Segarini: Sam the Record Man

Sam Sniderman: For our readers from the U.S and the rest of the world, Sam was to record retail stores what Col. Sanders was to fried chicken. Someone who not only loved what he did, but did it better than anyone else. The only difference between him and the Col. was that Sam never sold out to big business and closed his stores rather than cheapen the product and sell out. He truly was one of a kind. I say was, because Sam passed away either late last night or early this morning, surrounded by family and friends, in his sleep. He was 92.

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Now 92 is a good run by anyone’s standards, but Sam was one of those guys we wish would have gotten an extended stay. An old school mensch that loved his business and his customers, and did a whole lot more than just peddle vinyl to casual fans.

Sam fed the lust for music and records that used to flourish in the hearts and souls of the populace. He also championed Canadian music long before it became fashionable, and he was a presence in his stores…the jolly fellow who looked and acted more like a custodial employee than the big boss. Sam was his business, on site every day, enjoying the buzz, meeting his customers and making them fans. His flagship store on Yonge Street at Gould in downtown Toronto started out small and spread like a rumour until it occupied most of his end of the block, a maze of aisles and floors that were constantly being trolled for treasures you would almost certainly find. There were no bells or whistles, there were only thousands of records, joined and abandoned over the years by tapes, cassettes and 8-tracks, and finally CDs, the suicidal miss-step by the record industry that led to the digital age of take-what-you-want from the comfort of your own home…in front of your computer…in your underwear.

When radio became a closed shop and started to only play ‘the hits’, people began going to the big box stores and picking up the latest flash in the pan while stores like Sam’s began to languish on the sidelines. Generations of loyal friends, fans, and customers, replaced by later generations whose taste in music turned from worth to popularity, not browsing for unheard treasure, but rather grabbing the overpriced flavour of the moment and heading back out into the mall to find a Starbucks. Sam retired, and his stores, which covered this vast expanse of hockey fans and snow blowers we call Canada, began to close, lights in the wilderness going out, one by one, across Our Home and Native Land until most were gone, and an era came to an end.

The flagship store, with its iconic, massive neon sign, remained open. Even with dwindling clientele, the buzz was quieter, a whisper, really, but still there. The last of the browsing collectors and young, newly minted musical archeologists, pouring over the bins, climbing the stairs, and blowing dust off of 12 inch flat squares of cardboard and shrinkwrap to see what lay beneath. And then it too, was gone.

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For a time, Sam had a second floor walkup restaurant next to his store on Yonge Street called ‘Sam the Chinese Food Man’. Like the record store, the menu was vast and interesting, and the merchandise was wonderful.

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When Gotta Have Pop was released, I did a promotional tour of Canada, babysat by ‘Daddy Cool’ himself, Dave Booth (who set all the clocks in my house, including my wristwatch an hour ahead so I wouldn’t be late for the trip or my interviews on the road) and we shook hands with DJs in radio stations from hither, to thither, to yon, and when we returned to Toronto I begged off of ever doing it again. The label’s boss, Wolfgang Spegg, came up with a great idea; he would send out a jukebox to display in the front windows of Sam’s stores across the country instead of sending me. The money saved on bar tabs and fancy dinners for me, Dave, and myriad music directors alone probably saved millions. I only wish I had the pictures of the 2 weeks the Gotta Have Pop window display (complete with Jukebox and singles strewn about like the album cover) dominated Sam’s store on Yonge Street. But I don’t. I will tell you how proud it made me, and how exciting it was to drive by and see, or (once) standing next to the window with all the posters of me leaning on the jukebox, album covers, etc, to see if anyone would recognize me. Some did. I signed quite a few albums that afternoon.

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Thanks to the success of the Jukebox’s tour of windows, we (The Segarini Band) were asked to play Sam’s Christmas Party that year. The party was held next door at Sam The Chinese Food Man. It was a great and memorable night.

Watching Sam Sniderman beaming like a schoolkid, surrounded by family, friends, and employees who regarded him more as a beloved uncle or mentor that night, has stayed with me all these years. He reminded me of my dad…he was happy. Happy with his life. Happy with his family. Happy doing what he did.

The man was fucking happy.

And that…not to mention the gigantic amount of Chinese food I got to take home that night…is all any of us could possibly hope for. To be happy in this life, happy doing what we do, happy with our friends and family. That, my friends, is success.

So Bon Voyage, Mr. Sniderman. Thanks for all the music, the experience of shopping in your stores, and the fond, too few memories of you touching my life. It was indeed a pleasure.

Sam’s Commercial 1987

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The Emmys: Bad sound was a problem? The biggest problem with the Emmys is that they continually award less deserving shows more often than good ones.
Of course, the public taste has always been a mystery to me.
Modern Family, an insulting collection of clichés and stereotypes wins ‘best comedy’ and acting awards yet again? Homeland, which moves slower than a supermarket checkout line wins best drama? At least Jon Cryer got a nod.
I was out listening to a great local band (from Welland/Niagara-on-the-Lake, actually) instead of watching, although if I had been home, I would have missed the Emmys by either washing my hair or repeatedly slamming my head with the fridge door.
Either would be preferable.

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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.

5 Responses to “Segarini: Sam the Record Man”

  1. Hilariously, we both chose the same WordPress format, and both chose some of the same photos to paste into our Sam tributes. I feel like we’re related.

    • Great minds…oh well. Paul, if I were your brother, we would be on the yacht Fat Bastard eating beluga, drinking veuve clicquot, and ravishing adoring Asian twins. Let me know when you’re back in Toronto. We’ll sit in a bar like fat bastards, eating nachos and drinking PBR and being maced by frightened Asian twins.

  2. Nicely articulated tribute, Bob.
    Sam was so much more than his store; he and his (mostly Jewish) contemporaries such as Shopsowitz and Mirvish gave staid button-down Toronto a much-needed shot of irreverent chutzpah.
    They had fun with their entrepeneurialism, and they gave so much back to the community! In Sam’s case, he had a vital role in facilitating the birth and renaissance of the Canadian recording industry.
    I worked for Capitol Records for several years – coinciding with your Gotta Have Pop – and I spent many a happy hour at Sam’s sales racks of chart hits and the buried stacks of imports and rarities.
    I loved the store and I respected the man.
    Thanks for capturing the essence of a unique man and a true mensch.

  3. Tears when I heard. Have such great memories I will carry with me. Thanks Sam. R.I.P.

  4. I think it’s particularly notabe that Sam was the “Inventer” of the radio station charts… before he started a CHUM top 30 chart to promote sales in his store, there were no local charts, just Billboard etc top 100’s… within a few years every major station in North America had a local chart, thanks to Sam.

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