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Talk! Conversations in All Keys

Talk! Conversations in All Keys

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Talk! Conversations in All Keys

597 pages
9 hours
Apr 21, 2020


In the past 35 years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of artists, some with celebrity status others who quietly operate just below fame who have had long-running accomplished careers. I began assembling what I thought were the most insightful, informative and passionate reads to arrange into one book. When the manuscript grew to 1,500 pages, I did a closer look and saw three potential volumes. Vol. #1 – The Artists – Canadians – Vol. #2 The Business – the foundation of the Canadian music industry and Vol. #3 the Americans – the icons of American music.

Talk! Conversations in All Keys are interviews with depth, history, forthright, and an inside view of the creative drive and discipline behind the success of 72 Canadians of note. Many laboured in clubs, cafes, some in total isolation, perfecting their craft. What does it take to succeed in a business where only a rare few earns a reasonable living and recognition – the answers lie between these pages. Art is something you can’t tame, game or blame. It’s self-generated, spiritual, and where we go when most in need of inspiration and solace. I hope these conversations are a blueprint for any aspiring musician or a wellspring of motivation!
Bill King

Apr 21, 2020

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Talk! Conversations in All Keys - William M. King


Published by 7 Arts Press

ISBN 978-164826-380-4 (softcover)

ISBN 978-1-64871-966-0 (epub)

ISBN 978-1-64871-983-7 (mobi)

Copyright © William M. King (7 Arts Press) 2020

427 Christie Street Toronto, Ontario M6G 3C7

(647) 883-2919

Published in Canada

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purpose of review) without the prior permission of 7 Arts Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.

Design and composition: Magdalene Carson / New Leaf Publication Design






1 Andy Kim (The Brill Building)

2 Alex Cuba (Sublime)

3 Anne Lindsay (They Are Fiddles)

4 Archie Alleyne (The Evolution of Jazz)

5 Bif Naked (I Love Myself Today)

6 Bill Henderson (Chilliwack, I Believe)

7 Blackburns (The Zanzibar Tapes)

8 Bob Wiseman (Prepared Piano)

9 Bruce Cockburn (Bone to Bone)

10 Bruce Good (The Good Brothers)

11 Buffy Sainte-Marie (War Racket)

12 Carol Welsman (The Language of Love)

13 Cathy Young (Yorkville in the ’60s)

14 Colina Phillips, Sharon Lee Williams, Shawne Jackson (The Studio)

15 David Buchbinder (Odessa Havana /The Ward)

16 David Clayton-Thomas (Boom Boom)

17 David Tyson (Black Velvet)

18 David Wilcox (Guitar Heroes Live)

19 Diana Krall (Stepping Out)

20 Don Thompson (Night Sounds)

21 Doug Riley (Doctor Music)

22 Elaine Overholt (Big Voice Studios)

23 Eric Mercury (Electric Black Man)

24 Everton Paul (Rock Steady)

25 Frank Mills (Music Box Dancer)

26 George Olliver (Mandala)

27 Guido Basso (Lost in the Stars)

28 Harrison Kennedy (The Underground Railroad)

29 Heather Rankin (Titanically)

30 Ian Thomas (A Life in Song)

31 Ian Tyson (Four Strong Winds)

32 Jann Arden (A Jann Arden Christmas)

33 Jason McCoy (The Road Hammers)cCoy

34 Jeff Healey (My Kind of Jazz)

35 Jesse Cook (One World)

36 Jessica Mitchell (Workin’ on Whiskey)

37 Jill Barber (Fool’s Gold)

38 Jim Cuddy (Constellation)

39 Jim Galloway (Bourbon Street)

40 Johnny Reid (That Memphis Sound)

41 Jordan John (Funk Parade)

42 Karen Burke (Toronto Mass Choir — I Must Go On)

43 Kurt Swinghammer (Turpentine Wind)

44 Laila Biali (House of Many Rooms)

45 Larnell Lewis (In the Moment)

46 Les Stroud (Survivorman)

47 Loreena McKennitt (Breaking the Sword)

48 Lorne Lofsky (Approaches to Jazz)

49 Lorraine Segato (I’m Not Done Yet!)

50 Lou Pomanti (The Boogaloo Lounge)

51 Marc Jordan (A Narcissist Guide to Song Writing)

52 Mark Kelso (The Jazz Exiles)

53 Mendelson Joe (The Art of Wilderness Living)

54 Mike Levine (Triumph — Allied Forces)

55 Mike Murley (Mike Murley, Ed Bickert and Steve Wallace)

56 Mike Timmons (The Cowboy Junkies — The Trinity Sessions)

57 Natalie MacMaster (God’s Acre)

58 Orin Isaacs (The Amazing Race)

59 Oscar Peterson (In the Key of Oscar)

60 Paul Brandt (Not in My City)

61 Peter Cardinali (Little Italy, Sam the Record Man, the Boomers)

62 Phil Nimmons (Atlantic Suite)

63 Peter Wildman (The Frantics)

64 Randy Bachman (Blue Collar)

65 Rob McConnell (The Boss Brass)

66 Robert Segarini (High Sierras)

67 Sylvia Tyson (You Were on My Mind)

68 Terry Wilkins (The Sinner’s Choir)

69 Theresa Tova (ACTRA — Warsaw Ghetto)

70 Tim Thorney (The Front)

71 Tom Wilson (Beautiful Scars)

72 Tommy Wilson (Little Caesar and the Consuls)

The Author

To my partner, Kristine,

to Jesse and Rita,

and to the profound love

of all music.


