In her interview with FYI, popular veteran booking agent Kay White notes that is very rare that she gets to reminisce about her career. “We work so much in the future as agents. We never look back, we’re in the moment,” she explains.
When she does, she can reflect on a fascinating four decades long career in the industry she still loves. “It has been such a blessing. It has never been about the money or about ego, it is just what I love,” White says.
Her biggest impact has been made with the Trick Or Treat Agency, one she founded back in 1984 with husband Michael White. “That was in June 1984 and two days later we showed up at a national COCA [Canadian Organization Of Campus Activities] conference. The organizer managed to get us a booth in the hallway, but that was OK ‘cos Du Maurier was giving out cigarettes next to us so there was plenty of traffic!”
She cites COCA as crucial to the early success of Trick Or Treat. The company won Agent of the Year at the COCA conference three times and Kay White was given a Founders Award.
The agency fared very well in booking acts onto the then thriving campus circuit. “That was the only place you could get airplay those days as a new act. COCA was very instrumental in breaking new acts here then. They had the venues where you could perform live, they had reasonably good budgets for artists, plus they had radio and the campus circuit to work on for the media angle.”
White recalls that “we started representing some campus darlings at the time, like Mike Woods, Mike Mandel, The Hopping Penguins, and The Shuffle Demons. We were up to 75 acts at one time. We took on two reggae acts, Messenjah and the Sattalites, and Michael was the first agent to book black acts into white clubs in Halifax.”
In this ‘80s heyday, Trick Or Treat also booked international acts on Canadian tours, including such rootsy favourites as The Oyster Band and Australian bands Weddings, Parties, Anything, and The Black Sorrows.
Creating a brand new agency back then was a challenge. “Michael wanted to start with a brand new set of talent. In those days people would steal a big act from another agency and start that way. He said ‘we live in Toronto with so much talent all around us. Let’s just start with a new group of acts.'”
A major break early on was their signing of a just emerging Blue Rodeo, the group who became Trick Or Treat’s flagship act. Kay recalls that “when their manager walked in and said I’ve just picked up two new acts, we likely rolled our eyes, but then we saw them live.”
The rest is ongoing history, for Blue Rodeo remains the cornerstone of a trimmed-down Trick Or Treat. “We’ve always been a pro-artist boutique label, but the boutique is smaller now,” White observes.
"Right now my main focus is Blue Rodeo and The Jim Cuddy Band, the only two projects I work fulltime. Every once in a while I’ll pick up a new project to keep it fresh and fun, and right now it is [blues singer] Shakura S’Aida, who I love working with.”
Not that working with Blue Rodeo has lost its appeal. “After 29 years I absolutely love seeing this band live. That is a great gift,” says White. “Being there recently when they were presented with an Honors Award by Massey Hall was such a thrill, especially as it was presented by Deane Cameron, a true industry icon.”
Michael White retired from Trick Or Treat and the music biz in the early ‘00s when the couple moved north from Pickering to the Midland area. He opened what Kay calls “a rustic fine dining restaurant,” and Mad Michael's has won acclaim and awards for its Southern-style BBQ food. “My office is now upstairs in this 1930s general store, with Michael’s restaurant [madmichaels.com] on the main floor,” she says.
Kay White’s profile in the industry may be a little lower these days, but as a somewhat publicity-shy person, she’s fine with that. “I haven’t been a big self promoter, and I’m quite happy just working away quietly. I would be pleased when I would still get nominated for Agency of the Year or Agent of the Year by CMW, even if I felt like Susan Lucci for a while!”
In terms of her philosophy as an agent, White explains that “Michael and I would only work with artists we also liked as people. We often turned down artists for that reason. Also, an act had to be great live. If it was a band with a radio hit who couldn’t play live, we weren’t interested.”
Prior to starting Trick Or Treat with her husband, Kay White had an interesting background in the record biz. That started when, as a 17 year old, she got a job as a clerk/typist with Gary Salter at IGM Inter Global Music (a label distributed by CBS Records). “They had their own Recording Studio, Publishing Company, and even launched Toronto disco Heaven while I worked there,” she recalls. “Teenage Head’s first record came out on the label, David Bendeth too.
“Jim Zeppa was head of A&R. Of course I wanted to work in his department, but although Jim was really nice to me, he wasn’t having it! The best experience there was with an old sales rep there. They wanted me to organize his file cabinet, so I got to spend the day listening to him sell on the phone while Barbra Streisand played in the background. He talked so differently to every one according to where they were from. I loved listening to him!
She then met Michael White, then an agent at The Agency. “Our first date was at Maple Leaf Gardens, Triumph, Moxy with Mike Reno, and the Guess Who, with no original members. I remember telling Michael I thought Mike Reno was cute, so of course he took me back stage and introduced me.”
Kay and Michael married a year later. “It was on the shores of Lake Louise, we took the train to Vancouver, and then proceeded to see 40 bands on our honeymoon!”
When the IGM label foundered, Kay worked at some Bay Street firms and Ontario Hydro. When Michael left The Agency, he and Kay helped set up CIA Canadian International Artists. “That was very exciting, working with bands like Alta Moda (Molly Johnston) and The Dave Howard Singers. The Garys were kind enough to fill in with some British touring acts here and there too.”
When that company ran intro trouble, the Whites considered relocating to Australia. Kay recalls that “again at a cross roads, we decided to start our own agency instead of moving to Australia. Katrina & The Waves were breaking, kd lang was another fun act, and we were loving what we were doing, so Trick Or Treat Agency was born. Our office was our two bedroom apartment and I was about to have our second son.”
More than 30 years later, the agency survives. “For us it has never been about making the most money,” Kay White reflects. "I still love what I do and I count my blessings.”