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

CamQuality Records was my training ground. Back in the seventies there were no school courses teaching the music business. If you wanted to work in a studio you hung around studios and hopefully someone would ask you to pick up a broom or maybe get the engineer a coffee. If you wanted to work at a record company you needed to know who to talk to and where they might hang out. A good in was getting to know the label publicists and the easiest way to do that was by writing album and live reviews for your school newspaper. I starting doing this in high school and by the time I reached college I had a couple of good ins at the labels (as well as lots of free albums and concert tickets).

Larry and Cam at QualityI think my first interview with the label was in 1978. There was a position open in the publicity department and Quality’s Larry Macrae (with Cam at Quality) had recommended me for the position.  I had to meet with the VP of Sales and after making me sweat it out for over an hour in the lobby he finally called me into his office. His desk was clear of any papers and the first thing he said to me was along the lines of “You won’t see a stereo in this office as I don’t need to hear a record to be able to sell it”. Well this was a revelation to me and also made me a little queasy. Noticing my earring I was quickly questioned about my sexuality, drug use, alcohol and tobacco habits and just about everything else you can’t ask in an interview today. I thought I was doomed. When I responded “Beach” to the question of where I lived a faint glimmer of hope appeared. “One of my big account’s owners has a house down there” barked prospective boss’s boss. “I would assume you mean Vito” I replied as the co-owner of Records On Wheels lived around the corner from me. “Donna, get me Vito on the speakerphone now” he bellowed and within seconds the two were conversing about me while I helplessly listened. Vito said nothing bad and within the week I had the job.

I was now in the PR department and working with bands I had never heard of, The Madcats, Lynx, as well as I few I knew such as Blondie and George StruthWednesday (they played my high school a few times). It was a baptism by fire. The President of the label was a wonderful gentleman by the name of George Struth (with The Spoons). He grew up through the ranks of Quality and was actually the man who wrote “Guess Who” on a bunch of Chad Allan & The Expressions test pressings of “Shakin’ All Over” and sent them to radio stations hoping they would be fooled into thinking it was a hot new single from England. George didn’t look very rock’n’roll but his office sure did. He had the coolest Casablanca Records clock which meant he had worked with Kiss (Casablanca moved over to Polygram for distribution a few months before I joined Quality) and his office walls were covered with gold records and photos of him with bands. He was the kind of boss who hosted family get togethers at his home with his lovely wife Muriel and we would sit around and play euchre well into the night. He seemed to like me and his door was always open.

quality-canadaQuality was considered a major label back in the seventies and also had the added bonus of having its own pressing plant on site. We also had mastering facilities and an art department. The only thing we couldn’t do was print the album jackets. You could listen to a test pressing in the morning and have copies of a single in your hands by the afternoon. It was pretty cool. One my second go-around at Quality in 1982 I remember we did a deal for Josie Cotton who was breaking out of Los Angeles with her single “Johnny Are You Queer?”. We needed to strike when the iron was hot so as soon as the deal was put together over the phone we were mastering a single in the plant and had the record on the air of Chum-AM that evening. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal today but back then it was pretty remarkable.

starcity-borntobewild-produced by john driscollOne of the first things I learned as a publicist for a label is that the A&R department wants to become your best friend. They realise that you are the key to getting their artists exposed and your exposure will lead to sales which will lead to another album. The A&R department at Quality was run by John “Disco” Driscoll. He earned his nickname. He knew his dance music inside out and back then Quality made a good portion of their profit in the dance market. In me I think he saw someone who was a little more street and might have some insight as to what the kids were listening to. I soon started to listen to demos of young bands that he didn’t quite understand. One of the tapes that floored me was “I Wanna Dance Like Fred” by an Oakville band by the name of The Rockaderos. It was damn near perfect  power pop. I took the cassette over to Segarini’s house for a second opinion and he was sold as quickly as I was. We let John know that we were interested and arranged to go and see them play in some pub in Oakville. They were good live, not great, but it was apparent they had more than one great song and a deal was quickly put together. Bob produced and we had a regional hit with their new wave tribute to Fred Astaire.

