In a poignant moment on Wednesday night during the release party for his fourth album Now Or Never, Warner Music Canada's country music superstar Brett Kissel revealed how he almost signed with Deane Cameron and EMI Music.
"(Manager) Louis (O'Reilly) and I - in 2012 - had the most incredible meeting with Deane Cameron and EMI," Kissel told the approximately 150 in attendance at the Live Nation Lounge in Toronto just before he launched into an acoustic set of new material.
"We felt the music was right – we had a few great songs in the bag, and we took Deane out for dinner because Louis’ labels, On Ramp Records and 306 Records, were distributed by EMI – and we thought that was the perfect place for us. Nothing against the great family we’ve built at Warner Music, but, everybody remember, country music wasn’t where you guys had invested your time or your energy....then.
"How this happened: dinner turned into drinks and drinks turned into a record. It was going to be my very first trip to Toronto, and we had this big meeting lined up on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving."
However, as the pride of Flat Lake Alberta recalled, he, his wife Cecilia and O'Reilly were in Toronto over the holiday when they received a disappointing phone call from Cameron, then-president and CEO of EMI Music Canada, informing him that the company had just been bought by Universal Music.
"There’s no sense signing you to a contract because we don’t know what the future is going to be for anything that we’re signing," Kissel recalls Cameron saying at the time. "Sorry that we wasted your time, and I hope you enjoy Toronto.”
Kissel said that he was almost inconsolable in the room that O'Reilly had booked them at the Holiday Inn "by the old CCMA office."
"Cecilia and I barely had any money, and that was our shot, I just remember crying and crying and crying," Kissel said.
But the day was saved when O'Reilly asked Cameron if there was anyone to whom he could introduce them.
"Deane Cameron said, 'Well, I’ve got a guy that I absolutely adore, and his name is Steve Kane. But I’ve got to tell you – they’re not in the country business. Warner doesn’t do country,'" Kissel recalls.
So, instead of meeting. with EMI that Tuesday, the duo met with the Warner Music Canada crew.
."I walked in there with all the confidence in the world because I had nothing to lose," Kissel remembers, telling the Warner contingent who were present. "I played two songs and two songs turned into 10, and 10 turned into lunch – and lunch turned into dinner and dinner into drinks, and I feel you copied-and-pasted the deal that we were going to do with EMI, and you’ve been part of the family ever since."
Seven gold singles and two gold albums later, the Warner-Kissel alliance has seemed to work out - and now that a new decade is upon us and he's boasting a No.1 single, called Drink Of Me, that has also hit the Billboard Heatseekers chart in the US.
Brett Kissel says he's ready to "turn the page" with a number of initiatives for 2020 and beyond.
Manager Louis O'Reilly announced that the January 1 release of Now Or Never is the first of what will be three consecutive January 1 releases of Kissel albums that will conclude in 2022.
“The biggest thing for me is that I think people are listening to content and consuming music faster than they ever did," Kissel later explained exclusively to FYIMusicNews. "Back in the day, people would release two records a year, but that’s not the case today. So, I wanted to change up the game, make old what is new again, and make sure I have consistent content and new content for my fans – and I’m servicing them so that I can also maintain momentum strategically."
Kissel also revealed that he is no longer managed in the US by Nashville-based Bob Doyle, who shut down his management firm to take 24/7 care of his premium client...some guy named Garth Brooks.
"I don’t have any management in America right now, but we’re close to signing a big deal," he teased.
Also in the works: a pair of podcasts that Kissel is hosting - the first, called "Now or Never," will focus on celebrity interviews, while the second, co-hosted with his wife Cecilia, will be called "Keeping It Kissel" and zero in on family life.
As far as Now or Never touring plans are concerned - and although he successfully filled the Danforth Music Hall last time around - Kissel says he'll be bypassing Toronto for "two great country markets" - Oshawa and Hamilton.
"My goal is to play Massey Hall – and the dates we wanted weren’t available," says Kissel, all too aware that the venue is still under reconstruction.
But he maintains that the next time we see him play Toronto will be at Massey Hall.
Overall, the evening was a great celebration, with Kissel and two of his bandmates performing a six-song set, including Coffee With Her, A Few Good Stories, That's Country Music, Hummingbird (co-written with Canadians Karen Kosowski and Emma-Lee), and his current chart-topping Drink Of Me from the new album, as well his last numero uno, Airwaves, from 2015's Pick Me Up.
Those enjoying the music, the free drinks and nibbles included country guitarist extraordinaire Wendell Ferguson – whom Kissel credited with teaching him a few picking techniques - John Dymond, Neon Dreams’ Frank Kadillac, Ria Mae, The Washboard Union’s Chris Duncombe, The Sheepdogs’ Ryan Gullen, Richard Flohil, Durham Radio’s Steve Kassay, Starboard’s Paul Ferguson, CHFI’s Julie James, Stingray’s Zachary Monson, Premiere Radio’s Brett Gelfant, CARAS’ Allan Reid, Katy Venneri and Elyssa Macri: Music Canada’s Jackie Dean, Quentin Burgess, Bram Gonshor and Jennifer Hardy, ET Canada’s Steven Banks and Penelope PR’s Tiffany Astle and Richelle Umali, as well as the Warner Music Canada family of Steve Kane, Steve Coady, Maria Gagliese, Adam Gonshor and Invictus Entertainment's Louis O'Reilly, Jim Cressman and Becky Locke.
The evening ended with a #1 plaque presentation to the reigning CCMA Fan's Choice Award winner and Juno Country Album of the Year recipient (for We Were That Song) by Warner president and CEO Steve Kane, and gratitude expressed by Kissel for the support.
Everyone also left the bash a little wiser – as in J.P. Wiser – as the attendants were gifted with a 750 ml bottle of Brett Kissel's Now Or Never Deluxe Blend whiskey to commemorate the occasion and enjoy whenever they wanted to “self-celebrate.”
Here's hoping that Brett Kissel's plans work to perfection and allow us all to raise a glass repeatedly to his success.