RIP: Linda Dawe, A Trailblazer Who Changed A Man's Man's World
Linda Dawe was a fighter, for the rights of women, particularly women in the music business; for her family, both familial and the artists she worked with; for love, an emotion that caused her unimaginable pain. She died Saturday from a heart attack at age 72.
By David Farrell
Linda Dawe was a fighter, for the rights of women, particularly women in the music business; for her family, both familial and the artists she worked with; for love, an emotion that caused her unimaginable pain.
Respect was something she fought for too. Respect from those advantaged, with the power to affect social change. From these, she cut to the chase and demanded they do the right thing.
Respect for those marginalized by economic circumstance, and to these she gave succour and believed in them until circumstances told her otherwise.
She wasn't fussy about social niceties, but she was one of the nicest persons you could hope to meet. The kind of person you could forever count on as a true and trusted friend.
Her affected street-corner toughness buttressed her against yard cocks wanting to bully a gal with looks and opinions, a smoker and a drinker who could 'hang' with the 'lads' and yet remained always a decent type who wished everyone the best and gave the best to all who earned her trust and respect.
In her Golden Years, all she asked for was a stretch of unruffled tranquility after a fighting life filled with heartbreaks.... and blessings.
Born Linda Margaret Dawe in Sault Ste Marie, an early pregnancy in her high school years resulted in her parents sending her to an orphanage in Toronto where her secret could be curtained off from disapproving elders in her hometown. She returned childless after her parents forced the adoption of a daughter (Karyn) and, by her own account, was then similarly forced to give up any association with the father, Ray Cave, who was her childhood sweetheart.
It was the beginning of a story that would sit unsettled for decades to come and become part of a reunion story that was celebrated in a remarkable CBC documentary entitled 40-year secret.
After high school she enrolled in a journalism course in neighbouring Michigan Lake Superior State U, following which she returned to Toronto where she landed a position at the fledgling Beetle Magazine and, in short order, turned a temp post into an assistant editorship. It was at Beetle where she was to hire the then unknown writer (and future Grammy-award winner) Rob Bowman, and in her position interviewed a bandstand of musician that would include future husband Scott Richards-then a fresh-faced bassist from David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays.
It was a star-crossed moment in her career, as is detailed inI Am Tommy, a fascinating three-decade account of Toronto’s music scene penned by (often headlining) participant Tom Wilson. “It was love at first sight for Scott,” Wilson writes, adding that the two would later in life come together in Linda’s promotion company Music Solutions.
Beetle was to be a launch pad for her star-studded career in Canada’s music industry. In 1974, she was hired as a promotion coordinator for what became MCA Records where was spotted as a rising talent by Ed Preston, then president of RCA Records. He hired her as one of the first female promotion managers two years out of the gate and she excelled. The post gave her the latitude and budget to work across media and her energetic style and openness firmed lifelong friendships with broadcasters and sharpened what proved to be natural skills to keep acts productive and humoured on the road, in the studio and engaged and sometimes enraged by sharp-penciled journalists. As part of her ascent, she would also work for CBS Records where she again made friendships with friends who would pop up again in her life. Among them journalist Liz Braun, marketing maven Gary Muth, and A&R executives John Williams and Jeff Burns.
Her upbringing in the Sault had sharpened her fortitude to succeed in a new life in a new city, and she didn’t look back. In 1985, she established Music Brokers with Chris Allicock, later to evolve into Music Solutions, a long-standing artist promotion company that handled a long list of Canadian acts that included Blue Rodeo, Rita MacNeil and Roch Voisine.
According to friendly competitor Anya Wilson, the two both had the idea for independent promotion and marketing firms at around the same time. “We literally sat down as friends over lunch,” Wilson recalls, “and decided how we could work without crossing each other. Linda took the pop field and I took country. At the time there were no independent radio promotion people. As women, we were trailblazers.” With this divide agreed on the two went on to create successful careers for themselves with a long list of successes and a surprising number of male allies such as Preston, Jerry Renewych, Doug Chappell, Brookes Diamond, André Di Cesare and John Williams.
Her natural-born talent for working with broadcasters and artists is perhaps best summed up by Bob Saint who worked Top 40 radio in a number of markets. In a Facebook post this past weekend, Saint wrote with obvious affection: “If you have worked in the music department of any radio station in Canada you've probably spoken to this wonderful woman. I am sad to pass along the news that we have lost Linda Dawe to cancer today. Her son Ash, her sister and close family and Blue her canine companion are mourning her loss today. I had helped her with computers and internet issues over the years and visited her in Sutton many times. I made her one of my pizzas on those visits which she loved. Rest in Peace”
Unaffected words that convey the affection many expressed for this fighter who wasn’t afraid to tear a strip off a music director if she felt he was giving her the cold shoulder with an act she was promoting. She took long shots and, in many cases, they paid off. However, the rewards as an independent can often be fleeting. With success come more lucrative offers and acts she had sweated bullets for would over time be romanced into new deals with bigger money and stipulations that they say goodbye to those who stood by them in the early days.
Dawe’s personal life was complicated. She would marry Scott Richards who prematurely died. After a period of mourning, she attended a high school reunion in 2006 where she was to reconnect with Cave, fall in love with him all over again and the two married a year later. He, too, was to leave her a widow with a wedding ring, on in 2014. It was devastating for her, but her friends were there for her and in some small way helped her move past grief. Importantly, the father and mother were able to track down the daughter, Karyn, born out of wedlock and put up for adoption, a story that did have a happy ending and recounted in the couple’s co-authored autobiography, First True Love.
Notable too is her ad hoc Women In the Music Business (WIMB) she helped organize with fellow strong-willed friends who pressed for change, advancement and recognition. It was first struck in the '80s and managed to illuminate a gender problem in the industry, and helped advance a few careers too.
She is survived by son Ashley Alvaro (son of Linda’s first husband, Daryl Alvaro), and daughter Karyn Small-Web. The death from cancer was announced Saturday, March 20. She was 72. A small funeral service for the family is planned. Friends can make donations in her name to Zachary’s Paws for Healing and York region’s Sandgate Women’s Shelter. Dulce Barbosa and Chris Allicock plan to coordinate with family members to organize a celebration of life for Linda at some later date, possibly in late spring or early summer. It all depends on restrictions and regulations.