Doug Thompson: A NEW BOOK ON THE CANADIAN MUSIC SCENE IS IN BOOK STORES OR ON KINDLES, OR HOWEVER YOU READ BOOKS THESE DAYS

Doug Thompson headshot

Before I begin my review, I have to say that I have the utmost respect for anybody who sits down (or stands up for that matter) to write a book…whether fiction or non-fiction.  The amount of time and effort in research and the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to actually write it, can be monumental.  Having contributed to over a dozen books, I know that it takes true dedication and can’t be undertaken lightly.  Writing a book can (and often does) take over your life.

Having said all that, the book I’m discussing in this blog is called “The History of Canadian Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Bob Mersereau, first published in March of this year.                    Bob;s Book

Let me say that first and foremost, Bob Mersereau is to be commended for writing this in the first place.  For anyone not familiar with the author, Bob Mersereau is a CBC producer who’s been covering the Canadian music scene for the Corps since 1985.  Based in New Brunswick, Bob has also compiled two Bob Mother books on Canadian Music – “The Top 100 Canadian Albums” (2007)and “The Top 100 Canadian Singles”(2010 ) and while I may disagree on the order of the actual listings themselves, it is wonderful that these books are available.  They are incredible sources for research and often times, spark conversations and the occasional argument during parties.  (FULL DISCLOSURE:  I contributed a list of my favourite ‘Beaver’ songs [as Canadian music pioneer/producer and JUNO Awards co-founder Stan Klees once called them] to “The Top 100 Canadian Singles” book and I’m named in the list of contributors).

neil-peartFor me, “The History of Canadian Rock’N’Roll” missed the mark by ‘that much’.  Let me explain.  You see, during my now 50 year career, I’ve interviewed most of the artists and performers mentioned in the book (some multiple times and a few of them are good friends of mine), so I readily admit that I’m not your average reader.  As a primer/overview of the Canadian rock scene, it’s a good start.  By the way, Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart wrote the Foreward and it’s a cool read.

But here’s where I feel the book falls short.

Mersereau DOES briefly cover the pre-rock’n’roll Canadian era with The Crew Cuts, The Diamonds and The Four Lads and devotes several pages to Windsor born rockabilly legend Jack Scott, but there are no interview quotes from any of them about the early Canadian music scene and the fact that all of them had to move to the U.S. to make it big.  In the case of Jack Scott, his family moved to the Detroit area when he was ten years old, so starting a music career only made sense in the U.S.  The Beau-Marks (“Clap Your Hands”, “Classmate” among several others) are mentioned only in passing.

Curtola

Canada’s first home grown teen idol Bobby Curtola gets a little more space, but again no interview.  Bobby lives in Nova Scotia, really not that far from New Brunswick (if I read my map of the Great White North correctly) and is certainly readily available.  I’ve interviewed Bobby several times for radio documentaries that I’ve written and produced and he was one of the Canadian performers that I absolutely HAD TO profile for my Blue Ant Media television series, “Hi Fi Salutes”.  And I did.

Bobby has many great stories to tell and since he hasn’t yet written his autobiography (or been inducted into the JUNO Awards Canadian Music Hall of Fame for that matter, which is a travesty in my opinion), a couple of short interview sections would have been nice.  But that was Mr. Mersereau’s call.

David Clayton-Thomas

Bob has quite a few lengthy interview sections with David Clayton-Thomas (who also has many incredible stories, especially about his Canadian music skip2career prior to his Blood, Sweat & Tears years).  Also interviewed fairly extensively is Skip Prokop (The Paupers, Lighthouse).

Again, Skip is a rich source for amazing stories, but there seems to be an over abundance of both Prokop and Clayton-Thomas throughout the book and not a lot from many others.

When it comes to the Canadian recording industry pioneers, Stan Klees is mentioned once and only then in the context of being the co-founder of RPM Magazine with Walt Grealis and a strong proponent of the Can-con RPMregulations.  There’s no mention of producing “My Girl Sloopy” by Little Caesar and The Consuls, The Mod Beats or co-founding the JUNO Awards (begun by RPM in 1964 as The Gold Leaf Awards).  There’s a whole other book in Stan’s story.  Klees hung around recording studios in New York with songwriter/producer Bob Crewe (The Four Seasons/Oliver/Shirley Matthews/ The Bob Crewe Generation) and brought back to Canada production techniques used by Crewe for those hit making sessions.

Stan Klees deserves major credit for a lot of innovations and events that took place in the Canadian music scene of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, including being an Kleesimportant part of the introduction of the 30% Canadian content regulations, which meant that as of January 1971, Canadian music radio stations were legislated by the Canadian government to play 30% Canadian songs based on one of four criteria known as MAPL (Stan Klees also designed the MAPL logo).  M = MAPL_logoMusic, A = Artist, P = Production (the song had to be recorded in Canada), L = Lyrics.  That criteria was later amended to two parts Can Con and the percentage is now 35%.  Can con songs had to be played between 6AM and midnight.

Initally, Canadian radio stations tried anything they could to modify these requirements, including editing Canadian records to make them shorter, but in the end, they finally accepted the regs which did help to spawn a successful Canadian music industry.

duffDuff Roman, a member of three Canadian Halls of Fame, isn’t even mentioned at all.  Duff not only was an influential Toronto DJ from 1959 until the mid 1970’s when he became CHUM FM’s third Program Director, he also produced the first recordings by Levon and The Hawks (later better known as The Band) just after they left Ronnie Hawkins.  He also formed Roman Records and produced all of David Clayton-Thomas’ Canadian hits (“Boom Boom”, “Walk That Walk”, “Out of The Sunshine” and “Brainwashed”).  He somehow was able to manage the tough-to-manage Clayton-Thomas and in David’s own words at a FACTOR reception “he’s the only manager I ever had that I still talk to”.  Duff Roman was also one of the architects and founders of FACTOR, the Foundation To Assist Canadian Talent On Record, which grants money to musicians for videos, tour support, recording costs etc.  Duff became FACTOR’s first President and the FACTOR board room is named in Duff’s honour.

