

We interrupt my usual weekly blog about my MUSIC…to talk about something totally different.

My MAJOR AWARD!

When the Facebook-o-Sphere went viral with the revelation this week that Neil Young was passionate about saving the downloading world from bad sounding MP3s I made a comment that he need only look at his own output first and start with the sound quality issues there. Typically there was round of ‘what’s wrong with Neil Young?’ vs. ‘he sucks hemorrhagic banjo strings’ rejoinders and we all had a good, civilized round of discourse and a few laughs. However, Jeff Woods from Toronto’s legendary rock radio station Q107 (CILQ) took exception to one of my many attacks on yet another musical sacred cow by calling me the biggest “Hater” out of all his friends on Facebook.

You see, earlier in the week I had made a public proclamation about my total lack of interest in anything related to “On this day in Beatles history” posts on Facebook  – especially ones concerning John Lennon’s bowel movements, Ringo’s flubbed snare turn-around on Take 7 of “Ticket to Ride”, or McCartney’s denial of ever knowing who “Eleanor Rigby” was [she’s buried in the cemetery he and Lennon walked through every day on the way to and from school, duh!].

I imagine Jeff saw that post too and many others related to Mick Jagger’s diaper rash induced dancing, the Tragically Hip’s ongoing status as most over-rated band in Canadian music history (usurping Rush who has held that title since “2112”), and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and his inability to find the key of any song he sings – even with a locksmith at the ready.

So, Jeff went on the air later that morning and announces that he’s chosen me as “Hater of the Year”. Had I known such a prestigious award was in the offing, I would have made the trip down to the station’s offices myself and accepted it with all of its red carpet splendor and the officious radio coverage it deserved.

The Facebook reaction from my legion of ‘friends’ was swift…and well, unpleasant. Jeff waded back into the melee bravely and rather than back peddle in defense or react negatively to what was an uncalled for attack against Q107 itself, he apologized for any misunderstanding I may have had and hoped I would take the on-air shout out in the spirit in which it was intended – as a good natured ribbing between two passionate music geeks.

But, I must confess that my immediate reaction after finding out I’d been ‘outed’ on radio was one of betrayal. After all, I’d given Q107 some of the best listening years of my life. They were the first FM station I ever listened to – they were the yin to CHUM’s A.M. yang. Though CFNY would lure me away many years later, I drifted back to Q107 when the CFNY was no longer the ‘spirit of radio’.

You see, once upon a time Q107 was at the top of its game because its playlist was cutting edge and loose while its DJs – including Keith Elshaw, Bob Mackowycz, Lee ‘Beef’ Eckley, Jeff Chalmers, All Night Andre, Bob (The Iceman) Segarini, et al – were tightly wound bottle rockets with MENSA I.Q. knowledge of music and had enthusiasm to burn. This was back when gonzo radio hadn’t even been defined as yet. Long before Howard Stern discovered 17 years after the rest of the world that Led Zeppelin were plagiarist hacks and waay before The Edge 102.1’s Dean Blundell started dialing up the stupid on his morning show to squeeze in one more racist, sexist, xenophobic ‘joke’.

Currently the on air ‘personalities’ in terrestrial radio (as opposed to disc jockeys who used to actually ‘cue’ songs and drop the needle) get to squeeze in a few words between commercials and songs from their repetitive, stagnant and predictable playlist of moldy oldies [there are more than 5 songs on the TWO diamond selling Eagles ‘greatest hits’ packages, guys]. And those words usually consist of limited ‘facts’ taken from the laughably erroneous ‘This day in history’ wiki sites on the internet.  Terrestrial radio was built on memorable voices from guys that KNEW music. It was in their blood. They ate it for breakfast along with twelve cups of coffee and the previous evening’s party favours. All the nervous energy they needed to burn was used to introduce bands at live shows and talk about it the next day. And they’d only resort to playing “Stairway to Heaven” when the coffee hit their bladders and they needed a pee break.

In 1979 Q107 broke new ground in radio by launching the long-running annual ‘Q107 Homegrown Contest’ which involved an on-air battle of Southern Ontario’s finest new acts. The competition lasted several months as DJs spun tracks from the finalists and listeners would vote on their favourite new track. The acts would also secure a spot on their widely promoted and commercially successful compilation albums distributed on major labels like Attic, MCA and CBS. The top finalists would have to prove themselves in a live showcase with celebrity judges at a major Toronto venue like The Copa, Diamond Club, Rock & Roll Heaven or El Mocambo and the prizes included cash, music gear, and a recording contract!

