IF I HAD A MILLION DONUTS
My first encounter with music industry realpolitiks, and the realization that not all Canadians are laid-back, came in the mid-70s during a lunch-time encounter in Montreal with rack-jobber Bud Farquharson of Pindoff Record Sales.
This was an era when sales terms were settled over double scotch lunches; orders written up on napkins; and salesmen tried to find hope in the ageless struggle of getting music products into retail stores.
Back then, rack-jobbers Pindoff Record Sales, Record On Wheels Entertainment, and Handleman Company acted as wholesalers for mass-merchandise outlets, department stores, and discount stores in Canada. Pindoff had exclusive rights to the Simpson, Zellers, and Woolworth’s store chains.
In their servicing, rack-jobbers selected product, organized displays, developed advertising and merchandising programs, and exchanged unsold goods while only carrying a very limited selection of titles.
As a young journalist, working as Canadian editor at the New York music trade Record World, I had yet to grasp the complexities of music retailing.
The significance of price points, margins, bulk discounts, and mark-ups eluded me.
“It’s the music, man.”
And Bud Farquharson—a short, stocky, rumpled man with eyes made in a freezer and an arrogance from the ages--straightened me out.
During our lunch that also included Pindoff’s GM Taylor Campbell, and Capitol Records VP Dave Evans, the Beatles’ most beloved album, “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,” was mentioned.
“Piece of crap,” snarled Farquharson who had been backbiting labels for so long his teeth hurt.
“How can you say that?” I asked. “It’s the Beatles’ most famous album.”
“It’s a piece of crap,” Farquharson growled again. “Capitol overshipped the album. Do you know how many albums I still have in my warehouse?”
Bud’s face became straight, and his eyes became small ponds. Moving closer, he confided, “Kid, it doesn’t matter how good an album is. It all comes down to how many you bought, on what terms, and what you can return. Everything else is bullshit.”
As a music trade journalist of four decades, I can attest to the fact that Canada’s music industry history is chock-filled with rogues, charlatans, con-men, madmen, geniuses, and sales dynamos like Bud Farquharson that could out slick P.T. Barnum.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Canada’s geographic isolation, cultural distinctiveness, and small market size enabled distributors, retailers, label executives and radio programmers to develop unique voices while practicing music industry law that usually ruled that artists should be beaten every morning to keep them attentive to the industry’s will.
It was a roaring, rambling music era in Canada with Phil Kives and his cousin Raymond of K-Tel International in Winnipeg founding the international compilation market with such series as “20 Original Hits! 20 Original Stars!,” “20 Power Hits,” and “Hooked on Classics”; Rosalie Trombley, music director at CKLW in Windsor, breaking records by Alice Cooper, Elton John, Bob Seger, the Guess Who and others in America; and the Bee Gees, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, the Police recording at rural Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec run by public school dropout/audio genius, André Perry.
For several years in the 1970s, the spicy Xaviera Hollander lived in Toronto, and was a regular at music label receptions. In 1971, Hollander was arrested for prostitution in New York, and left the U.S. She then published her memoir, “The Happy Hooker: My Own Story.”
While in Canada, Hollander recorded the sexuality-theme album “Xaviera!” for GRT Records Canada featuring simulated sexual encounters, including with Ronnie Hawkins. In 1975, Hollander starred in the semi-autobiographical film “My Pleasure is My Business” with theme music by the pride of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, Tom Cochrane.
The era was peppered by outrageous figures like Barry Stafford blessed with an over enthusiasm for shipping product. With “Box Car Barry” it was a matter of professional honour while Ontario branch manager at Capitol Records of Canada to never break the shrink wrap on an album (he didn’t want music quality to affect his ability to sell.)
“Box Car Barry,” like others from this time, had no romantic notion about what he was selling. He knew that 9 out of 10 records were dogs.
Stafford later became sales VP at Quality Records, amidst claims that he would kick-start the floundering company with his sales acumen. Then came along Stevie Wonder’s “Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants” (supposedly plagued by heavy returns due to the vinyl being severely warped) followed by “Stars On Long Play II” that caused paramedics to rush to the Quality Record offices.
As national sales manager of Phonodisc, and later presidents of Stereodyne and Motown Records of Canada, Ron Newman also had a reputation for irascibility. I always felt that many of the stories I heard about his personal quirks were preposterous; the result of endless gossip about one of greatest salesmen of our time. A renowned Newman party trick, however, was him standing on his head at receptions while swigging down a glass of hooch.
Warner’s Roger Desjardins always looked rumbled, but he was the best “flowers and limo man” (aka artist relations manager) ever in Canadian music. An artist relations manager sees to it that whatever a touring band needs is available. This is much more important than you think. From joining WEA Canada to his retirement in 2001, Desjardins was a person who regarded life as one long attempt to provide happy moments for his artists. Freddy Mercury, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, and Julian Lennon were among the artists that revered him.
Charlie Camilleri, who recently died at the age of 88, often found common ground with artists by talking sports. Once, while tossing a football to Jimmy Dean, he unwittingly sent the country music star stumbling backward into a fountain.
Charlie spent three decades with CBS Records in Canada, eventually becoming national director of artist development in 1977. After serving World War II, Charlie had returned to Canada, and had joined the Toronto Argonauts as a quarterback (at a playing weight of 145 pounds). He had two Grey Cup wins—in 1946 and 1947.
No Roman conqueror ever strode through a press reception as did Ritchie Yorke in Canada in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
He was Canada’s rock star journalist.
After coming to Toronto in 1967, Yorke became Canadian editor of Billboard in 1968, and was hired as a pop music writer by the Globe and Mail the following year.
This Brisbane, Australia native was a man who loved Canada--and wrote endlessly about Canadian artists--but not enough to behave in it. His journalistic lens had many prisms, and he came under repeated fire. All the turbulence did not sadden our hero. Au contraire. This was fun and games for Ritchie, and his outrageousness made his international reputation.
Ritchie is a famous name if only because he stage-managed an interview moment in London that led to John Lennon performing at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in 1969. He also introduced John and Yoko to Marshall McLuhan and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Ritchie had contacts no mere reporter would have including with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison and so forth; and he provided insights that regular Canadian music writers could not before he returned to Australia in 1986.
Canada’s music industry may not have been ready for its prime time moment in the ‘60s and ‘70s--we had to grow as people to reach what is happening today—but these pathfinders and others had an immense impact on musical life in Canada.
Not enough people, particularly young people, have heard their names.
This is something that should not be.
I thank God for the high privilege of having known them so well.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world.
Legendary BBC2 DJ/historian Bob Harris has described him as "the glue that holds the Canadian music industry together."
Senior editor of CelebrityAccess since 2008, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007, and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times.
He is co-author of the 2011 book,” Music From Far And Wide” chronicling the growth of Canada’s pop music scene.
The rotating banner image for this blog adapted from 'The Artifacts themselves', from Flickr user DannoHung, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.