Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 15…Much Music, Rap, Hip Hop and Grunge, The End is Near

Part 14 can be found here

You want me to do what?

When I asked John (Martin) what a television producer did, I expected an answer. You know, words strung together in such a fashion as to deliver pertinent information explaining what it was a person had to do that would result in television being produced in a timely and acceptable manner. “You’ll find out”, was not an acceptable answer.

I said, “Seriously, what does a television producer do.”

John let out a cloud of cigarette smoke, leaned across the table and, looking a lot like the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, said, “Seriously, you’ll find out” and leaned back into his chair, his grin now so large I didn’t think his face could contain it. If you’ve ever sat with John, you will remember that smile, a cross between Prince Charles, Mr. Ed, and a white picket fence.

He then told me his plans. His eyes lit up as he spoke, arms flailing about in the air, cigarette ash flying and beer spilling from the Blue he was waving around. He was excited. Laughing as he talked, clearly, passionately, unable to contain himself. His enthusiasm was infectious, and within minutes, I was as excited as he was.

John could do that to you. He was a force of nature.

I had to choose between staying at Q107, or stumbling blindly into the unknown. I asked Gary, (Slaight), if I could stay on at Q doing a different shift, and work at John’s music television station during the day, and he said no.

In the end, the attraction of the unknown, and the opportunity to once again be at ground zero was too appealing to pass up.

For the third time in my life, I was going to let the seat of my pants do the flying.

A little history lesson…

Much Music wasn’t always at 299 Queen Street West. It had its beginnings way down the street on the ‘wrong’ side of town. If you stood on the sidewalk out in front of 99 Queen Street East and threw a rock towards the rising sun, you could hit a hooker on the Jarvis Track. Or a drunk. Or a bum. We didn’t have sex workers, alcoholics, or homeless people yet, we just had hookers, drunks, and bums.

The seeds of what was to become Much Music started in this little 4 story building, first with the advent of John Martin’s The New Music in 1979, which was the absolutely first newsmagazine styled show that focused on contemporary music in North America, exposing local Toronto artists to a television audience across the country as well as major, (and not so major), touring bands from Canada and all over the world, and introduced a popular radio personality to TV viewers, J.D Roberts, seen here in 1981, a full two months before MTV launched, with a nice piece on Triumph at the Knob Hill, and, a few years later, with a wonderful no-holds-barred experiment that ran on Friday and Saturday nights from midnight to 6 in the morning. It was called City Limits, and was hosted by one Christopher Ward.

So now you have the introspective reportage and informative interview style of The New Music, and the humour and edginess of City Limits, and two very likable personalities with totally different approaches. That, combined with Warren Cosford and CHUM’s music savvy and early acceptance of music videos, and Moses Znaimer’s intuitive and incredible knack of pushing the envelope and trusting people’s passion and vision, would come together in a heretofore unimaginable stew.

It was just a matter of time.

One room…that’s all?

A month or two before we went to air, John started to assemble his family in our new home. The first time I walked into the space, it was full of people painting walls, laying cable, moving furniture, and bumping into one another.

“Where’s the rest of the studios and offices”, I asked.

“This is it”, said John, cigarette dangling from the picket fence and a box of video tapes in his hands.

“This is it?” I looked around.

Much Music was a single room that would eventually contain about 20 desks, a little glass walled audio control room, 2 big old school television cameras on dollies, a couple of editing bays, and, at the far end of the room, the entire brain of the whole operation. The VCR’s, tape ops, director, G5 effects operator, a wall of monitors, and various other wizards and electronics would sit at what looked like the lunch counter at Woolworths and somehow translate the mayhem that went on in this room into television entertainment for the whole of Canada.

It did not seem possible. A bunch of 20-somethings and a handful of 30-somethings being allowed to create a television network based on music and pop culture.

What on earth was Moses smoking?