The entire series died with Volume 18 in 1997, when the station began gearing up to start homogenizing corporately.  The field order from on high would soon negate the previous eighteen years of ‘Homegrown’ winners and finalists who’d gone on to much success and would no longer be welcome:   Eye Eye (who also appeared as The Oh No’s), Paul James, Boys Brigade, Santers, Sylum, Reckless, 20th Century Rebels, Channel 5, Vigilants, Regatta, The Jitters (“Last of the Red Hot Fools” was played on Q107 first), Tabula Rasa (aka Clean Slate who signed with Anthem), Scott Liddle (who signed with MCA), Everest (who signed with CBS), Rita Chiarelli, Broken English, The Meteors, Tony “Wild T” Springer, Harem Scarem, bluesman Michael Pickett, Saddletramps (featuring a young Sarah Harmer), Bourbon Tabernacle Choir,  superGARAGE, The Miller Stain Limit (who signed with A & M) , and solo artists Jim Witter (now a successful Canadian country artist), Martin James Fortin, and jazz chanteuse  Molly Johnson (whose bass player Gordie Johnson went on to create Big Sugar).

The scare had been put into Q107 with CHFI’s continual domination of the No.1 radio ratings spot in Toronto for many years. Q107 (and most of the city’s FM stations), feared they’d missed out on corralling those aging yuppies who were now listening to Madonna, k.d. lang and Richard Marx so Q floundered for a good part of the ‘90s as ‘Toronto’s Best Rock’ or was it ‘Toronto’s Modern Rock’? Briefly they scored points for the long running Al Joynes independent music show ‘Discoveries’ which meant the station was still supporting up-and-coming talent. But what ultimately happened was more pressure to boost ratings and they soon re-invented themselves as ‘Toronto’s Rock Station For Divorced Aging Guys Listening On Their Cottage Decks With Questionable Signal Range In The Kawartha Lakes”. They called it “CLASSIC ROCK” and apparently it was good.

But, if the station really needed a change of scenario the best place to start should have been avoiding the very playlist that is now a dusty old tomb of nostalgic rock and over-played Canadian Content they plumb from ad-nauseum.  I’m frequently reminded by radio ‘people’ that Q is still the tops in their ratings category and a million listeners can’t be wrong. Be that as it may, the nostalgia aspect is revisionist history at best when you look at the above track record of cultivating NEW music but now abandoning it.

Ironically, only two artists from the Homegrown days survived the transition to the ‘Classic Rock’ format. You may remember those ancient 1980s classic rockers Honeymoon Suite and the Partland Brothers don’t you? Why only these two acts? During the Homegrown boom,  Tony “Wild T” Springer, who had two critically acclaimed solo albums on WEA and was David Bowie’s guitar player, and Santers featuring wiz kid Rick Santers who replaced Rik Emmett in Triumph, were just as popular and widely acclaimed. It was Hendrix-styled virtuosity (Springer) and straight up kick-ass melodic Album Oriented Rock (Santers). Both had post-Homegrown hits on Q107 that are no longer on the playlist (“Freedom Train” for Wild T and “Mistreatin’ Heart” for Santers).

In fact, the playlist has huge classic rock holes in it if you go by the definition of what’s currently being played versus what the public wishes they’d play. Just from a Canadian content perspective alone we should still be listening to Moxy, Killer Dwarfs, Segarini (who DJ’d for them not once, but TWICE), Harmonium, Brave Belt, Hammersmith, Orphan, Moonquake, Hellfield, Harem Scarem, Zero One (who Q107 supported a lot in the early ‘80s), Reign Ghost, Abraham’s Chidlren, Wenzday (the cool later incarnation of Wednesday), Avalon, Diamondback, Blackstone, Ralph Murphy’s Roadhouse, Brutus, Soma, Oakley, War Pig, Bent Wind, Teaze, Garfield, Dutch Mason, Minglewood, Offenbach and Zon amongst many others. Hey, did you know that Goddo has more than two songs in their nine album catalog? Doucette and The Kings had more than one hit each (“Nobody”, “Down the Road” and “Don’t Let Me Know”, “Unstoppable” respectively). And Klaatu released more psychedelic music on their first two albums than Andy Frost plays all weekend on ‘Psychedelic Sunday’! I exaggerate of course, but these are suggestions from other ‘Haters’ who are truly tired of the entire April Wine, BTO, Trooper, Loverboy, Tragically Hip, and Guess Who songbooks that need to be retired, at least temporarily, so they aren’t taken for granted.

Now to their credit, Q has attempted, on occasion, to add new music from classic acts but when old race horses like Tom Cochrane, The Tragically Hip and Pearl Jam are the only ones getting the exception someone’s just not looking hard enough. Kudos for adding the new Sheepdogs track but they’ve only made it to air because the entire Corus Entertainment radio chain (of which CILQ is part of) are playlisting it due to the band’s Rolling Stone front cover appearance contest fluke last year. If they truly believed in classic new music, The Trews and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings would have been fast-tracked years ago.

