Last week, Cliff (Clifford) Jones passed away, at age 81. As a BC-based manager, he had a huge impact on the career of many of that province’s major stars, and they, along with other music industry comrades, were quick to pay tribute to him as the news spread.
FYI contacted many of them for anecdotes and comments, and their responses are printed below. They paint a colourful picture of a true character, one whose passion and drive were a real force in our industry.
Let the reminiscences begin.
Claire Lawrence: "Clifford liked to hang out at the Blackspot coffee house on Dunbar in Vancouver where people listened to live jazz and played chess. We met there when he was 17 or 18. At that time, Cliff was into jazz and sailing and together with a group of musicians and jazz fans he eventually bought that club and ran it until the lease ran out. One of the many memories of that time that pops into my mind from time to time is of Cliff, standing outside of the club drinking his coffee, and a passerby mistaking his sunglasses and coffee cup for those of a blind person (or maybe a club owner?), dropping a quarter in the cup.
When the Collectors needed a road manager, we asked Clifford. He jumped in with both feet and went from the road crew for the Collectors and Chilliwack, to working with and eventually managing Valdy. He could do things that I didn’t agree with, and at the same time, I appreciated him for his willingness to take risks and follow his nose. And I loved his sensitivity to music and musical performance.
The two of us continued to work together from time to time with Valdy, The Hometown Band and Shari Ulrich and later on saw each other sporadically, for dinner, on the ferry, at the gym. About 20 years ago Cliff borrowed one of my saxophones and later told me that he taught himself to play Cannonball Adderley’s solo on Flamenco Sketches, from the Miles Davis Kinda Blue album and then played it with a big band on Salt Spring Island.
I always enjoyed running into Cliff and reminiscing about our shared experiences. So sad he is gone and so glad to have known and shared good times with him. My sincere condolences to Shelley and family, and to his friends."
Shari Ulrich: "Clifford played a singularly key role in launching my career in music in my formative years as a clueless and shoeless 25-year-old long-skirted lass. He managed Valdy, the Hometown Band, and my solo career for the first 3 albums with A&M and MCA. He was the first and only manager I ever had. He worked his ass off for Valdy, Claire Lawrence and me in that golden era of music in Canada and I of course now wish I'd seized an opportunity to unravel those memories with him. Damn…"
Bruce Allen: "The passing of Cliff Jones closes the book on one of the most colourful characters in the Canadian music business.
Look at the artists he touched. Valdy. The Payola$. Shari Ulrich. Idle Eyes. Boulevard. We worked together on The Payola$ and it was truly memorable. Never a man to take the easy way to the top, Cliff always had a twinkle in his eye when record execs and promo men twitched and stammered when trying to tell Cliff why a band called The Payola$ might have trouble getting airplay. Cliff had the last laugh when the record did better than expectations and is listed as one of the great tunes from the ’80s. His passion prevailed.’
In these latter years, I often reminisced with Cliff about the “old days” when no one had heard about analytics or streaming. However, with his passing, I now think had he stayed in the game a little longer, Cliff Jones might have adapted. On his terms. Always on his terms. He was one of a kind."
Valdy: "I am missing seeing Clifford at the liquor store. I stopped drinking alcohol in October 2020, so I didn't see him as much, but I would go cruise through the shop just to hear him jiving some customers, or kibitzing with staff.
There's no rest for the wicked - Cliff worked every week, went and saw Shelley every day, and no doubt had irons in the fire that we will never know about. He was a sailor. He knew how to take advantage of disturbance and opportunity, and helped many successful artists on their paths. He was outrageous, and was getting to be a nicer man, year after year."
Ray Pettinger: "I met Cliff in the early ’70s in Winnipeg when he was the road manager for Chilliwack We also worked together at Haida Records on many road trips with Valdy. He had a rough exterior but a very warm heart. I always remember Cliff best in Victoria driving around in Keith Lawrence’s convertible with the top down wearing his Leon Russell leather top hat. Cliff had a style all his own."
Joanne Smale: "Cliff was a dear part of my life for many decades. We worked together when I started booking and/or started doing publicity for some of his acts; I believe it was Valdy, Hometown Band - and yes, others. He introduced me to future relationships at A&M Records with James Monaco and Joe, Gerry, Lorna, J.P. & Doug et al. Some great pool was played there:). He always had an ear for me. Gave me insight of steps to take. That ruff & gruff Taurean had a heart of gold. As loyal as they come."
Martin Melhuish (on Facebook): “Cliff was always one of those people who you could be out of touch with for long periods but with a reconnect, it was like no time had passed at all. At that point, we predictably talked music, but also a lot of hockey. We were both in a fantasy hockey league known as the Rockers which continues to this day. The late Doug Chappell was our "Commissioner."