A note of thanks to all who had a hand in making Talk! a reality: Jesse King and Jessica Bellamy for partaking in interviews at CIUT 89.5 FM — Ken Stowar PD and the many conversations that emanate from the University of Toronto. FYI Music News David Farrell and Kerry Doole for their grand support and editing of my weekly column. Gary Slaight and Derrick Ross for sponsoring the music segment of the Ted Woloshyn Show and continued support. My partner Kristine King for always being a part of everything I do and championing each new venture. Brother, Wayne King, and family. The Everton Paul family — Ilona Kauremsky and Stephen Smith. Geoff Chapman, Fred Wilmot.The publicists, artists, and industry I’ve known and continue to work alongside the past 50 years as a musician, photographer, broadcaster, and journalist. Jesse King, for always being my creative and straight-talking son and high praise to Magdalene Carson for the magnificent layout and design. Big gratitude to Kevin Wynne for the final round of edits and proofing. It now reads like a beautiful symphony of life experiences. And lastly, that big inspire person whose influence and humanity lives with me every day; the late Dr. Kira Payne.


The year was 1985, and an unexpected call came from Bob Mackowycz, the voice behind the 6 O’Clock Rock Report at Q-107 FM in Toronto. Macko as Bob was known and longtime friend and pal — El Mocambo doorman Reggie Bovaird and I would spend the occasional evening blowing a pipe of fine hashish — listening and talking music. Most times, we’d cross paths when I was playing clubs or just hanging out. Bob was rocking radio, Reggie was keeping the peace, and I was taking whatever gig paid the bills.

That spring, Macko calls and asks if I’d be interested in hosting Q-Jazz the station’s Sunday morning concession to playing jazz. Rather than hesitate, I arrived for an audition. Tape rolled, and I stammered my way through a self-prepared script, and with a few edits, an acceptable recorded demo followed. A day later, station boss Gary Slaight hired me.

There was no fast-track introduction to the world I was about to enter. As of today, that world has now circled the sun a good thirty-five times and not all of those years occupied with an on-air presence but a good many journalistic situations offering me access to the artists, industry, and components that have built, shaped and continue to support the Canadian music industry — which brings me to Talk! Conversations in All Keys.

It was a first assignment that came from then Q-news director Jane Hawtin, a brilliant journalist / broadcaster who pulled me aside and asked if I’d be up to interviewing French film director Bertrand Tavenier, in town and open to speaking with the media in support of his latest film — the jazz classic — Round Midnight, starring jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon. I’d never interviewed a soul and quickly consulted by radio the man I most admired near a microphone, Larry King, and spent the evening chasing him up and down the radio dial and got a basic feel for dialogue. I then jotted down a list of fifteen questions and the following day met Tavernier in a private hotel room. Though extremely nervous, the conversation fluctuated between music director Herbie Hancock’s brilliant score and the modest knowledge I had concerning film.

That evening, secure knowing I had captured gold on a cassette tape, I filled a tub of steaming bath water, aligned the cassette player facing me, slid in and began what was to be the most crucial lesson in my long career as an interviewer — the horror of hearing one’s voice — not the sound of it but the interruptions and the persistent use of the obnoxious word, Right, which seemed to drench the conversation in a layer of ambient soot. It was apparent I required further study and had to absorb what the other person was expressing. Uncle Larry was the master of listening.

I conveyed my disappointment to Jane and passed her the tape with a warning — not everything is ‘Right.’ Jane called later, and she said, I found good stuff on here, don’t worry. It’s a short piece. God bless her. Not long after, Jane offered me a session with jazz great Miles Davis. The thought of getting my ass whipped by a master no-nonsense, fuck you icon was out of the question.

Three and a half decades have passed, and I have learned from mistakes and have been privy to a world of amazing artists and industry drivers. We talk, we laugh, we play the music, and we usually hug and take a shameless selfie on the way out.

Talk!, is all about us — The blues makers, the jazz believers, the folklorist, the gospel testimonial, worldbeat travelor, reggae purist, punk with an attitude, pop, rock n’ roll, R&B, and big soul family. It’s our story — not the complete story, but conversations with depth, colour, imagination, and reflection. What’s at the root of a great song? What’s behind the making of a record, life on the road, and that mad passion for being the best? Read and find out!


