Given that this will be the final Music News Digest feature of 2021, it is a fitting time to thank all those who have sent news and leads our way during the year. That list includes artists, publicists, record labels, FYI colleagues (David Farrell and Nick Krewen especially) and industry friends.
Here's hoping the music and industry news we get to cover in 2022 is rather happier than has been the case in 2021. Selfishly, this scribe is peeved to be sitting on tickets purchased for concerts that should have already happened, but of course the saddest thing is the devastating impact that the ongoing pandemic and associated restrictions are having on my friends who are artists, concert promoters, agents, and club bookers, managers and owners. Here's to a smoother and more active live music scene in 2022 for all of us and please stay or get vaxxed and boosted!
– The Vancouver Sun reports that Sarah McLachlan will headline the 2022 Squamish Constellation Festival, which runs July 22-24 at Hendrickson Field, Squamish, BC. July 22-24. McLachlan will headline the final night of the fest. General public tickets on sale in March, visit constellationfest.ca. The fest went on hiatus in 2020.
– Hit dance music combo Loud Luxury plays Bandshell Park Toronto with Frank Walker on Dec. 26. Loud Luxury will be donating its performance fee to hospitality industry workers and local charities. Kudos. Tix here.
– Great to see one of Canada's best rock bands, The Headstones, now get exposed in the US media. That is down to the fact that frontman Hugh Dillon's profile as a TV actor and show co-creator has been heightened by such current TV series as Yellowstone and Mayor of Kingstown, a show he had a major hand in developing. Newsweek has just published a major profile of Dillon that includes references to the still alive 'n kickin it Headstones.
– Yesterday (Dec. 22), the Toronto Blues Society (TBS) announced the postponement of the annual Maple Blues Awards and Blues Summit, given the Covid situation. They were to be held in Toronto in late January, and the new dates have not yet been scheduled.
– Also moving dates for the same reason is the Folk Alliance International conference, now scheduled for May 18-22, 2022, in Kansas City. The Regular Registration Rate deadline, which was originally extended to Dec. 22, will now end on March 15. Register here.
– If you're looking for some country tunes to round out your Xmas playlist, CMAOntario has compiled a seasonal collection you can check out here.
– Duncan Fremlin, leader of veteran Ontario roots music combo Whiskey Jack, contacted us to report on their year that was. He noted the growing audience for its Youtube Channel ("we like to think it's because it contains a lot of entertaining videos, one of which has well over 800K views") and the fact the group streamed online for the first time since 2015, as well as squeezing in a few live shows. He's keenly awaiting Whiskey Jack's 45th anniversary celebration, set for April 16 at Sam's Place in Prince Edward County, the new venue from former Cadillac Lounge owner Sam Grosso. Ticket info here
Don Palmer, saxophonist and a keystone of the Nova Scotia jazz scene, died on Dec. 17, age 82.
Writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Stephen Cooke noted that "It’s hard to imagine what the story of jazz music in Nova Scotia, or much of Canada for that matter, would be like if Don Palmer hadn’t been around to foster the scene, encourage its most promising players, or get on stage with his saxophone and flute at any opportunity."
"As the director of the jazz program in the Dalhousie University music department and as a co-founder and artistic director for the Atlantic (now Halifax) Jazz Festival, Palmer could both nurture young talent and provide a stage for established players, while also lending his considerable skills to the region’s music scene as a soloist, ensemble member and sideman."
Coming from a musical family — his father (Chipper) Palmer was a popular dance band vocalist in Cape Breton — the teenage musician honed his skills on clarinet in the Royal Canadian Artillery Band before attending the Maritime Conservatory of Music in the late 1950s and playing alto sax at the 777 Barrington Street jazz club.
Palmer moved to New York in 1959, making the most of the city’s vibrant music scene, studying with jazz greats like saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Lennie Tristano, touring with the Latin orchestras of legends Machito and Tito Puente, and playing in pit bands for broadway shows like Grease.
He moved back to Nova Scotia in the mid-1970s, becoming artist-in-residence at the College of Cape Breton, before taking on a brand-new position in 1978 as director of the Dalhousie department of music jazz program, where he continued to teach until moving to Toronto for family reasons in 2005.
Palmer’s students included Juno Award-winning musicians like Kirk MacDonald and Mike Murley, as well as members of bands who became known across Canada like the Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra and Gypsophilia.
