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Music News

Obituaries: Junkhouse Co-Founder Russell 'Rusty' Wilson, Pianist Robert Horvath

This week we also acknowledge the passing of Julia Train, a former executive at FACTOR and MROC, as well as Steve Harley, Paul Nelson, Angela McCluskey and David Gapes.

Junkhouse - Russell Wilson is second from the left

Junkhouse, with Russell Wilson second from the left

Courtesy Photo

Russell ('Rusty') Wilson, co-founder and one-time bassist of Canadian rock act Junkhouse, died on March 12, at age 62, of meningitis.

Prior to joining Junkhouse in 1989, Wilson cut his teeth in rock bands fronted by fellow Hamiltonian Ray Lyell, including early 1980's outfit Eternum. In an extensive podcast interview on ChelseaJohnson.com, Wilson explained that they launched right into playing larger Ontario venues, opening for bands like Goddo and Max Webster while still so young they needed special permits to be allowed into the bar venues they played.


In that interview, Wilson recalled that exposure to gospel music in churches in the Detroit area that he visited with family every summer while he was a youngster was a crucial musical experience. "I'd never been to church prior to that. All the dancing and singing there was initially shocking, but I found myself loving it and joining in, and my love of gospel singing remained," he said.

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Junkhouse formed in Hamilton in 1989 with vocalist/guitarist Tom Wilson (no relation), guitarist Dan Achen, drummer Ray Farrugia and bassist Russell Wilson. Tom Wilson and Farrugia had put together a band that started playing local bars, and Russell Wilson soon joined the lineup in colourful fashion.

In an interview with Hamilton City Magazine last year, Tom Wilson recalled that "Russell was a bouncer at a bar up on the Hamilton Mountain owned by a rather interesting character. Our bassist didn’t show up once so we got Russell up onstage and he played and threw people out of the bar at the same time! I’m thinking ‘I’m never going to have to worry about getting paid with this guy.’”

With Achen then rounding out the band, Junkhouse paid serious dues on the Toronto and Hamilton scenes before signing a record deal with Sony Music Canada. Released in 1993 and primarily produced by Malcolm Burn (John Mellencamp, Iggy Pop, Emmylou Harris), the group's debut album, Strays, made a major splash. With certified gold sales, it is the best-seller of the group’s three albums, and it spawned rock radio hits, with "Out of My Head,” "Praying for the Rain,” and "Big Brown Turtle" all charting on RPM’s Top Singles chart.

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“'Out Of My Head’ was No. 1 in France and Holland and other markets,” Wilson told Hamilton City Magazine. “I remember waking up in a hotel room in Belgium and the video was on TV. It was shocking that a bunch of knuckleheads from Hamilton managed that!”

A second album, 1995's Birthday Boy, didn't have quite the same success, and Russ Wilson left the band the following year. A revamped Junkhouse lineup included Grant Marshall and Colin Cripps and released one more album, 1997's Fuzz, notable for the track "Shine," now considered a signature Junkhouse anthem.

The group then disbanded, though they occasionally played reunion shows in the decades following, with Russ Wilson in the lineup. Dan Achen died in 2010, while Tom Wilson remained active as a solo artist and as a member of Canadian roots supertrio Blackie and The Rodeo Kings (Russ Wilson guested on that group's 2006 album Let's Frolic).

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Russ Wilson played a vital onstage role with Junkhouse, entertaining with his energized presence, beaming smile, powerful bass playing and angelic harmony vocals that rather belied his formidable physique.

Post-Junkhouse, he continued to guest with and produce other artists and took on acting and teaching work. One notable project was work on the 1996 Daniel Lanois-produced soundtrack of the acclaimed movie Sling Blade, including a collaboration on the track "Phone Call" with Mark Howard.

Wilson did further work with Lanois, and the pair performed together on the star-studded (Bruce Cockburn, Jane Siberry) 2005 benefit The Concert For St. Stephens, one later released as a live album on True North Records.

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Wilson released three solo albums. At the Hamilton Music Awards, he won the best Soul R&B recording for "Sentimental Fool" and his album Jimmy Boy was nominated for the Record of the Year.

In his interview with Chelsea Johnson, Russ Wilson cites Daniel Lanois and Tom Wilson as the two artists to have most impacted him. "From Tom, I learned work ethic and songwriting, and from Daniel, the virtue of patience," he explained.

Russ Wilson was included in the Junkhouse lineup that played shows in Hamilton and Toronto last December, and he was in fine form. Tom Wilson has stated the band will still perform two upcoming shows as a tribute, with further dates in the works. Junkhouse will play the Blues Holler Picnic in Uxbridge, Ont. on June 22 and Crewfest in Brantford, Ont. on July 19.

As news of Wilson's passing spread through the Hamilton music community, tributes to this much-loved musician quickly surfaced on social media. The picture they paint is of a kind and gentle free-spirit.

Tom Wilson released an eloquent remembrance via publicist Eric Alper: "Rave On, Russell Wilson. We look into the faces of wild things to try and see ourselves. We want to know what part of us might live in there behind the eyes. Russell was a live wire, powerful, off his rocker, loving, conducting the spirits and hanging on by a thread.

"It’s impossible for me to even imagine knowing anyone like him again in this lifetime. He was funny as Hell, unpredictable, incredibly talented, loud, sensitive and he could scare the shit out of ya if you weren’t paying attention. I was lucky enough to go deep into the trenches with him. We ran around the globe together in our band taking on stages from Belgium to Brantford. We played in castles and in barrooms and hockey arenas living on a very long road and we had the best time of our lives. Russell was guided by instincts, not by sight, and he ignited pure fire at high volume, came out swinging’ with a bass around his neck that he made look like a ukulele. The lord never patted him on the head but he may have booted him in the ass a couple of times. He was out of this world as long as we knew him and now he’s closer to us than he’s ever been."

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Noted musician/producer Malcolm Burn was at the console for Junkhouse's debut album, Strays, and follow-up Birthday Boy. He sent this tribute to Billboard Canada: "When I first showed up at the studio where we were to record Strays, I walked straight in from the airport into a godawful racket. It was the band rehearsing 'Outta My Head.' By godawful racket, I mean that in pure Hamiltonian for 'fantastic fuckin' noise fellas, I freak'n well love it!!!'"

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"There was Dan Achen making some of the most outrageous sounds I’d ever heard on guitar, Ray Farrugia kicking the hell out of fury on the drum kit, Tom Wilson howling like a Wendigo in heat, thrashing away on his poor little old acoustic guitar, all the while Russ Wilson sat, head back, eyes closed, likely half-baked, holding the groove down on bass like nobody's business.

"Right there and then I knew this guy was a musician unlike any I’d ever encountered. He had a special blend of groove, soul and musicality all wrapped in one big lovable doofus. They finished the song and then the next thing I heard over the speakers in the control room was Rusty calling out, 'c'mon you bunch of rounders, let's make a goddamn rock and roll record!!'"

"And with that we sealed the deal with a kiss and went on to make one of the best frickin’ rock and roll records since BTO left the studio back in 1977. Love you Rusty. Rock on in peace brother!"

Fellow Hamilton rocker Dave Rave (Teenage Head) offered Billboard Canada this tribute: "Russell was always such a great inspiration to me, always very supportive. When I started Dave Rave Conspiracy we did a lot of shows with Junkhouse. And he always was positive and encouraging. I'll never forget that. His support gave me the confidence to keep on going. When he joined Junkhouse, it was the final piece of the puzzle they needed. And then they exploded. I know he was a live wire, but in my life he was a generous and giving soul. Rest musically and give your brother a heavenly hi five for me."

Guitarist Champagne James Robertson (C & C Surf Factory, MOONRIIVR) recently joined the reunited Junkhouse, playing alongside Russ Wilson. He sent Billboard Canada this salute: "I didn't know him long, but I liked him. He was very open and friendly. Always laughing and trying to make the music as good as it good be. He talked a lot about the words of the songs. He felt it. He shared it. A consummate team player. I’ve never met anyone else quite like him."

Another prominent Hamilton rock 'n roll veteran, Tim Gibbons (The Shakers, The Swampbusters), recalled to Billboard Canada that "Russ and I met at Rebels Roadhouse, the local Hell's Angels' bar. He was the bouncer! We became fast friends and had many great adventures. They really picked up when we were both in Hollywood with Daniel Lanois and Billy Bob Thornton as they put the music on Sling Blade. Both Russ and I ended up playing on those sessions and we spent a lot of time together driving around and looking cool!"

