Music News Digest, Dec. 31, 2020
Renegade rocker Art Bergmann (pictured) is amongst the new Order of Canada recipients, Jaymz Bee promises NYE fun, and Cindy McLeod wins the John Valenteyn Blues Booster of the Year Award. Also making news are Latin Awards Canada 2020, Keithmas, and Jane Bunnett, and a farewell to Randy Alexander, John Fletcher, Gordon Lapp, Armando Manzanero, Gary 17, and Laurie-Ann Sparling.
By Kerry Doole
61 new recipients of the Order of Canada were announced yesterday (Dec. 30), including maverick Canadian rocker Art Bergmann. He was made a Member of the Order, "for his indelible contributions to the Canadian punk music scene, and for his thought-provoking discourse on social, gender and racial inequalities." A pivotal figure on the original late '70s Vancouver punk scene as leader of Young Canadians, Los Popularos, and Poisoned, Bergmann then launched an acclaimed solo career. In 1989, he was nominated for a Juno in the Most Promising Male Vocalist category, and, in 1996, he won the Juno for Best Alternative Album for What Fresh Hell Is This?
After a long stint in Toronto, Bergmann moved to Alberta, and he continues to write and record. He told The Calgary Herald he was surprised when he got the Order call. “It was strange and nice at the same time,” he said. He’s currently working on a new album, exploring such themes as the fall of the world’s empires of misogyny, genocide and continuous colonization. “I hope that perhaps someone might hear this and stick to their guns,” he explained to the Herald. “You won’t make any money at it but you’ll get a little pin to wear on your shoulder that says you stood up for your beliefs and stuck to your integrity.” Our congrats to Art.
Five other Canadian music notables were honoured. Daniel Taylor was made an Officer of the Order "for his achievements as an internationally renowned opera singer and for his commitment to mentoring the next generation of Canadian singers," and Barbara Butler was named a Member "for her contributions to the musical landscape of Nova Scotia, notably through her promotion of numerous concert series across the province." Montrealer Brian Cherney (Member) was honoured "for his lifelong devotion to Canadian music, as an internationally renowned composer, educator and scholar," while Michel Cusson (of Uzeb fame), was made a Member "for his role in the evolution of jazz across Canada and for his acclaimed contributions to the entertainment industry. Gary Gullickson (Member) was cited "for advancing the music and arts communities in Saskatoon, as a renowned choir director and educator.
See the full list of recipients here. The honour, bestowed by Gov.-Gen Julie Payette, will not be presented during an in-person ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa for the new year, as is customary, but will be scheduled once public health measures allow.
– If you’re looking for fun on this unusual NYE, we recommend checking out the Jaymz Bee New Years' Eve Special on JAZZ.FM91, Dec. 31, 9 pm – 1 am. It’s on the radio (91.1FM in Southern Ontario & Western New York) and on the net (www.jazz.fm). Prior to that, the pre-party from 7:15-9:00 on YouTube features new music videos from the Tiki Collective, Shuffle Demons, John Finley, and more. Interspersed will be New Year's Eve toasts and testimonials and appearances by “Weird Al” Yankovic, The Amazing Kreskin, Barbra Lica and dozens more.
– The Latin Awards Canada 2020 were held as a virtual broadcast from Montreal on Dec. 27. The list of winners included such internationally popular Latino Canadian artists as Alex Cuba, Jessie Reyez, and Lido Pimienta. The publicly-voted Most Popular Artist award went to Rafael Energia Dominicana. See the full list of winners here.
– The Toronto Blues Society board of directors has announced Calgary's Cindy McLeod as the winner of the newly renamed John Valenteyn Blues Booster of the Year award, a very special Maple Blues Award honouring outstanding contribution to the Canadian blues music industry. The award has been renamed in honour of the late John Valenteyn, a co-founder of the Toronto Blues Society, long-time radio DJ, and dedicated volunteer. McLeod is a founder of the Calgary Blues Music Association (CBMA) as well as the Calgary International Blues Festival and the Calgary Midwinter Bluesfest. She acts as Producer and Artistic Director for the organization and has been instrumental in creating what has become one of the largest blues music festivals in Western Canada.
