Jaimie Vernon – GWNtertainment

 


A million years ago (okay, it was 32) I had an idea to start a music magazine to promote Canadian music. The idea didn’t come out of nowhere and there was a catalyst to light the fire. It started as a newsletter in 1989 to promote my rock band Moving Targetz. It was called the M.T. Head Express and was mailed to our fans monthly to let them know about gigs, recordings, and all our shenanigans as a rock band. My ex’s mother, Gail Benson (RIP), said to me one day, “You should expand your news letter to cover other Canadian bands, not just your own.” And, so I did. In early 1990, I launched a 24-page fanzine called Great White Noise Magazine. My ex and I bought a brand new PC with a dot matrix printer for $1320. I had to take out a loan at my credit union to do it. It would take me until 1993 to pay it off!


I put my ear to the ground and tapped the staff at all the record stores I frequented – specifically Star Records in Scarborough and All That Rocks in Toronto. I listened to all the music news shows on the radio (this was pre-Much Music so I didn’t have that as a source), and read every magazine and newspaper I could get my hands on. Great White Noise was going to be a mix of bullet-point news from the music world, gig listings in Ontario for anyone passing through the province, interviews with artists I had access to (Moving Targetz was fortunate enough to tour with some name brands), and historic music notes from the research I’d been doing since 1986 on a new book I was writing that eventually became The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. Oh, and the back page became the new home for M.T. Head Express with articles in the main body written by myself and members of the band. The intent was for Moving Targetz to ride the coat-tails of this new promotional tool.


Typed up, and printed out, on my dot matrix printer, I added photos the old-school way – with scissors and Scotch tape like a kidnapper creating ransom notes. I then used a photocopier at my day gig with the former City of Scarborough Works Dept. to mass produce and bind a few hundred copies. I then proceeded to distribute the magazines by driving to nightclubs and record stores all over Toronto, Oshawa, and Hamilton to get the word out. I already had a private mailbox in place for Moving Targetz’ record label – Bullseye – dating back to 1985, and so, it became the new address for Great White Noise correspondence.


The entire thing was a gamble that could have fallen on deaf ears. By issue #3 in the Spring of 1990 I was getting letters – a lot of letters. The magazine was off and running. By late 1991, I’d brought a crew of exceptional writers into the fold including my new business partner Paul Anand, Gary Pig Gold, Bill Smith (who’d had a short run Vinyl Performance magazine that he co-produced years earlier), Joanne Michener (who also brought her photographer skills to the table), Terry Lusk (doing a musical satire column called ‘Snide’), cartoonist Graeme Hulse, and the woman who would become my second wife, Sharon Leeson.

The magazine grew exponentially in both content and production. By April 1992, I’d stopped photocopying issues at the tax payer’s expense through the City, and used my own money to have proper magazines printed on white bond with spot colour through Joanne’s company (whose name escapes me at the moment). That was considered Volume 2 in the evolution of the magazine.


By 1993, we’d shifted to newsprint and web-offset printing with spot colour. We also had the attention of the Canadian music industry – allowing us access to interviews with major label Canadian artists and some of the biggest international concerts coming through Canada. It was a bittersweet victory as Moving Targetz had long split, my first marriage was on the rocks, and we weren’t able to cover our expenses with advertising. I couldn’t afford to keep the magazine afloat and reluctantly packed it in with one unfinished issue that was cover-dated Spring 1994 sitting on my desk (it featured Gowan and Saga as the lead stories).


Over the next 15 years I focused on writing The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia online through The Toronto Sun’s old Canoe JAM! Music portal. I also left the City, worked briefly for the late lamented Sam the Record Man and launched Bullseye Records full-time with a staff of five for a decade. When the economy tanked in 2008 it all collapsed and I was effectively unemployed. It occurred to me that to make some money I might try my hand at reviving Great White Noise as an online magazine. The name of the mag had become, in some ways, politically incorrect so I rebranded it as GWNtertainment and managed to launch Volume 3 of the magazine in 2009 with a spectacular first issue about the dedication plaque ceremony for the former Riverboat Café in Yorkville. WordPress was very clunky and unforgiving at that time, and I found it frustratingly problematic. I also wasn’t making any money in subscriptions so the idea died on the shelf.