Andy Kim

October 2019

"I’m in town, and I’m just putting together my 15th annual Andy Kim Christmas [on December 4 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre at Exhibition Place in Toronto]. I can’t believe it’s 15 years already. It’s a one-off every year. I feel like I’m starting over. I don’t know if you were there last year, but last year it was mind-boggling. You get these dream teams.

We had Bif Naked, Mary Margaret O’Hara, and then you get a surprise guest with Chris Hadfield. We had Alex Lifeson and Kim Mitchell. They both got together and played Battle Scar for the first time since the ’70s. Tom Cochrane, Billy Talent, Broken Social Scene, Ron Sexsmith. I’m in the throes of that right now, and I’m excited beyond anything to be part of this year’s induction."

I love Andy Kim. I love the hang; I love the conversations and the man. In-person interviews are eye to eye and brimming with enthusiasm — over the phone; electric. When asked to do a series on Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees, I thought about what I should and what I would ask each individual.

With Andy, it had to be about the Brill Building in NYC. I’d visited a couple of times in the ’60s and knew of its significance, but in reality, I would have been just as happy visiting the Village Vanguard where I caught jazz pianist Bill Evans playing Happy Hour. Andy lets go in this interview and takes us places only imagined and walks us back to when a young man from Montreal hitched a ride with his dream, and what a ride it’s been.

Bill King: How does the Canadian Music Hall of Fame differentiate from other awards?

Andy Kim: Well, you know what? I’ll tell you something. It’s the iconic award because it’s all about the music. It’s all about the songwriters. It’s all about the artists that have had a dream that kind of broke through on the radio and had a life outside of the course you would have taken if your dream didn’t sustain. And to me, to be part of the tapestry of all those artists that came before and even the artists who came after me. It’s all incredible. People come to me, and they say, oh, well, you know you should have been there, it’s too late. What took them so long?

Forget about it! I come from another place. I turned to the person who said, it’s about time. And I said, you know what? Here’s how I’ve always lived my life as a kid and growing up in the tenements of Montreal. Somehow or other, I believed that I could do this. But I also felt something more significant, that God is always on time, not my time, not someone else’s time, but his time. And I just figured you know what? Thank you. Thank you, God, for this. At this time in my life, it’s beautiful. It’s just a total honour, as I’m sure everyone feels that, hey man, I’m lucky to be part of this playground because that’s all I ever wanted.

B.K: We are living in times with politicians railing against immigrants. You’re from a Lebanese family of immigrants. Anybody that immigrated here is susceptible to discrimination and tend to cling to their heritage.

A.K: You know what I think, it’s the same for all of us, even if your parents and grandparents were born here.

Our family came from the mountains of Lebanon, and the dream to become something is a universal vocation. My parents were blindsided by the fact that their third of four sons wanted to do this. I understand their anxiety because I didn’t know if I had any talent. I didn’t know anything about the business. But I knew I saw this, and I think every kid, every kid at 10 or 11, 12 or 13 has some vision. Some get accepted at Juilliard so they could learn their craft. I learned my craft at the Brill Building. I was lucky enough to be around Gerry (Goffin) and Mike (Stoller) and Jeff (Barry) and Ellie (Greenwich) and Carole (King) and Jerry (Leiber).

B.K: How did you get past the front door?

A.K: First of all, we go back to me as a kid. The kid in me was always a great student. I loved going to school — I loved the homework — I loved the whole aspect of learning. I saw music magazines in my two older brothers’ room, and I would always check the lyrics out. I would always check who is the songwriter for some reason or other. My transistor radio would never really explain how it all works or what the essence of a record was — that inspiration I got from disc jockeys.

Do you know what’s cool? Last week I spent like a good 40 minutes interviewed by Cousin Brucie (Morrow Sirius / XM). I don’t know how many people remember Cousin Brucie, but he’s iconic. I remember listening to him on the radio because my transistor would get WABC and WKPW in Buffalo — Joey Reynolds at night. And the way they talked about the artists and the way they talked about music, it just promoted this fantasy. So I would hear Jeff Barry’s name. Growing up, listening to the explosion of Be My Baby was like from another world. I never understood how those things got made, but I’d always see Jeff Barry’s name first. Jeff, Ellie, and Phil (Spector), whatever Phil’s participation was, then he was there.

I think the fact that it was always Jeff and the fact that he and Ellie discovered other artists and produced Neil Diamond and all of that stuff. It was swirling around, and you eventually think you know that person. It’s like you’ve been watching a soap opera for many years and you finally bump into the actor or actress, or I guess it’s probably more polite or correct to say actor these days, and it’s like, you know them, but you don’t know them.

