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Obituaries: Horseshoe Legend X-Ray MacRae, Jazz Veteran Bob Erlendson

This week we also acknowledge the passing of veteran sound engineer and Noah "40" Shebib collaborator Les Bateman, Woodstock star Melanie, studio hitmaker Frank Farian, and blues promoter Dick Waterman.

X-Ray MacRae

X-Ray MacRae

Marty MacDougall

Les Bateman, an Edmonton-based musician, engineer and sound technician, died on Jan. 22, at age 74

Bateman’s musical career began in Saskatoon band Witness Inc., formed in 1967 by singer Kenny Shields and high school friends including Bateman on organ. CanadianBands.comreports that the group played the prairie circuit and recorded a number of singles. After multiple lineup changes, Shields and Bateman were the only original members. Shields left in 1970, and the group (still including Bateman) relocated to Edmonton, but broke up in 1971. Shields reformed the band in 1975 (Bateman was absent), then founded Streetheart a year later, achieving major success.


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In the mid-'60s, Bateman also worked at Harmony Kids with Wire Amps, and later moved into production work, as studio engineer at Century 11, an Edmonton studio co-founded by Tommy Banks in late 1972.

He worked as an audio engineer on SCTV, and later connected with hit Canadian producer Noah "40" Shebib, known for his extensive work with Drake.

In a 2012 interview with Sound on Sound, Shebib discussed working on his PC laptop, one he explained "has 12GB of RAM, three solid-state hard drives, DVI/HDMI and so on. It's custom-made by a gentleman called Les Bateman, nicknamed Bates. He had a company called Music XPC, which was for a long time the only PC manufacturer certified for use with Pro Tools. When I bought this computer from him it cost me $6500, but you have to remember that it's still far superior to any $4000 Mac you can buy today, despite it being one and a half years old." That piece of equipment was put to good use in the creation of Drake song "Headlines."

The MusicXPC Professional, a computer system designed by Les Bateman for audio professionals, proved a success.

Bob (Robert Arthur Glen) Erlendson, a Winnipeg-born jazz keyboardist and composer, died on Jan. 25, at age 93.

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In a Facebook post, Canadian jazz authority/author Mark Miller noted that "To the extent that Erlendson has been found in the annals of jazz in Canada, it’s as the person who introduced a young guitarist in Winnipeg, Lenny Breau, to the music of Bill Evans, which in turn shaped Breau’s unique conception of harmony."

"But Erlendson warrants more than just fame by association," Miller continues. "He had a long career in his own right, dating back to the early 1950s, and he was “on the scene” for shorter and longer periods in a number of Canadian cities, principally Toronto and Calgary. If that made him both literally and figuratively a journeyman musician — never quite a star, but closest in Calgary — it has also left a network of valued personal connections, made one by one, that span the country from Toronto west."

Miller included an entry on Erlendson in his book The Miller Companion To Jazz In Canada.

Erlendson moved from Winnipeg to Toronto in 1954, then toured in the U.S. with Don (D.T.) Thompson for three years. In the '70s, Erlendson studied jazz arranging with Gordon Delamont in Toronto, and after several years of study, in 1976 he won the Eddie Karam Award for best new arrangement by Delamont students.

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Erlendson's extensive work with Lenny Breau in Winipeg is explored in the book One Long Tune, by Ron Forbes-Roberts, as well as in The Genius Of Lenny Breau, the film documentary of Breau by his daughter Emily Hughes.

His original composition “Lullaby” was published in Guitar Player Magazine in 1983, and other Erlendson compositions have been recorded by noted Canadian artists. “Lullaby” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” were featured on Big Miller’s album Live from Calgary released by Black Bear Records in 1982. “Winnipeg at Night” was recorded in Toronto by George Koller and Julie Michels for their 2011 album Bass and Voice, and was also featured on the Foothills Brass's 2004 album, Bourbon Street To Broadway, and was also recorded (with the Shirley Eikhard band) in 1998 for Bravo.

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He worked with Shirley Eikhard during her transition from pop to jazz, as showcased on her 1996 album Going Home. He also played and recorded with trumpeter Herbie Spanier.

Contacted by Billboard Canada, his daughter Jessica Erlendson offered these recollections: "We formed a partnership when I moved in with him as a teenager and we started writing music together when I was only 18. He got me to join SOCAN and we continued to write music together well into his 80's. We drove across Canada to bring his piano with him to spend his final years in Calgary.