A few years later, I began writing for Bob Segarini’s blog Don’t Believe A Word I Say (and a brief side trip as a contributor to Sandy Graham’s Cashbox Magazine). Life got really complicated just trying to make a living, and I focused on writing books instead which I could do at my own pace. I wrote five of them. I was all set to re-launch GWNtertainment on July 1st 2018, but I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to put the time or the effort in because my new day-job was quite intense.

Finally in 2020, the sheer boredom of the pandemic allowed me to return to writing for Bob, and the response to the columns that were focused on Canadian music got a very favourable response. It occurred to me over the Christmas holiday that GWNtertainment could work in a weekly column format. I was writing one every week anyway, so it made sense to give it an identity as a sub-blog to Don’t Believe A Word I Say. Without further ado is an abbreviated Volume 4, Issue #1 of the brand new GWNtertainment.


GARY 17
On December 28th Gary Webb-Proctor aka Gary 17 has passed away unexpectedly. He was singular force in promoting music in Toronto. I’ve known Gary from the original Yahoo Canadian Classic Rock Music group online since around 1998. He wrote a weekly news magazine called T.O.-Nites for years and gave praise to my record label and all our music acts gratuitously – featuring our stars on the cover in many instances. He was the city’s musical Everyman attempting to cover as many live events in a week as possible. He wasn’t the easiest guy to get along with (and had famously public fights with the very venues he was writing about). I have nothing but praise for what he was trying to do. Gary was a one-man promotional machine who only wanted people to subscribe to his magazine so he could make a living. I supported the enterprise until he sold it off. Gary re-emerged with a new weekly music magazine called T.O. Moon and he was there when I was the musician looking to be promoted  including through his Winterfest concerts. He gave me the opportunity to test drive my first solo album, ‘Broadcasts From the Twilight Zone,’ at the long lamented Reverb club in Toronto in 2003 and I will be eternally grateful for that opportunity. RIP Gary, you were an original. [photo by John Fraser – 2003 Bullseye Records Christmas Party]

MICHAEL FONFARA
Canadian music fans and fellow musicians are grieving the loss this week of prodigious keyboard player Michael Fonfara at the age of 74. Fonfara is best known in Canada for being a member of Jon & Lee & The Checkmates, The Lincolns, Downchild, and super group Rhinoceros. In world circles he was music director and collaborator with Lou Reed over a half-dozen albums, and played keyboards on Foreigner’s massive 1981 radio hit “Urgent.” Condolences have been pouring in from around the world and Rolling Stone magazine even featured his obituary on their front page this week. Long time friend and former band mate Danny Weis (Iron Butterfly, Rhinoceros) summed it up succinctly on his Facebook page:

…”My dear best friend and brother, keyboardist Michael Fonfara, passed away January 8, 2021. My heart aches for his loss. Michael excelled in Hammond B3 and funky clavinet rhythm chops. When he is playing rhythm underneath you, it’s like a freight train that never stops. The combination of him and myself playing rhythm at the same time was powerful. I will forever miss that.

A bit of Fonfara/Weis history: I met Michael in the late ’60s when the band, Rhinoceros, was put together. We became best friends and stayed that way for almost 52 years. We played in Rhinoceros for 3 years. At that time, we co-wrote the 1968 instrumental hit, “Apricot Brandy.” Together, in 1973, we went on to play and record with Blackstone, a Canadian band. In 1974, we recorded ‘The Sally Can’t Dance’ album with Lou Reed. That was an amazing band with myself, Michael, Prakash John on bass, and the late Whitey Glan on drums. Also in 1974, we toured promoting that album in Europe, US, Australia and New Zealand. From 1980 – 1983, we played together in Prakash John’s band, The Lincolns.