The last time I saw Cliff in person, I stayed at the house on Salt Spring Island that he and his wife Shelley had lovingly renovated themselves. It was located at the top of a hill and the views were spectacular. I recall that at the time he was very proud of the strides he had made in learning to play the saxophone.
The tributes paid to him in FYI Music News are an indication of the esteem in which he was held by those in the music biz earned during his years in artist management. He leaves some great memories."
Larry LeBlanc - "Cliff Jones was one of the first contemporary road managers, and then artist managers in Canada. I met him when he first worked for Keith Lawrence (Haida Records), overseeing touring of the Collectors that morphed into Chilliwack, as well as Valdy. Managing the Hometown Band, and Shari Ulrich eventually led to him working for Bruce Allen Talent, and co-managing the Payola$, and managing Idle Eyes.. What was most impressive about Cliff was his calming personality, and that he was a details person. He made touring easier for his clients and, coupled with his management successes, that made him a major force in building Western Canada's music community."
Jim Monaco (A&M Records): "Cliff Jones had a lot of charm. He was interesting, adventurous, effusive and determined. While he seldom pressured us, he certainly made a big impression on everyone he met. He was relentless, a digger. A strapping, smiling, fierce individual who made you want to do the best you could for his crew. He was a gentle giant who doted on his artists with customary good humor and good heartedness. He was brave, fearless and competitive. A gentleman, a prince."
Lewis Nitikman - "I am technically his stepson but I've known Cliff for a long time and introduced him to my mother many years ago. He was also my manager for a while. I was signed to virgin records when Diamond In The Rough came out in Canada around 1989-90. I was in Stonebolt before that and have since had a hit single here in the UK.
I first met Cliff when Bruce Allen agreed to give me $1000 to demo a couple of songs. This would have been around 1984-85, and the next day I received a call from a Cliff ordering me to come into Bruce's office and signed a publishing contract for the two songs. He was very gruff and literally ordered me to come in and sign. It was from that moment that I became intertwined professionally and personally with Cliff Jones.
Cliff was hired by Bruce to sort the publishing arm of the company but I think Cliff always preferred to manage instead. He managed some well-known Canadian groups including The Hometown Band, The Payola$, Idle Eyes, Diamond in the Rough, a group I was in, and Boulevard.
Cliff was my sounding board and throughout my career. I always asked him what he thought, whether I agreed or not. It was important to me to get his take on it. Diamond In The Rough had three gold singles off the 1988 self-titled album and was incredibly successful on Canadian radio. Cliff had a hand in that working with his friend and head of Island Records and Virgin Canada Doug Chappell.
Everyone who met Cliff really liked him and although he was loud and sometimes a bit hard to take, there was no one who didn't like him.
Some years later I introduced him to my mother who was a master of the Supreme Court of BC. I took them to a play and two weeks later, I saw his sports car parked in our driveway. I hit the roof, but it was too late, they had obviously hit it off and started seeing each other.
When Cliff left Bruce Allen's office and retired from the music business, he and my mother moved to Salt Spring Island in 2008 [ read more about that in this Salt Spring Exchange story]. Although he kept his hand in it by consulting sometimes he virtually gave up the business.
I moved to the UK about 12 years ago to work with former Atlantic recording artist John Reilly who had a group called Boy on a Dolphin, managed by Sam Feldman, Bruce Allen's partner at the time and also a good friend of Cliff's. Both John and I have always asked for Cliff's opinion every time a new single has been released. Our last single went out on national radio a few months ago and Cliff was so pleased.
Although Cliff and I fought like crazy, we both loved each other and respected each other and he took incredible care of my mother who now suffers from Dementia. Cliff was there for her every day and at 81 that was no small feat. His death was a complete accident and he died prematurely and I for one will miss him a great deal. He was a rock in our crazy family dynamic and someone I loved and respected."
Penny Elton (on Facebook): "Clifford B Jones - There are people you meet when you are at a crossroads in life. People who give you a chance, who see worth and potential in you even when you can’t see it yourself. Cliff was a friend, a mentor and so many times was my champion.
I worked with Cliff at CDIS and he later brought me into the fold to work under him when he was Director of Public Relations at The Art Institute of Vancouver [a role Jones took on in his ‘70s]. Working for Cliff was a wild ride, to say the least!
His scandalous stories about the music scene & the Junos and working as a band manager were legendary. And I’ll never forget zipping around alleys and side streets as he shared the secrets to Vancouver gridlock that he learned from his time as a cabbie. He shared his love of wine, good food and music. And when he was proud of family and friends, you knew it. Cliff loved his life loud and with more energy than people half his age. Goodbye friend. You will be missed by so many and always remembered."
– Inset picture: A&M picnic 1978. Left to right: Cliff Jones, Jim Monaco and Karen Boulton. Photo credit: Mathew Wiley.