JAIMIE VERNON – TOM HOOPER & THE UNEXPLORED COSMOS

Tom and Jaimie

excerpted from the forthcoming book Bullsography: The Bullseye Records Story 1985-2010

Brutus_Promo2By the Fall of 2001 Bullseye was beginning to take shape as the Canadian equivalent to Rhino Records having signed long term CD re-issue deals with Goddo, Brutus, Silverlode, Figures At Dawn, David Quinton, The Fast, and Randy Bachman’s Brave Belt and Guess Who projects. But there was a bigger vision behind this idea. Re-issues would only take you so far with a fan base and then what would you give them once the archive dried up?

KingsI wanted what I called Evergreen Artists signed directly to the label – either acts that had catalog and were still together in some form – Goddo, Moxy, The Kings, Killer Dwarfs and The Guess Who f’rinstance – or solo artists from bands that had a rich recording history and still entertained a valuable fan base. Both Terry Draper and Dee Long from Klaatu were my proof that Evergreen Artists were essential to Bullseye’s success years before we could wrangle a deal for their band’s old catalog.

CD_Cover_lgWe were in the midst of expanding the solo roster with my old friend Jeff Jones (Ocean, Red Rider, Carpet Frogs) whose debut album ‘Positive’, produced by Red Rider’s Ken Greer, had just yielded us the radio hit “I’ll Be There” when Randy Bachman dropped Grapes of Wrath bassist Tom Hooper onto my plate.

I was well acquainted with Tom’s wife, Suzanne Little, as she was Bachman’s office administrator at Ranbach Music and we had frequent dealings in promoting and marketing the new Brave Belt  and Guess Who double CD re-issues. We never spoke about Tom so I was surprised to get a call from her one day to discuss releasing a solo album that Tom was already recording on Salt Spring Island at Bachman’s home studio known as The Barn.

Field Trip

They needed money to finish the record, release it and promote it. Tom was pretty gun shy at this point having been burnt the year before when the reunion album Field Trip by the Grapes of Wrath had been caught up in the spectacular crash ‘n’ burn of the SongCorp label. Needless to say he and Suzanne had reservations about handing yet another album over to another Canadian start-up company. I had my work cut out for me.

There needed to be a sales pitch. I asked for a rough mix of the album and we’d devise a marketing and promotional strategy first before signing any deal. It was an unusual negotiating strategy but one that needed to be in place to give both LisaSuzanne and, ultimately Tom, piece of mind.

Enter Lisa Millar – formerly a press agent from the PMO’s office to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. I had hired Lisa in 2000 to be my office administrator and promotions guru while I took care of landing deals and being A & R for Bullseye. We opened an office at 2171 Avenue Road and she held down the phones and harassed media while I did my presidential hobnobbing and schmoozing.

She worked closely with Suzanne shaping a battle plan for the album that would be called ‘The Unexpected Cosmos‘. Both ladies were, and still are, exceptional Unexploredprofessionals in every sense of the word. Within a few weeks they had the skeleton of a promotional and marketing campaign mapped out that involved an assault on radio with three potential singles, a radio promo tour for Ontario and British Columbia – Grapes of Wrath’s two strongest Canadian markets – videos and possibly a solo tour if the record caught fire. We, that is my business partner Jim Hoeck, also committed funding to all these activities. The bullet points in the plan became the boiler plate points in the recording contract that was signed by late 2001.

It was only then that I spoke to Tom on the phone for the first time. He was at The Barn and Bachman mentioned Bullseye’s upcoming Takin’ Care of Christmas‘ CD and that he had a track he wanted to submit.

Takin Xmas

He put the phone up to the studio speakers and played me his original tune “Christmas Kiss”. It would work nicely. He was excited to be working with us and couldn’t wait to come out to Toronto in the Spring to launch the solo album. I reassured him that 2002 was going to be a busy one for him. And so it was.

OnePage

‘The Unexplored Cosmos‘ was launched with significant fanfare in April 2002 with full-colour advertising in the music industry hipster magazine Canadian Music Network and the CD single for the song “Cardboard Man”. Then we discovered a hiccup at retail. Our distributor, KOCH, had input the album title into their database as ‘The UnEXPLODED Cosmos‘. It was going to be hard to sell the album if people asked for it by its actual title. It was a precarious start and was not a great way to show Tom that we had our shit together. KOCH changed the database grudgingly. We were back n business.

Tom 1 - smallLondon, Ontario radio promoter Greg Simpson took the single to radio for us and the reaction was all over the map. The song was up tempo but in a minor mode so it wasn’t going to translate to pop radio. The major stations capitulated when Greg, who was a veteran with long time contacts and a great understanding of radio’s needs, drilled down and could actually get stations to really listen. College radio was enthusiastic but it meant sending them full CD copies of the entire album. The release soon started showing up on Canadian Music Network’s weekly charts. It was a soft launch but we were happy with the initial interest.

