JAIMIE VERNON – Bomb the Vaults and Free the Tapes!

During ten of the twenty-five years I ran Bullseye Records we focused on licensing and re-issuing Classic Rock and pop releases from the past. Generally it was a focus on albums that the public had loved and wanted re-mastered on CD. I approached the musicians that I knew who owned their own recordings (which is a rarity in Canada) starting with Greg Godovitz and Goddo. The band was able to enjoy a large resurgence and reconnection with their fan base as we rolled out and carefully marketed their 1977 self-titled debut, 1978’s “Who Cares?” and 1979’s “An Act of Goddo” plus their 1990s ‘King of Broken Hearts’ comeback record at the turn of the millennium. It wasn’t long before the fans were asking for a live record and a new studio album.

Both the band and label worked together to give the fans what they wanted which culminated in the 2008 double CD rarities collection of previously unreleased live recordings. It was a perfect marriage of business acumen and customer demand. This same strategy was applied to our ten-year licensing deal with Canadian mystery band Klaatu which included five studio albums, a ‘best of’ package, a collection of rarities in a 2CD boxed set, a vinyl album of rarities and six new live recordings captured during a  one-off reunion in 2005 in a performance created exclusively for 150 lucky fans.

Lesser known acts were also brought to the stable because they had their own previous pockets of fans who we searched out and made sure they knew that their favourite act was now available digitally as well : 1980s new wave act Figures At Dawn’s only studio release, a ‘best of’ from hard rock act Santers, a 2CD collection of Guess Who rarities and previously  unreleased outtakes and live performances, Randy Bachman & Chad Allen’s country-rock act Brave Belt (a two CD set with 24 page booklet and a previously unreleased bonus track that’s long become a collectible), soft-pop Vancouver folk duo Silverlode’s one studio album and intermittent singles, an out-of-print live album by The Kings, an anthology for 1970s Queen Street art-punk act The Dishes, former Jitters/Mods/Stiv Bators/Strange Advance drummer David Quinton’s solo album plus bonus tracks, Walter Zwol’s 1970s album oriented rock act Brutus’s GRT album and single B-sides, and a ‘best of’ New York City punk act The Fast plus many, many more.

Soon the artist-controlled licenses grew slim (Doucette, Teenage Head and others were beyond our reach) and so I began dealing with other record labels. There were great plans discussed with SONY Music to raid their vaults and re-issue Hellfield, Zon, The Tenants, Cats Can Fly, Killer Dwarfs and Gowan among other long-lost CanCon treasures. Only the Dwarfs’ ‘Stand Tall’ ever managed to see the light of day on Bullseye as SONY closed its licensing division temporarily while the company merged with BMG Records. My contact at the company disappeared and we were soon denied access to those great recordings. To date only Gowan has managed to reclaim his Sony releases for anniversary re-issues and a 2CD Zon ‘best of’ emerged about eight years ago on Escape Music out of Europe (which I helped compile and never got credit for). I kept pushing forward and made a deal for the former Bomb Records catalog that included three Segarini albums, Twitch, two Battered Wives releases, and a True Confessions album – all with related 7” single bonus tracks. Again, great care was made in re-mastering, repackaging and marketing these commercially low-yield albums (i.e. we weren’t expecting to sell millions, we were only wanting to fill holes in people’s music libraries). The Battered Wives and True Confessions releases remain un-issued as disgruntled band members in both camps have previous beefs with their ex-label in regards to royalties and, unfortunately, remain shelved.

The irony to our whole quest to make available past catalog is that Bullseye was founded on the backs of two bands – Moving Targetz and Swedish Fish in the 1980s. In my quest to get the best of the past re-issued there never seemed to be time to open Bullseye’s own vaults and exploit the masters we controlled outright.  Earlier this year I managed to get Moving Targetz’s best selling ‘Bulletproof’ album from 1988 up on iTunes but there’s another album, five EPs and two previously unavailable album-length recordings still in the vault. This week I met with Swedish Fish’s founder Simon Bedford-James and have put plans in motion to make available the best of their two 7” EPs, an album and some extraneous rogue tracks. It’s time Bullseye stops sitting on classic and possibly future classics.

The above background story is a ramp up to my plea to the major labels to do the same. We’ve seen many re-issues by the labels over the last decade – people like Rhino and Collectors Choice excel at digging up minimally popular releases from the vaults of the major labels, shining them up and giving fans of obscure pop and rock something new (or at least revived) to add to their collections. Exploiting every last Monkees tape and outtake in the vault might be going a bit too far but there is obviously a demand or Rhino would have stopped issuing the material a decade ago. EMI Canada ran a program back in the 1990s to re-introduce Canadians to some of their older copyrights like New Potatoes, The Staccatos and The Esquires. They did thematic music-related re-issues for acts in the 1970s and 1980s and also assembled a series of compilations that showcased the label’s greatest singles, by era, during their 50th anniversary celebrations. Around the same time Polygram (before it was eaten by Universal) had a similar project that managed to squeeze out The Paupers, Domenic Troiano and Ian & Sylvia anthologies.

