This is the second of three parts revisiting the colourful history of Juno Awards over the years, researched and compiled by noted author and music industry documentarian Martin Melhuish. Read Part 1 here.
Sometimes the arts and the course of human events meet at a crossroads. With the announcement last week by Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir that a preliminary survey had made the horrific discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former Kamloops, B.C. Indian Residential School run by the government and the Catholic church, there is little doubt that this will enter the conversation as part of the 50th anniversary edition of the Juno Awards.
How can it not? Even a cursory glance at this year’s nomination list and plan for the accompanying celebrations provides a reminder of the activism on behalf of the indigenous population in this country that has been a conscientious and laudable part of the Canadian music community in recent years. It has undoubtedly prompted action from those in the corridors of power and provided more hope to those isolated in this country, in despair and without a voice, than any number of government commissions and promises. Over the past quarter of a century, the Junos have put the spotlight on a number of indigenous artists and activist voices including award winners Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Susan Aglukark, A Tribe Called Red, Tom Wilson and Tanya Tagaq.
Canadian Music Hall of Famers The Tragically Hip, who were honoured in 2017 with the Order of Canada for their passionate involvement with the indigenous rights movement, are this year’s recipients of the Humanitarian Award. William Prince from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, whose performance will feature sextuple Juno Award winner Serena Ryder, is nominated for his album Reliever in the Contemporary Roots Album category, the same one in which he won a Juno in 2017 for his debut opus Earthly Days. Order of Canada member and Nunavut’s first Juno Award winning Inuk artist Susan Aglukark, who has three, is an award presenter as is Indigenous activist and seven-time Juno winner, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and of the Order of Canada.
In 1994, Sainte-Marie was the driving force behind the introduction of the Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording, today’s Indigenous Artist or Group category, which in its inaugural year went to Cree country singer Lawrence Martin for his album Wapistan. In Ottawa in 2017 prior to performances by three-time Juno winners A Tribe Called Red (The Halluci Nation) and Juno winner Tanya Tagaq, Sainte-Marie, rejecting a CBC generated script, became the first artist to make a land acknowledgment speech prior to a Junos broadcast. She was referring to the “unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe nation” who she said had been there for thousands and thousands of years.
On being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 30th annual Juno celebrations at Copps Coliseum (FirstOntario Centre) in Hamilton in 2001, Bruce Cockburn, a member of the Order of Canada and 13-time Juno Award winner, offered an insight into why a broader recognition of the cultural relevance of a more diverse variety of music genres, is possible: “Over the years, there has been a wonderful flowering of creativity and spunk in our music scene, paralleling, often reflecting, other currents flowing around us… This spirit has developed into a widespread embracing of each other’s music and cultures, at least, important aspects of them… To thrive, society needs a sense that we’re looking out for each other, needs to know where it came from and what sacrifices were made to create it.”
Cockburn, nominated this year for his Instrumental Album, Crowing Ignites, earned his first Juno Award in the long discontinued Top Folk Singer (or Group) category back in 1971, the first year that the awards were presented. But, to trace the history of the awards back to its origins, we need to get into the “Way Back Machine, Sherman” and calibrate our settings for Toronto, Canada, the 24th day of February 1964. On that day, the Canadian music trade magazine, known initially as RPM (Records-Promotion-Music) and then RPM Weekly, was born as a four-page mimeographed newsletter founded by former RCMP constable, Toronto police officer and Apex and London Records promotion man, Walt Grealis, with business partner and long-time friend, Stan Klees.
Historically, it was by no means the first Canadian publication in that category. It was preceded by Canadian Music and Radio Trades (1900-1933), Musical Canada (1906-1933) and Music World (1957-58), the bi-monthly magazine launched by ex-pat Brit composer, broadcaster and former editor of the U.K.’s Musical Express, Ray Sonin. But the timing for the introduction of a publication like RPM as the British music Invasion began to sweep the U.S. and Canada was perfect. A few weeks earlier, on February 6, 1964, The Beatles had appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show, an event that has been cited as a life-changing moment for a generation of musicians who witnessed it. At Cass Elliot’s house, future Canadian Music Hall of Famer Zal Yanovsky met John Sebastian for the first time, they watched the show and spent some time jamming. They would eventually form The Lovin’ Spoonful. Future Juno honourees Ron Sexsmith, Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies) and Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip), born during that period, were barely out of the womb and presumably oblivious at the time to the music revolution occurring around them. They would catch up later.