I knew the Brill Building, but I didn’t have any map to get anywhere. I knew the ballpark where I was going, and the great thing about GPS, I’d ask two questions: Where are you and where are you going? What’s your destination? I knew both. I didn’t know how to get there. You had to take a bus, get off on 42nd & 8th, and then you walk and look at the names on the index, and then you would see. What people don’t remember, or some people do if they lived it — when you walked into the Brill Building on the right, there was Jack Dempsey’s restaurant. Dempsey would stand there and say Hi to people as they walked into his restaurant. It was another time, another place a New York City crammed with people going everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

I went to the ninth floor and asked for Jeff and said I was in town for a little while, and I have meetings at Columbia. I packaged a creditable story. I still remember her name, Bonnie. She said, I don’t know because he’s very busy, and I said, Well, can I wait? I didn’t know where else to go. What would they say? Ignorance and confidence will get you everywhere. And that was me. So, I waited. And then she says, He’s got a couple of minutes, and I’ll walk you into his office. I sit down, and he’s on the phone. Five minutes go by, then ten. I sense I may be in the wrong place because I didn’t know what Jeff Barry looked like. Finally, he hangs up the phone and says, So you’ve got a song to play me? I answer, Yeah, and I’m from Canada and my…. He says, So what’s it like — the song that is? He loved the first two verses — How Did We Ever Get This Way? I got past the first two verses and the bah, lah, lah, and said there’ll be words here, and la la, la, la, and words here.

You have to understand that I didn’t know I was a songwriter. I like to cut and paste what I think works. He listens, and says, Okay, you know, I’m running late, I gotta be in the studio. I love the first two verses the bah, lah lahs are the choruses, but I don’t like the third and fourth verse. So, write to them and get back to me. I say to myself, oh, my God. I don’t know what to do. Again Barry looks at his watch and says, I’m late for the studio. And I say, Can I ask you a quick question? He looks at me, and I say, You know, I’ve never been into a studio before. Can I come with you? I’ll only stay for a couple of minutes. I’ve never seen one before. He looks up at me and says, Have you had lunch? Yes, but I hadn’t. He continues, I usually get a sandwich and only eat half of it. I’ll give you the other half.

I have my guitar. I have a shirt and tie on and a jacket that was the uniform at the parochial school I attended. I’m now walking on Broadway with Jeff Barry. I’m eating the sandwich — he’s not talking to me, he’s not even looking at me, and we go into a hotel and downstairs into Mira Sound Studios. He waves to me to sit down on the couch, which I do. He enters the studio, and I can’t see him. Now, Jeff is like 6’4. I’m like, oh, my God. I’m here just a minute in a studio, and it’s Jeff Barry. There’s a great saying that says, you are what you eat." I think you are what you think all day long. I thought about this and not that I knew how it existed and how it would unfold.

I got up to leave, and he waved me down. I stayed another two minutes, and then I left and went to Bonnie to get all the information and phone numbers and everything. I was lucky that I had relatives in New Jersey. My parents worried, but they allowed me to do this. I then learned something that holds today. I started writing three verses for every verse I wrote. And I finished How Did We Ever Get This Way and went into the studio with Chuck Rainey, Hugh McCracken, and Buddy Saltzman, and the engineer was Brooks Arthur, who went on to do Laura Nyro and Janis Ian. It was one of those moments to be brave, and the mighty warriors will come to your aid.

B.K: I was in the Brill Building a couple of times — once with producer Paul Leka with this band from Brooklyn I was playing with led by singer Vic Bonadona.

A.K: Not Green Tambourine?

B.K: How did you know that?

A.K: Oh my God, I remember meeting Paul Leka later on and him talking to me about, Green Tambourine and what he did in the whole thing, which was like really wild. I know he’s passed on now, but I always remembered. Maybe I’m just so interested and so excited about the dream that we all have.

B.K: We sat down, and he played a cassette tape of Green Tambourine. We looked at each other, and I’m thinking, this is kind of like something I produced in the mid-‘60s when I arranged The Bells of Rhymney for a local band, the Chateaus — that Bob Dylan sort of thing. I think this is much the same and great for us. The bed track was already recorded. I think the studio band was the Trade Winds. Off we go with the track absent vocals and a gig out of town up in Maine. Leka calls Vic repeatedly — I need you here now. We were out for a month — just long enough for Paul to pull in this group from Cincinnati — The Lemon Pipers and they killed. I also remember after meeting with Paul and me, Victor, and going down the elevator, and see a diminutive Jackie Wilson in a yellow suit slap Paul’s hand. Fuck me!

B.K: More about the Brill Building.

A.K: There’s a book coming out on Jackie Wilson. Andrew Loog Oldham (Rolling Stones producer) has a friend in L.A. who’s a writer, and at this moment, his name escapes me, but he’s writing a book on Jackie Wilson. We bumped into each other, and he wanted to know about me seeing Jackie Wilson and Tina Turner. There was always someone iconic in that elevator — you know what it’s like? At that time, everything was iconic to me. Everybody was like they were there already. And for me to be able to, you know, to take the elevator up to the ninth floor and eventually work in Jeff’s office when he wasn’t there, I could play and write stuff. At that point, it became a walk-in room. I’m there, and then Jeff would come later, and then he’d say, So what do you got? So what do you got? What do you got? It became a kind of a hook in my head. I’d keep writing. I keep playing, knowing you’re only as good as your last two minutes and thirty seconds.