– Keithmas is an annual holiday season fundraising concert in Vancouver, one inspired by the spirit of Keith Richards. Keithmas XI was held before Xmas, but by popular demand, it is set to be rebroadcast this New Year's Eve (from 7 pm) and then until midnight January 3. Buy a ticket here and watch the encore presentation as many times as you like in that period. Acts this year include Big Sugar, Odds, Bend Sinister, and DOA's Joe Keithley. Over the past 10 years, Keithmas has donated $85K to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, and this year’s event has already raised over 13K.
– In our recent FYIobit of US jazz luminary Stanley Cowell, we initially neglected to mention a noteworthy Canadian connection. In 2002, Cowell and Dewey Redman collaborated with Canadian jazz great Jane Bunnett on the album Spirituals & Dedications, featuring traditional songs from the Christian church. Bunnett’s husband Larry Cramer produced and played on the record, released on Montreal label Justin Time, and Bunnett recalls Cowell to FYI as "definitely a genius....and a very humble artist. The group on the album got to perform at The Montreal Jazz Festival and Toronto's Glenn Gould Theatre.”
Randy Alexander, a veteran music publicist and founder and CEO of Randex Communications, died on Dec. 27, of pancreatic cancer, at age 62.
He was a longtime presence on the Philadelphia and New Jersey music scene. Variety reports that “over the years, Alexander represented an unusually wide variety of performers, including Saturday Night Live alum Joe Piscopo, hard rock legends Deep Purple, jam-band Disco Biscuits and Philly’s groundbreaking R&B hitmakers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff.
He did extensive work for the Asbury Park, New Jersey-based Light of Day Foundation, which is dedicated to Parkinson’s Disease education and research, as well as the Philadelphia Music Alliance and other city organizations.
Before moving into PR, he spent nearly 20 years as a journalist, working as a sports reporter, then covering entertainment at New Jersey’s Trenton Times and Courier-Post.
His coverage of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. tour was included in the 1996 biography Glory Days, written by Dave Marsh.
As a PR strategist, Alexander was a member of the Entertainment Publicists Professional Society and Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, an executive board member of the Philadelphia Music Alliance (Philadelphia Walk of Fame) and a participant in Grammy in the Schools as a member of the Recording Academy
He also was a frequent guest lecturer in university classrooms, as well as moderator or panelist as such conferences as SXSW and CMJ Music Marathon.
Alexander’s career also included television and radio. He made a cameo on ABC’s One Life to Live and was Philadelphia bureau chief for cable industry trade Multichannel News. He also edited two national cable guides published by TVSM. Source: Variety
– John Fletcher (John Beamon Fletcher Jr), who as Ecstasy of the foundational hip-hop group Whodini was the engine for some of the genre’s first pop, died on Dec. 23, age 56. The cause of death has not been determined.
In the mid-1980s, Whodini — made up initially of Fletcher (whose hip-hop name was sometimes rendered Ecstacy) and Jalil Hutchins, who were later joined by the D.J. Grandmaster Dee (born Drew Carter) — released a string of essential hits, including Friends, Freaks Come Out at Night, and One Love. Whodini presented as street-savvy sophisticates with a pop ear, and Fletcher was the group’s outsize character and most vivid rapper.
Upon signing to Jive Records, Whodini quickly recorded Magic’s Wand, produced by Thomas Dolby, and The Haunted House of Rock, a Halloween song.
Most of the group’s earliest material was recorded in London when Fletcher was fresh out of high school. Its 1983 self-titled debut album was produced by Conny Plank, who had also produced the bands Kraftwerk and Neu! Whodini also toured Europe before finding true success back in the United States.
For its follow-up album, Escape (1984), Whodini began working with the producer Larry Smith (Run-DMC), who amplified its sound and gave it a bit of appealing scuff. Escape contained the songs that would become Whodini’s seminal hits, notably Friends and Five Minutes of Funk (released as flip sides on the same 12-inch single) and Freaks Come Out at Night.
As hip-hop was beginning to gain global notice, Whodini was consistently near the center of the action. The group was managed by the rising impresario Russell Simmons and appeared on the inaugural Fresh Fest tour, hip-hop’s first arena package.
Fletcher was also a key innovator in introducing melody to rapping. “Ecstasy was the lead vocalist on most Whodini songs because anything that we could play he could rap right to it in key,” Hutchins said in an interview with the hip-hop website The Foundation.
Escape went platinum, and Whodini’s next two albums, Back in Black (1986) and Open Sesame (1987), both went gold.
