Montréal-born pop/rock singer, songwriter and recording artist Andy Kim, who topped the Billboard charts in the late ‘60s and mid-‘70s with the songs “Sugar, Sugar” and “Rock Me Gently,” is the 2016 inductee into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame.
In making the announcement, Neill Dixon, president of Canadian Music Week, which will host the annual Canadian Music & Broadcast Industry Awards Gala Dinner in the Grand Ballroom at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre hotel on Thursday, May 5, 2016, noted that Kim was a former recipient of the Indie Award for Favourite Solo Artist during a previous Canadian Music Week.
Andy Kim is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame whose songs have been covered by some of the biggest names in contemporary music history including Wilson Pickett, Tom Jones, Ike & Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Bob Marley. He has nine Billboard Top 40 hits and has been responsible for the sale of over 30 million records worldwide. His career journey continued this year with the release of the album, It’s Decided, a collaboration with Broken Social Scene co-founder Kevin Drew which included a re-working of his 1969 hit “Shoot ‘Em Up Baby,” as well as a number of new songs including “Sister, OK,” which he performed on Late Night with David Letterman during its last days.
His career, since the outset, has been marked by a dogged determination to succeed. In the early ‘60s, he made the trip to New York with his brother Joe without a demo tape or even the ability to play an instrument. He ended up quitting school and moving there, spending the next four and a half years selling lawn mowers and flogging candy floss at amusement parks to survive. During a brief trip back to Montréal, he even worked at the Eaton’s department store in the hardware department selling hammers and nails.
By late 1967, guitar lessons from Kim`s brother Joe paid off, and Andy wrote the song “How’d We Ever Get This Way?” with the only two chords he had mastered – C and F. In New York, he had met Brill Building songwriter/producer Jeff Barry and, emboldened by the fact he now had what he figured was a pretty good song in his portfolio, began pestering him to take him into the studio to record. Barry relented and in March of 1968, “How’d We Ever Get This Way?” was released and went on to sell close to a million copies.
By the late ‘60s, Kim had become a familiar face on the legendary TV teen dance show American Bandstand hosted by Dick Clark performing hit songs like “Shoot ‘Em Up Baby,” “Rainbow Ride” and “Baby I Love You.” In September of 1969, he had his first #1 Billboard hit with “Sugar, Sugar,” co-written with Jeff Barry and performed by The Archies, an animated group with a hit Saturday morning TV show, with vocals by Kim and Ron Dante. It is arguably the definitive “bubble gum” song, one which knocked The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” featuring fellow Montréaler Nanette Workman on backup vocals, out of the #1 position on the charts. It was the number one single of 1969 according to Billboard, which later named it one of the “Greatest Songs of All Time.”
People may have written the song off as lightweight but Wilson Pickett had a million seller with it and then Ike & Tina Turner and Bob Marley recorded it. Ike Turner was once asked why he went into the studio with it. He simply said, “Great song!” As Kim points out, there’s a sensuality to the lyric but, when you hear The Archies’ version, it kind of gets buried. “Tina took out the word ‘girl’ and sang ‘You are my candy…’ That certainly changed the feel.”
Kim’s first #1 Billboard single as an artist in his own right came in September of 1974 when he topped the Billboard chart with the single, “Rock Me Gently.”
A couple of years ago, Kim looked back on his years in the music business. “I think I’m still that kid in Montréal who’s hoping that people like my music. All I know is from experience, you can’t teach songwriting. You can teach the craft, but the inspiration is another thing. I learned the craft from Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and being around Leiber & Stoller, Phil Spector and people like that. I was such a fan growing up of the stuff I heard on the radio. At night, I would listen to WKBW Buffalo or WABC New York on my transistor radio and I just loved those songs and was curious about who wrote them. The pilgrimage to the Brill Building in New York in the ‘60s was a big deal for me.”
With the announcement of his induction into the Canadian Music Industry of Fame, a number of his peers weighed in on the honour.
“Andy [still wants to] make it even though many would say his history is enough,” remarked Kevin Drew. “Gentle and enigmatic, ageless and ecstatic, Andy Kim always looks to transcend and find the honesty in what he does and does with others.”
Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies stated, “Andy Kim is a true Canadian Legend. It was such a pleasure to write and produce a song with [him]. He believes in the power of music, he loves songs, and he is SO rock and roll. Beyond the massive hits – and the multi-decade career – there is a wonderful man who I’m proud to call my friend.”
Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith added, “Whenever I hear an Andy Kim song, I can’t help but be transported back in time. So many of my childhood memories are hinged upon these classic pop songs such as ‘Sugar, Sugar.’ It feels like some kind of surreal dream to be able to call him a friend.”
Kim is currently on tour in western Canada playing a concert date tonight at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre for the Arts in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan before moving on to Saskatoon and then Medicine Hat and Sherwood Park, Alberta. On December 9, Kim will be home in Toronto for the 11th annual Andy Kim Christmas Show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre hoping to raise $100,000 for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health through its Gifts of Light Program.
— Photo credit: Norman Wong