A Conversation With ... Joanne Muroff Smale

A Conversation With ... Joanne Muroff Smale

By Bill King

Joanne Smale and our family have a long-running passion for U.S. politics.  Having survived the dark moments of Trump, we veterans of the Nixon era share a special bond. Jo and I share a birthday. Smale was our most significant jazz festival connection. The gracious publicist who generously strapped a wristband or hung a credential sign around our necks allowing the King family access to some of the most outstanding performers of all time. The number of events and epic moments Smale has promoted can't be addressed in one interview. Below is a short bio, and then we Talk!


The bio of achievements reads as such:

"Joanne Smale is the C.E.O. of Planet3 Communications Ltd. and the President of Joanne Smale Productions Ltd.; Toronto-based production, promotion and publicity companies for international, national and regional events.

Smale sat on the National Board of Directors for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, the Canadian Independent Recording Producers Association – CIRPA (former Vice President for several years), Metronome and the World of Comedy International Film Festival. She was involved with Canadian Women in Radio and Television (CWRT/CWC, founding-board member), Toronto Women in Film and Television (TWIFT/WIFT), Canadian Showcasing Internationally (CSI), Toronto Entertainment District Association (TEDA), the Canadian Independent Film Caucus (CIFC), the International Federation of Festival Organizations (FIDOF) and VideoFact.

Smale has received six gold and two platinum albums for her work with Rough Trade, Murray McLauchlan, and Bruce Cockburn, a platinum album for her contribution to Oh What A Feeling – A Vital Collection of Canadian Music by CARAS, a platinum album for her work on The World Wrestling Federation's album, WWF - The Music Volume 4, and she won the Canadian Music Week award for Best Independent Publicist in 2000."

Bill King:Youhave had such a varied career: booking agent, artist manager, tour manager, marketing, public relations, consulting, special events, radio tracking, production and producer of film/TV and live events, etc. It all began, I'm guessing, in Miami, Florida. Was this the family roots?


Joanne Muroff Smale: Actually, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved as a toddler to South Beach in Florida, growing up, and then Coconut Grove and Coral Gables for my studies.

The common thread in my varied career is a social concern and social justice, with a strong belief that arts are the centre of all cultures. We worked with the arts in weaving profiles for the causes.

B.K: What interests did young Joanne pursue?

JMS: Music appreciation, the arts, sports, philosophy and the metaphysical.

B.K: What was your dad's occupation?

JMS: He had a sand quarry in Havana, but that was 1959. A revolution evolved, so he then returned to Miami Beach. Gas stations and our mom based at home; family is sister & doggy.

B.K:You were born of a time when women were expected to focus on domestic life: the husband, the family, the kitchen. What persuaded you to become self-reliant?

JMS: Thanks for bringing that up; well said, and you bet! We were taught to read a newspaper a day, a magazine a week and a book a month, and our home was open to discussions.  We were raised with cultural and global outlooks; friends and travellers were welcomed in our home.  We were taught to be a believer in empowerment for ourselves.  We were taught to accept the consequences of the decisions made.  We were taught family, which extends from the immediate to the family of friends and beliefs. We were asked to continue our studies after high school without any pressure to focus on domestic life. It was suggested to travel, thus the reason I am in Canada.


B.K: You graduated from American University in Miami Beach (Coral Gables). What were your studies and degree?

JMS: University of Miami, BA degree, the study of psychology and anthropology as a minor and very subjective to music—that is who I hung with.

B.K; You relocated to London, Ontario, in 1973. How did you yet find the place on a map? What brought you here?Before continuing your master's degree, you hitchhiked across America. What did you bring from that journey, and how much ground did you cover?

JMS: After graduating college, I put my thumb out and travelled through the U.S. of A. and Canada. It took about a year.  From down south up the coast, New York, New England to the Maritimes, across Quebec to Ottawa and onwards to Southern Ontario. In Windsor, crossed over to Michigan to Indiana, Illinois to Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho, up to B.C. and then to Washington and down the coast. In each centre I had many experiences: from shucking oysters on a fishing boat in P.E.I to picking apples in Annapolis Valley, sweeping the floors of a yoga retreat north of Montreal, scooping ice cream in Chicago and so on. Pierre Trudeau sent out the challenge: visit Canada, and all Canadians should pick up the travellers and offer hospitality.  I took rides, cars, trucks, trains, and buses—perfect timing to experience Canadian hospitality after university graduation.