But there was a disturbance in the Force. The niche market for these releases wasn’t yielding the profits the label accounting departments wanted to see and at the turn of the millennium the specialty re-issues of one-off bands and their cult audience buyers was abandoned. Instead, the majors decided to repackage every existing ‘best of’ album they could grab from the shelves without having to go more than a few feet into the archive rooms. No rarities. No bonus tracks. Just the same old same old with new artwork. Warners had The Essentials series and Universal cranked out sixty or seventy discs called the 20th Century Masters Millennium Series. A boon to music fans for sure, but unsatisfying to people looking for lost treasures. Worse still is that with the MP3 explosion (and its inherent illegal downloading blow-back) every major label just…gave up. Rather than dig deep and put amazing rarities and outtakes and obscure recordings up on iTunes (like the ten Ian Thomas studio albums and all the associated rare recordings that remain un-digitized to date), they decided they were going to milk the now limited CD market – which they, ironically, engineered – until it was dead.

To that end the only titles that would see the light of day would be those same tired-and-true hits packages. But how to you sucker the public into buying the same thing over and over again? You shuffle the track listing and get the marketing department to come up with a new marketing buzz-word like ‘The Green Collection’ (where they stuck everything in horrific looking recycled digi-wallets), ‘The Gold & Silver Series’, ‘The Ultimate Collection’, etc. And they’ve been doing this every year since 2000. If you take a look at GEMM.com or Musicstack.com – which are both online flea markets for music sellers/buyers – you’ll see a sad and disappointing trend of re-hashed anthology re-issues. Do we really need seven Duran Duran or Loverboy ‘best ofs’? Some would say we never needed ONE. These products continue to proliferate whether anyone wants them or not. The labels have officially stopped thinking of original ways of separating music listeners from their money. This is what happens when you lay off all your artist & repertoire employees. Back in music’s heyday – and the period where music was truly fun to collect – these guys would earn their keep by coming up with some truly brilliant marketing plans to keep the fans engaged. A glow-in-the-dark 12” album cover for Honeymoon Suite’s “Stay in the Light”? Brilliant. Laser-etched vinyl that projects shapes onto the ceiling of your stereo room by Split Enz and Styx? Extremely brilliant. A road-case shaped boxed set containing tour itinerary, postcards, poster, bumper sticker, family tree, 3” CD single and vinyl version of McCartney’s comeback album in 1989 and similar mini-sized boxes for each single off the new album? Fucking genius.

Aside from legacy artist re-issues like the recently released orgy boxes by Pink Floyd, McCartney and The Beach Boys’ worth-the-price-of-admission ‘Smile’ coffin, you’re getting nothing remotely worth your buying dollar anymore. Download a new re-issue from iTunes and you might get a downloadable bonus video featuring a bunch of talking head documentaries by people influenced by the record you’re now rediscovering. Who fucking cares? I really don’t want to hear Leon Russell jawing about Elton John being a great ‘kid’. Give me the damn outtakes from ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ you numb nuts. Or how about the unreleased ‘Wack ‘n’ Roll’ album by The Wackers or even the incredible live album they did that’s sitting in Elektra’s vaults in the US?

And that’s just the material we KNOW about. Few people realize that labels in the last 60 years have signed and recorded entire works by artists who you’ve never heard of and will never get to hear. Some acts get signed with great anticipation, head into the studio and for whatever reason are discarded by the label after on single is released or nothing is released at all; usually it’s due to some petty squabble or power struggle within the label  – almost always involving one A & R guy taking over for another and dropping the previous guy’s musical discoveries because, well, he was an ass-kissing, ladder climbing asshat; other times it’s a way of spending oodles of cash to appease the tax man come year-end, or sometimes it was just that the artists couldn’t cut it as song writers or studio performers. Label vaults are filled with these cast-offs. Bands and solo artists were offered a taste of the brass ring and then just as quickly discarded – usually destroying the act or a promising career in the process.