B.K: Sugar Sugar — How did this work between the two of you?

A.K: First of all, Jeff became a producer. In his relationship with Don Kirshner, he produced some of the Monkees stuff. I’m in Jeff’s office, and Kirshner had called looking for songs. I think there was a cattle call probably, I don’t know for sure. Rumour had it Kirshner wanted me because he loved the sound of my voice on my records. He wanted me to be a part of the vocals for The Archies and stuff. I was Jeff’s artist on his label. Not that he shot it down, but it was like, okay, but no. I’m in the office, and I’m strumming my guitar, and something comes out of my mouth that has no relation to anything. Ten minutes went by and finished. It’s kind of the wildest, strangest thing in the world. Everybody will always hear me say, I never take a bow for inspiration. It was over.

I thought the percussion stuff was always the part of it that came easy. The hooks came more natural for me than the verses. With all the hits I’ve had, those hooks came out of nowhere. I was excited to be in a room with the iconic Jeff Barry, who’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That excitement cleared the barriers to be free to say and sing whatever you wanted to sing because there was never a bad idea — there was only an idea that didn’t work. There’s always a better one here. There’s a better way. Let’s keep playing. I think playing the guitar — the rhythm and saying things out loud really helped. I don’t know where it is now, but it’s somewhere in Montreal — that incredible cassette player that Barry bought me early on, which I recorded, How Did We Ever Get This Way. I think I sounded like the greatest rhythm guitar player ever.

The condenser microphone made me sound incredible. Jeff would come in with percussion stuff going on banging on a filing cabinet and singing and coming up with new ideas. It was a template for how well we worked together. And for me, I will never forget the fact that in the embryonic stage of my life, there was a guy who took me under his wing. I became his co-writer. He was my mentor, yet we wrote songs together. I’d talk to him at least a few times a month. It’s mind-boggling. I’m still that kid.

B.K: In 1974, Rock Me Gently became the number one charting record. When it hit the top of the charts, and you heard it played day and night on the radio, what went through your head?

A.K: I put the record out myself because no one wanted to release. I wrote it and ended up having to produce it. When no one put it out, I came back home and called my mom and told her everybody turned me down. It was like Andy Kim had had his run. Thank you. See you. I remember I picked up the phone and called her, and I said, Mom, I’m coming home. She started crying because that’s all she ever wanted. But what she didn’t hear was, I’m starting my new record company, my own record company, it’s called ICE; long before beer companies and hip hop artists began using it. I said, I’m going to put out my record, and I’m going to be my own promotion, man. It’s gonna be number one all over the world, cause you’re dreaming. As I look back if you freeze-frame that conversation, you’ll feel sorry for that guy. He went everywhere, not knowing what to do, then decided to put it all together because of the people that he loved and admired.

I’ve got to tell you one thing; there’s a guy named Al Corey. He was the president of promotion for Capitol. Do you know him at all? Well, you should look him up because the truth is when the Beatles broke up and they resigned and even when Lennon signed with Geffen, the first line in the contract, I may be exaggerating that point because I don’t know what line it was, Al Corey was hired to do their promotion. Yes, the Beatles. Every one of them.

I got a phone call from Al Corey, and he said, Andy Kim, you know you have a hit now in Detroit? I said, I heard, and I have a truck driver that I’m talking to about bringing some units into the Detroit market because CKLW is playing it. He says, You need 20,000 records in the Detroit market by Monday. It’s a Wednesday, and I say, Well, I don’t know if I can do this. I can do it for you, he says, I want to take your master over to Wally. I’m in L.A. at the time. It’s Wally Heider at Capitol Records mastering. He said, Take your master over, and I’ll have 20,000 units in the Detroit market in no time. I answer, Do you want to speak to my attorney about a deal? He says, I don’t want to make a deal with you — I don’t want you to lose this hit record. It’s a number one record. It’s one of the best records of the year. He continues, I don’t want a memo from you, I don’t want any deal. I want to save this record."

Fuck, I had taken this song all over and over and over again everywhere, and nobody wanted to put it out. I wanted to be back on the charts. I wanted to be in that playground, and they were telling me, no. I went to Wally, and I let it go. It was bigger than me, and it hit #88 with a bullet the following week on Billboard Magazine. Then the attorneys from Capitol and my attorneys made a licensing deal and all that kind of stuff.

But at the end of the day, the issue is, what is your dream and how powerful is your desire that you will give everything up to follow that dream? I think it’s so important there was a time when there was no auto-tune and not everybody could make a record every day. No Facebook. No Twitter. There was nothing. You either had it, or you didn’t have it.