Whodini was also one of the first hip-hop groups to use dancers in their stage shows. A young Jermaine Dupri got one of his earliest breaks as a dancer for the group. He later repaid the favour, signing Whodini to his label, So So Def, on which it released its final album, Six, in 1996. Whodini continued to perform frequently into the 2000s. Source: New York Times
– Gordon (Nelson) Lapp, an East Coast music entrepreneur, died on Dec. 25, of colon cancer, at age 63.
The CBC reports that Lapp was born and raised in P.E.I.'s second city, Summerside, and began a career in music promotion there in the 1970s. In 1983 he joined up with Emery Perry to create The Regent restaurant and nightclub, which until 1994 was a destination venue for rock bands from across the country, including the Tragically Hip and Valdy.
In the 1990s Lapp spent some time in the television industry, working on the Emily of New Moon series for four seasons.
After that, he moved to Halifax, where he managed popular Argyle Street venues, including the Shoe Shop, Seahorse, the Press Gang, and the Marquee. He went on to become executive director of Music Nova Scotia and was active in the Junos and the East Coast Music Awards.
In 2010 he became the manager of the rock band Gloryhound and eventually moved back to PEI, settled in Stanley Bridge, and took on the role of general manager of the Silver Fox Curling and Yacht Club in Summerside. He oversaw the expansion of the Silver Fox into The Silver Fox Entertainment Complex as a venue for live music and a restaurant.
The family is asking for memorial donations to the Prince County Hospital Foundation or the Canadian Cancer Society. Sources: CBC, The Guardian PE
– Armando Manzanero, acclaimed Mexican music star, died on Dec. 26, of Covid, at age 85.
A songwriter and performer whose compositions were covered by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, he tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month
The Society of Authors and Composers of Mexico (SACM), of which Manzanero was president, announced his death, saying: “The romantic soul of Mexico and the world is in mourning.”
Manzanero’s romantic crooner songs, sometimes translated into English, were performed by artists including Sinatra, Presley, and Perry Como, and he was awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2014. It’s Impossible, performed by Como, crossed over into the US charts in 1970.
Born in Ticul, Yucatán state, in 1935, he began songwriting in 1950 with the song Nunca en el Mundo (Never in the World), alongside a career as a piano accompanist. He released his debut solo album in 1959.
He has since written more than 400 songs and released more than 30 albums, including nine since 2001, as Manzanero collaborated with a younger generation of Spanish-language romantic pop singers such as Alejandro Sanz, Luis Miguel and Lucero.
He was still working this autumn, telling Associated Press in October: “Everything I say and I compose or feel, I record so it doesn’t get lost.”
He also had a long-time role at the SACM, working on behalf of Mexican songwriters since becoming vice president in 1982, and president in 2011.
Check a Billboard list of his top songs here Sources: The Guardian, Billboard
– Gary 17 (Gary Webb-Proctor), music journalist and publisher of Toronto Moon, died on Dec. 28. Age and cause of death have not been reported.
Webb was known as a longtime supporter of the Toronto live music scene. Publications he founded and edited included Open Season, TO Nites, and Toronto Moon. Created in 1992, the Toronto Moon Magazine (later Toronto Moon) was initially a hard copy weekly magazine documenting the live venue music scene and distributed across the GTA. It later transitioned into an online subscription format. Webb also helped run open mic nights at various East End Toronto music venues. Sources: Julian Taylor, Jamie Vernon, Danny Marks, Linsmore Tavern, Toronto Moon
– Laurie-Ann Sparling (nee Toombs), an Ottawa entertainment agency owner, died on Dec. 23, age 73.
As co-owner of Laurie-Ann Entertainment Agency since 1972, Sparling coordinated the entertainment for many local fairs and other events in the Ottawa area
She is survived by Ron Sparling, her loving husband of 55 years. A TV producer, booking agent, manager and musician (Family Brown), Ron Sparling has been inducted twice into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Honour, as a Builder and Artist. He co-owned and operated the Laurie-Ann Entertainment Agency, with his wife.
Due to Covid restrictions, a private funeral service will be held at the Pinecrest Remembrance Chapel.
For those who wish, donations to the Ottawa Humane Society or a charity of your choice would be appreciated. Sources: Pinecrest Remembrance, Barry Haugen