Here’s three such examples of Canadian music that needs to be liberated from label vaults. If the major labels aren’t exercising their ‘right of  first refusal’, let an indie label do it. One that wants the release to succeed:

TRANQUILITY BASE
In the mid-60s a young soon-to-be hit songwriter named Ian Thomas formed a folk trio in his hometown of Dundas, Ontario called Ian, Oliver and Nora, featuring Oliver McLeod and Nora Hutchinson. By the end of the ’60’s they were joined by Bob Doidge (future engineer and producer at Grant Avenue studio in Hamilton) and Nancy Ward. They rechristened themselves Tranquillity Base (after the famous crater on the Moon where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in July 1969). The band was best remembered for their phenomenal vocal abilities and often performed with the Toronto Symphony, Edmonton Symphony and The Hamilton Philharmonic. They were scooped up by Country label RCA in 1969 (which should have been the first red flag to the pop band) and recorded an album that year. The single “If You’re Lookin'”, produced by Bill Misener, went Top30 in Canada. The follow-up DJ-only promo single “In The Rain” followed but failed to chart. RCA claimed they didn’t hear anything else they liked in the remaining songs, squashed the album and cut them loose. The record remains unreleased.

COYOTE
Canadian act Coyote was formed in 1974 out of the ashes of RCA–Dunhill band Noah who had risen from the ashes of Yorkville recording act Tyme And A Half before that. The band played the Canadian circuit, recorded demos, and were signed to Capitol Records in the US with the help of producer John Capek and Capitol Canada executive Deane Cameron. They worked in Los Angeles with producer Spencer Proffer (Kick Axe) and recorded more than an album’s worth of original material. Capitol guaranteed their salaries which allowed them paid rehearsals and recording sessions. They had the freedom to play the bar and summer festival circuit as well. Known as a powerful live act with four lead singers – Al Manning, Glen Lacompte, Paul Lockyer and Chuck Bergeron (Gary Comeau didn’t sing) – their diversity worked against them as Capitol Canada and Capitol US argued over which songs to release and how to market the band. Their only single – “Never Want To Leave You” – was released in late 1976. Tired of the politics, Comeau quit in 1977. The band folded in 1978. The full album remains unreleased.

MILKWOOD
Milkwood had all the credentials to be a rock ‘n’ roll sensation. Barely months after forming, the Anglo-Canadian group – featuring Ron Frankel, Jack Geisinger (Moonquake), Louis McKelvey (Influence), Mary Lou Gauthier (Toulouse) and Malcolm Tomlinson (Syrinx) – won an album deal with the prestigious Polydor Records label and recorded with legendary producer Jerry Ragavoy at New York’s Hit Factory in the summer of 1969.Differences between Milkwood’s management and the label concerning distribution delayed the record, ultimately pulling the band apart before the album could be released, and the record was subsequently shelved.

Uber music fan and writer Nick Warburton has been on a crusade to get the album released. Read the full story about the band and its failure to launch here: http://www.nickwarburton.com/wordpress/?cat=16

Nick’s been working on a venture with Canadian re-issue label Pacemaker to get the album out. There’s some hurdles that need to be crossed but the owners of the tapes are willing to listen to a pitch if there are enough people interested in buying it – sight unseen (no one knows what the record actually sounds like). Read Nick’s treatise and then send your support in an email to Pacemaker’s Vic Goldman at vicgoldman@sympatico.ca

With the help of music fans everywhere we could make a difference in getting some of these lost recordings released to the ears of people that most appreciate them – you.

NEXT WEEK – a review of the new musical ‘Backbeat’, and CDs by Eytan Mirsky, Tom House and Dissonati.

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

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 recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

5 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – Bomb the Vaults and Free the Tapes!”

  1. Great read Jaimie – you have told it like it is (was?) (will be?)Label asshats seem to be in neverending supply. For example, I tried to licence David Wiffen’s first album from Concord for Canadian release and the company wants $5,000 – for something they will NEVER reissue themselves! No argument, do negotiation – pay the money or go away. I have other examples but the point is the majors are living in the 80’s, heads up their asses for the most part. We must keep up the fight to get this wonderful music available!!

  2. I put a post on fb, hope it helps. Keep at it Jamie.

  3. Coyote was not finished after Gary left as i replaced him and we went on writing , recording and singing our songs . folks like Randy Bachman , Vince Gill , Colleen Peterson , and the Prez of Capitol records and Deane Cameron were big believers . so were we ….

  4. I was the original bass player with Coyote (that’s me in the poster at the back next to Al Manning) and worked with them while recording the album for Capital. It did not go well. The producer had quite a different vision of what our sound should be despite having a killer live show that packed the venues. So as a result, the tracks suffered and when the “brass” got to hear them they were disappointed, probably not as much as I was. Capital would not promote the album (no surprise) and I left. I do wish I had a copy of the original demos though. They were hot, if a little rough around the edges. John (Jake) de Vries.

  5. Dan Ouellette Says:

    Hi

    Can you let me know where I can get the Goddo double CD mention in your blog above

    Thanks

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