Music News Digest, May 31, 2021
The CSHF will induct Black Velvet, written by Christopher Ward (pictured) and Dave Tyson, mentors for the Canadian Songwriters Challenge are named, and Allison Russell and Kathleen Edwards are up for Americana Music Awards. Also in the news are the Indigenous Music Accelerator, CMI, Indie Weekly, Fergus Hambleton, and farewell John Davis, Patrick Sky, and B.J. Thomas.
By Kerry Doole
The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) has announced a new song induction, of the international Alannah Myles hit Black Velvet. The blues-rock ballad was written specifically for Myles by songwriters David Tyson and Christopher Ward, who will be presented with the song induction by the CSHF on June 10 on Global’s The Morning Show. The virtual presentation will include an exclusive video recording by award-winning artists Serena Ryder and Damhnait Doyle performing Black Velvet with Ward, that will be available to view on the CSHF website
“Having Black Velvet inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame is an incredible honour and a testament to the power of a song. I continue to be amazed at how many lives it has touched,” says co-songwriter Christopher Ward in a press release. “We’re thrilled that Damhnait and Serena are lending their incredible talents to join Christopher in paying tribute to an incredible hit that has transcended time and genre,” said Vanessa Thomas, CSHF Executive Director.
Released in July 1989, Black Velvet quickly skyrocketed on the charts reaching No. 1 on the Cashbox chart, Billboard’s Hot 100, then mainstream rock charts by early 1990. The album sold 1.2 million copies in Canada, making Alannah Myles the first female artist to achieve Diamond status in Canada. The song swept the 1990 Junos Awards, garnering Tyson and Ward the Composer of the Year Award. Myles’s recording won the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Black Velvet was declared a SOCAN Classic in 2004 and has been widely covered by the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Melissa Etheridge, Cali Tucker, Meghan Patrick, and others. It continues to reach new audiences today, with more than 150M streams on Spotify.
– Music BC has announced the mentors for its Canadian Songwriters Challenge. This year teams will collaborate on a brief pitch demo that captures the theme "Golden Hour". Each team admitted to the challenge will be assigned a mentorship duo - including one producer and one songwriter - to help guide their song idea into a pitch-ready demo. This year's mentors are: Ryan Worsley, Danielle McTaggart, Chin Injeti, Farshad "Shadi" Edalat, Kinnie Starr, and Jane Aurora. The deadline for applications for the challenge has been extended to May 31 at 11:59PM (PDT). Submit here.
– Applications for the Indigenous Music Accelerator (IMA), presented by RBCxMusic, are now open here. This new mentorship program will support First Nations, Inuit and Métis musicians actively working in the music industry who are looking to take their career to the next level. Applications for the program will be accepted until July 15. Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI) will administer the program and work with APTN to select seven Indigenous musicians from across Canada who represent diverse genres.
– Two acclaimed Canadian roots singer/songwriters, Allison Russell and Kathleen Edwards, have been nominated for Americana Music Awards. Russell received two noms and performed at the nominations event in Nashville last week. Edwards is up for Artist of the Year, alongside Brandi Carlile, Margo Price, Kathleen Edwards, Billy Strings and Jason Isbell, while Russell is up for Emerging Artist of the Year and for Duo/Group of the Year nomination as a member of Our Native Daughters. After a year derailed by Covid-19, Americana Honors & Awards returns Sept. 22 to the Ryman Auditorium, part of a week-long AmericanaFest. See the full nominees list here.
– Tomorrow (June 1) at 4 pm EST, the Indie Weekly webinar is entitled How to Pitch Your Music to Radio. Learn the do’s and don’ts when it comes to pitching your music for radio airplay, with advice from Mark Tara, Producer/Host of Rainbow Country. Free with registration here.
– Last week we acknowledged the passing of two noted members of the Toronto jazz scene, Frank Wright and Kathryn Moses. Their loss prompted veteran singer/songwriter Fergus Hambleton to compose an eloquent essay, that we reproduce here in full:
"I know that sometimes social media seems to be full of memorials and memories but at the risk of adding to this, I’d like to share a few thoughts. When Greg Quill and Geoff Chapman passed at about the same time I wrote a poem, trying to mark the lively journalistic community they were such a part of. My dad was of course part of that community of writers and broadcasters but he also introduced me to the other great passion in his life, music...and especially Fats Waller.