There were three of us designated as producers. Michael Haydon, Anne Howard, and me. We worked like firemen. 4 days on, 3 days off, 2 of the days you wrote shows, created the playlists, and chatted with whoever was VJ’ing those days, and the other 2 days, you were on the floor, wearing a headset and giving the 3, 2, 1, visual signals to your VJ so he knew when to talk. We had two camera men, and two directors,

Dennis Saunders and Jim Shutsa, a finer pair of professional yet fun loving guys you would be hard pressed to duplicate. Michael handled Chris Ward’s segments almost all of the time, and became the leader of the Booze Mothers, Much’s house band, who eventually got their own TV special.

Michael and Anne knew what they were doing at all times. I, on the other hand, was very much like Homer Simpson, wondering when I was going to accidentally blow the place up.

We usually started around 10 in the morning. At noon, we would go live and shoot 6 hours of the live broadcast, which would then be repeated an additional 3 times until noon the next day, when we would do it all over again. A lot of work, but even though it was exhausting to do, people would stay after 6, and sometimes work until 6 the next morning, doing bits and drop ins, experimenting, and creating.

No one seemed to mind.

There were no memos telling us not to do that. There were no rules at all. It was heaven…and led to stuff like this.

Joining J.D and Chris were Michael Williams, a Cleveland native that was knee deep in soul music and had a voice like Barry White’s, and Catherine McClenahan, a drop dead beautiful woman who was great at everything she did. She didn’t stay long, for whatever reason, and she ended up marrying the guy that played Dauber on Coach.

Catherine was Much’s first female presenter. Erica Ehm was the receptionist who moved up later on, and no, she is not Moses’ Goddaughter or niece or anything. Jeanne Beker was on board doing Rock News and interview pieces. Marv was our sound man, and among the other hard working kids, Simon and Tony, a tape op, would eventually become hosts, Simon Evans and Master T.

Jamaican Patties, coffee, and Zen Chili…

10:00 am was like 5:00 am to me. I would get coffee at this little stand at the corner of Church and Queen. I would also get a couple of meat patties to eat until lunch.

They were hotter than hell. It got to the point when you could always find me in the can around 11:00, cursing Jamaica.

We had a deal with a place called The Groaning Board that provided all of us with lunch every day. The only problem was it was healthy food. The Chili was vegetable unless you begged for meat. There were more grains in the bread than sand on a beach. Once, I asked for a ham sandwich on white bread with mayo, iceberg lettuce, and dill pickles. I got a dry slab of pork on pumpernickel with romaine lettuce, miracle whip, and cucumbers.

Eventually most of us brought lunch or sent somebody to Mickey D’s or KFC.

Because of the crowded conditions some pretty funny shit happened once in a while. One of the women that worked there had to flip through the pages of the new Billboard to get some info, which was on my desk, at the same time that Michael Williams was doing a throw to a video. He was standing at Chris’s desk which was buttressed up against mine. Unable to stop her, (we were live), she barreled into the shot, and bent over my desk in front of Michael, and began flipping through the Billboard, which was below frame and not visible on camera, her head bobbing up and down with each turn of the page. When everyone in the room saw what was happening on the monitors, it looked on screen as though we were televising the first live blow job in the history of television. It was all we could do not to break into gales of laughter. When the shot was done, we all lost it, the woman in question asked what was so funny, and somebody told her.

A lot of us almost got fired that day.

Chris keeping a straight face during an interview while the lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood tried to pick him up.

Julian Lennon’s manager smoking my entire pack of Camel Lights in about an hour, and not even saying thanks.

Going to Fillmore’s, a strip joint, to meet a friend of mine and having J.D along with me for an after work drink. We weren’t at the bar for more than three minutes when every girl that wasn’t wrapped around a pole gravitated to John and started presenting themselves. J.D, always a gentleman and professional to a fault, made it out alive without hurting anybody’s feelings, and with all his clothes still zipped and buttoned.

