Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018, we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones”. Today we are shining the light on Jim Campbell.
I first met Soupy when I got into programming at CHAM in Hamilton. He was working with Warner Music and we'd see him at industry functions and promotions. I knew from a few people well beyond my ears that he was the 'real deal' in the music industry and had a ton of respect. I tried to talk to him each time I saw him and get to know this guy a bit. Later in my career when working for Gary Slaight, I got to know him a bit better and marvelled at the job he was doing and how important he was to artists in Canada and worldwide. We are talking about the biggest in the world. Mention Jim's name to Bryan Adams, Dave Grohl, or Annie Lennox or...and their eyes light up.
Jim started his musical career in ’64 in when he was a musician/Lead Vocalist of two Canadian bands. One of them, ‘Cat’. Signed to Nimbus Nine and RCA U.S. They had one actual hit called ‘We’re All in This Together’ and a couple of minor hits. The group was produced by the late and great Jack Richardson and later by a very young Bob Ezrin (Jim thinks they were his first?). Bob also played keys on the ‘We’re All in This Together’ hit.
After that, he sang Jingles for Ben McPeek who was an original Nimbus partner and then got into the record side of the business in ’74, with an entry-level A&R gig with WEA (Warner Music), thanks to Gary Muth. Gary was part of Cat’s management team at Nimbus Nine. They co-produced (with Eugene Martynec) the debut single by Christopher Ward called ‘Lost in a Love Song’. After a couple of years, he segued to Promotion/Artist Relations and worked with the likes of Larry Green (the boss) and partners Gary Slaight (yes, that Gary Slaight).
They were the WEA Ontario Promo team!) Linda Nash, Peter Taylor, Nick Panaseiko and briefly with Randy Sharrard before looping back into A&R as head of the dep’t. This was great, but the continuing problem was, the company was so successful promoting and selling international repertoire that the enthusiasm for spending that revenue on domestic band signings remained limited at the time. The very best thing that happened during Jim’s initiation into the business at WEA was perhaps the relationship building skills he was able to hone working with artists like Queen, The Eagles, JD Souther, Harry Chapin, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Warren Zevon, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and so many more. But even more importantly he made lifelong friendships that endure to this day with the likes of Kim Cooke, Steve Ferguson (Now the Mayor of my hometown area Prince Edward County), Russell Prowse, Dave Tollington and the late and great Randy Sharrard. Artist signing options were limited, and he tried his best to sign both Corey Hart and Kim Mitchell, but could not convince the President at the time. In the end, it just wasn’t yet time for WEA to commit to domestic signings, so he split for RCA Records.
Lots of stories from ‘Soupy’ (as his nickname in the industry goes): “I was alone after 5 in the office at WEA in '76 sitting at my workstation, and the telephone night-line rang...So I picked it up and lo and behold it was George Harrison on the line looking to talk to the head of Promotion (Larry Green). George was coming to Toronto to promote his 33 & 1/3 LP. We ended up having a 20 minute get acquainted chat."
In ’82 he crossed over to RCA which was soon to become BMG Music Canada. And though he left WEA thinking he was about to become head of A&R, suddenly a regime change happened at RCA that had him on the outside looking in. The new President wanted his own A&R guy, but Jim credits the late and great John Ford for offering him an opportunity to stay in creative mode and learn the marketing side of the business as well. So, Jim jumped in with both feet as the Manager, Marketing/Domestic Artist Development.
Jim says: “It was probably the most important move I made in my career...Forced to learn the gig and initially work with a not so developed or successful roster, either domestic or internationally speaking. I wrote my first serious marketing plans for the newly signed Tragically Hip (their debut EP) and the Eurythmics! The undisputed highlights from that roster also included Elvis, Elvis, Charlie Pride and more Elvis. I edited the first 2 Hip vids with David Kines as my editor :-) During this time and being a one-man marketing dep’t I began handling all incoming repertoire from around the world with release decisions more or less falling to me. I convinced Don Kollar to spend 30k securing Boney M for Canada, and we eventually sold a million units of the Christmas album alone! :-)”
A special moment for Jim was planning and executing the initial launch event for Whitney Houston’s debut. It was one of the rare occasions when no effort was needed to get key players out. And it turned out to be magic. The venue was Toronto's Club Bluenote (The Pears Avenue iteration) which was a pretty intimate setting. Whitney, nineteen at the time was brilliantly naive and charming. She sang three songs to track and then worked the room afterwards, all the time clutching his arm for assurance.
His interest was soon equally peaked by the idea of doing International marketing, outgoing. That means marketing your domestic artists internally and seeking release and commitment from partners around the world. This came together when Bob Jamieson came north as the new BMG Canada President. Bob is an amazing man. He asked Jim what his dream gig was and then made it happen, just as he jump-started artist signings and Jim suddenly had a very viable roster of artists to work, that included Cowboy Junkies, Crash Test Dummies, Sven Gali and Love Inc. Not to mention two awesome Country artists in Prairie Oyster and Charlie Major, both of whom were widely released internationally. Between 1991 and 1995 The Junkies and Dummies alone sold over 14 million albums.”
