JP, as ever, at the wheel, charting his own direction. Photo: DF
JP, as ever, at the wheel, charting his own direction. Photo: DF

Jj Salutes J.P. Guilbert

The following is one of of a growing number of music industry profiles published on Facebook by Jj Johnston. The majority of those profiled have been broadcasters; Jj made an exception with JP, simply because he was an exceptional promo man, and remains an exceptional human being. He also has a remarkable story to tell, as you will find out below.

Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018, we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones”. Today we are shining the light on J.P. JP Guilbert.

When I was on-air at CFTR Toronto, I had some early exposure to J.P. at a Juno Awards show that 365’er Ger Forbsie Forbes and I attended together one year. We rolled up in a limo that Ger set up, both of us wearing tux’s and runners, and attitudes. Some of the other ‘TR guys introduced us to many people including J.P. He was/is larger than life, and everybody loved/loves this dude. He is fun, funny and one of the most personable people I had ever or have ever met. Later through Gary Slaight and the late and great Steve Young I got to know J.P. better and looked forward to every time we would connect, usually him with artists in tow when he was coming through the various cities I worked in.

J.P. says he was listening to an interview with Bob Roper (one of the great artist managers, mentors and marketers) one morning last week and realized that most of us started the same way, the weekend dance with live bands at our high schools. He did get involved to a certain point and worked with staging and the booking agent about who should play for them at the school.

As a French Canadian from Trois-Rivieres, in the heart of the Quebec that was 99% French-speaking in the early 70’s, J.P. was coming out of University in Business Administration and decided to take a year’s sabbatical. He drove to California to learn to speak English, a top priority for him at the time. He found some interesting odd jobs to survive and ended up spending most of his weekends in the local bars in Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Santa Ana and it was the beginning of it all for him.

On one corner was Eric Burdon and the Animals, on the next was Cream. On the radio was Carole King, James Taylor, Crosby Still Nash and Young, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc. The world was changing, and he was getting into the scene, but he couldn’t extend his stay in the U.S. and had to make a decision.

In 1972, J.P. moved back to Montreal and got a job at the Montreal Gazette on the South Shore, in the distribution department, and got his first real marketing challenge in trying to increase their circulation. He had great success but was not in love with it.

Within a few months, in 1973, he got in touch with some old school friends, Henry de Cotret (who was now a DJ at CHOM-FM) and Michel Tremblay who was the Promotion Man for WEA Music Canada. In their conversation, it was mentioned that WEA was looking for a salesman. J.P. applied for the job, got it and started the following week taking inventory at all the Rack Jobbers (companies that sell your records to the stores). Three months later Tremblay moved to Capitol Records and the Regional Promotion gig became available.

J.P. says “I have to be honest, I didn’t really like being a salesman, but it was the perfect crash course to understand the business and the interaction between Promotion and Sales. The Branch Manager of WEA at the time was Jacques Chenier and, after jumping on his desk a few times to explain that I was ‘The Man’ he needed for the job, he gave me my first real break.”

That same day Jacques looked at him and said, 'Book a limo' and off they went to pick up Emerson, Lake and Palmer who were arriving on their chartered plane as they were playing the Montreal Forum the next day. They had requested their radio and press schedules, and this was a 'vite' welcome to J.P.'s new world! It was stressful, but he loved every second of it. He was winging it the best he could and getting along famously with the band.

The next day he was finally going to the radio stations and starting to understand what radio people needed to know about why they should be playing his records. J.P. says he was so lucky to work with the company with the best A&R department (Artist & Repertoire) in the world. In the same week he was walking into AC stations with Roberta Flack’s "Killing Me Softly," and CHR and Rock FM stations with the Rolling Stones’ "Angie'."

A few weeks later Genesis was about to explode, and they were coming to Canada for the first time with Quebec City being the start of the tour. Peter Gabriel arrived a few days before the 1st concert, and J.P. was on the receiving end. “Peter had never been to North America, and I was taking care of him, Wow! A few days later the band arrived, and we got along like we had known each other forever.”

J.P. truly loved his work. Within that first year, A&M came calling and brought him over to their team. Charly Prevost, who was in radio at the time at CHOM-FM, recommended him to David Brodeur (Branch Manager) who had been following his work at WEA. Charly called Doug Chappell and Pete Beauchamp in Toronto to put him on their list of interviews for the next day. J.P. was the last interview and got hired on the spot. Well, almost, he says: “I remember Doug having to call the boss Gerry Lacoursiere that night to make the deal a bit better.”

The challenge for him at A&M was to be able to work the artists and their records in more creative ways. Everything wasn’t all coming on a silver platter he says: “You had to work harder to get there, but it was extremely rewarding to see your artists grow. We had incredible A&R departments in the U.S. and England and it gave us the edge and credibility to break Joan Armatrading, Chris de Burgh, Styx, Supertramp, Peter Frampton, The Police, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Split Enz, Pablo Cruise, Garland Jeffreys, John Hiatt and Peter Allen to name a few, to the rest of the world.

"We were riding an amazing catalogue, including The Carpenters, Carole King, Cat Stevens and the man himself, the ‘A’ of ‘A&M’ Herb Alpert.”

A memorable time for J.P. was when Gino Vannelli, who was in the recording studio in L.A. at the time, asked him to accept his Juno award on stage in Toronto in 1976.