Little Richard being Little Richard.

Drinking and having wings at Hart’s all the time with most of the staff. We were a jolly bunch.

Filling in on camera occasionally, Tina Hart decided one afternoon that I needed some makeup and a hair style. I went on camera one layer of rouge short of looking like I should be working at Ringling Brothers. Very funny, Tina…

Moses popping in occasionally and inspecting the troops. It was like Mr. Burns checking to see if the place was on fire yet.

Chasing Mike Williams down the hall when he would go into the vault and come out with 25 videos, all by black artists. I would have to explain to him that we weren’t Soul Train.

Dinner and drinks at Emilio’s, which was right next door to us. John would hold court, sometimes with Moses, and we would all exchange ideas, stories, and suggestions while having a great meal and a few pints.

There wasn’t one person there that wasn’t into the music. Everyone would make suggestions. When we had our weekly music meetings and looked at the new releases, there was plenty of chatter about what to play and how often to play it. The result was a mix of everything from James Brown to Flock of Seagulls to Rush, Liona Boyd, Earth Wind and Fire, and everything in between.

If you were in the building, working as an intern, or getting coffee, or anything, you had an opportunity to be on-air, and some rose to the occasion and still have careers to this day.

Where MTV was scripted, stationary, and fairly ‘white bread’, we were shooting throws all over the building, out on the fire escape, the roof, and even the john. Like CITY-TV…we were Everywhere!

Christopher brought people like Mike Myers into the mix, with sketches and set ups that existed nowhere else on television at the time. And it was always…always, about the music.

The Beginning of the End.

For over 4 decades, since radio embraced recorded music as the replacement for its previous entertainment content, which was busy jumping ship and rushing to television, both radio and records had worked in consort to bring new and interesting music to the public. There were to be two more massive pop culture explosions before it all began to shift mainly from content to commerce, and the end of musical dominance for both radio and records, and even television’s music sources like MTV, who would find themselves becoming something other than what they had been…

Based on rhythms and spoken word music from Africa as well as Jamaica and American jazz and beat poets, a form of music began to appear on the streets of New York City that had neither record labels nor radio paying any attention. It was borne aloft by local music fans and a couple of currently successful musical artists in late 1979, even though the early foundations had been around for several years, and the roots of the new music for decades, this genre of music would not take off almost another decade. Nile Rodgers  of Chic explains. Here are the two songs Nile refers to, although they are the same song when you get right down to it. Good Times and Rapper’s Delight. In 1981, Blondie also reacted to the music they had turned Nile Rodgers on to and released this classic hit.

Rhythm And Poetry = RAP

Hip Hop and Rap weren’t always about bitches, Ho’s, Bling, and the Benjamin’s. There was a time when this music was vital, relevant, and undeniable.

Hip Hop’s dance moves would spring from as early as 1925 and the moves of Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker at the Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem. The Dude is Poppin’! Even ‘40’s music hinted at the genre. Here’s a wonderful clip done recently as a remix with a ‘40’s Andrews Sisters film clip as its basis. Break dancing? Here’s another clip from the ‘40’s. DJ Battling would have its roots in contests between disc jockeys that date back to the 1950’s. The rhyming inherent in Hip Hop and rap can, in part, be traced to Cassius Clay’s bragging in 1965 on the fight he had with Sonny Liston.

Clay comes out to meet Liston
And Liston starts to retreat
If Liston goes back any further
He’ll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings with a left,
Clay swings with a right,
Look at young Cassius
Carry the fight.
Liston keeps backing
But there’s not enough room
It’s a matter of time…

In 1969 James Brown records two songs that would further influence the drum programming in today’s rap – “Sex Machine” with John Starks playing the drums and “Funky Drummer” with Clyde Stubblefield on the drums. On 1962’s Live at the Apollo, Brown’s drummer Clayton Fillyau influences a sound that is now known as the break beat. The break beat would later inspire the b-boy movement, as breakers danced to these beats at block parties.