Much more on Quality Records the next time the letter Q rolls around. For now here are some of the artists I got to work with at the label.

The Models

A five-piece new wave band from Edmonton who were years ahead of their time. A black punk rock bass player, drummer in full facial make-up and a gangly bespectacled lead singer who had a leg kick that would make any Rockette blush. When I was fired from Quality I jumped aboard their bus and toured across the country for four months as their tour manager. “Janie, You’re Wrong” was a minor hit and their guitarist Brent Macnab became a local hero in “One Horse Blue”. Sadly we lost Brent last year. The band received as much press for their album covers than they did for their music which was unfair as they wrote some damn great pop songs.

Rick James

When Motown moved to Quality for distribution things never looked better for the label. One of the superstars at the time was Rick James. His ground breaking album “Street Songs” totally set the table for Prince and gave us the monster hits “Super Freak” and “Give It To Me Baby”. Rick was not allowed in Canada (legal reasons) and every year we could invite a few journalists down to his house outside of Buffalo for a day of interviews. Regulars were Norman Otis Richmond and Jeanne Beker. It was always a cool trip and Rick appreciated the cases of Beck’s beer we would bring down to his homestead. As interviews were done I would end up hanging around the indoor pool with the likes of the Mary Jane Girls passing time. He was a super freak.

Andrew Matheson

I have written about Mr. Matheson many times in these pages. It was at Quality where we first crossed paths as we released his album “Monterey Shoes”. At that point I had no idea about his Hollywood Brats past and no clue as to what the future would hold for us. Fifteen years later I signed him to MCA and went to Norway to record the album “The Night Of The Bastard Moon” and to this day we can still be spotted on the deck of the Lion On The Beach tossing back a jar or two.

The Spoons

Yet another band that I still see some thirty years after our initial meeting. They came to Quality via a distribution deal with Ready Records (which also included The Demics and Steve Blimkie & The Reason). After the very successful re-issue of “Arias & Symphonies” last year Gord and Sandy are set to re-issue their full length debut “Stick Figure Neighbourhood” in the coming weeks. If you are a fan and want to help the cause go to http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thespoons

Japan

One of the coolest bands I ever worked with at Quality was Japan.  The English band came to us via a distribution deal with Ariola Records. Outside of their brilliant music (and style) they introduced me to legendary manager Simon Napier-Bell and super producer John Punter. The stories from those two alone were an education I could never buy.

=CC=

Cam’s column appears every Thursday

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonCameron 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, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

Rock Lobster

The Bovine

5 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Quality Control”

  1. Martin Melhuish Says:

    There is actually a video of The Models’ song Maryanne that we shot up at Le Studio with Andre Perry, I think it was one of the first he ever produced up there. The video features a youthful Erica Ehm (pre-MuchMusic) who I had convinced to play Maryanne. She wore black leather, high heels and was swinging a long silver chain… and no, she wouldn’t be anxious for anyone to see what I’m sure was her small screen debut.

  2. Greg Simpson Says:

    If the sales manager that hired you was Barry Stafford, I can expand on his “don’t need to listen to a record” comment…when I worked for A&M Barry was a salesman for our distributor…he dropped by the office one day and I asked him about our hot new item…”How’s Tea for the Tillerman doing Barry?”…”Tea for what?” he responded…”SP4281″….”Oh! Through the roof!!!”

  3. Too funny Cam!

    I have reasonable mp3’s of the Fred EP if you are still interested. Just let me know where to deposit them.

    Hi to Bobo

    JM…still west end yes…Tim Horton’s yes…screaming firechickens no

  4. Jennifer Struth Says:

    Hello! I am George Struth’s granddaughter. I wanted to say thank-you for the nice things you wrote about him. I would love to hear more stories about him if you have the time.
    Hope to hear from you!

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