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Rock

Obituaries: The Stampeders' Ronnie King, Canadian Publishing Veteran Vicki Walters

This week we also acknowledge the passing of Karl Wallinger, Eric Carmen, Steve Lawrence, Malcolm Holcombe and Jim Beard.

Ronnie King

Ronnie King

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Ronnie King (born Cornelis Van Sprang), bassist and original member of hit Canadian band The Stampeders, died on March 4 , at age 76.

The band shared news of King's passing on their Facebook page. "It is with sadness and love that we must announce the passing of our longtime friend and band mate Cornelis Van Sprang, known to most as Ronnie King. Ronnie died yesterday at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary. The sudden drastic turn in his health took us all by surprise. As little as three weeks ago he was looking forward to doing one final tour with The Stampeders and was in a positive and optimistic state of mind. Sadly, it was not to be."


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"For the last fifty-six years, the Stampeders have entertained Canadians from coast to coast with Ronnie’s irrepressible humour and willingness to do anything for a laugh setting the tone. We, who shared the stage of life with him, were, no doubt, the recipients of an extra-large dose of his larger-than-life persona, and we will miss him.

"The tour that was intended to be his final bow will now, instead, be our tribute to, and celebration of, our beautiful friend and partner. The show must go on… Ronnie wouldn’t have it any other way."

The website Shantero.com notes that "The Stampeders formed in Calgary in 1965, when members of The Rebounds, including Rich Dodson and Kim Berly, recruited Ronnie King and his brother, Emile, who used the stage name Van Louis, for the new band, one managed by Mel Shaw. During their first year as a band in Calgary, the sextet had one single release on the SOTAN label, 'House of Shake' b/w 'Don't Look At Her.'"

"The Stampeders and Shaw moved to Toronto in 1966. The group went on to score a number of hits, including their biggest song, 'Sweet City Woman,' in 1971. The song helped turn the band into one of one of Canada’s most successful acts, becoming a radio staple in both Canada and the United States. It reached No. 8 in the U.S., helped the band sweep the 1972 Juno Awards, and would become a North American radio staple."

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Written by Dodson, the track stayed in the Billboard chart for 16 weeks and the disc sold a million by Sept. 1971, and the R.I.A.A. granted gold disc status.

In a 2019 interview with Postmedia, King talked about those heady days of fame. “It was exciting for us,” he said. “The more we rocked, the bigger we got, it seemed. Some of the biggest stars knew our biggest hit song, 'Sweet City Woman.'"

By 1975, the band had toured extensively in the U.S. and appeared on television shows. In 1976 they had another Canadian hit with "Hit The Road Jack," featuring Wolfman Jack. In Canada they produced seven more hits.

Dodson left the group in 1977, and Berly and King recruited new members for the 1977 album Platinum. Berly then departed, leaving King to bring in three new members for the LP Ballsy (1979), and the band broke up shortly thereafter

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The core trio reunited in 1992 after Berly and Dodson were invited to participate in a “where are they now” episode of the Dini Petty Show. Producers surprised the pair by having King join them. At that point, they hadn’t spoken in 15 years. Not long afterwards, they began touring again and maintained a busy schedule for most of the past 32 years.

In 2011, The Stampeders received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 SOCAN Awards in Toronto, and in 2015 the band received SOCAN Classic Awards for their songs "Monday Morning" and "Wild Eyes."

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As news of his passing spread, King's peers and industry colleagues responded quickly and warmly on social media.

In a Facebook post, Ian Thomas recalled that "I first met The Stampeders in 1970 at an event for the newly re- elected Bill Davis, the premier of Ontario. My band, Tranquility Base, was playing in one conference room and The Stampeders were playing the same event in another room. Their song, 'Carry Me,' was a radio hit and such a solid song. I thought they were the real deal. In 1972 or ‘73 when I was a staff producer for CBC radio, I produced a live concert at Ontario Place with The Stampeders. By then, 'Sweet City Woman' had been huge around the world. That gig was jammed with Stampeder fans and at the end of the night, it was like Beatlemania … and for a Canadian Band! I had to smuggle them out of the place, all ducked in the back seat in my car, and drop them off at the Royal York Hotel.