"I thought we would get maybe 5 years, and instead, we got a decade of amazing music recorded, written, performed and shared with music lovers everywhere. He lived under my care for almost 16 years. We produced 4 octet albums and have completed over 60 octet arrangements that are available for future generations on the CMC website. What I aimed to do was salvage his coffee stained, dog eared, disorganized charts into a beautiful legacy of art; with the help of my husband Martyn van Remmen and our engineering associate Brian Campbell we did it!"

In a Facebook tribute, George Koller noted that "More will be written about Bob Erlendson's wonderful jazz piano career and his compositions and his deep connections to Lenny Breau and Winnipeg, Toronto and Calgary and the Canadian Jazz community. I had a wonderful and long time friendship with Bob and was fortunate to have many many playing hours and many many hanging out hours. Farewell my friend...the band in heaven is going to have to up their game."

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Jessica Erlendson tells Billboard Canada that "We have released four octet albums of my father's work, and his compositions and octet arrangements are featured on the Canadian Music Center website.

X-Ray (Michael) MacRae , a club owner and music booker who played a huge role in legendary Toronto music venue The Horseshoe Tavern, died on Jan. 26, at age 72, after a long battle with cancer.

Raised in Kingston, Ontario, MacRae ran a second-hand record store and worked in noted music venue/bar Dollar Bill's in that city before moving to Toronto to work at and take an ownership stake in The Horseshoe.

The Horseshoe Tavern’s official website has a detailed section on MacRae’s tenure at the venue. Itexplains that original owner Jack Starr “came out of retirement in 1982 to operate the venue as a country bar. During this time he met Kenny Sprackman (who had recently run the Hotel Isabella) when he answered Jack's ad for a driver to transport his car to his snowbird Florida residence.

"The pair hit it off, and Jack matched Kenny with Kingston, Ontario resident Michael (X-Ray) MacRae, who had been bugging Jack to allow him a shot at running the venue. X-Ray brought aboard his friends Dan Aykroyd and Richard Kruk to help finance operations. The collaboration of these four not only saved the business but musically and historically defined what we now call The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern."

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MacRae's start at The Horseshoe was explored in more detail in author/music journalist David McPherson's The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History. "I worked as a bartender at Dollar Bill's for eight years, so I knew the music scene," MacRae recalled. "My friend Peter Lloyd was booking there, and we would come up to Toronto once in a while to check out bands, including at The Horseshoe."

"I came here[ The 'Shoe] April 1, 1984. My ex-partner Richard Kruk had Kruk’s over on Front Street. I was sitting at home in Kingston and hear this old car pull up and it was [Dan] Aykroyd and Kruk. 'We are going to New York city to open the Hard Rock Café on 57th Avenue. I want you to come and be my partner in the Horseshoe. Here are the keys … goodbye.'

"So I drove up to Toronto and spent two or three days here. It didn’t take me long to figure things out. I moved to Toronto with $200 in my pocket. That’s all I had left in the world. Slept on a floor for the first six months."

With Kenny Sprackman handling the business side of The Horseshoe, MacRae dove into booking the room with passion and energy. He soon had a major impact on the burgeoning Queen Street West music scene, helping boost the careers of such local bands as Blue Rodeo, Prairie Oyster, The Bopcats, Handsome Ned and Leslie Spit Treeo by booking them into The Horseshoe.

As the bar’s website notes, “The success of the Sprackman-X-Ray era re-established The Horseshoe as a legendary venue to hear live music and see rising local and Canadian national talent." Also assisting on the booking side was Derek Andrews (Albert's Hall, The Holiday Tavern).

In the 1987-95 era, MacRae assumed more control of the booking, prior to bringing in Yvonne Matsell (Albert’s Hall, Ultrasound) to assist. Canadian bands benefiting from playing regularly at The Horseshoe included The Tragically Hip, The Watchmen, Amanda Marshall, Skydiggers, The Barenaked Ladies, The Waltons, Lowest of the Low, Great Big Sea,13 Engines and many more.

During this period, MacRae got to help operate another Queen Street West watering hole/restaurant, X-Rays, one that became a favourite hangout for musicians and industry types. Located above X-Rays was another music venue, the Ultrasound Showbar, an intimate space that quickly became an important addition to Toronto's live music scene. Over its five years of existence in the early '90s, it hosted many up and coming artists who then graduated to the larger Horseshoe stage.

The talent booker at Ultrasound, Yvonne Matsell recalls to Billboard Canada: "One night I saw Kenny Sprackman at The Horseshoe and he asked me to call Richard Kruk, who was working on a new venue above the restaurant called X-Rays at Queen & McCaul, named after X-Ray obviously. Richard, Kenny and X-Ray, known as the XL Boys, were co-owners of The Horseshoe and X-Rays/Ultrasound then. I believe Dan Aykroyd was more of a silent partner, but obviously he would show up at Ultrasound quite a lot to do parties or have his Hollywood pals come and visit or hang out The big party for when John Candy became a part owner in the Argos was held at the 'Shoe & then it all moved over to Ultrasound, a venue that became very popular very quickly."

During this period, Matsell booked both The Horseshoe and Ultrasound for a few years. Replacing Matsell as talent buyers at The Horseshoe in mid-1995 were Jeff Cohen and Craig Laskey.

Still currently booking talent there, Laskey recalls his introduction to MacRae to Billboard Canada. "I first met Michael X-Ray McRae in the summer of 1995, when Kenny and X-Ray hired Jeff Cohen and myself to be the talent buyers at the Horseshoe Tavern. I remember at first being a little scared and intimidated by X-Ray’s imposing size and his legendary status as a talent buyer. X-Ray had been responsible for booking early shows for Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, The Pursuit of Happiness, Barenaked Ladies, Chris Isaak, and so many other amazing artists. I learned in that initial meeting how kind, gentle and generous he was with his time towards me and others."

In this era, MacRae functioned as "the face of The Horseshoe," his large and welcoming presence a constant fixture at the bar.

After his run with The Horseshoe ended, MacRae returned to the Napanee area. His long-time friend Sue Carrington Baker tells Billboard Canada that “he had a farmhouse there long before he ever left Toronto. It was his weekend place for many years, then became his home.”

In his Facebook tribute to MacRae, Jeff Cohen (later co-owner of The Horseshoe) noted that "after X-Ray retired from the venues, he worked for his close friend, actor Dan Aykroyd. I recall a 6-8 week period where X-Ray held court at the ’Shoe during the filming of the Blues Brothers 2000 film. You had the likes of Steve Cropper (Booker T and The MGs) sitting in our office every night, Michael was in his music glory listening to all the Stax stories."

With word of his passing, MacRae's friends, music industry colleagues, and the musicians whose careers he supported quickly took to social media to offer condolences and pay tribute.

On its Facebook page, Blue Rodeo posted this homage: "For the Legendary X-Ray MacRae. Goodbye old friend. We will always smile at the image of you sitting in your office in the basement of The Horseshoe behind piles and piles of cassettes of hopeful bands, just like ours, trying to get you to put them on The Horseshoe stage. It took a few visits but you finally picked us and we had a good run together. You always brought a lot of joy when we saw you with your mischievous smile and bagful of rock ‘n roll stories. We will miss you. Rest easy Michael."

Also on Facebook, Blue Rodeo manager Susan De Cartier (Starfish Entertainment) added this tribute: "X was generous and kind to me when I was starting out, as he was to so many people. I remember hanging out in 'the office' at The Horseshoe Tavern many happy times, laughing, gossiping, offering very welcome advice and talking about music.

"He was the beating heart of the Queen West scene and helped launch Blue Rodeo and so many other bands. After he left The 'Shoe, we stayed in touch and he ended up with a place in The County near my cottage. We would see each other there, or in the city, and catch up on our various exploits. X-Ray was a good man and my heart goes out to all who loved him. Rest in peace sweet X-Ray. You will be missed."

Rob Baker posted this on The Tragically Hip's Facebook page: "I don’t recall exactly how it happened but, somehow I got us a gig at The Horseshoe Tavern. I think I just phoned them up. For us, this was The Fillmore North - a legendary, iconic venue, where many of the bands we loved had played. X-Ray MacRae was booking the bands and when he found out we were from Kingston we were in.

"He gave us a chance and we capitalized on it. That was the first of many gigs at The Shoe, all of which were good and very well attended or sold out. X-Ray remained a great friend throughout our career and beyond. We were and are grateful for X-Ray's dedication to roots music of all kinds, and for the opportunities and friendship he bestowed upon us."

MacRae's longtime business partner Kenny Sprackman offered this tribute to Billboard Canada: "We shared a house and a club together for many years. He was X-Ray and I was referred to as The King. Everyone he touched is devastated and I hope that he is now at peace. He suffered with illnesses from childhood. His passing has left a big hole in the heart of the music industry. X-Ray had what is referred to as great ears."

Craig Laskey tells Billboard Canada that "X-Ray had an incredible ear for music and a unique vision of what a live music club was supposed to be. I have some really great memories over the years, like X-Ray showing us around Austin, on our very first trip to South By Southwest. And holding court at the club with John Goodman and Dan Aykroyd when The Rolling Stones played in 1997 and how proud he was that the Stones were playing at The Horseshoe.

"I remember the time he dropped musician/producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and Gord Downie off at the club, after driving them to Toronto from Kingston after they finished recording The Tragically Hip album Phantom Power at The Bathhouse. They had struck up a friendship after Los Lobos played the club in the fall of 1996. I will miss X-Ray very much and feel lucky to have been his friend."

On the Horseshoe Tavern Facebook page, Jeff Cohen posted this tribute: “RIP - Michael ‘Xray’ Macrae - One time legendary owner and talent buyer of the Horseshoe Tavern and Ultrasound. He had an office at the Horseshoe in the basement forever known as the ‘dungeon’ - It was next to Blue’s Rodeo’s record company, Risque Disque. To get a booking at the venues you had to request a private meting with him there - Bring along a cassette tape of your music, lol, and pitch - As Michael was a larger-than-life large man, at first he seemed intimidating to many but once you got to know him there wasn’t anyone in the country who loved live music and live music artists and musicians more than he did.

"He was a talent buyer in an era of no advance ticketing, no contracts, no offers, and no artist rider. It was his word and handshake and yet at the same time his old school ‘trust me’ approach became legendary in Toronto. He was loved and adored by Canadian musicians. X-Ray was also a curator of all things indie, artist DIY, alternative, rootsy music in his venues. He didn’t care much for the ‘industry’ at large as he was artist and musician focused.”

On Facebook, noted Toronto audio engineer Doug McClement termed MacRae "One of the great rock'n'roll characters of the Kingston and Toronto music scenes. A wonderful storyteller. A champion of great roots music and he loved turning people on to cool new artists. I remember him playing me the first rap music I'd ever heard: 'Doug you have to check out this Grandmaster Flash guy!' He'd travel down to SXSW in Austin every year just to find interesting bands to book at the Horseshoe."

Veteran booking agent Ralph James, Senior Vice President, Paquin Artists Agency, forwarded this tribute to Billboard Canada: "X-Ray was an intimidating figure when I first met him, especially having been told in advance that he didn’t like agents… but once I got to know him, he was quite the opposite. He was a real supporter of emerging Canadian talent who took great pride in watching artists develop and was instrumental in giving many of our biggest bands their first break."

Veteran Toronto club booker Derek Andrews on Facebook: "X-Ray was truly a legend, and a teddy bear. We worked together on the 'Shoe programming when my office was there and it was such a cool time. Imagine booking bands with Dan Aykroyd's bodyguard. Kenny Sprackman, Richard Kruk and X-Ray MacRae linked their minds and resources and the scene was a better place (with a tip of the hat to Yvonne Matsell and many others!)."

Sue Carrington Baker reminisced to Billboard Canada that “X-Ray and I met when I took his place as doorman at another legendary music club, Dollar Bill’s in Kingston. Later, when I moved to Toronto, I worked at X-Ray’s/ Ultrasound, then the Bamboo, until X-Ray convinced me the Horseshoe was where I belonged. Getting me that job there was one of the last things he did before leaving the ‘Shoe, and I worked there for 10 years.”

“Back in Kingston, I spent more time with X-Ray in the last 20 years than I ever did before, and one thing I’ve realized is that he has a vast network of friends, many of whom he’s had for a lifetime. He will be truly missed.”

Moe Berg (The Pursuit Of Happiness) on FB: "Sad to hear of the passing of Toronto legend, X-Ray MacRae. The Toronto music community owe a huge debt to him. I remember him bringing me into his office just to talk and listen to music. He had a real connection to the artists he welcomed into the Horseshoe. I hope there's great music where you are and, 'no slow songs!'"

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of not only catching many dozens of shows at The Horseshoe during X-Ray MacRae’s tenure there (and after) but chatting about music in his dungeon office. Hanging out with him at his ‘happy place,’ SXSW in Austin, for a few years in the early ‘90s was also big fun.

He also did me a huge favour when I was trying to score an interview with Steve Earle, then in his bad boy phase. To help lure Steve to the Music Express HQ for a chat, I asked X-Ray to round up some of his biker pals to come on down and chat bikes with Steve. X-Ray came through, and Earle had more fun hanging out with them than being interviewed! RIP comrade. You won’t be forgotten.

Sue Carrington Baker tells Billboard Canada that "There will be a rockin' celebration of life, with lots of stories and old friends."

International

Frank Farian, the German producer/songwriter described as the mastermind behind hit acts Boney M and Milli Vanilli, has died at age 82. His family released a statement on Jan. 23 confirming his death.

His first major commercial success came with '70s disco/pop act Boney M. In its obituary, Billboard US noted that "Unbeknownst to the group’s fans, Farian sang all the male lead vocals for the group that would go on to sell more than 100 million records thanks to such quirky, but undeniable dance floor jams as “Rasputin,” “Daddy Cool,” the Bobby Hebb cover “Sunny” and the swaying, reggae-lite “Rivers of Babylon.” The group released two more albums in quick succession and achieved global success.

Working out of his technologically superior Frankfurt-based FAR Studios, Farian helped to popularize the Eurodisco sound. He then repeated the global success of Boney M with another studio creation, Milli Vanilli, a group that scored three No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart making Milli Vanilli one of the year’s most dominant pop acts of 1989. Controversy then erupted with the discovery that lead vocalists Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan were lip-synching in performance.

For more on Farian’s life and career, read Billboard's obit here.

Melanie (Safka), the pop singer/songwriter behind ‘70s hits “Brand New Key” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” and a performer at Woodstock, has died, at age 76. No cause of death has been reported.

The New York-born Melanie had two top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart throughout her career, “Brand New Key” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” In the decades following, she toured extensively internationally.

She was reportedly in the studio earlier this month working on an album of cover songs for what would have been her 32nd full-length record.

Read more in this Billboard feature.

Dick Waterman, an American writer, promoter, manager, agent and photographer long influential in the development and recording of the blues, died on Jan. 26, at age 88.

He studied journalism at Boston University in the 1950s before becoming features for Broadside Magazine. He also promoted blues concerts by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White and Mississippi Fred McDowell, and is credited with boosting the career of Son House.

Waterman then founded Avalon Productions, viewed as the first management agency focused on blues artists. In the Boston area, he also promoted folk and rock concerts, including shows by a young Bonnie Raitt, mentored by Waterman.

Waterman then pivoted to looking after the estates of the blues veterans he had promoted. After moving to Oxford, Mississippi in the 1980s, he began publishing the artists-based photographs he had been taking since the early 1960s, resulting in the books Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive (Raitt contributed a preface) and, with B.B. King, The B.B. King Treasures: Photos, Mementos, and Music from B.B. King's Collection.

In 2000, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, as one of the first non-performers to be so honoured. In 2014 in Memphis he won a Keeping the Blues Alive award for Photography, and in 2017, he received a Brass Note on Beale Street in Memphis.

Veteran Canadian blues star Colin Linden posted this tribute to Waterman on Facebook: "I’m tremendously saddened to learn that my friend and hero, Dick Waterman has passed away. Dick was a brilliant photographer and musicologist, a beautiful raconteur, and responsible more so than almost anyone for the world knowing the music of the great country blues artists who survived into the 1960s and beyond.

"He rediscovered and managed the career of Son House and was an ally of so many. I met him when I was 15, on the day of his 45th Birthday, and what would be Son House’s final public appearance. He was a true championship human being. I was honoured to know him and will always be indebted to him for his contributions."

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Shaq’s Classic Song ‘You Can’t Stop the Reign’ Featuring Biggie Is Finally on Streaming Services
Rb Hip Hop

Shaq’s Classic Song ‘You Can’t Stop the Reign’ Featuring Biggie Is Finally on Streaming Services

There's a more explicit Biggie verse in the vault, according to the NBA legend.

Shaq’s classic with Biggie is finally available on streaming services. The news was broken by FakeShoreDrive on X earlier this week, and the Hall of Fame big man confirmed the news Thursday afternoon (June 13).

The year is 1996 and Shaquille O’Neal and the Notorious B.I.G. are two of the biggest figures in their respective fields. Shaq was entering the last year of his deal with the Orlando Magic before he headed west to the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the 1995-1996 season. Biggie was getting ready to release his sophomore album, Life After Death, while in the throws of a beef with 2Pac. Big name-dropped the NBA player on the song “Gimme the Loot” off his debut album, Ready to Die, and the two had a mutual respect for each other ever since.

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