In 1970, the Last Poets would release their first album and would later turn up on Common’s 2005 rap anthem, “The Corner.”)  The next year (1971), Aretha Franklin records a B-Boy song called ‘Rock Steady, The Rock Steady Crew would take breakdancing to the mainstream with crews all over the world. Then there was this game changing event in 1973: DJ Kool Herc (born Clive Campbell in Jamaica and nicknamed Hercules in grad school because of his size) deejays his first block party (his sister’s birthday) at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Bronx, NY. Herc would often buy two copies of a record and stretch the break parts by using two turntables and mixing in both records before the break ends. The Zulu Nation is officially formed by a student of Stevenson High school named Kevin Donovan. Donovan later changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim in honor of an ancient Zulu chief. Kool Herc is often referred to as the Father of Hop Hop, and Afrika Bambaataa, sampling Kraftwerk, had one of the early hits in the genre in 1982. In 1983, Grandmaster Flash surfaced on record and had 2 major and influential releases in the black community. These records were beyond important. They were seminal as a starting point for young street kids to follow a career in music. The first, The Message, speaks of the current white pop culture influences infiltrating the black community at the time and the realities of street life. The second, White Lines is a great rail against cocaine, a drug that was decimating the projects and the lives of millions of young people at the time. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had a deep impact on people like Brian Eno and David  Bowie and the Clash, who had, in turn, influenced this music. That this form of music has been reduced to bragging about possessions, mistreating women, and how great you are, is as tragic as what has happened to traditional country music, rock and roll, and pop music. Oddly enough, Duran Duran covered White Lines, proving once again how influential this music was to other musicians, even though the general public was not aware of it, at least not to the point of mainstream success. It was another sign of radio becoming further and further removed from what was happening at street level in their local markets.

The fact that only a handful of this genre’s records saw the light of day on radio is telling. From 1986 through the end of the decade, Public Enemy, N.W.A, and LL Cool J and a few others had records on mainstream music radio, with some other artists gaining traction in their local markets. That’s not to say that the influence of these records was not making headway. Everyone from Paula Abdul to the Pet Shop Boys were paying attention, and adding elements of rap and hip hop to their music. By the end of the decade, the first of the Boy Bands were having hits, and disco had morphed into ‘dance music’, and thanks to Michael Jackson, dance oriented rhythm and blues, for some incredibly strange reason, became ‘Pop Music’, and he became the ‘King of Pop’.  The actual pop genre has still not recovered from that misnomer. For those of you that are enjoying this piece of history, watch this 20 minute video about the history of the ‘Amen Break”, and sampling in general.

By the end of the decade, records were being released by the likes of Biz Markie, Beastie Boys, Slick Rick and original heroes Run DMC, but this iteration of Hip Hop, commonly known as Rap, was popular on the street and with music lovers that understood the music as a touchstone to the angst and anger in the black community. Like Dylan had galvanized white youth in the ‘60’s, this music united and empowered black youth and street level kids who could relate to the political and social messages in the music. Mainstream radio and the mainstream music audience only heard the anger, and tuned it out or put it down. It wasn’t until the landmark recording of Walk this Way with Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Run DMC (as important a recording as the early rock records that introduced white mainstream American audiences to blues and country music), that radio, and the public really started to pay attention. Even so, it was an anomaly at the time, just hinting at the future domination of radio and records by the genre in the decades to come. And let’s face it…this is a fucking great record. Even so, the so called ‘Boy Bands’ would get more traction quicker, with record companies and radio.