And how could you write a book on “The History of Canadian Rock’N’Roll” without talking to Bill Gilliland?  Bill was an executive with the fiercely bill-gilliland-1974-1independent ARC Records and was involved in so many hit careers from teen sensation Terry Black (“Unless You Care”) in the 1960’s…to the first Canadian group to have a number one hit recorded in Canada (Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights “Charlena”)…to signing Anne Murray (who at the time, was still a performer on CBC TV’s “Singalong Jubilee”) to a recording contract.  ARC released one Anne Murray album before Capitol Records wooed her away…to forming Yorkville Records, which released successful Canadian rock hits by Ocean (“Put Your Hand In The Hand”, a Canadian number one in 1971 and “One More Chance”, a number 15 hit), plus The Ugly Ducklings (”Gaslight”, another number one Canadian hit in 1967).  Gilliland once told me that he ran into Neil Young at a Coles bookstore in downtown Toronto in the 1960’s.  Neil recognized him and asked for career advice.  Bill told him that he should head to California.

That advice worked out pretty well for ol’ Neil.

At least former Capitol Records of Canada A&R Director Paul White gets the credit that he richly deserves in this book (although frankly, Paul‘s story deserves its own book).

Paul-White-with-The-Beatles

Paul White presents The Beatles with Gold

The man signed many a Canadian performer or band to Capitol, including The Staccatos (later renamed The 5 Man Electrical Band), Barry Allen, The Esquires, Edward Bear, country star Gary Buck, Jack London and The Sparrows (members of The Sparrows would later add lead singer John Kay and become Steppenwolf) and so many more, long before the Canadian content regulations were even being contemplated.

These behind-the-scenes people were as important to an artists’ career as the artists themselves and often times have better stories than the artists themselves.

The previously mentioned Neil Young gets plenty of pages (and rightly so) as does Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray and The Guess Who, but influential ‘70’s/’80’s Canadian musician Ian Thomas gets one tiny mention, while Three Dog Night get two (and the closest Three Dog Night connection to Canada is the fact that singer Corey Wells was born in Buffalo).

Ian Thomas

Ian not only had his own Top Ten Canadian hits such as “Painted Ladies”, “Long Long Way” and “Coming Home”, he also wrote songs that became international hits for artists such as Santana (1982’s “Hold On”), America (1983’s “Right Before Your Eyes”) and “The Runner”, which Manfred Mann had a hit with in 1984.  There are actually several groups and performers who get short shrift here with only a single mention, and frankly, they deserved more.

At 298 pages, which includes the index plus “Recommended Reading” and “Recommended Listening” sections, “The History of Canadian Rock’N’Roll” is a solid read, as far as it goes.

Editor

The First Writer and Editor

My problem is it doesn’t go far enough.  An editor may well have cut some parts of it that Mersereau had originally written or there was a tight deadline or even a finite number of pages the publisher would allot to the book.  It could easily have been at least 400 pages if the author had dug a little deeper, talked to a few more people, such as the ones mentioned above and others, and in my opinion, used more artist interviews.  There are short quotes here and there from various performers besides the major interview passages from David Clayton-Thomas and Skip Prokop, who got a ‘special thanks’ in Mersereau’s acknowledgements.  This one had the potential of becoming the definitive book on Canadian rock’n’roll…but for me, it just didn’t go the distance.

50I realize that to condense over 50 years of Canadian music history into one book with any kind of in-depth writing with interviews and photos is almost an impossible task.  Things are going to have to be condensed or left out entirely.  I certainly expected more than just a name listing of a Canadian artist and a brief bio.  That’s been done.  Mersereau delivered on that score.

If you’re looking for an overview on the Canadian music scene from its early beginnings up to contemporary groups such as Arcade Fire, then Mersereau’s book is perfectly fine and makes for interesting reading.  But if you know even a little bit about Canadian rock (as I suspect many of you reading this do), then you’ll most likely be left slightly disappointed.  It’s not that I didn’t like this book, I really, really wanted to, and I’m happy Bob Mersereau wrote it, but…….

If you’re going to call your book “The History of Canadian Rock’N’ Roll”, you’ve got a lot to live up to.

=DT=

Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

dbawis_buttonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. 
He’s won a shitload of awards for his creative efforts, over 150 at present count.  He’s interviewed, as well as 
worked with major celebrities on various radio and television projects, including Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, 
Randy Bachman, David Foster, Wolfman Jack, Bob Ezrin  and John Candy.  Doug was Creative Director for 
Telemedia Network Radio in Toronto for 13 years.  He’s also worked with ABC and NBC Radio networks in the U.S.  

His first television series, “Hi Fi Salutes”, for Canada’s Hi Fi Channel, won a Platinum Award at the World Television 
Festival in Houston, Texas.  He wrote and produced 28 episodes of “Hi Fi Salutes”.  Doug also wrote and produced 
“Pressed In Canada”, a one hour television documentary on the early Canadian independent record company scene.

He continues to do work for Sirius/XM, NFL Canada as well as other companies.  Doug’s also a Professor of 
Communications at Seneca College@York in Toronto.

Currently, he has no plans to sit in a rocking chair in his backyard and grow old gracefully.

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