"In 1976, I toured across Canada with them. My oh my, did we laugh. They all had great senses of humour. From then on, whenever I saw them at airports or events, there were always moments of camaraderie, reminiscing and jokes."

"Ronnie was kind of a crazy guy in some ways but carried a 24/7 sense of humour. Underneath some complex layers lay a sweet soul. I admired his resolve to respect the life he’d been given by carrying on, keeping laughter in the air and playing music. Whatever came his way, he took in stride and with humour. Playing music with his brothers in arms, Rich Dodson and Kim Berly, was his passion. The Stampeders, were his home away from home. That trio had risen against all odds and reached the top of the mountain. They were the first band to do a cross Canada tour, lighting the way for the rest of us. They were ubiquitous on Canadian radio because they were good."

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"On this last tour, Ronnie will be in the air, so close to his passing. Playing is how musicians respect those we have lost. Cornelis Van Sprang alias Ronnie King, would have wanted the Stamps to ride one last time, with or without him. But he will there, in the hearts and minds of those who attend these upcoming concerts. Farewell my friend. Good luck to Rich and Kim on this last tour. Kick some ass for Ronnie."

Veteran booking agent Michael Greggs (Been There Done That Ent.) offered this tribute to Billboard Canada: "I was in my early twenties and had just joined Music Shoppe as an agent and was assigned to look after the Stampeders tour schedule. I drove up to the Kee to Bala where the band was playing to introduce myself and to watch the performance. Made it to the dressing room and, slightly star struck, walked in to say hello to the band. All I remember was Ronnie standing there and his first words to me, besides hello, 'Does this bass guitar make me look thinner?' We all cracked up. Ronnie seemed much larger than life, he was talented and had a great sense of humour."

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On Facebook, musician (Grievous Angels) and NDP MP Charlie Angus posted this homage: "Ronnie King has gone to the angels. Where to even begin with the legacy of the Stampeders? They rocked Canadian AM radio when the Cancon regs came in. I saw them at 14 and again when I was 40. Ronnie always gave it his all."

Toronto music industry veteran Joey Cee posted this tribute on Facebook: "I am heartbroken to hear that one of my best friends in the music business for more than 50 years has passed. Ronnie King of The Stampeders always walked and talked with a smile. Although he was having health issues the last time I saw him on tour, he was upbeat and joking as usual. Today, I reflect on two of my many interactions with Ronnie and The Stampeders). In their early years I was honoured to work with them in publishing their first tour magazine 'All About The Stampeders.' In 1973, Ronnie wrote and played on my second record release Oh What The Summer Can Do on A&M. He was great to have in the studio and the fun we had was reflected in the song. RIP my friend. Your music lives on."

Vicki (Victoria) Walters, a popular Canadian music publishing veteran, died on March 5, at the age of 78, after battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Walters' early experience in the music business included a stint as executive assistant to Jack Feeney at RCA and Sunbury/Dunbar Publishing, working with such artist/songwriters as Ian Thomas. Her close friend and fellow publishing veteran Jennifer Beavis told Billboard Canada that "Vicki started there in the late '60s, just after moving to Toronto."

That was followed by a period managing a nightclub called Heaven, situated near the Art Gallery of Ontario, prior to connecting with legendary Toronto music publisher Frank Davies, with whom she worked from 1982 to 2000.

Davies told Billboard Canada that "Vicki began working with me at ATV Music Canada in 1982 as Head or Director of Administration until its sale to Michael Jackson in 1985 and then, as VP, Administration, at TMP-The Music Publisher from 1986-2000, at which time she briefly worked for the Song Corporation in the same role after they acquired TMP."

The story behind Walters' hiring by ATV is an amusing one, as Davies recalls to Billboard Canada. "After I was appointed to run ATV in 1982, I needed someone to handle all our administration but knew no one then available for that position. My wife Lynda said to me, 'who is that fun, party girl that runs up to you at all the music events we go to, kissing and hugging you? She seems like a really outgoing, friendly person. Is she in music publishing or does she know how to administer song copyrights?'