Consequently, I fell in love with the jazz world and was fortunate to be growing my tastes in a Toronto, that was jammed with music and amazing musicians in all the disciplines. I was lucky enough to see many wonderful players... Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Mingus, Roland Kirk (anyone recall Johnny Guarneri?)... I remember Henry Cuesta used to play at the place beside the Uptown theatre... it was a very lively scene!! And always beside these touring artists, there was a whole cast of fantastic local musicians... I wasn’t able to get into many of the bars, but there were many places that were a little lax in their enforcement of the liquor laws.
All this came sharply into focus on hearing of the passing of Frank Wright and Kathryn Moses. These two wonderful musicians were woven into the fabric of the Toronto musical community, literally delighting thousands of music lovers over the years. In his last years, Frank did a regular stint at the Old Mill, I went one night and as soon as he started playing I remembered seeing him play (I think at George’s on Queen) probably 40 years earlier. I didn’t know Frank Wright personally but I did play with Kathy Moses, oddly enough backing up Leroy Sibbles on a mini-tour with the Commodores. Her musical spirit and technique deeply impressed me at the time.
Over the years my love for the music, and especially the wonderful songs has allowed me to play some gigs with some of the members of the jazz community and I am always struck by two things. One is the incredible storehouse of knowledge contained within each of these musicians, no matter how famous. When I played with Al Scott for instance I would call a tune, and he would remember seeing the film it was in. If I said I liked a song Ian Bargh would come the next week with the sheet music for me.
The second thing of course is how generous and giving all of these players were, always ready to share from that vast reservoir. Others who knew Frank and Kathy will have spoken eloquently about their lives and I can only add my appreciation for their gifts. We all know this is the way of the world but let’s cherish each other in all our maddening beauty."
John Davis, the real singer behind Milli Vanilli, died on May 24, of Covid, at age 66.
Davis sang on Milli Vanilli’s hit 1989 album, Girl You Know It’s True, but remained behind the scenes as Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus lip-synced on the duo’s hits. They were famously stripped of a Grammy Award after it emerged it wasn’t really them singing the songs.
Born in South Carolina, Davis moved to Germany in the U.S. Army and found many opportunities to play in Army clubs in the 1970s. He worked with record producer Frank Farian – the brains behind Milli Vanilli – who confessed he had hired Davis to cover for Morvan and Pilatus’ lack of “vocal quality”.
Ironically, news of a Milli Vanilli documentary, which will take a deep dive into the pop scandal, emerged earlier this month. Luke Korem will produce and direct the project, also titled Girl You Know It’s True, which will include interviews with Fabrice and the real talents behind the shamed duo’s work. It is not known if Davis will feature. Sources: WENN, New York Times
Patrick Sky (born Patrick Lynch), an American folk singer, and songwriter of Irish and Native American ancestry, died on May 26, age 80.
Born in Georgia and raised in Louisiana, where he learned guitar, banjo, and harmonica, he moved to New York City after military service in the early 1960s, and began playing traditional folk songs in clubs before starting to write his own material.
A close contemporary of Dave Van Ronk and others in the Greenwich Village folk boom, Sky released a number of well received albums from 1965 onwards and played with many of the leading performers of the period, particularly Buffy Sainte-Marie, Eric Andersen and the blues singer Mississippi John Hurt (whose Vanguard albums Sky produced). Sky's song Many A Mile became a folk club staple, and has been recorded by Sainte-Marie and others.
Becoming increasingly disillusioned with the music business and politically radical, Sky released the satirical Songs That Made America Famous in 1973 (the album was recorded in 1971 but rejected by several record companies before it found a home). This album featured the earlier known recorded version of the song Luang Prabang, written by Sky's friend Dave Van Ronk. The Adelphi Records website describes how the content was, indeed, shocking, yet how several critics encouraged the public to rush to buy these timely and brilliant "explicit lyrics" while it could.
Sky gradually moved into the field of Irish traditional music, founding Green Linnet Records in 1973. He was recognised as an expert in building and playing the Irish uilleann pipes, often performing with his wife, Cathy. He also published several books on the subject.
In the early Nineties, Sky did one last tour to earn extra income, but he largely built a life outside the commercial music business. He worked as a folklorist at the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Virginia, opened a recording studio in his home, played occasionally at folk festivals, and received a degree in poetry. In 2008, he and Larson Sky released a duet album; Sky’s last release was an EP of vintage recordings, Many a Mile, in 2018. The couple also made a living playing Uileann pipes at weddings and funerals.
In 1995, Sky edited a reissued version of the important 19th-century dance tune book Ryan's Mammoth Collection and followed up in 2001 with a reissue of Howe's 1000 Jigs and Reels. Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone
B.J. (Billy Joe) Thomas, a vocalist who won five Grammy awards and was a Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, died on May 29 at the age of 78 from complications due to stage four lung cancer.