Noted Hamilton keyboardist/vocalist Greg Brisco tells Billboard Canada, "I'd help step in to record on some of the projects Russ would be working on now and then, over the years. He would always try to ensure I'd get paid or at least offer a copious amount of weed for compensation. This was his norm with everyone.

"One of the last conversations we had was over an organ he bought last fall. It was most likely a vintage Farfisa he got at a steal of a price and was super stoked about it. He was truly a wild cat and was as wild on and off stage. He did and said what he wanted, when he wanted and that encapsulated who he was and will forever be. I will just state that Russ (Rusty) was always kind to me and even when he would have tantrums of sorts, his demeanour and candour was kind with me."

Concert promoter Lou Molinaro tells Billboard that "We hosted a few shows with Russ Wilson over the years at [famed Hamilton bar/venue] This Ain't Hollywood. His entrance into a room with his unique swagger and smile always made him stand out. That fellow had a lotta soul. My condolences go out to his band mates over the years and to his family and friends."

A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. at White Chapel Memorial Gardens, 1895 Main St. W., Hamilton, on March 22.

Read an official obituary here.

Robert Horvath, a versatile and award-winning Toronto-based pianist, died on March 13 at age 52, of cancer.

In its obituary, the classical music website Ludwig Van noted that "Horvath was known in both the classical and jazz worlds, and most recently, as a member of the award-winning Payadora Tango Ensemble.

"Payadora blended elements of Western classical music and jazz with Argentine and Uruguayan traditional music, and original songs. The group is currently on a tour to support their album Silent Tears: The Last Yiddish Tango (2023), which climbed #1 on the World Music Charts in Europe."

The Hungarian-born Horvath excelled at an early age, winning First Prize at the Hungarian-Russian Competition for Young Pianists at age 11. After extensive studies in Europe, he emigrated to Canada in 1998, soon commencing a recording career, making solo piano recordings for the CTV music library, and many as a soloist with the Sheraton Cadwell’s Orchestras.

He was also embraced by the Toronto jazz community, often performing with famed bassist Dave Young (Oscar Peterson).

Toronto vocalist/songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg worked closely with Horvath and Payadora on the Silent Tears album and performances, and she offered Billboard Canada this tribute: "Yes, Robert was an exquisitely talented, highly skilled and accomplished pianist, but to me, he was all about heart. Warm and welcoming, with a twinkle in his eyes, always smiling… in fact, I had to remind him not to smile when we were playing a very sad song - he couldn’t help himself, he was just so happy to be, to live, to perform.

"When I really put a lot of soul into singing a song, he was the one to always sense that extra emotion, and, after the song, he would whisper or motion to me, 'Beautiful!' Robert was the kindest person who wore his heart on his sleeve, and it is cruel, and unimaginable, that he is no longer with us."

On Facebook, the family posted that "We will be holding a memorial service on April 2nd during the morning at Grace Hill Church in Toronto. We will be providing more details as soon as possible."

Julia Alexandra Train, a former executive at FACTOR and MROC, died on March 6, at age 46. A cause of death has not been reported.

A bio on the MROC (Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada) website notes that "Julia Train’s history in the Canadian music industry began with her training in classical piano and love of music. She attended the Harris Institute for the Arts, where she studied Recorded Arts Management. Shortly after graduating, she went to work for the CMRRA’s Royalties Administration department.

"Julia was a valued member of the FACTOR team from 2008-2011 as a Submissions Coordinator and Communications Manager. She then worked as Senior Manager, Communications and Outreach at the Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada (MROC) ensuring that musicians receive the recompense that they are entitled. She is also on the Board of Women in Music Canada."

From 2018 to 2021, Train worked at Toronto-based independent label Gypsy Soul Records (Samantha Martin, Julian Taylor). Label head and owner Renan Yildizdogan tells Billboard Canada that "Julia did radio tracking, admin, and whatever else we needed for the bands and the label. She also helped with production of events and video shoots. We’re a fairly small label so everyone does a little bit of everything. At first she worked part time and once she left MROC, she was full time."