If the above sounds like I’m proving Jeff Woods’ ‘Hater of the Year’ argument, let me tell you what I think Q107 has done right:

1) They brought back John Derringer for the morning drive. Fired in the ‘90s for a politically charged commentary he made during his show and sent to a Quebec radio station gulag, Derringer is one of the smartest and most consistently PG-13 (really, a soft R) rated hosts on a radio station that isn’t driven by talk.

2) They picked up syndicated shows like Little Steven’s “Underground Garage”, Ronnie Wood’s “Wednesday Nights with Ronnie Wood” and Alice Cooper’s “Saturday Nights with Alice Cooper”. Combined these shows have given Q107 a more diverse playlist that frequently includes blues, jazz, punk and metal.

3) They brought back Al Joynes. Al had left to pursue video production in the 2000’s and his return on Saturday and Sunday mornings is like having a buddy beside you bringing you coffee and Advil when you’ve had a rough night before. He’s an old-school DJ with brain-powered musical knowledge and witty quips.

4) Kim Mitchell on the rush hour drive. Having Mitchell sitting beside you in the passenger seat while you’re about to kill other drivers is the antidote to your frustration. He’s one of the guys. One of the COOL  guys. He’s got stories from the road and the segment where he profiles a famous song he wishes he’d written shows how humble a bona-fide rock star can be. Now if the station would just dial down the Max Webster songs…it would be perfect.

5) Andy Frost’s ‘Psychedelic Sundays’ – but only since he stopped pretending the studio was filled with patchouli oil and he was the Maharishi Mayesh Yogi. He canned the stupid Grateful Dead drug act and just spins deep album tracks now. As it should be.

Well, Mighty Q…you’ve got about half of your coolness still intact. Fix your saggy bottomed playlist  – how about The Beatles’ “Love You To” instead of the 4,000,000th recitation of “Hey Drool” – and maybe folks will stop snickering behind your back and calling you Q-One-Oh-Zeppelin. I think you should study David Marsden’s approach to guerrilla programming as a base source. The playlists are by no means compatible, but David’s playing the field – not everyone will like every song – but more listeners will stick around to catch the truly worthy surprises if you give them some.

And for God’s sake, release a Q107 ‘Homegrown’ greatest hits package already. I’ve got the support of the bands and access to the songs through my own Classic Rock re-issues label. You could give the things away and drive the nostalgia meter through the roof. It’s a promotional no brainer.

Yours in love and hate, Jaimie Vernon

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

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.

8 Responses to “Jaimie Vernon: LIFE’S A CANADIAN ROCK – THE MIGHTY Q”

  1. Congradulations, Jaimie on your well-deserved award. Tell it like it is!

  2. Myke McDonald Says:

    Jaimie when you tell the truth to corporate Canada you become labeled a hater. A bad guy. Keep it up piss off the real hatred of he world by pointing out their bullshit.
    Myke

  3. Changing a financially bulging corporation’s profile is like trying to take a jar of honey from a 800 pound black bear. But you speak the truth Jamie! Put on your bear suit! Go get’ em!
    Rock-on!

  4. […] The Mighty Q107 Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  5. Al Molson Says:

    You lost me when you called Led Zeppelin “Hacks.” Do you not think that the Stones, the Beatles, Clapton, or any other performer since 1964 has ever stole a lick from another artist?

  6. Susan Berry (Federighi) Says:

    Hey Bob,
    I was thinking about you a few days ago and my granddaughter, Megan found your Facebook. Now she found this page and even though I’m not trying to make a World Press page, I’m writing because I am happy she found you, my brother! If you answer her on Facebook, I ‘ll start one of my own so we can really talk, Wow, has it been awhile??!!!!! She has an file of pictures of me on her Facebook, and I’d love to span the years and catch up. We could talk for a week. Accept her friend request and we’ll go from there. Her name is Megan Ford and she wrote to you for me,
    My email address is sfed147@aol.com
    Hurry up!

    Susan Berry (Federighi)

  7. Jaimie either folks agree or dis-agree you are always honest of your views the way our country has got swallowed up by the big suits that are taking over every radio station to add more dough to them. I been very supported of Q107 for the last 12 years and been very grateful of attending many events whenever I attend them. I sincerely hope they realised it’s just more Canadian acts that need to be heard on Q107 instewad of playing the same tunes by BTO, Rush, Guess Who almost daily of the week. Keep up the amazing work.

  8. Steve George Says:

    The very first Q107 Homegrown Contest 1978 was won by “January with an H”. The winning composition Nothing Without You was written by Turco/Ducas. The live battle of the bands has held at The Colonial Tavern. All the original Q107 DJs were there. Macko, Donabie, Gary Slaight. Flohil was one of the judges.

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