JAIMIE VERNON – TO PRESERVE AND PROTECT
Long before I considered myself a profession record label weasel I worked in a government bunker as a data librarian. My job title was Records Management Assistant and my duties included archiving government documents, maps, tax records and all matter of ephemera – including name tags from VIPs who visited City Hall and ribbon cutting scissors from shopping mall openings attended by our politicians.
Indexing land transfer files was as exciting as watching paint dry but it was work I was proud of. I was parachuted into the position in 1994 from a smaller records division in the City of Scarborough Works Department. Until then I’d been in charge of maps for our team of engineers and front line administrators who were either doing battle with land developers or the forces of nature.
It was there that I got an anguished phone call one morning in the summer of 1990 from the father of Elizabeth Bain who had gone missing and presumed dead at the hands of her boyfriend Robert Baltovitch (who served 8 years in jail and spent another 10 years trying to clear his name to which he was later found not guilty). Bain’s father was looking for maps for the area near Scarborough College where her car had been left abandoned. He had assembled a team of volunteers to crawl into sewers in nearby Morningside Park to see if her body had been dumped there. City staff had dissuaded him from going into the sewer system unescorted. Our staff went instead…and found nothing. It was a sobering day.
It was also there that I was jolted from bed at 6AM on April 16, 1991 to make an emergency dash to the Works department vault so I could let the City executive forces in to look at topographic and street maps after a section of Brimley Road slid down a hill and nearly into Lake Ontario after a torrential downpour the night before.
The highlight at the Works Department was being chosen by City big wigs to assist in the Geographic Information Systems start-up program in the late 1980s with dozens of other cities around the world to digitize and marry, for the first time, maps of all city services alongside hydro, water and gas utilities into a single, searchable database. That effort – which took nearly two years – was eventually implemented, standardized and re-built over the next two decades to become what is now Google Maps.
I went to George Brown College for two years to get my Records Management certification. It stood me in good stead for getting the transfer to City Hall to take care of the big house of records – 1200 three cubic foot file boxes and 482 tax roll books (which were the size of a Prius each and weighed about the same). I was surrounded by history and indulged in reading as much of it as I could while I was there from 1994 to 1998.
It was the cumulative decision-making of reeves and councillors and mayors dating back to Scarborough’s founding in 1796. And a year after its 200th birthday, the City of Scarborough was swallowed in amalgamation with the City of Toronto. I was handed my walking papers, a fat buyout paycheque and a new vision to take my archiving knowledge in a different direction.
My indie label Bullseye was already a part-time going concern. I’d also signed several indie acts to promote and tour their newest releases. But I wanted to get at the meat of all the music that was in my personal vinyl collection but had yet to see the light of day on CD. In September 1999 I incorporated the company, got me a business partner and then used my new position as content editor of Sam The Record Man.com to scour store shelves to see what consumers craved – and what the stores were failing to deliver to those customers.
Up until that point CD re-issues by most labels were a slapdash affair. Few put the resources into restoration, liner notes and new content for old packages except in the cases of boxed sets or anniversary editions (mind you, even the 1998 40th anniversary edition of the Beatles ‘White Album’ was nothing but a regurgitation of what already existed). As an indie label trying to make an impact, the releases needed to be BIGGER! BETTER! MORE!
I didn’t just license old material and throw it onto a CD. I worked with the original artists to represent the new packages with both gravitas and respect. Re-mastered audio from original sources was preferred, but sadly, not always possible. Re-mastering from vinyl was a necessary evil on several occasions. Unlike KIRO Radio in Seattle during the 1940s – who saved every CBS Radio newscast during the war (http://mynorthwest.com/11/2923957/KIRO-Radio-accidentally-saves-American-history ) – I was dealing with audio sources that had been either lost, erased or re-purposed. Some of it was to weep.
When we did find tapes it was a race against time to save them. Anything over 20-25 years tends to suffer due to years of improper storage from shedding of the tape coating that literally holds the music onto the tape. It peels off like dandruff…and in some cases we found it wasn’t actually shedding at all but was drug residue from a bygone era. Bullseye Records Re-Issues: Now with real COCAINE baked into every disc!!
The Klaatu boxed set we released in 2005 was a nine year odyssey from my first discussion with the former band members in 1996 through the process of transferring and mastering audio to the artwork to the consumer product. Though I didn’t formally sign the band to a licensing deal until the summer of 2001, I was already working with an audio restoration team to get tapes transferred starting in 1998. We needed to know what was on every existing tape in the band’s personal archives so we could assess what was available and what was good enough to be released.
Band members Terry Draper and Dee Long were already signed to Bullseye as solo artists. They gave me complete access to their personal tape collections dating as far back as the late 1960s (which predates Klaatu). The bulk of those – some 27 reel-to-reel tapes and a dozen cassettes – were piled into my hatchback and driven across the US border where I would meet up with Klaatu biographer, archivist and audio engineer David Bradley to make the hand-off. The tapes almost didn’t make it there. I crossed the border early on a Sunday morning…in a remote Ontario town with a very quiet border. I had long hair and a black leather jacket on and was wearing track pants and a sweatshirt (cause I’m really just an uncouth idiot when you get right down to it).
US Immigration and Border Services pulled me aside to search the car and ask me why I would be heading to Lake Placid so early on a Sunday morning. I told them I was meeting Mr. Bradley for a birthday lunch – it was halfway between my home in Toronto and his home in Massachusetts. They didn’t like it, but they didn’t find a reason to stop me. They never discovered the tapes despite a cursory inspection of my car. I’d stashed them in the wheel well of the spare tire underneath the hatch’s floor mat. Had the tapes been found I might have been arrested or charged duty or something more heinous like being forced to eat at IHOP. Needless to say, it would have been the end of my relationship with Klaatu.
It was a stupid thing to do but proved to be the right thing to do. The audio treasure trove yielded unbelievable riches. Bradley’s meticulous audio preparation and digitizing of the songs was beyond the call of duty. He spent ridiculous man-hours on the material and the result was all the better for it. I compiled the best of this material into several CDs for auditioning by the third band member – John Woloschuk. It helped not only seal the deal for a rarities collection but the Klaatu catalogue as a whole. That extra mileage we put into handling the material with confidentiality and reverence paid off. John gave us access to his tapes – including the original mix of their JUNO Award winning album ‘Hope’ which was believed to have been destroyed after a lacquer of it was carved into 4 pieces to prevent anyone from bootlegging it. We then spent another year baking and transferring what he unearthed from the official Klaatu audio archive. It would turn out to be an even greater motherlode.
With the aid of engineer Glenn Belcher at Prisma Sound in Toronto we compiled six 70-minute CDs of rare material. Six months of meetings and haggling reduced the prime material down to three solid discs because, realistically, no one needs to hear seventeen mixes of “Calling Occupants” no matter how cool the song might be. Two discs were released as the ‘Sunset: 1973 – 1981’ boxed set while the third disc was dispatched on vinyl – that’s right, vinyl in 2005 (take that Hipsters!!). We hired Klaatu’s original graphic designer Ted Jones to create new original artwork and assemble not one but two booklets containing previously unreleased photos and quotes from the band members. This, along with a brand new animated video for “Calling Occupants”, was a fanboy’s wet dream. Having the band reunite to promote it in May 2005 was just icing on the cake.
Klaatu was but one of many such archival projects. We did similar work on Figures At Dawn, Brutus, The Dishes, Goddo, Silverlode, Dee Long, Terry McManus, Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion, Dave Rave, Killer Dwarfs, and the pièce de résistance: the Bomb Records catalogue (Segarini, Twitch, David Quinton, and several other acts we never got to release because of Bullseye’s impending demise).
That brings us to now and the announcement this week that my resuscitated label will be re-issuing Canadian music from the 1970s and 1980s (sorry, kids, but there isn’t much of an audience left to buy what little 1960s material still hasn’t been digitized). First out of the starting gate will be acts from Gerry Young’s Current Records catalogue. We’ll be starting with Strange Advance’s “The Distance Between” from 1988 – the band’s third and final album – and singer Molly Johnson’s first major label project Alta Moda’s self-titled album from 1987. We have digital masters for both projects but the bonus material has been transferred and digitized from vinyl by Bullseye associate Todd Miller who has found himself a job as Bullseye’s go-to-guy for future archive transfers. And it’s a very bright future yet to be revealed. Stay tuned for more!
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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