In 2004, he was Best Man at my wedding with my Wife, Michele Finney. It was also that year that he played on my CD ‘Sweet Spot’ recorded at Phase One Audio Group for Marshmellow Records. In 2009, we did the Rhinoceros reunion gig at the Blues Festival in Kitchener, Ontario. Beyond that, we did various gigs and sessions together until the end of 2009 when I moved back to California. We always stayed in touch.


Then, in 2016, I moved back to Canada. From 2016-2018, I was back performing/recording with Michael in the studio doing a TV pilot with Jordan John in Halifax, Nova Scotia. During that time period, we were also playing together again in the Jordan John Band (again with Prakash John on bass), on various gigs including The Lincolns, and [at] the Orbit Room. One of my last gigs with Michael was at The Fish Bar in Collingwood, Ontario with Johnny Wright, Dave Breckels, and Neil Numminen. That night, we played “Apricot Brandy” for the last time together…it was a sad and beautiful moment. I knew I may not see him again on this earth. But in 2019, we did another gig with Johnny Wright and also recorded together for the very last time at John Pickering’s Rhythm Ranch Studio in Scarborough, Ontario with singer Alan Gerber (Rhinoceros) in Toronto. John Finley, lead singer of Rhinoceros, was also on the session. Three from Rhinoceros, together for the last time. And here we are in 2021. Michael, I will always miss you and cherish all of our times together. I remember looking to my right and seeing your happy face next to me on stage. You will live in my heart always. You are family. You were the best. I love you Brother. Words fail.” Later, he added, “Though my eyes are filled with tears, I’m smiling in my heart. Michael no longer suffers and is at peace.” – Danny Weis


Some new releases continue to surface even in the shadow of the continued pandemic lockdown in Canada. Here’s some that have popped up on the GWN radar since the top of the year:

TOQUE
Former Age of Electric frontman/guitarist Todd Kerns returns with his dedicated band of rock housers. They deal exclusively in cover tunes. They rocked a note-for-note version of “Armageddon” by Prism two years ago and now they’re back with what might be considered the biggest power ballad [Bryan Adams notwithstanding] ever released in Canada: Sheriff’s “When I’m With You” from 1983. The song had a second life in 1989 when it went to #1 in the US long after the band had blown up. Toque does a note-for-note recreation with Kerns nailing vocalist Freddie Curci’s world-record setting high note. Looking forward to what they’ve got up their sleeve next. Might I suggest Pagliaro’s “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy”?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=im8yO-CwqFE

SHAWN WLUDYKA
There’s an awesome little music school in Highland Creek Village in the east end of Toronto called BPM Music. Owner/operator Shawn Wludyka also happens to be a serious guitar virtuoso and has provided such for bands like Cheaper Than Therapy, The Modern Punk Quartet, and the Maureen Leeson Band over the last 20ish years. It’s great to see he’s finally decided to tap into his singer/songwriter skills with the debut single “Not As Lost As I Used To Be.” https://bullseyecanada.bandcamp.com/track/not-as-lost-as-i-used-to-be

Shawn’s also called in an artillery of gifted sidemen for the track including Ed Ham (drums), Lawrie Ingles (piano, organ, accordion) and Robbie McDowell (bass). GWN is looking forward to more out of this little corner of Scarborough in 2021.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPfAln61dZM

SEND US YOUR STUFF!
That’s it for this week, kids. We’ll be bigger and more articulate in the next issue. Meanwhile, we’re looking for news, views, and all manner of CANADIAN musical releases to promote and wave a flag for. Join the GWN Facebook page and drop us a message: https://www.facebook.com/gwntertainment

Keep up the fight!
Jaimie Vernon, 2021

=JV=

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 41 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 24 years. He is also the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and editor of “Sunny Days: The Skip Prokop Story.” Available through Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Jaimie+Vernon 

One Response to “Jaimie Vernon – GWNtertainment”

  1. […] (https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/jaimie-vernon-gwntertainment/) has been positive and encouraging as I’m now getting artists and their reps sending news releases and links to new music. As it should be. Keep those cards and letters coming, kids. Now we go live where our Polar Swim Team is about to cross the Bering Strait in their birthday suits… […]

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