When The Country Music Association of Ontario (CMA Ontario) hands out its 10th anniversary awards in London this weekend, one recipient, unfortunately, won't be present.
The winner of the Impact Award - Country Music News co-founder and publisher Larry Delaney - will be feted in absentia by Anthem Entertainment's Gilles Godard, who will accept the trophy on his behalf.
Delaney wanted to be there, but a recent pacemaker operation and other health issues derailed his plans.
"Obviously, it's a huge honour," he declares. "I never got in this occupation to win awards - but being recognized by your peers and by the industry at large is such a great honour. I'm humbled, to be honest."He stands as one of the Canadian country music industry's most decorated champions. Among his previous accolades a 1989 Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame induction; The Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame (with wife Joanne) in 1993; the CCMA's Canadian Country Music Hall of Honour in 1996; The Ontario Country Music Award for Industry Person of the Year (2000); CCMA's Hank Smith Award of Excellence (2012) and 10 CCMA wins as Country Music Person of the Year - and with good reason: for 32 years and 383 issues, the Ottawa-based Delaney lauded Canadian country musicians and gave them a national print platform to advance their careers.
From Jason McCoy to Carolyn Dawn Johnson to Shania Twain to Paul Brandt to Duane Steele to Prairie Oyster to Terri Clark and everyone in between, Delaney gave them coverage - for many, it was their very first recognition from any source - and help set them on to the path of whatever success they accomplished.
But truly, is there another individual that has done as much to promote Canadian country music as Larry Delaney?
"Mostly it was trying to recognize that there was potential involved in newcomers who hadn't yet had any exposure," he explains. "If I had something to listen to that I thought was showing some special talent, I would jump on it and try to help them along. There was no picking and choosing. It was simply a matter of trying to identify the special talents."
Launched on April 1, 1980, the monthly Capital Country News - as it was first known - was launched by Delaney and musician Neville Wells on a shoestring budget.
"There was no finance involved," recalls Delaney, 79, who boasts a collection of 15,000 LPs and 10,000 CDs and coined the catchphrase "Cancountry."
"Neville and I would lament weekly about the terrible coverage in local newspapers. They would do a story on Dick Damron and run a picture of Ian Tyson. Neville and I just said,' let's start our own newspaper' - just more as a joke, but Neville was really the founder.
"I was working at City Hall. Neville was a musician. And within two years, we traded places: Neville went into the federal government and I went from city hall into poverty.
"It was a case of loving what I'm doing. I've never lost the love. No matter what happened to Country Music News, I still spend my days posting on Facebook. I've posted over 25,000 photos of Canadian artists, and now I'm posting their CDs. It's just been an ongoing love of Canadian country music. I love what's coming out in Nashville, but my aim is to support Canadian country music."
The new national monthly received immediate attention from the country music community.
"It was hands-on," Delaney recalls. "Once the paper got established, a lot of the artists would come directly to our home office here in Ottawa and give us a little home concert. They'd be looking to have their picture in the next issue of Country Music News. When I could spot some special talent, then I'd take it the next step by trying to feature them either as a special feature on a cover or at least some kind of coverage in the paper.
"By then, we had established writers from all provinces. So, it gave us a national feel with our coverage."
That national exposure resulted in immediate professional validation.
Delaney said that correspondents would approach CMN and be welcomed into the fold.
"A lot of them came to us saying, 'you know, there's something happening in Northern Alberta or something happening down East. A lot of them would be radio people - Paul Kennedy out of Halifax; Bruce Laperre out of Manitoba - and they'd do columns for us. There were a lot of radio connections."
These were chiefly volunteer positions.
"We'd give our writers a small stipend to cover their mailing costs more than anything, but we just could never generate the kind of revenue to have a payroll."
Delaney said the couple survived by making it a home business.
"We had a three-storey addition to our home in Ottawa and actually had offices, "Delaney explains. "When we launched the paper, it was never intended to be a moneymaker.
"And we proved that very quickly, " he laughs. "But it was a matter of survival: what you could make in subscriptions would only cover your production and mailing costs. Advertising was our only and main source of revenue. We had some very helpful people, Leonard Rambeau, for instance, with Balmur, he would buy ads for Anne Murray and George Fox and his artists. They would be full-page ads and a couple of full-page ads would pay for an issue of the paper.
"So, we had a lot of good support in that respect. But after 30 or some years - when the digital age came in - print advertising wasn't quite as lucrative. We lost a lot of our ongoing advertising. And then it became a real struggle to stay alive. My last three or four years were all done at a loss. I was cashing in my Canada Savings Bonds to keep the paper alive. After 32 years, it just got to a point where it was no longer feasible."
Delaney has plenty of milestone stories wherein he's played a crucial role.
"I remember doing the first-ever cover story when Brett Kissel was 14 years old. He came into my office with his father. It's such a great memory.
"Johnny Reid came in here on a number of occasions with a guitar, sat down and played me some of his songs. You could smell the success coming but he had no idea of the business. And I said, 'Johnny, I'm gonna put you on the next cover of Country Music News.' That would've been the first cover of 2000, but as it turns out, Hank Snow passes away on December 20th. So, I jump on doing eight-page coverage of Hank Snow in the middle of the paper.
"That particular issue of the paper was in demand literally around the world. Johnny Reid was on the cover very quickly after this issue spread around, Reid suddenly got noticed. I don't know if Johnny realizes it, but I think that opened the door for him."
"And, of course, I wrote the first cover story on Shania Twain."
Delaney also took pride in revealing some of Canadian country music's more obscure tales.
"Canadian artist Hal Willis had a novelty hit with a song called The Lumberjack," he recalls. "He was from Rouyn, Québec: Hal and his wife Ginger Willis were big in the Canadian market here but were enticed to go to Nashville in the early '50s. After being there, they made their way as songwriters with hits, by Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline and all the major artists, but they were a Canadian husband-wife team. They were friends with Hank Snow and Hank was involved in getting them down to Nashville. When Hank did an Elvis tour, he had Hal Willis as an opening attraction. It never really gets much attention."
But his biggest reward throughout the years?
"The friendships are what still hold today," he says. "People like David Thompson and Ray Griff and Gary Buck and Mike Graham - we became such great friends and the friendships just held. The friendships are what I cherish the most."
The CMA Ontario Impact Award is giving Delaney some respite in an increasingly difficult life, which - aside from being complicated by his own health issues - also extends to Joanne, his wife of 57 years, who is living in long-term care and whom he visits daily, punctually, at 1 p.m.
"My wife being diagnosed with dementia is 10 times worse," says Delaney. "I visit her every day and it's just such a sad, heartbreaking thing that I don't even worry about my cancer and my pacemaker anymore.
"I dedicate this important award to my wife, Joanne, my very best friend. It brings tears to my eyes. It's such a wicked disease that I would go through cancer and heart disease 10 times over again if I could free her from that crap."