Tom and Suzanne were doing the rounds on the British Columbia coast at radio and with personal appearances. It soon came time to bring him to Toronto. Lisa Tom 3 - smalland I met him at Pearson airport. He was set to spend two weeks in August doing live gigs as a solo act and working TV, radio and print media. We hit the ground with a mail out of the next single “Same Old Me” in advance of Tom’s appearances. Canadian Music Network made him their golden child. He had a presence every week in the magazine for four weeks ahead of his arrival and then the entire time he was in the province.

Tom Hooper AdvertThere were six gigs booked – Ottawa, Toronto (at C’est What and Healey’s), Hamilton, Kitchener and London. The area shows in Toronto, Hamilton and Oshawa allowed us to commute and bring Tom back to his base at a friend’s house each night. We also hired Goddo’s incredible soundman Dan Nullmeyer to work sound and record the shows for a possible live release. He came to every show except Ottawa. He made the gigs sound great and became a Tom fan at the end of it.

Ottawa was Lisa’s turf and the show was held at a venue in the ByWard Market called Cafe Dekcuf. Lisa got him TV coverage with CityPulse Ottawa. TV was the biggest gain for the album promotion. We’d hired Dulce Barbosa of DB Promotions to work radio for the new single. She also had significant pull to get Tom on the nation’s biggest morning show – Canada AM. The mileage helped crowd attendance in each of the cities except Kitchener where Tom was booked at a club that was located on a road that was closed for construction…on a Monday night. It was, thankfully, the only low point of the tour.

Ottawa Sun

bestA last minute, unplanned show back in Toronto materialized that made up for the disappointment, however, when Tom’s old friends from the band 54.40 asked him to open their show during the Taste Of The Danforth Festival in Toronto. The outdoor annual event was held on one of Toronto’s busiest streets and it usually attracted tens of thousands of people each day.

TomHooper_MrZeroWe managed to get Dan to work sound for the show and I braved the throngs in my car where I managed to get parking a block from the stage and the rental home where Tom and 54.40 were hanging out pre-show. Pleasantries were exchanged and I finally got to meet one my favourite bands of all time. Tom hit the stage with his acoustic and put on a great 45 minute set of original tunes, Grapes tunes and even some cover songs for the nomadic audience who were only there to try out the Greek food and cafe offerings. I shilled CDs stage side and pocketed $300. We had an end-of-tour party in my sister-in-law’s backyard. Tom spent the day in the swimming pool. Tom was happy. I was happy. The tour was deemed a success. And Tom would be back.

In the Fall of 2002 we had landed a VideoFACT video grant for Tom’s song “Same Old Me” and we flew him back into Toronto to do the video shoot. It may have been one of the most disorganized productions I’ve ever had the discomfort in being a part of. The video called for Tom to sit in a car on a gimbal in front of a green screen and lip sync the track.

Same old Me video

The production company’s staff showed up late for an 8am start – with crew wandering in over the next hour. We sat in a cold soundstage with a make-up artist. It didn’t take long for them to get Tom ready. Wardrobe wasn’t any issue as he was only being filmed from the shoulders up. The technical team, however, didn’t bring everything they needed – including blowing fans to keep Tom cool in the car and gaffer tape. Gaffer tape. The product that gives film Gaffers their name!

I grabbed a production assistant and we drove to a movie supply house to rent what was needed. It became a bone of contention when sorting out the receipts Songs from the Basementfor the grant money reimbursement down the line. As did the overtime that wasn’t budgeted because they couldn’t get the footage shot that they needed in the allotted 10 hour window. Bullseye ended up footing the bill for six workers to stay another 4 hours. Tom, meanwhile, had sat in the fake car, the consummate professional, for 12 of those hours. He never complained once. He did sleep the entire next day until we dumped him back on a plane to Salt Spring Island.

Surprisingly, the video got Much Music’s attention against all odds (Hip Hop and dance was now their priority). It helped gain us significantly more airplay than we had gotten with “Cardboard Man”. The album sold steadily but the reviews were lukewarm. One critical panning on Allmusic.com became a festering boil that ultimately tainted people’s perception of what was a great singer-songwriter album. So much so that when I gave the album back to Tom years later, he put the tracks up on iTunes under the title ‘Songs From the Trailer’ so that it wouldn’t be linked to the previous release. Smart move.

Grapes

Tom and Suzanne and I remain friendly. Tom’s “Long Long Long” –  a remake of the George Harrison song – appeared on Bullseye’s successful 2004 three CD set “It Was 40 Years Ago Today: A Tribute To the Beatles”. He returned to town in 2009 while touring with 54.40 as their keyboardist. Now Grapes of Wrath are officially back together and I couldn’t be happier for him.

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THIS WEEK’S VIRAL FIND:

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL OLDIE:

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

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 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released 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’ is now available at Amazon.comhttp://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon

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