The evolutionary process in the creation of an awards program in Canada with its fair share of feudin’, fussin’ and fightin’ embedded in its DNA, began on May 18, 1964 when a small announcement in RPM indicated that the publication intended to present awards to deserving members of the Canadian music industry, both artistic and business. There were seven categories initially: Recording Artist of the Year; Canadian Content Single; Canadian Content LP; Canadian Radio Personality; Canadian Radio Station, awarded to the broadcaster that had done the most to promote Canadian talent; and Canadian Industry Man of the Year. By the time the voting started, the awards had expanded to 16 categories including one devoted to something called GMP (Good Music Product).
Each category was voted on by the subscribers to RPM and, based on 150 responses, the RPM Awards winners were listed on the front page of the December 28, 1964 year-end edition with little public fanfare. The awards continued along these lines with a few changes in the categories each year until 1969.
In 1968, as there was no official body in Canada charged with the responsibility of certifying the sales of records, RPM set up a system whereby record manufacturers could purchase a Gold Leaf award when they reached the required sales figures for an album or single to qualify as gold or platinum in this country. The money collected from the sale of these plaques was put into a trust fund set up to partially finance an annual award's dinner and presentation.
The newly named RPM Gold Leaf Awards were physically presented for the first time during ceremonies at the St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto on February 23, 1970. “We hired a catering firm and invited about 125 people,” Grealis later recalled. “We didn’t realize that we needed good security at the door and, by seven o’clock, 250 people arrived. The food lasted about 20 minutes and the bartenders started to worry about the liquor. We closed the bar just before the liquor ran out.”
Veteran broadcaster George Wilson, a graduate of the Lorne Greene School of Broadcasting, who was associated with CKFH Toronto for most of his career and at that point newly arrived at CFRB Toronto as host of the popular classical music program, Starlight Serenade, emceed the presentations that year. He filled that role for the next four years until the awards were televised in 1975.
Country singer Dianne Leigh received the first Gold Leaf Award ever presented for her win as Top Country Singer Female. The award itself was an 18-inch-high elongated metronome made of solid walnut, designed by Stan Klees.
Looking for a nickname for the Gold Leaf Awards, in May 1970, RPM announced a contest asking subscribers to send in their suggestions, On July 25, 1970, RPM declared that Hal Phillips, a copywriter, was the winning entrant. Reportedly, he submitted the name “Juneau” after the Chairman of the CRTC Pierre Juneau who had just introduced the 30 percent Canadian Content regulations for radio which would formally come into effect on January 18, 1971. The convenient homonym was “Juno,” the name of the Roman Goddess of marriage, which was “short and easy to remember.” Apparently, some of the other names suggested included the Walt Award, the Wally Award, the Grealis Award and the Beaver Award. (Imagine if the awards had been named after CRTC Vice-Chair Harry Boyle who succeeded Juneau in 1975.) For his contest-winning contribution, Phillips was awarded with a Special Gold Leaf Award, an AM/FM clock radio, an 8-track player and a large collection of top-selling 8-Track and cassette albums along with 24 blank cassettes and 8-Track cartridges.
On February 22, 1971, Grealis and Klees staged the first Juno Awards before about 600 people in the ballroom of St. Lawrence Hall. Like the previous year, it was a standing room only affair fondly remembered for the homemade finger sandwiches (from 60 loaves of bread) and Polish chrusciki (Angel Wings) made by Stan Klees’ late mother Sabina, who had also paid for the station wagon load of booze transported by Grealis to the event.
By early 1974, there was a growing consensus that there was a need for an award that was voted on by the music industry as a whole rather than by the subscribers to any one magazine. After a period of disagreement between the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), then headed up by Arnold Gosewich, the president of Capitol Records-EMI of Canada, and RPM, as to the advisability of presenting the awards on television, the CRIA announced its intention to take a new awards program, to be known as the Maple Music Awards, to the public by way of a one-hour television special to be produced on one of the major Canadian networks. The awards. to be based on the highest sales achievement in each category, were to be determined by each company submitting their choices to an independent auditing firm. The remaining categories were to be voted on by a national jury of music broadcasters and a selected list of popular music critics and journalists. The idea of the new awards was to create a more viable star system for Canada by making the public more aware of the calibre of talent that exists here.