Rock Me Gently was on the charts for four months. I cried. Then a night I remember — Al Corey called me at midnight on a Tuesday, because Tuesday is when Billboard changed their charts. By the time you’ve got the print, it was the weekend. He told me it hit #1 on Billboard Hot 100. I cried like a baby. It was like an athlete or someone who just worked so hard to climb up that hill, and once they got there, not only are they exhausted, and given every ounce of their body and intellect and emotions into something, the results are so sweet. John Lennon then gives me my Gold Record a couple of weeks later, and I get to hang with him. So much that’s been given to me was because I was brave enough to dream.


Alex Cuba

September 2019

Before Alex Cuba arrived in my basement studio, I recalled my first encounter nearly twenty years back with The Puentes Brothers. Adonis and Alexis played the Beaches International Jazz Festival street scene. Producer Peter Cardinali made the pair a priority and produced a brilliant recording, Morumba Cubana — grounded in traditional Cuban dance. The years pass, and I hear of this rising young Cuban star, Alex Cuba, and wonder if there was a connection. Four Latin Grammy Awards and two Grammy nominations for the Best Latin Pop Album and a growing universal following — I was curious if this was the same guy!

Alex dropped by the house early in the week, all part of a promo blitz, and we had that long-awaited conversation. I’m a man surrounded by acceptable clutter — keyboards, microphones, walls of CDs, dog toys, and a basement studio rug that bulges in the middle for which I’ve found no remedy. Cuba found comfort in that. I then showed Alex a black and white photo I took with my retired Rollicord of a musician holding a bass and hair twisted in cornrows. And yes, that’s Alex! Beaches Jazz July 2000.

Bill King: I was saying, you’re in a room where Jorge Papiosco Torres ( the remarkable Cuban conguero) rehearsed many times. And you said — so loud.

Alex Cuba: I can’t believe it. You know his conga playing is so amazing and so loud that he hardly needs any microphones and what a great guy.

B.K: Other Cubans: Elizabeth Rodriguez, Magdelys Savigne, Alexander Brown, Alexis Baro, Roberto Riveron — bandleader Jane Bunnett have rehearsed in this basement room where the history of jazz resides on shelves.

A.C: These walls are very inspiring to see.

B.K: Sublime? How does the title of the album address the new recording?

A.C: The music that came out of me arrived in a very sublime way. I didn’t have the title until we were listening to the master at the mastering sessions, and the word pops into my mind because I thought it was very sublime. I love doing more with less. I love it when you can say so many things with so little. And if you get it right, it comes out sublime. I was listening to the mastering, and the word crosses my mind, and I’m like, wait a minute, this is sublime. I think it’s a good title for what I just did. It got me excited when I looked for the extended meaning of the word. There is a beautiful quote: Only art can make you feel sublime. That quote said it to me. I consider myself an artist. I find myself to be somebody who tries to remain loyal to his heart. I don’t like copying other sounds or whatever is hot at the moment. I follow what my heart tells me to do, and I like to think that that’s my artistic persona. That word and that meaning of the word sold it to me, and I thought it was a very appropriate title. It’s also the same word in Spanish and French.

B.K: On first listen, it becomes apparent the instrumentation is scaled down. Each track feels as if you’re in the room with us, and we have a connection.

A.C: Yeah, this is a very personal album. It’s been several years for me rising and finding the confidence to be so naked, so vulnerable. I felt on this album that I wanted to express this side of me. I don’t know if you know it’s me playing all of the instruments. It was a decision I made while making the demos.

B.K: Were you fearful of that?

A.C: You’re talking to a Cuban musician here, and you know all about us. Meaning that in most cases, Cuban musicians make music thinking about what other Cuban musicians are going to feel about it. And for me, it’s been a journey to move away from that mentality because, at the end of the day, the music’s destination is not that music community; it’s the public. This album marks a step in the development and the way I see music. I decided to do it simple and personal. I think the timing for this album is so right because there is so much music out there, and so much of what we see daily is impersonal. People are becoming more and more afraid to be personal or be that naked and honest.

B.K: Especially those who write. When you share something of yourself, you get something in return. Isn’t it always about the story?

A.C: Absolutely. I’ve always been candid with my music. I’ve done whatever the heart has told me to do. But in this one, because I’m playing all of the instruments myself and there is a lot of music that is simple and minimalistic, it shows more, a lot more. I am very proud to be singing with Cuban legends on this album: Omar Portuondo — Pablo Milanes, Kelvis Ocho, and Dominican Alex Ferreira. This album feels like a return to my roots. I’m very proud of that.

B.K: When I saw Pablo Milanes name on the album, I recalled the time my wife Kristine and I were in Cuba reporting on the Havana Jazz Festival. The show opened with festival director / pianist Chucho Valdes, then Brazilian Ivan Lins, followed by singer Pablo Milanes backed by Valdes. It was sweltering in the theatre. Late in the show, Milanes surfaces, then slides in to a high-back chair and waits until Valdes strikes the first chord. I’m photographing from the left side — Kristine from the right. Then this soulful heavenly voice opens up, and tears begin to stream down my face. I look over at Kristine and catch her, wiping tears from her eyes. I then scan the crowd. As they say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It was evident how important this man is to Cuban culture and what it meant to have him in this room.

