February 19, 2017
The Roving Mike
Bill Fox (left) as ‘Barometer Bill’ with Bill Hughes in 1948
Courtesy Chuck Davis/Top Dog
For 45 years Bill Hughes did something parents tell their kids not to do. He talked to strangers.
It turns out almost all of them were friendly. Hughes broadcast more than 15,000 Roving Mike shows on CKNW that aired six times a week from 8:45 to 9 a.m. Most frequently he would climb aboard tour buses or those headed out of town and just begin asking questions.
He did it in many different places, including the bus terminal at the Royal Towers Hotel and ferry terminals.
“It doesn’t work at the airport. They’re in a different mood, they’re tense they’re rushing. But everyone can relate to being on a bus,” says Hughes.
“I was amazed at how oblivious people were to a microphone. They would say things to a microphone that I couldn’t believe.”
Most of the time the show was a light, breezy way to start people’s day. However, sometimes not everything went smoothly.
One time Hughes talked to a farmer from Saskatchewan. Being the smart aleck that he can be, and since it was harvest time, Hughes asked him, “Shouldn’t you be back home bringing in the sheaves?”
“No, I have 17 kids doing it for me, 14 by my first wife and three by this,” the farmer replied pointing his thumb to the embarrassed woman next to him sinking in her seat.
Hughes then asked him how old he was and the farmer said he was 70.
“So if you’re that old and have 17 kids working on the farm what do you do when you’re at home?”
“Sonny, I just sit around and pull my wire.”
Hughes was mortified. “It killed me.” Of course, back at the station the operator kept the tape and it’s still played at gatherings of NW alumni.
Another time, Hughes got on the bus and asked a passenger, “What’s your name?”
“Bill Hughes,” he replied.
“That’s my name. You’re Bill Hughes, then Bill Hughes where do you live?”
“I live in Vancouver.”
He moved onto the next guy, and surprise, surprise that man says his name is Bill Hughes. Turns out there were three more Bill Hughes aboard. “I was speechless.”
Bill Hughes was their real name, but someone had arranged to get them together to pull a joke on Hughes.
That wasn’t the only time he was a victim of a Roving Mike prank. One Saturday morning, Hughes was teeing it up at the Vancouver Golf Club in Coquitlam and noticed NW talk show host Jack Webster on the balcony with someone, but didn’t think much of it. Two days later he got on a bus and began interviewing a woman with a thick Russian accent who said her name was Svetlana.
She says to Hughes, “What are you doing after the show?” He replies, “I have to go back to the work. What do you do for a living?”
And she’s says, “I’m a prostitute.”
“That’s when the light went on and I recognized her,” says a sheepish Hughes. “Webster had arranged the whole thing. I was really had.”
Here's a link to the 15,000 Roving Mike show from 1994.
February 12, 2017
Tom Harrison, In His Own Words
By Dave Chesney
Tom Harrison, longstanding Vancouver Province music critic, is the latest scribe to ease into retirement.
Here he talks to White Rock Sun Publisher/Editor Dave Chesney and reflects on 37 years of overseeing the music beat and some of his more memorable moments.
Dave Chesney : When and where did you begin reviewing music?
Tom Harrison: I think I was 22, which would be 1974. I've sometimes felt that at 22, I already was too old. The first published piece was a record review in Creem. It was really silly but, I guess, irreverent enough for the Creem editor. The Mystic Crystal Apocalyptic Band. The name of the band is almost as long as the review.
A few months later, I sent a letter of complaint to a Toronto monthly, Beetle. It had a reviewer I didn't like. Immediately, I felt I shouldn't criticize him if I wasn't prepared to write reviews myself. So, I sent a few reviews promptly after. The editor said they were good and was I in a position to do interviews? As a matter of fact, I was. I was music director at UBD's campus radio station, then called CYVR, and in regular contact with record reps. So began my "career." I have a hard time calling it a career. When I talked about this to Richard Thompson, he didn't like it either. He said, calling what he does a career sounds like he planned it. I knew what he meant.
DC: You are leaving The Vancouver Province after 37 years of helming the music entertainment section of the paper. How did you come to work there? Did you always just do the music beat?
TH: I'd just been fired from The Georgia Straight around the same time The Province was coming to the end of an eight-month strike. The music reviewer was (the late) Jeani Read, who wanted to implement a new column. As we'd become friends and had attended a lot of shows, she knew about me and recommended me while she prepared her new column. I was hired as a music writer and seldom have written about anything else.
DC: A number of years ago you hosted a popular radio show on CFOX called “Demolisten.” What prompted you to take to the airwaves to promote local indie artists?
TH: "Demolisten" was an opportunity to do several things at once. I'd always thought Canadian acts had been given a raw deal - the Beaver pile nonsense. So, I could address that. Also, I sensed a tremendous amount of activity within the music community, but it had nowhere to go and rarely got any feedback.
DC: CFOX’S incredibly successful Vancouver Seeds (compilation CDs of local indie artists) was born out of “Demolisten." Over the years, many bands that went on to national and international fame came out of this project. What are your memories of those early days?
TH: I've got a lot of memories, most of them jumbled and probably irrelevant. A few became successful - Matthew Good, Bif Naked, Moist; some had potential - Mae Moore, French Letters, L. Kabong; and at least one, Raymond May, alienated everybody almost immediately. They were all good and worthy of support, but Vancouver wasn't ready.
DC: Over the years, you championed local and national independent artists. In addition to your editorial duties you, were actually well known across this great country for your musical creations through your band Bruno Gerussi's Medallion. Where did the band name come from? Warner Music Canada signed you. How many albums did you release?
TH: The name came from bassist Grenville Newton. He was having a fight with his girlfriend and as they walked along Lonsdale in North Vancouver they passed Soundcraft TV. In the store window was a bunch of TVs all tuned to Celebrity Chefs, hosted by Bruno Gerussi. His shirt was unbuttoned and he was wearing a huge medallion. Bruno Gerussi's Medallion, Grenville blurted, knowing our just-formed band had a gig but no name. His girlfriend stopped walking and said, 'That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.' 'Right,' thought Grenville and, to spite her, told us that from now on we were Bruno Gerussi's Medallion.
Over time, Grenville dropped out and we amassed enough demos to make an album. Warner's liked our story enough to release In Search Of The Fourth Chord but not enough to keep us. We had a second album ready to go when we were dropped. Ultimately, that was released independently as Guitar Damage by Little Games. We promoted it poorly and now no one remembers Little Games. You can hear that album on my personal website - www.tomharrisonmusic.com.
DC: What were some of your most vivid memories of the BRUNO GERUSSI MEDALLION days? Did you record solely in Vancouver and what are a couple of your touring stories?
TH: Again, several memories, but I don't know how relevant they are. The most money we ever made was appearing for seconds in a commercial for Club beer, which was available only in Manitoba.
I met Bruno years later and he sort of condoned the name and us -"At least you're not shooting needles up your nose," he said. Apparently, he appeared on The Tonight Show and the guest host subbing for Johnny Carson asked how well known he was in Canada. Bruno told him that there was a band named after him.
We did a tour of Alberta with Tragically Hip that was very good. In central Canada, all the clubs loved us, but we were playing college towns mainly and this was late August. If you'd come two weeks later, said all the soundmen, you'd do well. As it were, the attendances were really poor. And, yes, what little recording we did was solely in Vancouver.
DC: Speaking of your website, can we expect that you will continue to share your musical overview with us in the future?
TH: Oh yes, I fully plan on continuing writing. I think I will be able to speak more freely than I could writing forThe Province. It was a full-service newspaper, so I always had to keep that in mind. I envisioned the average person that read my reviews in large part was a person/reader who might only see a couple of shows a year and to that extent, I had to keep it relatively generic, so to speak.
DC: You have literally interviewed everyone on the local, national and international music scenes. Any memories?
TH: The worst interview was with Michel Pagliaro; the weirdest, Bob Marley; among the toughest were Lou Reed and Johnny Rotten. A few I think fondly of included Yoko Ono, Captain Beefheart and Steve Earle; one I wish I could do again is George Harrison. They all have stories. But, you're right that I've interviewed so many people that I probably will think of others later. Another you might remember, Ted Nugent. I was a day late for some reason - but you met me outside his hotel and told me he was in his room and to go on up. I did and we had a short - but lively - conversation. He was great.
DC: What were the Top 5 concerts you saw and reviewed?
TH: Bob Marley in Kingston; Bruce Springsteen at the Queen E; the early DOA shows... It gets hazy after that. Steve Earle at 86 Street; the first time I saw the Dave Matthews Band. I don't like Matthews now, but his first time in Vancouver, at the Town Pump, was amazing. Iggy Pop with David Bowie on keyboards. REM at the Commodore. Pagliaro at the Body Shop. Elvis Costello in Blaine.
DC: If you could only take five albums with you to a desert island, what would they be?
TH: I get asked this often and I warn that the list can change drastically each time. The one constant is Love's Forever Changes, my favourite album.
Most of my choices are old and, shockingly, short. The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society; The Beatles' Revolver; The Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet; Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde. Also, Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run; The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds; The Beau Brummels' Triangle and Bradley's Barn; The Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers; REM's Reckoning, and Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights. It goes on.
DC: The top five Canadian acts you have seen develop over the years?
TH: If you're asking about bands that are still developing, I have to think about it. No band comes readily to mind...perhaps Arcade Fire; maybe New Pornographers. And these bands are no longer new. There are so many bands now, but the ways of promoting bands have changed. Three of the top acts in music - Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd - aren't bands and aren't rock. In the coulda-shoulda category are a few that were either their own worst enemy or the Canadian music industry wasn't ready for them: Michel Pagliaro, Sons Of Freedom, Art Bergmann, Crowbar, Payolas.
DC: Your career spans an age that saw the natural progression from vinyl to CD to downloads to streaming. As you leave the building and look back over your shoulder, how do you feel about the music industry?
TH: The music industry when I came into it doesn't exist anymore. This isn't a bad thing, but for me, the adjustment has been difficult. Music critics became arrogant and complacent because we had so much power (some of which was abused) and practically everything had to come through us. So, possibly by default, we were on top because we were necessary to the process.
Over time, the way music is marketed, promoted or heard has changed dramatically. This is a long, involved subject, but it has made the mainstream media redundant. We aren't necessary to the process anymore.
My way of being relevant was to start the Garage column. That helped, though it was flawed and I soon learned that many bands preferred to promote themselves through Facebook. Blogs provided another alternative to the mainstream. And we aren't even talking about downloads, streaming, publicists, YouTube or online radio. There are people such as Ra McGuire, who are really good at uncovering new acts and albums. That's probably because they've spread the net wide and have developed favourite places to look. I might be able to do that now that I'm a music fan again, not a music critic. This also is a long subject
DC: In closing, will there be another book?
TH: As you know, there is one book: Tom Harrison's History Of Vancouver Rock And Roll. What you probably don't know is that the book has been unavailable for months. It was published as an eBook by Harper Collins which had a distribution deal with Amazon, Kobo and two others. For some reason, HC dissolved the deal and the book immediately was removed. There's the irony here that a major theme is the growing pains of a Vancouver music industry and the disappearance of the book is almost exactly what I'm writing about. So Carey Bermingham, the editor, and I are trying to relaunch the book through some interested publisher. There are a few. Maybe, now that I'm "retired," I can devote myself full time to this
Originally published February 03, 2017
January 21, 2017
My Special Music People: #4
A Brief Raycap of my Career in a Nuthouse, Nutshell - Ray Ramsay
BMG had a Special Products division and his ‘Hits’ package was one of them. Bobby was huge in the late 50’, early 60’s and Canadian too. He had hits like ‘Indian Giver’ which wouldn’t fly THESE days; it would have to be ‘Native Person Giver’, or ‘First Nations Giver’ which wouldn’t have the same ring, but..however one has to recognize that he, Paul Anka and a VERY select one or two others, made it big without the benefit of Canadian Content; the cream rose to the top.
My initial reaction to this news was "Shut the door."! Why?!
My wife, Lynne was all excited about this and she told me how enraptured she was that she was at one of his shows when she was younger and he gave her his Coke bottle and what a treasure that was (gag). I remember Margo Timmins (Cowboy Junkies) telling me how one of her treasures was the beer bottle Lou Reed gave her at one of his concerts; I’m sure there’s a parallel there in some universe, but Lou made one of the best Rock Records ever with his ‘Rock & Roll Animal’ and Bobby didn’t.
Anyway I gave Lynne a CD but told her she could never play it while I was in the house, seemed fair to me.
Bobby was a bubbly little guy and had an office near CISL in Richmond and would drop in unannounced and pop on air, so I was careful to monitor the station as I was heading there for their sister station Z95 and heard him drop in on Don Percy and he was all over Don like a wet shirt, especially about his upcoming tour sponsored by a Vegetable juice company which caused me to think; Hmmm. Given the median age of his fans, which would be 50 to Death, probably closer to Death, to make any money on this tour you’d have to do afternoon shows and sell Prune juice in Oxygen bars . They could have ramped up attendance by offering a Door Prize of one Motorized Potty/WheelChair, the snazzy Lincoln Incontinental! I continued to listen as Bobby was in full Gush over Don, but missed him when I finally got to the station, Dang! I guess I just didn’t want my hand licked.
Bobby at one time had a TV show, you know your Recording career is in the ditch when TV asks you to do a show, and his guest and the only reason I tuned in was to see his guest Bo Diddley! Well, Bo was as great as TV allowed him to be in those days but at the end of the show Bo is on again and in mid-song up pops Bobby, Bo is playing his axe and doing his shuffle, just give'nr and Bobby is right there beside him trying to keep up, but you know, it was obvious to me that Bobby didn’t know Diddly.
For the record, Bo Diddleys real name is Elias McDaniel and he used to make guitars from cigar boxes as a child and in Africa an instrument like this is called a diddley bow; it’s a ‘Roots’ thing. He used to make posters for his tour dates that read: If you think Elvis is the King then you don’t know Diddley! Love it.
L>R Dale Robertson/BMG, Dave Matthews/DMB, Skunkface Killah/Me, Terry Mulligan/TDM, Miss Katherine/BMG.
The Dave Matthews Band
Took me FIVE years to break them on Vancouver Radio, TheQ/Victoria knew it all along! Once the light did go on, during my spot on The Fox’s Rep Report I had the opportunity to thank “the hundreds of thousands of Freeloading Bastards for stealing the band’s latest record on-line” causing us to have them go back and do a newer version, which, well you know…sigh. We got calls! It was good radio. Click on mp3 file attached.
Conan Daly-from BMG Calgary; one of the FUNNIEST men on 3 wheels!
A huge talent on stage and studio, polite, appreciative and remembered people well. A joy to work with. “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane’ too soon.
Another career challenge and huge success. Her ‘Roswell’ theme gave me the ammo to break her on Top40, so take that ‘Stan’!
Doug & Slugs celebrating their 1st Gold Album in fine Bennett fettle at the stately Bayshore Inn. But seriously folks, that’s SUGAR not ‘the real thing’ and no Burton of proof to the contrary!
Doug & the Slugs
Had a hand in signing them too, great act successful records. Enjoyed ‘Slugging’ it out. Sam & Denise a great team to tag with.
Small world, turns out my neighbor, Ted Laturnas was Doug’s original Drummer.
Doug & Slugs celebrating their 1st Gold Album in fine Bennett fettle at the stately Bayshore Inn. But seriously folks, that’s SUGAR not ‘the real thing’ and no Burton of proof to the contrary!
He up and died the day I started at RCA (I had nothing to do with that, NOTHING! and not to be outdone, Bing Crosby died about a month later.) So, I never met the man but I did get to see the top of Priscilla’s hairdo one day when I was in Vegas for an Elvis Convention and I did get to say Hi to The Colonel (Parker, not Saunders, altho he WAS liking his fingers) who was sitting beside his new protégé Rick Nelson signing autographs. Fortunately for him he didn’t have his ‘Dancing Chickens’ show with him or the ASPCA would have shut the entire thing down. Carnies….sigh.
Elvis imitators? Should get a life, preferably one of their own. That’s just spooky.
One time, John Ford and I were in LA and went to the legendary ‘Palomino Club’ A Country Music venue (we knew we were getting closer to the Club by the increasing amount of cars up on blocks) and that night they were hosting an Elvis night and one of the performers was a Colored guy, White Jump suit, the whole bit and he was just givin’ it, but there were some wring-ass Rednecks in the room and they were not encouraging so we left before things could escalate into a Race riot and just before the Triple K (KKK) Ball team arrived, but they MISSED the point: Here was a Black man doing Elvis, and all Elvis really was, was a White cracker doing a Black man.
L>R: The Late Leagh Alden/RCA, the Right on time Myself, and Red Robinson; presenting Red with Double Platinum for his contribution to the “Elvis: Canadian Tribute project. Without Red there wouldn’t have been that Album; AGAIN! No Red, No Elvis!
I made this up and have NO idea what it might mean. I put it on my Biz Card so people would ask and we’d start talking. This sounded better than my original title of “Grizzly Promotions’ a play on the Grizzly Ramsay nickname, but that sounded like I specialized in Bear maulings and Shark attacks, so I changed it.
I have known and worked with a number of Consultants, most are a credit to their craft (Pat Bohn’s crew are my favorite) but some are a joke. At one convention we had one person in particular, I’ll just call him Mr Smartass, and we actually PAID this guy to tell us things I had some better answers for and then he had the nerve to tell all of us we looked like we read books! Gasp! Oh NO! Something really has to be done about this literacy problem! I bet the last book this guy read had word balloons or boobs in it! And THEN, we fed this jackass lunch! I waited around to see if he’d choke, but no luck.
Visit GRIZZLY RAMSAY'S blog Aladin Ladner