From London's Playboy Club To The Walt Grealis Award: Frank Davies' Song Remains The Same

There aren't going to be any Playboy bunnies wagging their whatevers when Frank Davies walks on stage at the 2014 Junos in Winnipeg next March to receive the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, but the honour does bring his extraordinary career full circle.

Born Frank (Francis) William Harding Davies, son to British business executive and political advisor The Rt Hon John Davies and Lady Vera Georgina Harding-Davies, the fresh-faced 24 year-old arrived in Toronto in February 1970 after having his imagination put in overdrive a year earlier by journalist Ritchie Yorke and rockabilly scoundrel Ronnie Hawkins who had booked themselves into London's Playboy Club to promote John Lennon's “War Is Over: If You Want It - Give Peace A Chance” message and The Hawk's splashy Atlantic Records' album debut recorded in Muscle Shoals.

Davies had served a stint as a correspondent for Billboard magazine in Paris, and with EMI in London where he had a chance to work with a number of the label’s acts—including the Beatles, the Hollies, the Yardbirds and Pink Floyd. Yorke and Hawkins were pumped about the new CanCon law that would take effect the following year —a groundbreaking piece of legislation they believed would transform Canada’s somnolent music industry from its primary function as an importer of American and British hit records into a hit-making capital for Canadian recordings. It was  social policy with the best of intentions, but one that drew venom from broadcasters that had no truck with government interference in programming decisions.

Almost a year in from Davies landing in Toronto and a month out from the CanCon regs coming into effect, a room full of local record producers that included Jack Richardson, Terry Brown, Art Snider, Bernie Finkelstein, Stan Klees and Davies met under stealth at Inn on the Park on Jarvis Street to discuss how to respond to a threat from the broadcasters to create their own record labels and spin their own Canadian records. It was a threat that was unlikely to pass muster, but CHUM had already created Much Records and signed Quebec rocker Michel Pagliaro and Maritime rock band April Wine. Also present at the meeting was Walt Grealis, a former RCMP and Metro constable who, six years earlier, had created the music industry trade weekly RPM magazine with Klees. Also present was Davies' expat mate, Ritchie Yorke.

Before arriving in Canada the wheels were set in motion at the Playboy Club to set up Love Productions and its offshoot Daffodil Records with Hawkins in as an initial iinvestor  and bringing with him his band Crowbar ("Oh What A Feeling") and blues harmonica extraordinaire Richard "King Biscuit Boy" Newell. Davies eventually bought Hawkins out, later bringing in supermarket scion Myron Wolf and music promoters Bill Ballard and Michael Cohl.

Over the next 12 years, Daffodil was to make an indelible stamp on Canada’s youthful music scene with a roster of now legendary acts that included Fludd, A Foot In Coldwater, (Tom) Cochrane, and Klaatu. It was early days for Canada’s emerging music industry; broadcasters were combative, and music retailers were reluctant to devote shelf space to unknowns. The climate was as cutting as a December wind for bright eyed entrepreneurs  and placed a galaxy of acts with expectations of becoming stars in a permanent deep freeze.

Davies eloquently recounts his own story about those early years in Canada in a book liner that accompanies a soon-to-be released Unidisc four-disc anthology entitled Daffodil on Vinyl, the Roots of Canadian Rock: 1970-1982).

After Daffodil, Davies embarked on a career as a song promoter and music publisher. He was one of the first to champion Syreena Ryder and signed Tom Cochrane when he was a struggling musician playing coffee houses and barely able to earn enough to keep a roof over his head. His relationship with these two extends through to today, working with Serena on her recent platinum-plus album Harmony, and continuing to champion Cochrane who recently recorded "Pink Time" — a weeper of a song about the dreadful grip Alzheimer's disease can have on a person and its lasting affect on a longstanding, loving marriage

More recently, Davies added roots-rock five-piece  The Treasures to his roster,a band that adds a modern twist to the Eagles and The San Francisco Sound.

Over the years he also developed strong relationships with a great many other Canadian songwriters, such as Dan Hill, Alfie Zappacosta, Ron Hynes, Dave Tyson, Jane Siberry, Eddie Schwartz and Bill Henderson.  As an entrepreneur he has lived a life that has had more than its share of ups and downs and yet, over the years, Davies has maintained optimism and remained a committed champion of songwriters like few others I have known.

Three decades and three years since the undercover Inn on the Park meeting, and nine years following his death, Frank Davies is once again in the presence of Walt Grealis—but this time he is accepting an award in his name that recognizes his own accomplishments. From Daffodil to Founder of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame to today and his music consultancy firm Let Me Be Frank, few have achieved so much for so many songwriters in Canada.

As for the lost years caused by the acrimony between the broadcasters and the music industry, those times are long gone; in fact, today, the broadcast industry invests tens of millions of dollars in Canadian recordings and asks  for little as payback. Time heals wounds and makes surprising bedfellows.

When Frank Davies walks to the stage to accept his award, hopefully the TV cameras will linger a moment on where he is seated and capture the extremely beautiful woman who has stood supportively by his side for all but one of the  years he has lived in Canada. Lynda Margaret Mae Squires (Davies) married Frank in 1972. Before Frank, Lynda was lead-singer in popular late '60s psychedelic rock group Reign Ghost and from there went on to join the celebrated Canadian cast of Hair at The Royal Alexandra Theatre before retiring professionally from the stage.

Watch for Frank’s upcoming books: LOVE In A Cold Climate and Canadian  Songwriters: A Definitive Compendium (1867-2007) - to be published shortly.

One can read more about Frank Davies and the rich catalogue of songs he has been associated with over the years on his Let Me Be Frank website, and below is the press release issued by the Junos announcing the special award he is to be honoured with next March.

It's been a long time coming and his achievements cannot be understated. Frank Davies to be honoured with Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the 2014 JUNO Awards in Winnipeg, Manitoba

TORONTO, Dec. 11, 2013 /CNW/ - The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) is pleased to announce Frank Davies as the recipient of the 2014 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. Davies will be honoured at the 2014 JUNO Gala Dinner & Awards on Saturday, March 29 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Davies has been an integral supporter of the country's artists, leading multiple organizations dedicated to producing, distributing, promoting, publishing and honouring Canadian music. He has been a major contributor to the growth of Canada's music iindustry and its creative community. Davies is credited with discovering and developing the careers of many celebrated artists' and songwriters, including A Foot In Coldwater, Crowbar, Klaatu, Tom Cochrane and Serena Ryder, while also publishing the career catalogues of Honeymoon Suite, Murray McLauchlan and Ron Hynes.

Born in Northampton, England, Davies began his musical career path in 1964 as a French correspondent to Billboard Magazine. In the mid-to-late 60's, he worked in the U.K. for EMI Records and Liberty Records.

On moving to Canada in 1970, Davies co-founded the indie record label Daffodil, which became the first Canadian label to sign a distribution deal with a major (Capitol/EMI). As a record producer, among the hits he produced for the label was the first CanCon single ever released — Crowbar's "Oh What A Feeling" in 1971. In 1978, he formed Partisan Music, the first Canadian production company to sign an exclusive deal with a U.S. record company (Capitol) to develop talent for the label worldwide.

In 1982, Davies became President of ATV Music (Canada), the Beatles publisher. At ATV, he developed the careers of the like of songwriter/producers Eddie Schwartz and David Tyson, and artists Chilliwack and the Pukka Orchestra. In 1986, Davies formed The Music Publisher (TMP) and built it into Canada's largest and most successful independent music publisher. Later, in 1998, Davies founded the non-profit Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame/le panthéon des auteurs et compositeurs canadiens.

Davies currently heads a music industry-consulting firm, Let Me Be Frank Inc., where he has executive produced albums for the Rankin Family, Serena Ryder and the Treasures.

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