A Facebook post from the non-profit Women In Music Canada reads as follows: "We are deeply saddened by the announcement of Julia Train’s passing. As a board member from the early years of Women in Music Canada, she shared her time and talent at a foundational time for our community.

"Throughout her career, Julia was an advocate for women and artists, always putting 100% of her heart and soul into every role she held. Julia was unapologetically fierce, confident and supported others to be as well. As a mother, a leader and a friend, Julia you will be missed by us all."

In a Facebook post, Toronto music industry veteran Brian Hetherman offered this tribute: "J-Train, that’s the nickname I gave you about 3 months into our time working together at FACTOR, when we both knew we were going to have to work together and support each other there. So many stories to tell, we used to joke after we were both gone from there, that we were like Vietnam vets, that us and only a handful of people knew that feeling…A bond and friendship forged in fire! We had some great conversations, over the years and we always had each others backs above all else."

"This news of your life ending is heartbreaking. You were such a kind soul, you loved music and the business and you protected and nurtured musicians as if they were your own children, through FACTOR, MROC and the work you did as an independent contractor."

Also on Facebook, Renan Yildizdogan posted a tribute that (in part) reads: "Unfortunately, we lost our dear friend, colleague, and partner in crime, Julia Train. Too young, too soon. Julia was my sister from another mother. Over the 15 years or so we have known each other, even when she was working with us at Gypsy Soul Records, sometimes under immense pressure, we never argued or raised our voices at each other once. It was always love and understanding. Julia lived and breathed music.

"She was a believer. She helped many artists along the way, including those on the Gypsy Soul Roster. From Cannes to Memphis, we traveled many places together to various music industry events. She was always the life of the party and the last one standing. She was kind, loving, and always there for anyone who needed her. She had an unwavering ability to find the goodness in everyone. My life wouldn’t be the same without you Julia. Thank you, sister."

Read an official obituary here.

International

David Gapes, a New Zealand journalist, commercial radio pioneer, band manager and music promoter, died on March 8, at age 82.

He is best known as the driving force behind '60s NZ pirate radio station, Radio Hauraki. When it launched in 1966, it revolutionized broadcasting in that country. As the Audioculture site noted: "New Zealand's music and media landscape would look very different if not for David. In 1965, when David and a small group of fellow conspirators decided to launch what was to become the pirate Radio Hauraki, only half an hour of pop music was broadcast during the week on the state radio monopoly and the radio waves were full of racing commentaries. Hauraki changed all that forever when it hit the airwaves the next year."

A fervent music fan, he managed Auckland rock band Hello Sailor from 1977. Their bid for international success failed, but they became national rock heroes. Gapes also helped promote rock shows, and such bands as Split Enz benefited from these.

A skilled journalist and editor, he helped launch film and television industry magazine OnFilm, and was later the editor of AdMedia and the online M+AD. One interesting fact: while working as a journalist in Australia, he dated Anna, later the wife of Rupert Murdoch.

Gapes was named ONZM for services to broadcasting in June 2019.

Read an extensive tribute in Audioculturehere.

Steve Harley (born Stephen Malcolm Ronald Nice), frontman of Anglo glam rock band Cockney Rebel, died on March 17, of cancer, at age 63.

Last October Harley announced the cancellation of Steve Harley Acoustic Band shows that were scheduled to take place in January 2024 due to his cancer treatment.

The singer-songwriter is best known for the 1975 No. 1 hit song "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)." That song has been covered over 100 times, including by Duran Duran, Erasure and Robbie Williams, and The Guardian states "it remains one of the most-played songs in British broadcasting history."

Billboardnotes that “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” was not a hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 98 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1976.

According to Billboard, "Harley joined Cockney Rebel in 1972 and the glam rock band released its debut album, The Human Menagerie, the following year. The group went on to release The Psychomodo in 1974 and later renamed itself Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel following lineup changes."

After that group split up in 1977, Harley pursued a solo career, before the band regrouped in 1990. His solo career was not a major commercial success, though he returned to the Top 10 duetting with Sarah Brightman on the title song of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

His final release was the 2020 covers album, Uncovered, which featured renditions of songs by David Bowie, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and others.

Harley also presented the BBC Radio 2 show Sounds of the 70s from 1999 to 2008.

