JAIMIE VERNON – The Dream Never Dies…Just the Dreamer

vernon_1997I had every intention of starting up the long and windy story about the band I was in following my stint with Swindled in the early 1980s as a teenage punk rocker. Moving Targetz lasted 9 years, released two albums and five EPs, and robbed 50+ musicians of their will to live. It’s going to take the better part of this year to tell the tale. The story will have to wait.

This week a musical associate, whom I’ve known casually for about a decade, passed away after a seemingly abbreviated battle with cancer. His name was Rick Gunn.

He was one of several guitarists in the audacious and under-appreciated Cats & Dogs with Bob Segarini which is how I was initially introduced to him. GunnRick was the real deal. A down-to-earth working man’s guitarist. No flash. No unnecessary noodling or effluence. He was one of those journeymen who made it look effortless because every note was deliberate. Practice your ass off, drink your milk and eat cookies and you too might dream of being half as good as ‘The Boogieman’.

Gunn2His friends called him ‘Happy’ – a term of endearment to describe the fact that he was forever in a state of ‘guitar face’…which doesn’t lead to much smiling on stage. In my presence he never complained or ranted. When I talked to him last back at the beginning of February the prognosis on his health was not encouraging. He took it in stride. There was a quiet reserve in his voice – not sadness, but acceptance that he’d just have to jump over the next hurdle when it was thrown in his path. He’d been doing that since 2011 when doctors finally acknowledged that having broken bones in your body sans physical trauma was not natural.

He kept playing guitar even through the worst of his treatments. The Toronto music community fêted him – twice. Both times to raise the necessary funds to pay for his continued care…and to pay for the insult which was the excessive parking fees at Sunnybrook hospital.

Gunn3I was proud to have known him and to have been able to tell him how much he was appreciated while he was still alive. He was a fan of my writing. I was a fan of his musicality and as a wickedly smart and funny guy (maybe ‘Happy’ had another meaning after all).  There’s now a distinct hole in the world of music where he once stood. (Pictured: Rick with close friend and April Wine founder, David Henman)

My buddy Ivan Judd once sang “I don’t want the glory. I don’t want the fame. I just want people to remember my name.”

I’ve tried to live that credo for the better part of 30 years. To make a Rick Gunn-sized impression. To leave an indelible stamp on the people who know you, the people who hear you, and the people that are ultimately inspired by you.

Brenston_TurnerWe’re now at a precarious point in Rock ‘n’ Roll evolution. Most of our music heroes are as old as the genre itself – 62 years and counting if we are to believe that Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats created the first rock and roll song in 1951 with “Rocket 88” (others claim Bill Haley…but the fact remains…Rock is OLD). That puts us over the mountain and sliding down the other side.

As happened with the survivors of the two World Wars, we are losing the backbone of Rock and Roll through attrition. Rick Gunn might have died with his boots on (and listening to Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” according to long-time friend David Henman) but he was far too young to be bowing out The Big Threenow. The mortality rate in R’n’R is frighteningly short.  That Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis – all Godfathers of Rock and Roll – are still alive is unusual if not a complete anomaly. Most of their contemporaries shuffled off this mortal coil long ago. To put that in perspective, Buddy Holly would have turned 77 this year, Richie Valens 72, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson 83.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the shift toward obsolescence in the music industry comes at the same time as the passing of much of the Old Guard. Regimes fall with the loss of those that built them. Predecessors naturally choose a different path to success (or failure) than those that came Edselbefore. Everyone wants to make their own mark on the world – not uphold someone else’s. It’s why Edsel Ford tried to usurp his father, Henry. Edsel had fresher ideas. Henry fought him…and outlived his son. And found himself alone with ideas/ideals that were truly obsolete. The lesson to be learned was that the torch should have been passed sooner. Transitions could have been made without anyone getting their red, white and blues in a knot.
Hot Rod Lincoln
So, what do we do when the last of the icons, the game changers, the masterminds, and the defenders of the form are dead and gone? Time is running out as we hurtle down that mountain at 55MPH in our Hot Rod Lincolns .

Stompin’ Tom’s passing two weeks ago was a harbinger. Rick Gunn’s passing is the rapport that has triggered an avalanche.