A.C: He’s one of my heroes. Pablo shaped my generation. His music played every day of my life. It’s of interest you mentioned the tears — let me tell you something — the song Pablo and I sing together on this album a lot of people say is getting that reaction. And the beautiful thing is that I am surprised it happens to people that don’t speak Spanish. They don’t understand one word of what I’m saying or what we are saying on this album. It still brings those emotions up in people, and I am completely fascinated with that. It's the magic of honesty, I guess.

B.K: It’s hard to explain that some voices have an unknown characteristic to them. They wear the colours of life and the colours of the people that surround them. It’s hard to get past and goes straight through you.

A.C: Singing with Pablo is nothing less than a dream come true. It’s like for those of you who are reading this right now and don’t know who Pablo Milanes is; he’s like the Cuban Bill Withers or the Cuban Bob Dylan. He is a founder member of the Cuban movement that started in the ’60s called Nueva Trova — an essential change for Cuban music. Cuba was in a critical moment with the revolution. The artists did a lot for the Cuban people, and Pablo, together with Silvio Rodriguez, are the most important members of that. They’re pretty much the creators of the Nueva Trova movement.

B.K: My early trips in the ’90s to Havana allowed me an opportunity to familiarize myself with Milanes and others and the orchestral works of Cuban composers. The music was available in government-sanctioned kiosks — beyond the salsa and rhumba most seek out.

A.C: Thank you. Thank you. I’m so happy you mentioned that because that’s been my story in Canada. People hear my name and not so much anymore, but it’s easy to assume that what I do is maybe that kind of music. I’m happy to be showing to Canada and the world a different side of Cuban music, which is not necessarily salsa music. I have a lot of respect for that music, but Cuba is way much more than that.

B.K: You’ve traveled to various world locales to record Sublime with recording engineer John (Beetle) Bailey. How was this arranged?

A.C: It was reasonably effortless. I have many friends in Mexico. I’m quite connected there. I went to Mexico to record the voice of the fantastic singer — a young girl, Silvana Estrella. She’s twenty years old and already sounds like an angel with a promising career ahead of her. The majority of the album recorded in Gibson, B.C. I flew John (Beetle) Bailey to B.C., and we had a fantastic time. We went to Garth Richardson’s studio, and it was incredible — spent ten days there. Let me tell you when it was time to leave, and we finished, we felt sad because his space is magical. We were recording in a place where you have ten acres around you and no one near you. You can see the ocean from the studio. It’s just heaven out there. I think it shows in the music how much we enjoyed recording there. It was a fun time for me, and John (Beetle) Bailey; it shaped my universe. What an engineer.

B.K: You’ve done great work on your prior albums. They all sound spectacular, and you have a keen ear for production.

A.C: I give a lot of value to that and to making sure that the music sounds good everywhere. I also worked with a different engineer for the first time. I did five albums with Joby Baker out of Victoria. I felt it was time to maybe make a little move just for creativity and inspiration. I went to John, and I’m pleased we did it. John was able to capture the moment well. I’m in love with the sound of this album.

B.K: You have four Grammys and two other nominations. What is the path to the Grammys? The percentage of those able to attract a committee’s attention is minimal at best.

A.C: That’s an excellent question. I’m glad you asked me this. Let’s start by saying that Latin music is very young in Canada, in my opinion. I’ve been in Canada for 20 years now and a lot of my years here I still feel that Latin music is very young and what I mean by that is — a lot of people in Canada exposed to whatever they think Latin means can’t comment yet on whether something from the Latin world is unique, creative, different or merely a cliché — which happens in every kind of music. I feel Canada has allowed me to create and move Latin music forward. That’s what the Grammy sees when I send them my records. They see a fresh sound.

B.K: That’s always the first step — to get them to recognize you. And then listen.

A.C: They’re not going to see the uniqueness of your music if it’s not unique because they get a lot of music. I’m lucky that the Grammys recognized me and know that side. I’m incredibly proud to be making my music in Canada. It wouldn’t be the same if I were in Miami or Havana.

B.K: I’m guessing, there’s pressure to absorb and recreate a regional sound.

A.C: This is the best way I can put it when you have any immediate demographic in front of you, you’d have to reach further. You make music for those people, and you know you get popular in that niche, and it is magnificent. In Canada, I don’t have an immediate Latin market in front of me. I was never scared of that. I took it as a grand challenge. What it has given me is a universal way of making music. In my opinion, this is who I am. I found that strength inside of me in Canada, and I’m so happy to be creative this way. I have fans everywhere in the world, and Canada supports a lot of what I do. The music speaks to a lot of different people, and I’m so happy about that.