Angela McCluskey, singer-songwriter and co-founder of much-loved ‘90s L.A. band Wild Colonials, died on March 14, at age 64. The reported cause of death was an arterial tear.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, McCluskey formed Wild Colonials in early 1992 after assembling a band for a jam night at Cafe Beckett, an Irish pub in Los Angeles. The band also featured her husband, Paul Cantelon, guitarist Shark and multi-instrumentalist Scott Roewe, and, at one stage, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

Of note: Shark is the stage name of Canadian David Shaw, an L.A-based musician and radio host. Now program director of the all-Canadian Internet radio station Maple Music Cafe, he is the son of famed artist manager, the late Mel Shaw (The Stampeders).

After earning a L.A. following in L.A. by performing regularly at Molly Malones and Cafe Largo, Wild Colonials released two critically-acclaimed albums on DGC/Geffen, Fruit of Life (1994) and This Can’t Be Life (1996), followed by Reel Life Volume 1 (2000) on Chromatic Records. The band played the Lilith Fair tour in 1997.

Following their breakup, McCluskey released a debut solo album, The Things We Do, on Manhattan/Blue Note in 2004, followed by a half-dozen more albums or EPs.

In 2002, McCluskey recorded a collaboration with Télépopmusik, “Breathe,” which earned a dance music Grammy and was featured in a Mitsubishi commercial.

In 2016, she contributed vocals to “The Little Things,” by Big Gigantic, as profiled in this Billboardstory

A GoFundMe has been set up to assist McCluskey's husband with expenses, here

Paul Nelson, a Grammy-winning blues and rock guitarist, record producer and songwriter, died on March 10, of a heart attack, while on tour. His age has not been reported.

Nelson played and or recorded alongside artists such as Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and members of the Allman Brothers Band, and is perhaps best known for his work with blues guitar great Johnny Winter. He joined Winter's band in 2010, performing on and producing several of Winter's albums, including the Grammy Award-nominated I'm a Blues Man, Roots, and Step Back, which won the Grammy for Best Blues Album, debuted at #1 on the Billboard chart for Blues Albums and Independent Albums, and debuted at #16 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, marking the highest spot in Winter's career. Winter died just prior to the record's release in 2014.

In a 2015 interview, Nelson recalls that "Behind the scenes, when we were in studio listening to the mixes of the album and I played them for Johnny,, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, 'If you and I don't get a Grammy for this, they're nuts!'"

Nelson also produced 14 albums for Johnny Winter's Live Bootleg series (all breaking the top 10 in the Billboard Blues Chart), and he executive produced and appeared in the Winter documentary Down And Dirty, directed by Greg Oliver.

He received a Grammy nomination for his work as producer and performer on Joe Louis Walker's, Everybody Wants a Piece, and He also produced albums for James Montgomery, Martin Barre, Leo "Bud" Welch, Lance Lopez, Tyler Morris, Otis and more.

He released two solo albums, His solo guitar work can be heard on his first solo CD, entitled "Look" and his Sony/EMI album release Badass Generation.

Nelson was also a Blues Music Award recipient for Best Rock Blues Album, an inductee into the New York Blues Hall of Fame and a recipient of the KBA award from the Blues Foundation.

Canadian music promoter Lou Molinaro tells Billboard Canada that "at This Ain't Hollywood in Hamilton, we hosted two Johnny Winter shows, and Paul Nelson and I got along famously. Paul recognized the "fanboy" part of me regarding Johnny during those two visits because he was one too!"

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The Tranzac Club Main Hall
Claire Harvey

The Tranzac Club Main Hall

Touring

Facing Mounting Financial Pressure, Toronto Venue The Tranzac Isn't Going Anywhere

Ahead of a fundraiser this Saturday, April 20, Tranzac Executive Director Jason Doell discusses the challenges piling up against small and independent venues across the country, and how he's taking steps to secure the club's future.

Small and independent music venues are facing increasing financial challenges that make it difficult to stay open. One pillar of the Toronto music community is taking steps to make sure it's not going anywhere.

The Tranzac Club, operating in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood since 1971, is an essential venue for genres like bluegrass, jazz, folk, singer-songwriter and experimental music in the city.

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