From Wikipedia: In 1986, the hip-hop group Run DMC performed a cover of “ Walk This Way” with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry guesting on vocals and guitars. While working on Raising Hell, Rick Rubin pulled out Toys in the Attic (an album they freestyled over) and explained who Aerosmith were. While Run and DMC had no idea who Aerosmith were at that time, Jam Master Jay suggested remaking the song. Both Run and DMC did not like the idea. Later, however, they covered the song with Aerosmith. DMC later called it “a beautiful song” in a trailer for Guitar Hero. The 1986 version of the song is often credited as helping break rap into mainstream popular music as it was the first rap song to hit the Top 5 in the Billboard Hot 100,

While Rap (an early part of the Hip Hop culture) was getting its legs and building a grass roots following, the other significant musical explosion was festering in the Northwest city of Seattle Washington. It was called Grunge, a spinoff from the word ‘grungy’, a slang word from around 1965,which meant ‘filthy’ or ‘dirty’, and was supposedly coined by Green River, and later, Mud Honey vocalist, Mark Arrn. This would be one of the last locally produced musical fads that would garner attention from radio and records alike. The most important aspect of the movement wasn’t really the music, which was a combination of punk, rock, and metal elements and lyrically powered by the apathy and alienation of the slacker participants. That’s not a bad thing. The music and words touched a lot of young people who felt exactly the same way as the writers and musicians that made the music. If you were ever young (and of course, you were) you should remember sitting in your room in the dark or whining to your friends about how fucked up your life, and the world, seemed to be. Looking back on the 2 disparate musical trends, hip hop and grunge, it seems clear that one was angry and looking to change the way its participants and fans were treated and try to make the world a different if not better place, and the other was introspective, unable to change things and surrendering to the apathy and helplessness of youth. To put it simply, hip hop was about how awesome you could be, and grunge was about how awesome you weren’t.

The most important thing about Grunge was that it was a return to the days when young people made their own music. There was no artifice. It sounded as real as the emotions and world view that it was attempting to convey. In other words, like Elvis, and the Beatles, they made it sound like you could do it too. Teen angst is a powerful tool when it’s strained through a Les Paul and a stack of Marshalls.

When the first ‘grunge’ bands hit the boards in Seattle, the first palpable effect was to send everyone in the audiences out to form their own bands, and for a while, Seattle was home to dozens of clubs and hundreds of bands playing their plodding, distorted anthems not for fame and fortune, but to express their feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. A local label Sub Pop took notice, and suddenly, some of the bands had to deal with more success than they had bargained for.

The other important aspect of the culture springing up around the music was the total rejection of what had become the slick appearance and styles of the current stars of music. Flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and thrift store chic replaced the outlandish spandex and over teased hair of the Hair Nation bands and rock and roll in general. No frills, in either the music or the look. Simple chord structures, over distorted and fuzztoned guitars and the rhythm slowed down to dirge-like tempos, drove the lyrics and the angst home for every kid that heard it. At first, the music was confined to the Seattle area, but soon spread to other isolated cities in the Northwest, and with the emergence of Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, to the rest of the world.

Eventually, other bands popped up from other cities across the states. Most notably the Stone Temple Pilots out of San Diego California, and the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth from the Northeast. This was real music played by real kids, and there is nothing more powerful to an audience than artists that understand how they feel.

As the ‘90’s rolled out, radio experienced unprecedented advertising revenue and the record companies experienced massive record sales. Rap, Grunge, Boy Bands, Dance Music, and New Country were fueling the thriving businesses, and there was something for everyone available on the radio and in the record stores.

The End is Near…

Two very important things happened in the last half of the decade that would eventually lead to the present state of radio and records we have today. Three, actually, if you count a mistake made by the record companies in 1999 that would reverse the fortunes they had worked so diligently to achieve. More about these events next time.

Music would remain healthy and ever changing, genres would split off into sub-genres and new directions, but radio and the record companies would have very little to do with the new paradigm for music discovery and where the music was to be found. What will happen to radio and record manufacturers remains to be seen, and some of them continue to be wildly successful, but the days when radio and records ruled the world are at an end.

Next: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Concludes – Part 16 – What happened…and The Epilogue.

Segarini’s column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, andnominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

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