Another exhilarating time was when he walked into CHOM-FM one morning with the acetate (test pressing) of Supertramp’s Crime of the Century. After 60 seconds of listening, PD Peggy Colston brought him up to the studio and Bobby Boulanger (morning man) put the album on air. They then watched the phone ring non-stop from listeners wanting to know who the hell they were playing. CKOI-FM was not happy.

A few months later he did the same thing with Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive at CKOI-FM with Bob Beauchamp. It was pay- back time for CKOI-FM as they were the first to play it. CHOM-FM played it an hour later.

The same kind of fervour happened with "Suite Madame Blue" for Styx. Montreal went nuts, and Styx moved from playing bars in the U.S. to a sold-out concert at the Montreal Forum.

The freedom of the new Rock stations that were popping up helped many artists get it going from Canada to the world like Garland Jeffreys’ "Spanish Town," Joan Armatrading’s "Love and Affection" and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ "Jackie Blue."

J.P. was killing it and, in 1976, Doug Chappell asked him to become the head of National Promotion in Toronto. Off he went, and the plot thickened he says.

He had a great deal of freedom to work the records and battle at radio to get them played. He once chained himself in the lobby of Q-107 so they would add Chris De Burgh’s 'Don’t Pay The Ferryman' to their playlist. He made the news, and after two nights on the floor and other record company promo guys sending him pizza and wine, he got the song on the air. The third day Gary Slaight told him that they had added the record but didn't tell him because they wanted him to suffer and have a little more fun.

There were perks, such as being on a promotion tour with Michelle Phillips (Mamas & the Papas) in Montreal. After a full day of interviews, she asked him if Leonard Cohen still lived in Montreal. A phone call later they were on their way to a small French restaurant, and a half an hour later he left them alone and told Michelle that the limo would be at the door for them. Magic times in the Andre Perry studio in Morin Heights with Cat Stevens, Nazareth, Sting and The Police followed.

In June of 1987, J.P. became Vice President with his partner in Publicity, James Monaco while at a promo convention at the head office of A&M in L.A. (The old Charlie Chaplin Studio on LaBrea).

J.P. has many stories of all the radio personalities that helped him often to do what he loved best which was spending time with them working a record and simply having fun in any situation. Doug Chappell told him once that he knew the ones that he liked best by looking at his expense account and seeing what kind of wine they were drinking.

Not to forget the late and great Gerry Lacoursiere (passed about May 9 of 2017), who’s word to him on his first day was always to keep A&M a class act. That was a whole team of amazing employees who all shared the same goal. Too many to mention in this post but J.P. says all of you will be recognized in his book.

In 1989, he was promoted, again, this time to Vice President of Promotion and Artist Development and got more involved with the artists, their recording times, studios and finding producers for their videos, etc. In 1990, Polygram Music bought A&M Records, and they came with their own department heads; so, in 1991, a few of them, including J.P., had to take a walk on the wild side.

He got a few interesting offers but wanted to do something by himself this time and after a call from Kim Turner, The Police’s tour manager, he was introduced to a band called The Samples, managed by the Guggenheim family in New York. They were looking for a record deal. J.P. quite liked their sound and proceeded to do a showcase at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. He put his heart into it and invited record labels, radio personalities, promoters, press and consultants to the Showcase. That afternoon he got a call that the band was at the Canadian border and that they would not be allowed to enter the country. With extreme frustration, he announced the NO SHOW. Everyone understood, however, he was in a different headspace.

The next day he decided to invest in ‘Real Escape’ and went to his #2 choice for his second sabbatical. He formed a company, bought a ship and went to the Caribbean to do charters (St Maarten). With the amazingly personal J.P. at the helm, the Lady Mary was a hit. He and wife Lorna did dinner cruises for 10 years, and all was well till they lost ‘The Lady’ in a hurricane. Then they opened a land-based restaurant called the Pizza Galley, which we would frequent when we were in St Maarten always looking forward to seeing him and Lorna and chowing down on great thin crust gourmet pizza. J.P. introduced me to some folks on the island including ‘Doc Soc’ morning man, owner and GM of ‘Island 92’.

Later J.P. and Lorna acquired a big bar called ‘The Dock’ which also became very successful. He was back at it again and having a great time until 2017 when Hurricane Irma destroyed everything they had built over previous 27 years. I saw the after pictures of the restaurant, and all that was left were the wooden pilings in the water. It was quite something. We were sad for them. But you just can’t keep this dude down!

J.P. sums up: “After much reflection on the hurricane matter, we decided to move back to Canada. We now live happily in Northern Quebec overlooking a lake and listening to our babbling brook but somehow still keeping very busy and dreaming of the future. (third sabbatical?). We went to see Bryan Adams in Toronto last month and had the opportunity to spend a bit of quality time with him, reminiscing about all his initial club dates when he was getting started, all the way to his becoming the first Canadian recipient of a Diamond Award for Reckless…What a trip! I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Good ones and the Bad ones that inspired and helped me along the way.”

Talk about an original, genuine and authentic character! Fearless, entrepreneurial, hopelessly creative, charming, resourceful, perseverant, smart as hell, fun, funny and probably the most personable person I have ever met. It didn’t matter how far you were up or down the food chain, J.P. would always go out of his way to give you a smile and a laugh and make you feel like somebody. He’s an incredible person, and I am happy to say I know this delightful dude. Atta be, J.P.

Thank you, Jp Guilbert, for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share J. P’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.

Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC., and works with talent in many different industries worldwide.

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