When in Kingston, Ontario, my ride worked in the music industry.  I landed in Toronto at the studio listening to a London, Ont.-based band, Thundermug, produced by Fergus Hambleton's brother Greg. I met the owner of BBR Booking Agency, Brian Courtis, who extended a job offer in London.  I returned to Florida from California, and lived in the Back Bay area of Boston, waiting for immigration.  My sister crossed with me on the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, taking the back roads to London. The yellow brick architecture still knocks me out to this day.  I was accepted as a landed immigrant. Heck, the school would wait!


B.K: Your early years in Canada led you from one adventure to another as you crisscrossed the country. What were some of the memorable experiences?

JMS: Didn't know a soul and what the actual job of a booking agent was.  I have always hung with a music crowd down south – bands, industry, etc., so knew something of how generally things work.  I booked and drove to each gig, from Petrolia to Watford to Sarnia to Windsor to Chatham to St Thomas to Tillsonburg to Simcoe to Kitchener-Waterloo to Guelph plus every other centre that had a high school, university, or a bar (usually on a "Queen Street”) in southwest Ontario.  I had Florida plates on my Volvo station wagon, and after gigs driving back to London, I would usually end up on the side of the snow-covered road that first winter. The tow-truckers would take care of me via their CBs: "Hey, the Yank is in the ditch again." Oh, Canada, a great land!  


Southwest Ontario was my turf while Toronto had its music scene, where the "big boys" played.  Not too many women in the industry—I can name them on one hand.

A label had invited me to a club in London, Smale's Place, to listen to their act for potential booking.  There I met the owner, my future husband, John Smale. After selling his club, we worked on some projects together, moving to Ancaster and then to Toronto.  He has an exceptional eye for art and style, which eventually led him to his career as a designer after we had parted.  I remained with music.

B.K: To manage, book or promote anything requires a personality built on sheer will. Were there moments you said to yourself, I can't do this anymore; I'd prefer to roll up in a ball and disappear, and when did you realize you were gaining a foothold within the music industry?

JMS: Sure. There were many moments I said to myself that I couldn't do this anymore.  I still ask what I am going to be when I grow up; what's next.  I still say I'm going to hitchhike; catch a train like Boxcar Willie. But then, something just comes about, and I am off, working on it! You just pick yourself up. You find ways.

I shake my head and still question how in the heck did all of this happen and remain so for almost 40 years.  The music for music's sake, the arts for arts' sake, are the motivating factor for me; just those darn finances hang around my neck.  I believe that art is the centre of any culture, which fed my mind.  Something would pop up: an opening act space, new live locations started opening across the country, artists wanting a national tour booked, etc.  Festivals were gaining popularity—a new venue to work with.   

Video launched, and for the first time, the fans, the public, could see how the artists sang/how they moved, what they wore, what they looked like, etc.  Well, this did hurt the live venues. I started working with theatre, dance, visual arts, TV & film production, and sports and it gave me new breath. I realized a means of making a livelihood could be met. I just had to be creative enough, act out on visions and acknowledge intuitions.

The arts started overlapping, which wasn't always the case, whereas each muse stayed in their creative arena.  The communities didn't meet one another. The work became a canvas in producing and introducing the artists in presenting their form on all stages.  Cultural communities rose on the stages, and what a joy to be a part of that evolution.

Queen Street West in Toronto was an artistic melting pot of arts, cultures, enthusiasm, and activism. The Cameron House had places for artists to live plus a performance spot, and the walls hung with Canadian art.  My office was there, next to the Horseshoe. Many a night,shared as an informal green room for the acts.  Kenny Sprackman and X-Ray McRae were terrific club owners. Lorraine Segato, pop singer-songwriter and a filmmaker, caught much of the energy with her Queen Street West, The Rebel Zone. Filmmaker Colin Brunton's The Last Pogo saluted the closing of the Garys' Horseshoe days. Patti Habib and Richard O'Brien and Andre Rosenbaum, David Stearn and Jeff Strasburg gave us stages to play music of all genres—the former the "home away from home" BamBoo and later the "hip and indie" Rivoli.  Peter Pan: a restaurant by Larry Guest/Mary Jackman/Sandy Stagg to hang in and talk fashion and cool.  Journalist Nicholas Jennings covered the street in a TV production for CBC.  I remember promoter Serge Sloimovits entering the music scene, promoting his love of the blues and jazz performers with the flavour of his Parisian sense.  We fought, we made the city aware of causes from environment to literacy, Aids, Council Fire, Squash Hunger, Anti-Apartheid in South Africa—these are just droplets that all of us were involved with—through the arts.  Molly Johnson sang her heart out, showed up for everyone; the family O'Haras gave us smiles.  Queen Street West was our nourishment, and we saluted the causes that needed bringing to attention.  There were so many people – to name them would take pages. Erella "Vent" Ganon was always and still is a significant catalyst of the muses.

We can never forget the Hummer Sisters – HUMMER FOR MAYOR: ART VS ART.

Socially, Rosie Levine reported NOW Magazine (founded by Alice Klein & Michael Hollett), and Rob and Rita kept the city updated at the Toronto Star, amongst other journalists and outlets. Biserka Livaja photographed it all and still shoots to this day fashion, the arts, and the city's cultures. John Rowland, Patrick Harbron, Barry Roden and Bill and Kris King shot the live gigs.  The Jazz Report/The Jazz Report Radio Network— Bill King supported jazz and blues; black communities supported by Share and Contrast amongst other outlets. 

It was the time in my career to be a part of boards. I sat on VideoFact, CIRPA, Toronto Women in Film and TV, International Federation of Festival Organizations, Canadian Women in Radio and Television, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television and TEDA, Toronto Entertainment District Association name a few.  All of these boards led me deeper into professional relationships.

B.K: Whowas the first artist you managed, and how did that go?

JMS: I was working in a management capacity, mainly with two artists.  Willie P. Bennett was the first.  He is one of the finest songwriters around, and I still scratch my head because a publisher has not taken up his catalogue.  We worked together when rock and roll paid the bills, it always will, and roots/folk music was preaching to a few.  It's a tough go with bookings and keeping the pot of money full. Song placement was a challenge as well. We parted as friends, as a family. May he rest in peace. 

With the most talented Murray McLauchlan, I kept a loosely called "management" base between his former business rep with Bernie Finkelstein and who the future group would be.   It turned out to be Jim Halsey out of Nashville.  At this juncture, we worked more in a public relations capacity, with much respect.  As the world knows, he is one of Canada's gems as a songwriter, performer, and visual artist. CILQ-FM/Q107 launched in the late '70s in Toronto. Rock had arrived.   I remember Finkelstein had set up that Murray will go live at the station with his cut Hard Rock Town.  That's when I met Gary Slaight, and throughout the years have worked with him and just stayed in touch. Ha! That's over 30 years ago!  One of the points about Gary is that he loves the music; at this time, we went to lots of venues along with Bob Mackowycz. Again, it's about the music - rock on!

Management means 25 hours and eight days a week you are on-call.

As a consultant, I advised on management and bookings; later, the consultations expanded into public relations, marketing, and on-site productions.

We worked with many crossovers to get a job done.  For example: Colleen Peterson, who sang like a songbird, and I worked in many capacities. When a label and management repped her, I was part of a team; we held the base when situations changed. Our personal and professional relationship extended until her passing:  For instance, helped organized showcases for album releases and concert dates; dressed retail window displays; looked after bookings on Canadian tours and isolated dates; tour-managed Ontario tours, that included nine nights at Massey Hall in Toronto with Gordon Lightfoot; and organized a farewell press and friends party when she relocated to Nashville.

B.K:Your clients were local promoters the Garys, The Horseshoe and The El Mocambo. It was the golden era of rock, blues, alternative music in Toronto. What were some of the highlights and some of the low points?Mais Oui!: lead-in to Joanne Smale Productions Ltd (1979).

JMS: At Mais Oui! we indeed worked with the Garys' shows at the Horseshoe; Wow!  Did I learn music from them, and we remain friends to this day and have also worked on other projects throughout the years.  We helped launch Bomb Records/ PJ Imports, Colleen Peterson, Sam the Record Man/RD2000 record merchandising and national franchise convention, Toots and the Maytals and many other events.  Stuart left to road-manage for Bruce Cockburn, and so there I was at another crossroads.

I was honoured to have as my first gig the launch of Lisa Dalbello's debut album Pretty Girls, which came about from a call of my home landlord who "heard" I was in music.  There weren't many music books written at this time, so you just jump right in—swim and keep your snorkel close by.  We crossed Canada first on a promo tour and then the concerts.  I remember that Sam Sniderman was such a supporter of hers.  Ha, Sammy was a great supporter of the industry; we worked on other events and projects with his son Robert, and he was an "audience" many a time for (son) Jason's music. In addition to public relations, we tour-managed Lisa's Ontario and western tour.  What a beautiful and powerful voice!  I remember us meeting Warren Cosford; he was with CHUM in those days, travelling across the country as well.  Ha, Warren was also a great supporter of hers; he taught me about radio and worked on several projects as well; we remain friends to this day.  Some projects were with Doug Thompson and syndicated shows they were producing.

