Segarini: Happy Anniversary MuchMusic

August 31st, 1984 saw the launch of Much Music in Canada. Unlike MTV, which had launched 3 years earlier, Much was a hotbed of innovation, creativity, and rebellious youth. We were not just the “Nation’s Music Station”, we were a frigate in a sea of uncharted waters, captained by a wide-grinned Rapscallion, manned by a rag-tag crew of slightly bent Orphans, Rakes, and Rowdies, and carrying a cargo of mousse-haired, shoulder-padded Dreamers armed with guitars, drums, and confidence. We were a Skid Row Noah’s Ark with a Penthouse view, and enough beer, blow, and bluster to build an Empire. It was the 1984…no one knew where their kids were….

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After many years in rock bands, and a few in radio, I was summarily drafted into television by a wily and mischievous imp named John Martin. I had worked with John before, once as the subject of a CHUM/CITY TV Simulcast television special filmed at the Palais Royal with The Segarini Band, and then as the Announcer Voice over on a few specials with the likes of Motorhead. In our circle of friends at the time was an ex CHUM DJ named J.D Roberts, (Pictured here Bob, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickenson, and J.D),  an absolutely charming and professional broadcaster and journalist who was the host, along with Jeanne Becker, of the long running New Music on CITY TV, to this day the best music newsmagazine that ever aired. Many others would follow, but J.D, Jeanne, and singer/songwriter and host of CITY TVs City Limits, Christopher Ward, were the foundation of Much Music’s personable stable of hosts, creative writers, and commentators.

There was no budget, no room, no precedent, and no way we were going to fuck it up. The Man Upstairs, Moses Znaimer, whose brilliant stamp was all over this thing, would just show up periodically, yell at a few people to motivate us, and disappear back into his Aerie, leaving the operation in the hands of John Martin, the previously mentioned leader of the pack.

Much wasn’t much in those days as the story below will evidence, but it had a bigger heart, a smaller ego, and a sense of joy that made it THE place to work in the entertainment industry in Canada. Once inside that room, you had a chance to build a career, but unlike today, that wasn’t the motivation behind anybody wanting to be there. It was where the action was…and it was a blast. Much’s policy of featuring local music, of elevating Canadian artists to the same stature as the British and American acts that held sway at the time, was ground-breaking. As many videos and interviews were afforded the local acts as any of the artists who came from without. Much Music gave equality to Canadian artists, and was instrumental in opening the door to their international recognition and acceptance. Teenage Head/David Bendeth Interview

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When Much celebrated its 25th Anniversary a few years ago, the current honchos chose not to celebrate the station’s beginnings or past. The word from on high was, ‘nobody would care’. Well, let me tell you something Mr. Smarty Pants Big Shot…everyone who worked there up to and including the move from 99 to 299 Queen, and every person who tuned in from coast to coast and grew up with Much Music and the music it presented, may have grown up and out of your target demographic, but every one of them, and their kids, and for some, their grandkids, would have tuned in to the festivities and had a ball remembering when you were about music and not a slew of ‘reality’ shows featuring a low-brow bunch of knuckle draggers whose desperate lives at least make us feel better about our own, but little else.

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The worst blow, the biggest hurt, came from not being able to get together again to celebrate something we all contributed to and was a big part of our lives. We did have a party after the snub, and it was filled to the brim with great people,, great stories, and a great time. (Pictured: Jim Shutsa, Claude Barnes, Bob, and Janice Groom) Much, like any ‘venerable’ institution, was built by people who cared, and carried aloft by people who also cared for what Much presented to them. You should NEVER forget that. Without the people, both creating, and enjoying what you do, any business is just a building. Much Music started out in one room in a tiny, overcrowded building full of hopeful, hard-working boys and girls to whom music was a passion. We were “The Nation’s Music Station”, and we have never forgotten it…you shouldn’t either. Much Music TV Ad

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Flashback….

In early Spring of 1984 I got another life changing phone call, this one from John Martin. I had known John from working with him on some of CITY TV’s live concerts for John’s show The New Music. Warren Cosford had organized a traveling show of music videos that toured local schools and showed the latest vids on a big screen with a huge sound system and reinvented the sock-hop in the process. These shows were massively successful, and it occurred to Warren, John, and Moses Znaimer that it was time for a Canadian equivalent to MTV to be launched in Canada. The phone call asked for a meeting on the rooftop patio at Queen Street’s Bamboo, and when we had that meeting, John asked me to become one of 3 producers of the MuchMusic Television Network.

Again, this is covered at length in the DBAWIS archives, but I will repeat the one exchange with John I will never forget.

“What does a producer do in television John?” I asked.

“You’ll find out” he answered with a Cheshire Cat smile…

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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.

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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.

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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, hoping Moses didn’t yell at me while I wondered 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. Much Music 1986 Flashback with Commercials

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Jamaican Patties, coffee, and Zen Chili…some stories

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. As everyone in the room saw what was happening on the monitors 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…

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. Pictured: Chris, Denise Donlon, Michael Williams, Erica Ehm

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. Great memories. Great people. Happy Anniversary everyone. Much I.Ds

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Segarini’s regular 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, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” 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 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

 

8 Responses to “Segarini: Happy Anniversary MuchMusic”

  1. Bob, thank you so much for writing this! You’ve told it exactly like it was. This should be required reading for anybody who really wants to know how Much worked, back in the early days. Brilliant!

  2. Erica Ehm, Steve Anthony and many of those other early VJs totally shaped my much music experience growing up. i still miss those days of all music and less…filler? i’m glad you got to celebrate in your own way 🙂

  3. Like Tracey Chapman,nice to be thought of ! Even for a moment in time…MW

  4. Oh Bob ,knee deep in rock n roll too but you never seemed to get it but Metallica and the Power Hour crowd did,you like most did not really know the depth of my musical knowledge and only saw what made the story for you…a black man playing black videos. I expected better from you but you were not there till the end. Missed ya!

  5. MuchMusic is where I first heard Fishbone’s Party at Ground Zero. I will always remember where I was when I first saw the video. Michael Williams you were the BEST–I understood your plight then and still do today.

  6. […] By the time the broadcast license for MuchMusic came through in 1984, CHUM/Citytv had harnessed their mutual visual and sonic prowess: The New Music, City Limits, The CHUM 30 Countdown and Toronto Rocks allowed the nimble team who built the house of Much to master their trade and complement innovation with economy, speed and wit. MTV could be challenged, and perhaps even bested. The “Nation’s Music Station” launched on August 31, 1984, with J.D Roberts and Christopher Ward jumping through our screens, while the first proper music video aired was Rush’s “The Enemy Within” fact fans. For a truly gonzo read on the early Wild West days of MuchMusic, check out Bob Segarini’s firsthand account here. […]

  7. I think a very big point about Much Music was missed IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC. I may not have cared when Much Music was launched in 1984 because I was only 8 but now I care more about it now than I ever did. The head haunchos at CTV Bell Media should give Much Music back to Moses or the CRTC should loosen its restrictions on MTV and MTV2 so that they can start playing music videos because at this point the Aux channel is the only one that’s playing music videos all day all the time.

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