Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – The Nineties

The nineties were an interesting time for professionally. Although I had worked in the A&R department at Quality Records in the early eighties I didn’t have any signing powers. The only band that I fought for were The Rockaderos and although we released a fantastic Bob Segarini produced single, “I Wanna Dance Like Fred”, outside of a little play at CFNY, nothing happened to the E.P. and we never had the chance to release a full album. If anyone has an MP3 of the song please feel free to send it to me as all I have are a few old cassettes of the band.

As I covered the eighties last week  I thought I would talk about a couple of  Canadian songs from the nineties that rocked my world. Of course, because of my A&R gig at MCA now I was in the position to sign what I liked. Well, I could try to sign what I liked, didn’t always get my way.

“Underwhelmed”- Sloan 1992
One of my first A&R field trips was to the East Coast Music Awards weekend in Halifax. Kim Cooke, who was doing A&R for Warner’s, Ric Arboit from Nettwerk, and I were invited to come down a few days before the awards show and “judge” some bands at the old Flamingo Tavern. About a week before I left I received a hand written three page letter from a young musician by the name of Jay Ferguson. He asked if I would be able to come to see his band Sloan while I was in town. I wish I still had that letter but it was thrown out by the cleaners at MCA one night. I had a box of “treasures” on the floor beside my desk and they assumed it was garbage.

I had never been to Halifax before and was pretty excited when I arrived. After the long drive from the airport I checked in my room and quickly hit the streets. My first stop was Sam The Record Man on Barrington Street. It was an important store on the Canadian landscape and success with a record at that location usually boded well for the rest of the country. I picked up a couple of pieces of local vinyl, and, as I had my Discman on the road with me, picked up a sampler from CKDU which was the campus station for Dalhousie, one of the local universities.

As I had a couple of hours to kill before I needed to be at The Flamingo I went to my r and order lobster from room service (hey I was a player now) and fired the CKDU sampler in the Discman. I can’t remember what else was on the disc, which I believe was called “Hear And Now”, but there was one song I kept coming back to. “She rolled her R’s, her beautiful R’s” would change to “She rolled her eyes, her beautiful eyes”. Repeat, pause, repeat. Can a young band be that clever? “I told her affection had two F’s”. Sold. If they band could cut it live this could get interesting.

That night they floored me. All four of them sang, they all changed instruments on stage, and they seemed to be having a great time. I set up a meeting with their manager the next morning and discussed what it would take to sign the band. Being pretty new at the game I wasn’t that sure what I could offer but I knew I wanted them.  Over the course of the next few months I knew what they really wanted was deal in the U.S.. The only way that could benefit us was to have one of our distributed labels pick them up. If that happened we would lose some control but still have the rights to the band in Canada. If we could sign a publishing deal that would sweeten the pot somewhat.

A young A&R guy from Geffen Records in L.A. paid me a courtesy call when he was in Toronto. I played him a bunch of bands I was looking at and then played him Sloan. He had the same reaction I did when he heard “Underwhelmed”. I hooked him up with the demos and put him in contact with management. A few weeks later we reconvened in Vancouver at the band was going to be playing the MusicWest conference. Todd was impressed enough to offer the band a deal to Geffen and MCA Canada did a publishing deal. For the time being it was a win-win.  Kinda crazy to think that it was 20 years ago. Still one of the greatest singles ever.

“When Something Stands For Nothing” – The Headstones 1993
Most submissions to the A&R department came in from unsolicited sources. Some labels (especially in the U.S.) would not allow these as someone could come back and say a label had stolen their material and turned it in to a hit. We allowed unsolicited material at MCA and I would listen to each and every one. The ones that came in the mail never got priority but they did get a listen. Most bands that are signed arrive upon the A&R desk via a lawyer, manager, booker or agent. When I was called by both a manager and an agent about The Headstones my curiosity was piqued. Joe Bamford and I had worked on a Josie Cotton (“Johnny Are You Queer”) deal when I was at Quality Records and I watched him and his partners hit it pretty big with The Kings and Glass Tiger. He wanted me to see his new boys. I knew Yvonne Matsell as she was the booker of Ultrasound on Queen Street East. Independently of Joe she called and told me to come out and check out a band she had booked for Wednesday night called The Headstones.

I arrived at the near empty club and took up my usual position at the back bar near the door. Each club had a spot I liked to watch a band from and I tended to always leave myself a quick escape route. It usually only took three or four songs to know if you had any interest. As I was still at the club waiting for the second set from the band I was more than interested. Lead singer Hugh Dillon came up to the bar for a drink and I offered to buy him one. Being a struggling musician he ordered a double. We had a brief chat about the band, and without him ever asking what I did for a living, he headed back to the stage. Near the end of the second set manager Joe Bamford showed up and joined me at the bar. At the end of the set Joe gave Hugh a new roll of band posters and then introduced me as the A&R guy from MCA. Hugh smacked me over the head with the posters and asked why the hell I didn’t tell him who I was. I told him he never asked.
Joe played me some demos, and as the band had already impressed me live, if the songs were good a deal could be put together. When I heard “When Something Stands For Nothing” I knew everything would be fine. The song was never the hit I hoped it would be but it was the beginning of a good career for the band. Seems to be some talk of them heading back out on the road later this year. Hopefully we will also hear some new material soon.

I had a chance to enjoy another lunch at The Shanghai Cowgirl last week (538 Queen Street West) and tried the sliders from the new menu and must report they were good and very filling. A nice addition to the menu. I was catching up with Evan from Gloryhound in the middle of their successful sold-out tour with The Cult. Both bands put on a great show at The Phoenix last Friday night

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, NXNE Magazine, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

8 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – The Nineties”

  1. Yeah, but what band were you seeing at the Shanghai Cowgirl?

  2. Hi Cam …. been looking for that Rockaderos song for a long time ..your column today made me search yet again >>>Gold Jerry ,gold !!!!

  3. i’ve loved the headstones for years, just heard “when something stands for nothing” on the radio as i was driving. your taste as always is impeccable!

  4. I remember attending those morning promotion/production meetings at Quality in , I believe Nadine Langlois’ office, as the production co-ordinator. I remember both you and I strongly agreed that Segarini should produce and have always wondered what became of the Rockaderos. On a side note, the PBR Bowie covers, my son is in the Born Ruffians. Be well sir.

  5. Jeff Stevens Says:

    Well, we’ll, we’ll. My name is Jeff Stevens and I was the drummer for the Rockaderos. Nice to see some others remember us. Too bad we didn’t get a few more breaks. I can tell you we played the he’ll out of our tunes. No prisoners live. Music is timeless.


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