Anne Lindsay

February 2015

We’ve shared the stage and worked the studio, and from a producer / artist’s point of view, what Anne leaves in the mix is pure magic — a pure expression of herself. She’s a perceptive player with a distinct sound who will tangle herself up in a passage — weave a path free and leave astonishing bits of invention and embellishment that both enhance and magnify the moment.

Bill King: I must read this aloud, Anne is an exuberant fireplug of a session player to the stars; Led Zeppelin, the Chieftains, Blue Rodeo, James Taylor, and Roger Daltry. I’ve got to meet your publicist.

Anne Lindsay: What’s a fireplug anyway, a sparkplug with a flame?

B.K: You are an active person on stage, not the frozen dead.

A.L: It’s about the dance. Music is a dance — it’s very physical. To play at it, you need to channel and feel it in your body.

B.K: Being on stage is more than playing an instrument.

A.L: Sure, it is. It’s about interacting with the other musicians on stage — its communication — it’s wonderful. People don’t even know what I’m playing when I’m dancing on stage — they think I’m dancing.

B.K: Do you dance around the living room?

A.L: I usually have a violin or fiddle in my hand. I have two pianos at home — a baby grand and an upright. I pick up the fiddles when I feel like playing.

B.K: They are fiddles, not violins?

A.L: To me, they are fiddles is an affectionate term, and also stylistically, the music I play and write definitely has roots elements to it.

B.K: When does a violin become a fiddle?

A.L: When you put on a tuxedo. No, I got that backward — when does a fiddle become a violin. It’s just the genre of music — it’s not any different to play. Sometimes you tune differently for fiddle music, but then again, you tune differently for some kinds of contemporary classical music. It just depends on the style of music.

B.K: Are you conservatory-trained?

A.L: I started in the Toronto public school board programs where they have itinerant music programs wherein grade four you can choose either a string or band instrument, and they bring in teachers from outside the community and work with the kids once a week. I tell you Bill, so many of our great musicians got their start in that program: Janie Bunnett, Jim Cuddy, Ermanno Florio, a great conductor of the ballet and orchestras across Canada. We all started there, and every time the Toronto board threatens to cut it, I get busy and phone the trustees and scream bloody murder.

By the age of 13, I decided my destiny, and the violin was entwined and started private lessons both at the conservatory and the University of Toronto in private studies and all through high school studies in violin, voice, and piano; privately and at the conservatory.

B.K: At some point, you ventured away from classical music. You must have run into others your age who were playing something entirely different.

A.L: I got lured into playing in a band for a variety night. When I got to the rehearsal, I was told the music would be there for me. Of course, I get to the rehearsal, and there is no music at all. The guitar player looks at me and says, You know what a G chord is — a C chord and D chord. This music is so easy. I think we were working on a Beatles tune, Act Naturally, which had kind of a country feel to it. I started piecing together and found specific notes worked here and there and everything was great until the curtain went up and the banjo player was using a capo — fiddle players and violinists don’t like capos knowing they can become a victim of the positioning of the capo. So, what was supposed to be in C became D flat. That was not a happy moment. Later on at York University, I realized I must be fluent in all keys.

B.K: You travel the world and have such a profound interest in the places you visit, and your new CD Soloworks reflects that.

A.L: I was in Tanzania doing volunteer work for an Aids organization, then South Africa doing some shows just outside of Cape Town. I was struck by the beauty, the magic, and the incredible spirit in the people and what they must overcome. There are also some reference points to environmental concerns for our planet as well. When you travel around the planet, that’s ever-present. Soloworks is the offspring of my journeys — self-discovery and the comfort of being alone.

B.K: Do you enjoy being alone?

A.L: I do now. I’ve gotten very comfortable being on my own. I went through a difficult time, which was occurring while I was writing the CD. Both of my parents passed on — I lost a very dear friend and mentor Oliver Schroer, a great Canadian violinist and composer, and my marriage of twenty-five years dissolved. I know it’s just life, and everybody goes through it, but I found it a very challenging and very challenging time. I found myself struggling with a lot of things, but at the same time, I found opportunities to do solo concerts when I was in Tuscany. I was improvising in a medieval chapel, and the organizer of the event I was there to perform at heard me and thought it would be a great idea to invite some people inside the chapel to hear me. That was the germ — those improvs. Then I looked at previous pieces I had, and it started me writing music for one instrument. There was this parallel between the creative process and the personal. The travel-inspired but didn’t necessarily heal me. The episode I think of most directly is the month I spent in Scandinavia right after my mother died. That was literally and figuratively a very dark month. It was late February into March north of the Arctic Circle. It was part of the search and my interest in Nordic fiddles on an Ontario Arts Council grant, and I was exploring Arctic fiddle music, and somehow being so dark out at the same time helped me to understand where all the Nordic mythology comes. I learned how to play some Nordic fiddles when I was part of the stage production for Lord of the Rings.

B.K: You tour a lot — have you backed off a bit?

A.L: No, I’m still busy touring. I’m out with Jim Cuddy. We are doing several things this year. I’m almost embarrassed to say — music takes me to many places

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