For the public at large, Palmer was best known as a performer with groups like the Benghazi Saxophone Quartet with Upstream co-founder Paul Cram, his Dal jazz program successor Chris Mitchell and Ken MacKay, and the all-star trio Alive and Well with longtime friends bassist Skip Beckwith and recently departed drummer Jerry Granelli.
Read a full obituary/tribute here.
– Billy Conway, drummer of acclaimed Boston rock band Morphine, died on Dec. 19, of cancer, at age 65.
Prior to Morphine, Conway played alongside that band's frontman, Mark Sandman, in the bluesy treat Her Right. Morphine made an impact with a series of albums in the '90s.
“We are devastated to learn that our brother, Morphine drummer Billy Conway, has passed, finally succumbing to cancer after a long fight,” the band Vapors of Morphine, who Conway performed with alongside other former members, wrote on Facebook. “Our deepest condolences go to his family and friends.”
In recent years, Conway also backed folk great Chris Smither. Despite his health challenges, Conway released his first solo album, Outside Inside, in 2020. As a producer and engineer, he also oversaw two of Kris Delmhorst's albums, Five Stories and Songs for a Hurricane. Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia
– Drakeo the Ruler (real name Darrell Caldwell), a critically acclaimed Los Angeles rapper, was stabbed to death at the Once Upon a Time festival in LA, on Dec. 18, age 28.
A source speaking to the LA Times said Caldwell had been attacked on the festival site by a group of people on Saturday evening.
The festival’s promoter, Live Nation, said: “There was an altercation in the roadway backstage. Out of respect for those involved and in coordination with local authorities, artists and organisers decided not to move forward with remaining sets so the festival was ended an hour early.” A set by Snoop Dogg was cancelled.
The Guardian reports that “Caldwell had not crossed into the mainstream, but was a hugely admired cult figure in his city’s rap scene. He released his debut mixtape in 2015, and went on to release 10 more full-length projects.
In 2017, he was jailed for 11 months for illegal firearm possession. In March 2018, he was detained once more, on a murder charge dating back to a shooting incident in Dec. 2016.
He continued to record music while incarcerated and was eventually acquitted of the murder charges in July 2019. After a plea deal for a charge of criminal conspiracy, he was released in Nov. 2020.
After his release, he made the album The Truth Hurts, including the single Talk to Me with guest star Drake. Drake was among those paying tribute, writing on Instagram that Caldwell “always picked my spirit up with your energy”. Sources: The Guardian, LA Times
– Kangol Kid (born Shaun Shiller Fequiere), a member of the legendary hip-hop group UTFO, died on Dec. 19 after a battle with colon cancer. He was 55.
Kid was known for often sporting the popular Kangol headwear and being part of UTFO, which stands for Untouchable Force Organization. The four-member group was known for 1980s hits including Roxanne, Roxanne and Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me.
Along with his hip-hop success, Kid became recognized for his efforts against breast cancer through the Mama Luke Foundation. Following his diagnosis, he had spoken publicly about the need for regular screening. Read more in this AP obit. Sources: Newsday, AP
Carlos Marín, the baritone singer in hit multi-national quartet Il Divo, died Dec. 19 of Sunday of Covid complications, at age 53.
Marin had been hospitalized on Dec. 8 in the Intensive Care Unit of the Manchester Royal Hospital while on tour in the UK.
His death was announced on Sunday by Il Divo via the group’s Twitter account. “It is with heavy hearts that we are letting you know that our friend and partner, Carlos Marín, has passed away. He will be missed by his friends, family and fans. For 17 years, the four of us have been on this incredible journey of Il Divo together, and we will miss our dear friend.”
Il Divo was formed in 2003 by Simon Cowell for his Sony Music Synco Label as a new generation, Three Tenors-style quartet delivering covers of songs crossing over between opera and pop. Immaculately turned out in largely Giorgio Armani suits, the group’s singers came from over the world: Urs Bühler was a Swiss tenor, Marín a German-born Spaniard, David Miller an American tenor, Sébastien Izambard a French pop singer.
Delivering songs in English, Spanish, Italian, French, and even Japanese and Latin,, the group released 10 studio albums between 2004’s Il Divo and this year’s Once in My Life: A Celebration of Motown, as well as a compilation, 2012’s Greatest Hits.
Marín had already met with considerable success before joining Il Divo, making his first record, El pequeño Caruso, at the age of eight, singing with Montserrat Caballé and performing in stage productions including Les Misérables, Beauty and the Beast, and Grease. He also released a solo album, Portrait, in 2020. Source: Variety