Few artists have left a more indelible mark on America’s musical landscape than B.J. Thomas. With his smooth, rich voice and unerring song sense, Thomas’s expansive career crossed multiple genres, including country, pop, and gospel, earning him CMA, Dove, and Grammy awards and nominations since his emergence in the 1960s.
Thomas’ career was anchored by numerous enduring hits, among them his million-selling cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, the Grammy-winning (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song and the iconic Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, which won the Academy Award for best original song. Thomas has sold over 70 million albums worldwide, scoring eight No. 1 hits and 26 Top 10 singles over his 50+ years in the music industry. His lengthy chart history led to him being named one of Billboard’s Top 50 Most Played Artists Over The Past 50 Years. Such memorable hits as I Just Can’t Help Believing, Don’t Worry Baby, Whatever Happened To Old Fashioned Love, New Looks From An Old Lover and Hooked on a Feeling have made him a staple on multiple radio formats over the years.
Born in rural Hugo, OK, Billy Joe Thomas moved to Houston, Texas with his family and where he grew up absorbing a variety of musical influences from the traditional country of Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams Dr. to the soulful sounds of Jackie Wilson and Little Richard. He began singing in church as a child and in his teens joined the Houston-based band the Triumphs.
Thomas’s first taste of success came in 1966 when he recorded I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry with producer Huey P. Meaux. Released by Scepter Records, it peaked at No. 8 on the pop charts and became his first million-selling single. He released the follow-up single, Mama, and delivered his first solo album that same year.
Thomas’ second million-selling hit came in 1968 with the release of Hooked on a Feeling, from On My Way, his sophomore album for Scepter. Dionne Warwick introduced him to songwriter-producer Burt Bacharach, and in January 1970, Thomas topped the charts with Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. Penned by Bacharach and Hal David, the song was featured in the classic Paul Newman/Robert Redford film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, earning the Oscar for best original song.
Sales quickly exceeded two million copies and it has remained one of the most enduring pop hits of all time, reoccurring in such films as Forrest Gump, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Clerks II, and Spider-Man 2 as well as multiple TV shows over the years. He followed that career-defining single with a string of pop/rock hits, including Everybody's Out of Town, I Just Can't Help Believing, No Love at All and Rock and Roll Lullaby.
After six years with Scepter Records, Thomas signed with Paramount Records where he released two albums—1973’s Songs and 1974’s Longhorns & Londonbridges. In 1975, Thomas released the album Reunion on ABC Records, featuring (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song, which holds the distinction of being the longest titled No. 1 hit ever on Billboard’s Hot 100.
His wife Gloria became a born-again Christian and the turning point in Thomas’ life came when he became a believer in 1976. He immediately quit drugs and found an avenue for expressing his faith in gospel music. Thomas signed with Myrrh Records and released the album Home Where I Belong in 1976. It won Thomas a Grammy and became the first of two Dove Award wins. The album became the first gospel record to sell a million copies. The warmth and emotional timbre of Thomas’s voice was well suited to the genre and he became one of gospel music’s most successful artists. His rendition of Amazing Grace is considered one of the most poignant of the classic hymn’s many covers.
In addition to his country and gospel success, Thomas also enjoyed a healthy run on the country charts in the 1980s with such hits as Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Love, New Looks from an Old Lover Again, The Whole World’s in Love When You’re Lonely and Two Car Garage. (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song was No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot Country Songs charts. It won the Grammy for Best Country Song in 1976 and was nominated for CMA Single of the Year. On his 39th birthday in 1981, Thomas became the 60th member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Beyond populating multiple radio formats with so many beloved hits, Thomas also voiced the theme song, As Long As We’ve Got Each Other, for the popular TV series Growing Pains, and lent his voice to numerous commercials, including campaigns for Coca-Cola and Pepsi. He can also be seen on television hosting Time Life Music’s Forever 70s infomercial. As an actor, he also appeared in the films Jory and Jake's Corner. Thomas authored two books, including his autobiography Home Where I Belong.
In 2013, he released The Living Room Sessions, an acoustic album, which celebrated Thomas’s nearly six decades in the music industry. The project featured Thomas dueting with other high profile artists on his most beloved hits, which included teaming with Richard Marx, Vince Gill, Keb' Mo', Lyle Lovett, and The Fray’s Isaac Slade. The album was well-received with critics praising it as a reminder of just how engaging his voice remained after decades of recording and touring. The album reached No. 39 on the Top Country Albums chart.
Sources: 2911 Media, Ultimate Classic Rock