Joanne Smale Productions (1979) was born: a Toronto-based promotion, publicity and production company that worked on a local, national and international level in the entertainment, cultural and sports industries.  We worked with a broad spectrum of people and projects, from performers, cultural events, charities and benefits to industry conferences and Awards.  We were located next to the El Mocambo for years. The backyard was as long as the pool hall under us—and what parties and good times were had!  I would be sitting out back, and that's how some groups entered the club, the back door was off the alley.  I'd just sit there and wave and welcome them to Toronto.  Regret?  Not sticking my head out of my front window and taking a daily shot of the marquee; now that would have been a terrific table-art book.

In addition to publicity, marketing, and promotions, we looked after additional areas such as radio-tracking. For instance, for Posterity Records/Harvey Glatt's label – reaching a #1 spot with Quarrington/Worthy Baby and the Blues, co-producer of Third World with Roots Canada/Michael Budman, Marcus O'Hara at Massey Hall and began working/promoting with bands from out east – such as John Alan Cameron, Québec such as Maneige and Barde, artists from the Prairies with Paul Hann and Connie Kaldor, and British Columbia with BIM, Pied Pumkin/Pied Pear, Shari Ulrich, Valdy and others. 

We had concerns about situations that were taking place worldwide and locally - Aids, literacy, squash hunger, environment, human rights, and social justice.

One concern was the apartheid regime in South Africa – the institutionalized system of racial segregation.  Canada held sanctions against the country and through the arts; we co-created, promoted events in working with artists, coalitions, and organizations for years.  I had the privilege of working with many people, such as Rhonda Ross, John Piper (Bob Rae's press attaché), Allan Gregg achieved what was needed. Harry Belafonte and Archbishop Desmond Tutu became essential voices.   Then one day, apartheid ended, and Nelson Mandela visited.  Canada was necessary for the stand of sanctions that they took over the years.  What a great victory!  Experiences never to be forgotten.

Another concern was the environment, the respect of water for instance.  We were launching a film Power at TIFF 1990.  Filmmakers Magnus Isaacson and Glen Salzman presented a compelling, behind-the-scenes account of one of the most critical environmental, native rights and political battles of our times.  We decided to organize a march from Union Station into TIFF's headquarters at the hotel.  Concerning and involvement with members of the film, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. being one, we marched from Union station to TIFF's headquarters.  I needed to get Bobby back to the airport, and I had asked my friend Mark Mattson to be the driver!  He is an environmental lawyer by trade and a co-founder of Lake Ontario Waterkeepers. I thought, what a match, and indeed it was.  With Kennedy's Waterkeepers network, Mattson and Krystyn Tully (co-founder) created an independent charity dedicated to a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Lake Ontario to this day.  To this day, their relationship is strong.

We started working in many areas in all walks of our lives. With women's issues, censorship, social justice, mental health, and addiction, LGBT2Q+, Indigenous, and the diaspora. There is so much to learn and give, making the most exciting personal and professional relationships.  Common thread again is music, dance, visual arts, theatre, events/festivals, celebrations, and benefits.  The literary field took me to launch books, co-organize book tours, and be a part of a Toronto Star lecture series produced by David Lavin.  One of the events was a night with Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, and Eldridge Cleaver on the same stage, an experience I shall never forget.

What fun Molson Breweries were to work with creating events and marketing and publicizing them.  Whether it was cultural—Molson WOMAD or sports—Molson Million Mile, or community, Oktoberfest, the company and the events had a win-win relationship. I was also part of the team to open the original casino in Niagara Falls, Casino Niagara. One of my jobs was to book star look-a-likes to be a part of the grand opening: Marilyn Monroe, Rod Stewart and we're there!

Can-Am racing, tennis and snooker rounded out the taste of sports, to name a few projects.  We can't forget True North's release of OK Blue Jays (Let's Play Ball)!

Visionary David Marsden was at the helm of CFNY-FM, and finally, Toronto had a radio station that played independent music—The Spirit of Radio.  We helped launch the signal, and he chose the top of the CN Tower for breakfast to do so. Getting several hundred guests was quite the challenge, and the only way was up with two elevators.  I remember that Long John Baldry was a special guest in the launch, and he was not too fond of heights, to put it mildly.  He made it as he shut his eyes and even faced away from the glass elevator windows, held my hand tightly as we raced to the top; the industry showed up!  So many more stories must wait for another time.

 In the '90s I co-produced two films, the first with TVO, Mondo Moscow - shooting in the city's underground culture and the second with the NFB and Jay Switzer at Citytv, The Un-Canadians, revealing the blacklisting the occurred in Canada in the 1950s.

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