"I told her that was Vicki who ran a nightclub downtown near the AGO and Ontario College of Art. 'That's a good idea,' I said. 'I'll see if she knows anything about music publishing administration.' Vicki hadn't had a lot of experience in publishing at the time, her main focus had been managing the RCA studios.... but she was very keen and eager to learn more and we knew the songwriters would like her bubbly personality, so I hired her!"

A 2000 Globe and Mail feature story on the collapse of Song Corporation noted that "By June of 2000, only three months into a three-year deal to be a Song consultant, Frank Davies had bailed. He felt Song's top managers, including Allan Gregg, had no vision for marketing its current catalogue or developing new talent. He was particularly upset when his long-time song administrator, Vicki Walters, was dismissed against, he says, his wishes, after 14 years with TMP. Davies says Walters was particularly respected among artists and the company's foreign publishing partners for her diligence in tracking royalties and arranging for prompt payments."

Davies offered this personal tribute to Walters to Billboard: "Vicki was a devoted, loyal and hugely caring person in everything she undertook. She was particularly vigilant in ensuring that all of our songwriters and publishing clients were always our first priority, our extended 'family', and always treated them as such. Speaking of family, Vicki has remained a close personal friend of Lynda and I and our three daughters over all these many years we've known each other. We send our fondest thoughts to her brothers and their families with whom we have also shared many joyful and sad moments over the years."

Walters then joined SOCAN as a Membership Department Representative in Dec. 2001, remaining there until March 2013. A SOCAN Words & Musicobituary noted that "the loyal, caring, ebullient Walters worked for about 11 years at SOCAN – where she was greatly appreciated by both her work colleagues and the music publishers she served."

SOCAN CEO Jennifer Brown told Words & Music that “Vicki was a great friend and colleague at SOCAN for so many years. She had a true love of music, and she fostered and maintained such strong, true connections to our SOCAN publishers. Vicki was also extremely considerate of her co-workers, and always shared her extensive music publishing knowledge. I worked alongside her for years in Membership, and she was always happy to help. She was dedicated, reliable, and cared so much about serving and supporting our members. All at SOCAN will miss her.”

After leaving SOCAN, Walters became a copyright/administration consultant for BMG Rights Management (Canada) Inc., where she worked closely with Jennifer Beavis, of BMG’s Synchronization & Copyright Administration Department. "Vicki was not ready to retire after SOCAN," Beavis tells Billboard Canada. "I signed up with BMG just after leaving ole, and a month later, they reached out saying 'we’ve decided to bring on Vicki Walters. Do you know her?'"(laughs)

Beavis told Words & Music that “Vicki and I have been friends for 30 years, and I love her so much – as many of us who knew her do. I first got to know her when she was a client of the CMRRA [Canadian Music Rights Reproduction Agency], where I worked at the time. We loved how Vicki could recite the terms and dates of every contract she ever saw. When she was at SOCAN as our publishing rep, I became a client, and of course she was incredible, diligent, and detailed in everything she did… A world without Vicki Walters will be a tough one to get used to.”

Beavis recalled to Billboard Canada that "there is about 20 years between Vicki and I, but our friendship was more sisterly than motherly. She was just so sweet and caring and mentoring. When I lost my job at CMRRA, in 1998, we'd go out for lunches and strategize, and we just grew tighter and tighter."

Amongst those paying tribute to Walters on social media was another Canadian music publishing executive, Barbara Sedun, who worked with her and Frank Davies at TMP. Her Facebook post reads, in part: "One of the loveliest people I’ve ever known has left us. Vicki was my first real mentor in the music business. I learned so much from her — not only about publishing but also about how to treat people. She will be a part of my heart forever."

To Billboard Canada, Sedun added that "Vicki had the ability to make every person she was talking to feel like they were the most important person in the world."

Singer-songwriter John Cody posted this tribute on Facebook: "I worked with Vicki for many years when Frank Davies signed me to TMP back in '91. She was always smiling and an absolute pleasure to work with. Thank you for your Joy dear Vicki."

A funeral was held in St. Catharines, ON, on March 7. Donations can be made in Vicki Walters' name to Sunnybrook Hospital Palliative Care Unit. An online memorial page has been created.

International

Jim Beard, keyboardist for Steely Dan and a solo artist and composer, died on March 2, aged 63.

Billboardreports that "the news was confirmed by a spokesperson for the group in a statement on March 6 that revealed the pianist, composer, keyboardist, producer and arranger died on March 2 due to complications from a sudden illness; at press time a cause of death had not been announced."

"Beard joined the live Steely Dan band in 2008 for the Think Fast Tour and in addition to performing with the long-running jazz-influenced rock group — including at his final show with the band on Jan. 20 in Phoenix, AZ — he was also a touring member of the Eagles on their Long Goodbye tour."

Billboard notes that "Beardcomposed tracks by John McLaughlin, Michael Brecker and many others, and toured the world with such jazz greats as Pat Metheny, McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter. He also performed on recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Al Jarreau, David Sandborn, Dianne Reeves, Meshell Ndegeocello and rock guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, as well as with the Metropole Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as well as composing music for TV and movie scores."

Beard's productions and compositions have been nominated for multiple Grammy awards, and he was featured on the live album Some Skunk Funk, which won two Grammys in 2007.

Eric Carmen, a pop-rock singer-songwriter who scored hits with The Raspberries and as a solo artist, has died at age 74.

The news was confirmed by his wife Amy in a message posted to his website, Facebook and X account: “It is with tremendous sadness that we share the heartbreaking news of the passing of Eric Carmen. It brought him great joy to know, that for decades, his music touched so many and will be his lasting legacy. ‘Love Is All That Matters…Faithful and Forever,'” the message concludes.

A Billboard obituary notes that "Over his decades-long career, Carmen scored three top five hits on the Billboard Hot 100: the No. 2-peaking 'All By Myself' in 1976, followed by the Dirty Dancing soundtrack standout 'Hungry Eyes,' which peaked at No. 4 in 1988, and 'Make Me Lose Control,' a No. 3 hit, also in 1988. His highest-charting album was his self-titled solo debut, which peaked at No. 21 in 1976."

In addition to scoring a hit on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, Carmen also co-wrote “Almost Paradise… Love Theme from Footloose” (performed by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson) for the Footloose soundtrack, earning him his lone Grammy nomination.

Carmen earlier made a splash with four albums he recorded with The Raspberries from 1972 to 1974. They scored a No. 5 hit from their debut album called “Go All the Way” in 1972 and a top 20 hit with the ironically titled “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” which peaked at No. 18 in 1974.

In 1997, Celine Dion released a No. 4-peaking cover of “All By Myself.” “Go All the Way” was featured on the Guardians of Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack in 2014; and his co-written “Almost Paradise” served as the theme song to The Bachelor spin-off Bachelor in Paradise in 2014.

In 2004, Carmen, along with three original Raspberries members, re-formed the band for a series of sold-out live performances in cities across the United States. On that tour, the Raspberries recorded a live album of their hits at The House of Blues on Sunset Strip, in Hollywood. Both the show and album received critical acclaim.

Variety reported that "In 2000, Carmen joined Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band on tour, performing his biggest solo and Raspberries hits as well as sitting in with the performer whose band had provided a template for much of his musical life.

"In recent years, as he held back from releasing new music or performing in concert, fans communicated with him on social media — sometimes combatively, given his staunch conservative political views — until he withdrew from Twitter a few years ago."

Malcolm Holcombe, an acclaimed American folk/roots singer-songwriter, died on March 9, of respiratory failure after a long illness. He was 68 years old.

Born and raised in Weaverville, N.C., Holcombe moved to Nashville in 1990, and signed to Geffen Records in 1996, though his debut album, A Hundred Lies, was not officially released until 1999 by Hip-O Records.

He subsequently released albums independently at a very prolific rate. The last of his 14 solo albums, 2022: Bits & Pieces, came out in 2022.

Though never a major commercial success, Holcombe made fans north of the border. Hamilton songsmith Edgar Breau (Simply Saucer) posted this tribute on Facebook: "A truly great man, unparalleled singer/songwriter exceptional guitar player, humble and authentic, Malcolm Holcombe has passed away and I mourn for him. It was a privilege to open for Malcolm at This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton."

Veteran Toronto promoter Gary Topp on Facebook: "I am fortunate to have met this man. Very few can touch his songwriting, his unique style, subtlety and honesty. God bless you, Malcolm Holcombe."

Read more on Holcombe's website.

Steve Lawrence, a Grammy-Winning pop stylist and actor, died on March 7, at age 88.

He died in Los Angeles of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, publicist Susan DuBow announced.

Billboardnoted that "the charismatic Grammy- and Emmy-winning crooner delighted audiences for decades in nightclubs, on concert stages and in film and television appearances. He partnered with the late Eydie Gormé, his wife of 55 years, in a very popular act. At the height of their popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, Lawrence and Gormé were one of show business’ hottest couples. If a variety show were on TV, it was only a matter of time before Steve & Eydie would be booked for it."

Lawrence signed with King Records as a teenager, and he chose old style pop over rock 'n roll. The singer chose to stay old school and resist the allure of rock ‘n’ roll. Starting with an eponymous album in 1953, his smooth crooning graced dozens of solo albums. In 1963, he topped the Billboard Hot 100 with the Gerry Goffin-Carole King pop ballad “Go Away Little Girl.” The single became the first in history to reach No. 1 by two different artists after Donny Osmond recorded his version in 1971.

Lawrence also made the top 10 with 1957’s “Party Doll” (No. 5), 1959’s “Pretty Blue Eyes” (No. 9), 1960’s “Footsteps” (No. 7) and 1961’s “Portrait of My Love” (No. 9).

In the '50s, Lawrence was a regular on NBC’s Tonight singing and exchanging quips with host Steve Allen. There he met a young singer named Eydie Gorme, and the pair married in 1957.

Until Gorme’s death, in 2013, they remained popular, whether working together in concert or making separate TV appearances.

He and his wife starred together in The Steve Lawrence-Eydie Gorme Show in 1958 and Lawrence had his own series, The Steve Lawrence Show, in 1965. As an actor, he appeared in such films and TV series as The Lonely Guy, The Nanny; Night Gallery; Sanford and Son; Murder, She Wrote; Frasier; Hot in Cleveland; and Two and a Half Men.

Karl (Edmond De Vere) Wallinger, leader of British rock band World Party and a one-time member of The Waterboys, died on March 11, at age 66. A cause of death has not been reported.

The Welsh-born Wallinger served as musical director for a London production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show prior to joining the Michael Scott-led Waterboys for the alternative rock band’s second album, 1984’s A Pagan Place, providing keyboards, percussion and backing vocals. He worked on their third album, This Is the Sea, which included the Scott/Wallinger composition “Don’t Bang the Drum,” then quit the group.

In 1986, he formed World Party, a group described by Billboard as "primarily solo endeavor with Wallinger bringing in a revolving cast of musicians as needed to his atmospheric pop universe."

"World Party’s debut album, Private Revolution, spawned what ended up being the act’s biggest hit, the cynical indie-pop anthem “Ship of Fools,” which reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album included a then-unknown Sinead O’Connor on backing vocals and Wallinger then helped O’Connor on her album debut, 1988’s The Lion and the Cobra."

World Party’s second album, Goodbye Jumbo, included “Way Down Now,” which reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart, while “Put the Message in the Box” was nominated for best alternative music performance at the 33rd annual Grammy Awards. World Party’s fourth album, 1997’s Egyptology, included “She’s the One,” which Williams later covered and took to No. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

Wallinger suffered an aneurysm in 2001 and had to reteach himself to talk and play instruments, but later returned to the stage. World Party's last tour was in 2015, and their last recording was 2012’s Arkeology, a 70-track collection of new and live songs, as well as cover tunes.

Amongst those paying tribute on social media was Canadian record label head Steve Kane, who posted this on Facebook: "So sad that Karl Wallinger of World Party and Waterboys has passed. I had the pleasure of working a couple of World Party albums and had a few interactions with Karl. I found him incredibly witty and a fellow with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music.

"I vividly recall how the entire Virgin Music Canada team, we were marketing the Chrysalis label at the time, threw heart and soul into working 'Bang' and how appreciative he and his team were of our efforts. So long Karl and thank you for so many wonderful musical gems."

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