RIP: Paul White, Capitol Canada’s ‘Creative Pioneer’
Perhaps best known for being the first in North America to release recordings by the Beatles, his greatest contribution as head of Capitol Canada’s A&R department was his enthusiasm for developing a roster of successful Canadian artists that included Anne Murray.
By David Farrell
Former Capitol Records of Canada VP Paul White passed following a cardiac arrest yesterday (Tuesday, March 13) at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He was 85.
A former UK journalist, his achievements during his tenure at Capitol Records Canada, from 1957-1978, were notable – but his legacy will always be shaped by the fact that he was instrumental in bringing Beatlemania to North America, releasing the group’s earliest UK Parlophone singles and championing the Merseybeat ‘sound’ that included Gerry & The Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Billy J Kramer and The Searchers.
In hindsight, White’s greatest contribution as head of Capitol Canada’s A&R department was his enthusiasm for developing a roster of successful Canadian artists, and he was given a budget to do so. Among the acts that he signed were Anne Murray, Edward Bear, Jack London & the Sparrow (later to become Steppenwolf), the Staccatos (renamed Five Man Electrical Band), Pierre Lalonde, the Ugly Ducklings, The Sugar Shoppe, Copperpenny, The Esquires, and David Clayton-Thomas.
It’s worth noting that all excepting Vancouver folk-psychedelia group Mother Tucker charted song hits.
White would also consult for BMG Canada later in his career where, in 1990, he produced the three-record set Made in Canada/Our Rock 'n' Roll History, containing 54 Canadian hits from the period 1960-74.
“I have many good stories to say in this sad moment about my time with Paul while President of Capitol Records,” Arnold Gosewich recalled yesterday. “One would be the day he brought Anne Murray and (producer) Brian Ahern into my office to meet for the first time. I had just weeks earlier started my Presidency. John MacLeod, our in-house lawyer, handed me the contract he had negotiated for Anne to become a Capitol recording artist. Paul had found her, and it was my good fortune in timing, to sign her contract, and the rest is history thanks to Paul’s great belief…and ears.
“The other story briefly is when Paul and I travelled to England and Europe for about 10 days promoting the company's roster of Canadian artists, including Anne, to our fellow EMI Records Managing Directors, A&R and Promotion people in cities like London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and in Spain. It was a great moment and a first for any Canadian company. Paul was great in his pitches and I backed him up. I thought that moment solidified our relationship.”
Deane Cameron, another former Capitol Canada president, is equally respectful of White’s charm, enthusiasm, and his uncanny ear for a hit song, describing him as a “creative pioneer.”
“Paul was one of Canada's creative pioneers within the Canadian music industry. He was Capitol Canada's first A and R person, but he also built significant credibility for the entire music business in this country,” Cameron reflects.
“He brought to Canada so much incredible UK music before others in North America had caught on to The British Invasion! The Beatles and Cliff Richard being just two of the many he championed. He signed Anne Murray and Edward Bear, both of whom achieved U.S. success when that was a rarity for Canadian artists.
”Paul’s British roots helped make the very most of EMI's strength in UK repertoire at that time and gave him a global perspective on where Canada could fit into the international music business.
“He was truly one of The Canadian music industry's genuine founding pillars. It was an honour for me to work for him and learn from him. His achievements will be remembered for a very long time.”
Another expat who knew him well during his tenure at Capitol is Frank Davies who had come to Canada and started the Daffodil label. Asked about his dealings with White, Davies offered the following:
“Very sad news! Paul was the very first Canadian record person I ever spoke to or worked with, but from a distance, initially. I connected with him while I was still at EMI Records in the UK in their international division and just a couple of years before coming here in 1970 to form Daffodil Records. Paul had recently signed the Staccatos from Ottawa and wanted me to meet their manager Sandy Gardiner, who was coming to London to see if EMI would release the band's records in the UK. Paul was the A&R head at Capitol Canada back then and a very early promoter of Canadian music.
“After arriving in Canada and doing a distribution deal for my new label with Arnold Gosewich (who had just succeeded Ron Plumb as the President of Capitol shortly after my arrival), Paul became my main contact at Capitol for several of those early years. Paul had a great sense of humour and a strong opinion about what he liked and what he didn't. Fortunately, he liked a lot of what I was doing with my label and was very supportive, even though we were actually in competition for signing Canadian artists since Daffodil was a distributed label.
“Paul was Canada's original major label A&R guy back at a time when very few local acts were being signed by the majors. Unfortunately, I've not been in touch with him for many years now, but I remember he had a unique insight into an era of Canadian music and it is history that's disappearing fast in the rear-view mirror.