The embryo of what was to become the Canadian Academy of Arts & Sciences (CARAS), which would oversee the new awards, was seeded in 1974 in the modest Toronto apartment of Leonard Rambeau, Anne Murray’s late manager, when a handful of Canadian music industry executives gathered with the objective of endeavouring to build on the foundation that Walt Grealis and Stan Klees had established a few years earlier.
“Our vision was to create an organization that would be representative of all aspects of the industry,” former CARAS president Brian Robertson would later recall. “It would oversee the development of a nationally-televised show that would deliver a marketing window for our artists, songwriters and producers and assist in the process of uniting the then geographically fragmented elements of the music business in Canada into one, strong national industry.”
Unexpectedly, most of the major artists in Canada did not warm to the idea of being presented on TV as part of a prepackaged one-hour special as the CRIA had suggested and many even indicated that they would boycott any awards presentation that was set up in competition with the Junos. Ultimately, the CRIA abandoned the idea of a separate awards event and moved to set up a closer liaison with the existing Juno Awards. Subsequently, a committee called the Canadian Music Awards Association was formed and negotiations began with the CBC that resulted in the Juno Awards being broadcast for the first time in March 24, 1975 from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto and hosted by Paul Anka.
That same year, CARAS was officially formed with record executive/artist manager (The Stampeders) Mel Shaw as its first president, to oversee the annual Juno Awards ceremony. Membership was open to everyone involved in the recording industry in Canada, broadening the awards’ voting base for the Junos. In 1976, the Academy came to an agreement with Grealis and Klees to take control of the awards.
By 1980, virtually all the awards were voted on, either by the CARAS membership or in special categories such as engineering, album graphics and children’s records, by a panel of experts.
1980 was a good year at the Junos for Canadian west coast band Trooper, whose Greatest Hits album had become the first by a Canadian artist to be certified quadruple platinum for sales of over 400,000 copies. They were finally named Group of the Year after losing a couple of times in previous years to Rush. Ra McGuire, the group’s vocalist and co-songwriter with guitarist Brian “Smitty” Smith, recalled that though the band had received six Juno nominations over those years, they had only attended twice, once in 1977, when they were nominated for Most Promising Group, losing out to the THP Orchestra, and in 1980.
“In 1980, now simply following a comfortable tradition, we once again turned down the Juno organizer’s invitation to fly to the Toronto ceremonies,” recalled McGuire, author of the book On the Road with Trooper, Canada’s Legendary Rock Band. “At first, they tried to shame us into coming, which didn’t work. Finally, they broke down and told us that we were going to win at least one award. So, we embarked on what was to become a great Trooper adventure that ended with, among other things, members of the band rolling, drunk and in white suits, in a Toronto hotel driveway with Burton Cummings.
“After our Juno Awards thank-you speeches, we were led from the stage by a Juno hostess and ushered through a door at the back of the stage. Still buzzed from our victory, laughing and slapping each other on the back, it took us a moment to realize that we were walking noisily through the main kitchen of Toronto’s Harbour Castle Hotel. I still have a vivid memory of a cook in white chef’s hat and uniform, staring at us curiously from behind an aluminum table. Elation turned to confusion as we realized we did not know where to go next. The five of us herded together alongside what we hoped was the back wall of the ballroom and eventually tumbled through the first exit door that presented itself. Flashes flashed and microphones were extended.
“‘How do you feel about winning the Best Group Juno?’ I was asked.
“‘It’s fucking wonderful!’ I responded.
“‘It’s wonderful,’ said Trooper singer Ra McGuire at last night’s Juno Award ceremonies …” a Toronto newspaper headline reported the next day.
“It has always annoyed me that I wasn’t quoted correctly. There is, of course, a HUGE difference between ‘fucking wonderful’ and just ‘wonderful.’”