- “In 1990/91 I executive produced a Lou Reed box set for RCA and hired Rob Bowman to produce, compile and write the liner notes. Lou was a handful at the best of times and went ballistic after objecting to some of the repertoire decisions that Rob was making. After Rob exclaimed that this was a serious anthology, not 'Lou’s favourite songs! Lou didn’t speak to Rob for 6 months," but called me at home to vent every other night for a while! :-)
- "1992 Annie Lennox came to town (first time I met Simon Fuller) for an Intimate and interactive at Much. We planned an after-show party across the street at BMG. We left Much crossed the street, and President Bob Jamieson and I sent Annie and her backing vocalists into the elevator with 365’er Warren Copnick in tow to go up the office first, and we’d follow...The elevator doors closed, it wouldn’t move or open! Mild panic ensued. We called the fire dep’t and while waiting, Jamieson managed to squeeze a bottle of tequila through the partially opened door to attempt to calm the nerves of those inside. Annie later scribbled a message on our Boardroom wall 'Sort the Lift' xoxo”
Then another interesting twist. In late ‘95 Jamieson went back to NYC and turned RCA U.S. around in less than 3 years. In ‘98 he invited Jim to NYC to run RCA’s International dep’t and handed him Christina Aguilera as his first project, with the caveat that they out-market and outsell the U.S. on her debut. Final score US – 10 million, International 11.5 million! Next up was Foo Fighters and they tripled their success compared to their previous label.
Quick sidebar: Jim was in London when 9/11 happened and had to wait an agonizing 9 days there before he was able to get home to his family in Stamford CT.
He had been there for a European marketing meeting, and if you were from the US or Canada, you knew you weren’t going anywhere for a while.
Another story: “In the late '90s there was an event in Toronto 'Artists of the Decade Dinner' celebrating Rush, kd Lang and Bryan Adams. BMG had a couple of tables, and our artists were in attendance. I was seated beside Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies. Mid-evening, I got up to go to the loo and was approached by Adams who I’d met once (he knew my nickname was Soupy.) He said Soupy, I see you’re sitting with Margo, and I’m huge fan, would you introduce me. I take him over, and Margo is gracious if a little unnerved and they chatted happily for a while until I asked for my seat back!... Fast forward about 5 years and I’m in the Copenhagen airport with Bob Jamieson and Foo Fighters and who spots me as I get up from my seat in the lounge to go to the loo...Adams, who approaches and says 'Jim, isn’t that Dave Grohl you’re with!' So we do the intro thing again :-)."
Jim loved all this, and it was a great time to be working for a major U.S. label. He made the most of it until the bottom fell out in the early 2000s.
In 2003 Jim was part of a major downsizing at BMG and came home to Canada with an unpredictable future beyond the certainty that he was going to be an industry entrepreneur in some manner. Just as they were preparing to leave their home in Connecticut, he heard from Simon Fuller (best known for being the creator of the Idol franchise) re an opportunity to be involved in the artist management side of Canadian Idol. So, Jim took over in the 2nd year of its 6-year run and managed the likes of Kalan Porter, Melissa O’Neil, Rex Goudie, Eva Avila, Brian Melo and Theo Tams.
Post Idol, his roster gradually shrank as the Idol winners evolved, some continuing on and some not, and some segueing to related fields (Melissa O’Neil now a major TV star in The Rookie and Kalan Porter a recent graduate of the Wharton School of Business). Jim then morphed his company (Mission Control) into artist and industry services and briefly partnered with the lovely and talented 365'er Sarah Norris. They consulted Indie artists, management companies as well as a few industry organizations.
Then it happened Jim says as he sums up: “In 2012 Sarah and I were brought on to help develop a young artist for the newly minted Slaight Music, and I found myself once again on the same team as Gary Slaight. While Sarah had decided to make a left turn into Real estate, eventually Gary and Derrick Ross invited me to come on board as a full time “Artist Consultant” and help develop the next generation of outstanding Canadian artists. An incredible opportunity for a guy of my ‘vintage’ and I’m very grateful to Gary and Derrick for that opportunity. Slaight Music will be where my career path eventually ends. I guess it’s kinda ‘once an A&R guy always an A&R guy’ etc. This gig is so much fun and just as, if not even more, creatively satisfying than any position I’ve held in my career which is now at 44 years (not including my time as a musician/recording artist) and still counting. We’re starting to see significant results with a number of artists that we’ve developed including Jessica Mitchell, Washboard Union, Kayla Diamond, Jillea, Ascot Royals, Theo Tams, Liam Russell and Notifi.
There may not be a greater joy for me than (at the age of 70) forging a 'creative trust' with kids in their 20’s. I sometimes refer to it as ‘happily failing at retirement’, and I’m still not sure exactly when it’ll end,”
Jim's done it all and through all this has remained an unassuming and very cool guy. He has a great passion for the music industry, is smart, creative, resourceful and commits his time to the gig. They say if you love what you are doing it's not really work. Jim is a good example of this. What a difference he has made in the music industry here in Canada and worldwide. Well done Soupy. Keep it going!
Thank you, Jim Campbell, for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Jim’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
– Jim JJ Johnston is the multi-award-winning CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries.