The 1966 summit. L-R Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, James Madison, Mabel Hillary, James Cotton.
The 1966 summit. L-R Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, James Madison, Mabel Hillary, James Cotton.

Mark Holden's MajikBus Unspools CBC Archive Treasures

Mark Holden, CEO of MajikBus Entertainment, has been making news lately for a deal his Vancouver firm has cooked up to exploit the vast untapped CBC library archives.

Included in the deal are historical TV, vinyl album and photography collections. As a result of the partnership deal with the corp., Holden will be spending the late spring and early summer in the U.K. overseeing a series of exhibitions featuring the one-of-a-kind collection of still images of artists that includes The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison (The Doors), Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, and Duke Ellington.

In the U.K., MajikBus has partnered with a company called Off Beat Lounge, which creates exhibitions of highly sought after rock ‘n’ roll limited edition prints. Following a gala premiere in London – date and location TBA – the exhibits will take place at select Mercedes dealerships in cities across the U.K. including Glasgow (June 12), Ascot (June 14), Cambridge (June 15), Swansea (June 19), Cardiff (June 21) and Stevenage (June 28).

There will be 12 gallery shows in total and marks the first leg of an international tour that spans Europe and North America over the next couple of years.

The genesis of this initiative to explore the CBC Archives and make the best of it available to the public goes back almost 15 years and involves Deane Cameron, former President of EMI Music Canada, and Peter Diemer, EMI’s Head of National Promotion, and their company Blue Wolverine. Their interest never waned over the years, and three years ago they began in earnest to talk with the CBC about acquiring the rights for some of the archival material.

Holden, who had gone to college (SAIT – Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) in Calgary with Diemer in the late ‘70s, joined the two of them in 2015 and MajikBus evolved from that relationship. Cameron would ultimately leave to take the position of President/CEO at The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall while Holden and Diemer, who recently moved to Live Nation Canada as VP Strategic Development, continued working on the project. Two years ago they signed the license agreement and as Holden notes, “We then just spent time mining through this massive treasure trove of content that goes back 60 years.

“We focused on three or four main areas. Obviously, there is an extraordinary number of videos that feature a wide range of artists including Sammy Davis Jr., Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and many more. Then there’s this massive library of vinyl albums. We are re-releasing vinyl and we’re just about to launch video.

“We have a three-disc, blues box-set coming out which has 36 songs along with a DVD of performances by Muddy Waters, Jesse Fuller, Bukka White, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon, and many more. It’s amazing.

"They all came together for three days in January 1966 for the taping of a 90-minute CBC special. Paddy Sampson produced it and Barry Callaghan was the host.

"We’re also working on a Johnny Cash compilation and, on the vinyl front, every six to eight weeks we will be releasing another three albums from our Transcription Series, which has already included artists like Perth Country Conspiracy, Judy Singh and the Emile Normand Sextet.”

Holden, who recently released his autobiography titled Inside Out: Chronicles of a Rock and Roll CEO, started out in the music business as a recording engineer/producer. He worked for a time in Germany before returning home to Calgary and building a recording facility there called Thunder Road Studios. He’s also a musician (sax) and during that period, the band Boulevard (known initially as BLVD) was launched. The group, which signed to CBS in Germany in 1984 and had some chart success in Europe with the single “Rainy Day in London,” ultimately was signed to MCA by John Alexander, who was influential in Alanis Morissette’s early career. He worked with the group for four years before the signing in 1988. The band recently launching a new album, to be supported this summer with a tour, including dates in Chicago (May 5), Milan (May 29), and Malmo, Sweden (June 2) had a number of hits back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s that included “Lead Me On,” “Never Give Up” and “Far From Over.”

When the band broke up in 1990, Holden moved into the world of high tech. That same year, he co-founded a company called M-Sound, which marketed the first sound card for the PC. He then went on to start Ezone Networks in 1997, which became the world’s largest private network, with 12,000 screens installed in health clubs in front of cardio equipment.

From Ezone, he started a company called Hip Digital. “I had seen Napster and was scared shitless for the industry and the artists so I aimed to start something that would help monetize music differently,” explains Holden, who was CEO of the Silicon Valley-funded company.

“We were business-to-business so if you were Telus, Pepsi or American Express, all of which were customers of ours, and you wanted to run a campaign or build a website that would use music to promote your brand, that’s where we came in. We grew that to the point where we had 40 employees and offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Palo Alto, California and Texas.”

In 2008, Holden started gener8, a 2D to 3D conversion company for film, which had a client list that included The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and Spiderman. Prior to Holden joining Majik Bus, the company was sold to media services firm, Prime Focus.

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