Updated @ 1:30 pm: George Michael Semkiw, one of Canada’s most successful recording engineers and producers, died from cancer in Niagara Falls, ON, Thursday, June 14. He was 74.
His production, writing, arranging, remixing and performance credits can be found on over 100 recordings by artists as varied as Duke Ellington, Harry Belafonte, Lou Reed, Funkadelic, Triumph, Gary Buck, Syrinx, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Keith Hampshire, Bill Amesbury, Sweet Blindness, Goddo, and the T.H.P. Orchestra.
His music career began with Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights, one of the top groups on the legendary Yonge St. Strip in the early 1960s. In 1963, with George on guitar, the six-piece rhythm ‘n’ blues group released “Charlena” on Arc Records and it made history as the first made-in-Canada single to go to No. 1 on the CHUM chart. They also opened for the Rolling Stones at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Failing to secure another comparable hit with the group, he moved to RCA Studios (later known as McClear Place) on Mutual St. in 1965 where he spent two years as mastering engineer, eventually worked his way up to chief engineer and recording hundreds of artists and jingles for Coke and other blue-chip brands.
In 1975 he left RCA to oversee the construction of Phase One, staying on as a minority owner and in-house producer and engineer for two years. In 1979, he set up his own shop, designing Amber Sound, which quickly established itself as a go-to studio in the trendy Queen St. district of the city. It was the first in Canada to sport a digital multi-track recorder and was unique in offering five isolation booths, acording to AES. After seven years of prosperity, Amber was forced to close when its leased premises became a victim of an overheated real estate market in 1986.
He went on to establish a smaller facility near Toronto’s Humber River, but then cancer struck him. He took chemo and retired to Niagara Falls where he lived for the past few years.
According to lifetime friend and former bandmate Doug Chappell, there will be no official funeral; instead, a Celebration of Life this Fall will be held in Toronto.
George Semkiw – Audio Engineering Society
George Semkiw – A Conversation with… by Bill King, FYI Music News
George Semkiw – Discogs
Chris Bishop – Garage Hangover
Doug & Ann Chappell