The fickle finger of fate pointed at another handful of industry movers and shakers this week. The carnage has been indiscriminate. We mourn the dreamers. Here’s hoping their dreams, their hopes, their inspiration lives on in others.

HughMcCracken_BenjyKingAfter a long battle with leukemia renowned guitarist, producer and session player Hugh McCracken (pictured with Benjy King) passed away March 28. His resume reads like Zelig’s map of 1970s music history playing on some of the most noteworthy releases of the decade: Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram’ and Wings’ ‘Red Rose Speedway’, John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ (1980), Aretha Franklin’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, Bette Midler’s ‘The Divine Miss M’, Hall & Oates’ ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’, Van Morrison’s ‘T.B. Sheets’, Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’, Steely Dan’s ‘Katy Lied’ and ‘Gaucho’ (he’s does the solo on ‘Hey Nineteen‘.

McCracken also played on Billy Joel’s ‘The Stranger’ plus sessions for Tom Rush, Carly Simon, Foreigner, Nancy Wilson, David Sanborn, B.B. King, Benjy King, Roberta Flack, Neil Diamond, Yoko Ono, Graham Parker, Gordon Lightfoot, Janis Ian and Dr. John among others.

Cass ElliottIn 1968 McCracken was enlisted by music director Mason Williams as guitarist for Cass Elliot‘s first (and only) Las Vegas show. After Williams gave drummer Skip Prokop (The Paupers, Lighthouse) a dressing down over a rudimentary drum fill, McCracken told Williams to to ‘go fuck’ himself and leave Prokop alone. McCracken was apparently a foreboding figure and didn’t suffer fools gladly. Williams never mentioned the drum fill again.

ArnoldRobinsonFormer bass vocalist for The Nylons, Robinson passed away March 20th from an undisclosed cause. His former band mates posted this message on their Facebook page:  “Claude, Garth, Gavin & Tyrone were saddened to hear the news that long time Nylon member Arnold Robinson passed away. We all have fond memories of sharing stages world wide with Arnold. It is always sad to lose a long-time colleague, and our sympathies go out to his family at this difficult time.”

Not to be confused with the diminutive actor and hit songwriter of the same name, Paul Williams was the creator and editor of the long running Paul WilliamsCrawdaddy!  magazine. He died March 28 due to complications from Alzheimers. The magazine was the first to take music journalism seriously (before Rolling Stone and Creem) and was credited as the stepping stone for the likes of such writers as Jon Landau, Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer. Williams folded the magazine in 1968 but revived it in 1993 which lasted until 2003. Williams’ other two claims to fame – aside from writing 25 books in his career – was to sing on John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” and as acting literary executor for late Sci-Fi author Philip K. Dick.

SabianThe founder of Sabian cymbals in Meductic, New Brunswick in 1981 died March 28 at the age of 89. RZ split from his brother over the inheritance of the Zildjian family business – which dates back 10 generations to 1632. RZ named his new company after the compound names of his children: Sally, Billy and Andy. Phil Collins and Rush’s Neil Peart were advocates for the world-famous drumming hardware that Zildjian’s factory manufactured.

Former Rock Ranger and Matt Mays & El Torpedo member Jay Smith was found dead in an Edmonton hotel room March 27 of undisclosed causes. Smith had fronted Rock Ranger from 1999 to 2007 after which he joined Matt Mays’ band for their instant rise to fame on the heels of the hit “Cocaine Cowgirl”. Smith also released a solo album in 2011. Smith leaves behind two children. He was 34 years old.

NOTE: A celebration of Rick Gunn’s life will be held at The Revival Club on College Street in Little Italy, on Thursday, April 4th. Lots of music, stories, and friends. If you’re in the Toronto area, please join us. 7 pm until 11 pm.

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

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “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 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the 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’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com

3 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – The Dream Never Dies…Just the Dreamer”

  1. …and Bobbie Smith of “The Spinners”.

  2. Interesting thoughts…who may be the next torchbearers of rock and roll?

  3. Jim Chisholm in Campbell River Says:

    RIP Rick Gunn. I was lucky to know you on the web and have a short phone conversation. We can add Johnny V to the list of musos who have taken the final journey.

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