JAIMIE VERNON – THE BOOK GOES ON
I’m desperately trying to finish writing my 6th book. It should have been released in December but things like re-launching my record label have had me in meetings for the better part of 4 months. The new book should actually be my seventh, but that book – ‘Sunny Days – The Skip Prokop Story’ – is taking a very long time to transcribe and edit though we do expect it to be completed in coming months.
So the book at hand – ‘Bullsography: The Bullseye Records of Canada Story’ – has become a testament to the allure of hoarding and self-preservation. With the exception of a few documents between 1995 and 1999 that my former landlord shredded, I have everything the label did over the last 30 years (25 active, 5 in stasis). EVERYTHING: files, invoices, shipping and receiving documents, sales receipts, photos, swag, master recordings, artwork, posters, backstage passes, invitations, news releases, retail sales sheets, and more. Then there are the diaries, journals and day-timers.
I know a lot about my own life – and by extension the record label – not because I have a good memory, but because I wrote it all down (and in later years, was written down by my Vice President, Lisa Millar). I was determined to be a rock star when I started to learn how to play guitar back in 1978 and so I meticulously logged my progress in a school notebook. The notebook entries related to my musical evolution as a player, performer and songwriter became the backbone of my 2013 biography ‘Life’s A Canadian Punk – Who Wants Guns?: The Swindled Story (1973 to 1983)’ [currently #479 on Amazon’s Punk Biographies chart]. The book was cathartic and came quickly on the back of my punk band’s 30th anniversary reunion and debut album “It’s Only Peace That You Want, It’s Only War That You Get” in 2011. It was also the closing of a chapter in my life. You can order it from Amazon HERE.
Soon I was getting requests for Part 2 of my vaguely humourous and highly relatable adventures in music via the tales of my next band, the Moving Targetz, from May 1983 through its demise in November 1991. On many levels it’s a far more interesting story: two albums, five EPs, a few hundred live shows…50 band members coming and going (including current Saga drummer Mike Thorne). Unlike the midnight scrawlings of a lovelorn, hormonal teenage boy in school notebooks, the Targetz journals were detailed accounts of a plan to take over the world one song at a time. The journals are filled with actionable ideas that more times than not we followed through with and with a sense of humour; Our 1990 tour was called “The Bigger Than Bowling Tour” followed by 1991’s “Deadlier Than Darts Tour”. Had the band not split up we would have launched 1992’s “Brasher Than Bingo Tour”.
This wasn’t some garage band ambling from club to club hoping to scam free beer. We were making money pulling in $500 to $700 a night playing ORIGINAL music. We were recording ORIGINAL music. We were selling ourselves up the food chain and living the dream 24/7 and all during the pre-internet era. In the end the journals are a bittersweet reminder that we failed upward. It’s hard to re-live all those years of hard work and watch as we never actually “made it”. But Bullseye Records was the proud progeny that carried that legacy forward.
The band, and the label, were inseparable as was a third cohort – our critically acclaimed but commercially failed music magazine called ‘Great White Noise’. It never made sense to me to write the Targetz story on its own because it was the prelude to something so much bigger. The idea that musicians could release their material outside the confines of the major label system was alluring. It’s what drove me to pursue it.
Moving Targetz guitarist Glenn Belcher once gave me a very memorable backhanded compliment: “You’re way better at the business side of this than you are a bass player.” I never took it as an insult. I immediately took what he said and ran with it. I could continue being an average musician on a nowhere trajectory or I could put my skills to work promoting what music I had and the music of my inner circle.
Between 1985 and 1990 Bullseye had three acts on the roster proper – Moving Targetz, Swedish Fish and Daughaus (a Swedish Fish-related side project) plus the archival material from my old punk band Swindled. Through the annual Canadian Music Directories and the 1989 New Music Directory out of New York I began receiving demo submissions from around the world. Most of it was crap – and I do mean crap as I once got a demo from a Toronto act called Mr. Science. The cassette came with a photo of a toilet bowl proudly displaying a 3 foot turd in it; I also recall a Seventh Day Adventist act called Advent out of Quebec sending me a tape containing some of the worst sub-gutteral Doom Metal shite I’d ever heard. It was unlistenable and I told the ‘leader’ this in my hand written rejection letter to them. I started getting death threats by phone and by mail soon after. Bullseye had arrived.
But there were gems. My favourites were a 12” EP by Bolero Lava; a cassette and (later) 12” EP from The Barking Boys & The Yes Girls which turned out to be a one-off project featuring piano great Bill King; and there was a four song demo by Montreal act This “Blue Piano” called ‘The NHL Suitcase’ which sort of changed my life because I went from soliciting tapes for the purpose of finding the next superstar, to becoming a fan of the band and its output including the ‘John the Baptist EP’ – on another label. From that point on I started looking for artists with the same attitude and philosophy I had.
With that in mind I started looking outside my sphere of influence. The next three artists to come on board were strictly distro deals of finished works by Boise, Idaho’s Elyse Thorpe (“Hell & Hallelujah”), St.Paul, Minnesota’s Shawn Gardner (“Sex Thing”) and Hoboken, New Jersey’s THE ID (s/t). I would take their material to New Music Seminar 1990 but got limited bites. But I was an advocate. I thought all three acts had that “thing” I was looking for: enthusiasm, personality and songs. Elyse would go on to play in a number of bands in Idaho, and after a Google search to write this blog it appears Shawn Gardner passed away in 2007. I have no idea what happened to the guys from THE ID.
It was also an awkward period for music formats between 1988 and 1991 where vinyl was becoming less attractive to retailers [Bullseye had put out four vinyl releases between 1985 and 1988] and CDs were still way too expensive to manufacture. Bullseye was stuck in a no man’s land putting everything out on cassettes. Duplicating was an issue as my office was located east of Toronto while all the cassette dubbing places were in the city. And I didn’t have a car at the time. Barry McVicker at Montclair Studio was my go-to guy. I trudged into Toronto after working my day gig in Scarborough and sometimes had to carry an open tray of 50 or 60 cassettes onto a bus, and then subway, and then another bus back to Ajax, Ontario.
The cassettes had to be labeled by hand, and printed jackets were supplied by an Indian couple who ran a Print Three at the Scarborough Town Centre (I used to babysit their kid when I was 14/15 and so got the printing at a huge discount). I did this for a large number of print runs for Moving Targetz, Simon Truth & The Last Band, and others. We continued issuing product on cassette until 1995. Our last cassette release was 1995’s “Can You Pretend?” by Klaatu’s Terry Draper [which was distributed by us in 1998 as part of a children’s activity kit package]
Bullseye released its first CD in 1991 – an independent artist compilation called “Unsigned, Sealed & Delivered, Volume 1”. It would usher in a new era for Bullseye and a tale for next week.
Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday
Contact us at email@example.com
Jaimie “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.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon