By Karen Bliss
On Saturday (Dec. 1), Andy Kim, writer of such hits as “Sugar Sugar” and “Rock Me Gently,” and sales of some 30 million records, will be inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in a special ceremony at Toronto’s Sony Centre that will air Dec. 9 on CTV. He is a humble man, genuinely. More than 50 years in the business and he still is incredulous that people even care. And they do — incredulous right back that he is incredulous, if that makes any sense?
“I wanted to be in that playground where it was sculptors and painters, to be around that energy. And, so here I am being inducted into the playground on Saturday,” is how he reflects on it.
Kim — born Andrew Youakim — has an incredible life story. Born in Montreal to Lebanese immigrants, he left home in his teens and worked in the now legendary Brill Building in New York. Every chat with him unearths some cool, unexpected tidbit. In this convo, he offhandedly mentioned that John Lennon gave him his first gold record for the No. 1 “Rock Me Gently,” which had risen to the top of trade mags Billboard, Cashbox and Record World in 1974. The story then weaves other serendipitous circumstances, including more Lennon, Stars on 45, and a photo with Ringo Starr at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
The past 13 years, Kim has been hip again, coaxed out of retirement, if you will, by Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson and Ron Sexsmith who both recorded songs with him, 2004’s “I Forgot To Mention” and 2005’s ”Whatever Happened To Christmas,” respectively. He also established the first Andy Kim Christmas Show, which has continued all these years annually, with proceeds to charity (this year, it’s in Toronto Dec. 5 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre; Montreal, Dec. 15, at Corona Theatre; and Burlington Performing Arts Centre on Dec. 20).
More recently, Kim formed a bond with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene who signed him to Arts & Crafts and made an album with him called It’s Decided, released in 2015 (he released Happen Again, on KOCH, in 2011).
FYI Music News talked to Kim about this upcoming lifetime honour which triggered not just the Lennon memories, but of his parents, of The Flying Wallendas, and why he hasn’t kept any of his records or awards.
How does it feel to be inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame?
It’s a beautiful thing. As a kid, I didn't have a Canadian barometer as far as music goes. You do what you feel like doing at the time you feel like doing it, and then one day you realize there was no GPS and now there is, and Canadians don't have to leave home. They can if they want to, but you can make a record at home, which is great.
A few days later, you will be using your influence to stage your annual Christmas show, which benefits several charities.
"This year I think about my journey and the fact that it’s 50 years ago this year that I had my first international hits ["How'd We Ever Get This Way?", “Shoot 'Em Up Baby", "Rainbow Ride” and "Rock Me Gently"]. I thought about the fact that in 50 years a lot has changed. My life has changed. The people around me have changed, but the one thing that hasn't changed is that people are in trouble and sometimes they can't help themselves. So, you find a way to help people that are in trouble. That's the one thing that has not changed.
Fifty years! It’s a lot of years.
It's only a lot of years when I look back because I've always been the one who lives in the present, but this year I'm forced to look back. It's interesting to look back and ponder where time went, to consider all those people that I've met, and reflect on how I got here.
And you're going to have a permanent star on the sidewalk to commemorate that journey.
Well, that's until the winter salt erodes it.
I'll go by, and I'll polish it before.
[laughs] You know John Lennon gave me my gold record for “Rock Me Gently”?
He did? Where?
Well, I wrote a song called “Rock Me Gently” and not that many people liked it. I decided to go and produce it on my own. And then when nobody wanted to put it out. I was going to give it away for free to any label that would put it out, but nobody thought it was a hit. So, I put it out on my own. I started my own label. Did you know that?
My label was called Ice long before it became a term where music, hip hop rap artists and beer companies thought it was a great term. Although I wanted to give it away for free, I started the label and before you know it, "Rock Me Gently" became a No. 1 hit and went on to sell 6 million records around the world.
And John Lennon gave me my gold record, but getting Canada’s Walk of Fame kind of eclipses that. I grew up a son of immigrants, my parents never understood why I wanted to be in music, and when I was starting to make a lot of money they wanted me to come back home — especially my mom. But I never came back to stay. I would fly home once a week for dinner, because you get on Eastern Airlines from LaGuardia in about an hour and 20 minutes to Montreal. So this honour here [Canada’s Walk of Fame] cheered me up because my parents were not here to see that I represented a country in my travels.
They did see your success.
They saw my success, but it was not as material as my being home. I was someone that really believed that this was my purpose. This is what I needed to do. I wasn't living someone else's life. I wasn't living my parents’ dream for me. I was living my dream for me. And sometimes when you look back on it, you wonder “Were you cruel?” Maybe someone else thought that, but I didn't think that I was born to stay in an environment where I saw a bigger picture. Does that make sense?
You have to live your life.
You have to live your life the best you can and know that you can own it. You can. This is what I'm living. I never thought too much about it until you get stopped by someone from yesterday or you look in the [news] paper and see your face along with all the other inductees. It reminds me that as a kid, all I wanted was to be in this playground of artists, of musicians, songwriters and people that I heard on transistor radio. Do you know The Flying Wallendas?
The circus family?
I grew up on a corner of De Castelnau and St. Denis, and the city would close the street up once a year, and The Flying Wallendas would show up without a safety net and do a high wire act... I wanted to be in that playground where it was sculptors and painters, to be around that energy. And, so here I am being inducted into the playground on Saturday.
Waiting for that book.
If I can find a purpose in it.
The purpose is you have a cool, inspiring life. You followed your dream.
Well, you know what the truth is, if you live at correctly, you don't see that it's inspiring. You just know, 'Holy shoot, I got through the day'.
You didn't answer how John Lennon gave you your gold record.
So I'm in Bhaskar Menon’s office, who was then chairman of the board at Capitol Records, and “Rock Me Gently” had hit No. 1 on all the charts in the U.S. It hit No. 1 on CashBox and Billboard at the same time. When I wrote “Sugar, Sugar,” I was thinking about, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” I wasn't really writing a Beatles song, but I just figured that maybe this could be like what they would write.
So I'm there. They're going to give me my gold record. It was going to be delivered to the chairman, and he wanted to see me before because I was going to do Top of the Pops in the UK. The door opens and John Lennon is unwrapping this framed plaque and he says, “Andy Kim, I love this song. Congratulations.” And he gives it to me,, and I freeze And so the chairman introduces us. John Lennon has a meeting because he's putting out “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” with Elton John.
I leave not able to say a word. The following day, on KHJ AM in the morning, John Lennon — who was ubiquitous enough not to be afraid to be everywhere — was on the show and he counted down to No. 1. “Rock Me Gently “was No. 1 and he referenced the fact that he met me yesterday. I know that one of the Beach Boys has it on a recording and I've been promised that he would send it to me, but he hasn't yet. It's just the idea that your life goes through all of these things.
Just a little footnote, I was talking to [radio legend] Roger Ashby when [Toronto’s] CHUM FM was in the building on Yonge Street many years ago. I had done an interview and then we were talking, and I told him all my gold records and gold albums I sent to my mom and dad in Montreal.
If you walked into my place in L.A., you wouldn't even know I was a musician except for the keyboard and guitar in the corner. I never held onto anything. He says, “You don't have any of your records? I said, “No, I've got nothing.” I never held onto anything because to me I'm living in the moment and that moment disappears when the next moment happens. So he said, “Hold on. And he went, and he came back and gave me the CHUM Library 45 of "How’d We Ever Get This Way.” I still have it. I was with Kevin [Drew] in L.A. a couple of years ago, and we went to a record store where we found a Rainbow Ride album that he bought and gave to me. So, slowly but steadily, I'm grabbing some stuff.
Where are the awards from your parents’ estate?
My kid brother put them in a box somewhere, when my mom passed away, with all sorts of other stuff. It's in a locker somewhere, and they can't find anything. So I don't know, maybe it'll come to me again or maybe not, but I never held onto anything because it was just the moment, You have the memories, but, today you can take a selfie and say, “Hey, look who I'm with.” I'm still here for the moment, but I can't guarantee I'll be here in the morning.
Well, I think you’ll be at the Walk of Fame induction on Saturday.
It’s just having this moment in time, and people celebrate you--but you're not owed anything. I never wrote a song for someone else. It was always about writing a song for me that made me feel good. That's just the way I look at it.