The second annual Megaphono music showcase festival is underway here in the capital from Feb. 2-5, designed to showcase our own local and regional talent. It also brings music industry professionals in to see and hear some of Ottawa’s musical talent, and to offer constructive advice on how local artists can catapult their careers. They work closely with the newly formed Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, which also works with artists and professionals to build, develop, network, and support Ottawa’s growing music industry. Along with the variety of artists to catch during the 4-day festival, there are also a number of speakers, networking opportunities, and panels of discussion to sit in.
One such panel was put together by Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper, and was held on Wednesday night at The Carleton Tavern. It focused on remembering and celebrating some of Ottawa’s artists, and what the music scene was like in the glory days of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It was a highly inspirational evening with some of Ottawa’s finest performers, promoters, presenters, venue owners, and radio personalities, who shared with us some incredible stories, facts, and experiences of their lives. They were Gary Comeau, Eugene Haslam, Sandy Sharkey, Dick Cooper, Harvey Glatt, along with emcee, Ken Rockburn. Mayor Jim Watson was on hand to kick off the evening, and gave a tip of the hat to sponsors, The League Of Rock, whose top-notch lineup of artists and industry experts continue to offer their knowledge, support, and expertise to individuals seeking the thrills and skills of being in a band, and who have helped bring many into fulfilling that dream.
Continuing introductions were made by Jeff Leiper himself, who commented on how rich our own musical history is, and how the members of this panel have lived in, and seen the changing face of music and the industry through the past 5 decades. Well-known radio personality, Ken Rockburn, who was our very formidable emcee for the evening, directed questions to each panel member. As the night went on, so did the rounds of questions, that produced a domino effect of tale after tale that kept the crowd enthralled, and triggered non-stop bouts of laughter.
Harvey Glatt, now 81, has had an impressive career in many aspects of the music business. A broadcaster, music promoter, manager, record retailer, and record label owner, he spoke of his first Ottawa concert promotion in 1957, involving Pete Seeger, an artist he truly admired, and how he managed to come out on top with $50 in his pocket after all was said and done, including a banjo lesson from the man himself. We learned of his successful chain of 15 Treble Clef stores, how he started CHEZ FM in 1977, and of his rewarding managing days with The Esquires. His genuine love of music is simply what started it all, and the result has been the support he has given many artists over his lifetime, and the countless people whose lives he’s touched.
Which brings me to Gary Comeau, who co-founded The Esquires in 1962, and modelled their sound from that of Cliff Richard and The Shadows. “The Esquires”, he quipped, “were every mother’s favourite son”. He told us a story of the Caravan of Stars’ not-so-pleasant experience with Dick Clark and Andy Kim, but how in the end he managed to get them signed with Capitol Records in 1963: the first Canadian band to have signed to a major label. There was the accidental meeting with George Harrison, who had him set up his pedal steel guitar so he could try it out, and a chance encounter with B.B. King in the lobby of a hotel, who let him play his “Lucille”. The Esquires went on to win an RPM award (predecessor to the Juno award) in 1964 for Best Vocal and Instrumental Group.
Dick Cooper spoke about the band’s incorrigible shenanigans, including the tale of the stolen giant shell casing, instigated by Terry King, and aided by Doug Inglis of Goddo, which resulted in a bomb squad being sent out. Other stories included their frequent band name changes, and a fortunate 4-month stint of gigs at The Gatineau Club in their early club days, which by the end, had put them at each other’s throats, but they were tight as hell. “Some of this stuff you can’t make up.” The crowd was in stitches. Today, the Cooper Brothers are still going strong, (although not as many shenanigans) with a new album soon to be released, and have been longtime active community supporters. Dick is also an author (Jukebox, published in 2007 and republished in 2012), teaches at Algonquin College, and is a member of the League Of Rock.
BOOM FM’s effervescent Sandy Sharkey, grew up in Ottawa and has been a longstanding voice in radio for many years. She shared her “pinch-me” moment of a somewhat pre-meditated meeting with Bruce Springsteen at an Ottawa hotel swimming pool (and hot tub) in 1984, and one involving an interview opportunity with Garth Brooks, which turned out to be not as exciting as she had hoped, when she walked into a room to find 71 other reporters. She told of her long standing friendship with Dick Cooper, which began in her days with CFRA, when she had booked the Cooper Brothers for a Humane Society fundraiser. To this day, she continues her involvement in supporting various animal rights groups, and is also an outstanding professional photographer.
Recently retired entrepreneur Eugene Haslam may have hung his hat up with his club of nearly 25 years, Zaphod’s, but his knowledge of the music business shone brightly as he spoke of his years as a band promoter, presenter, and venue owner. He shared some of his experiences in promoting shows during his days with Barrymore’s, including one of his earliest and riskiest ventures with The Pogues, and later, a glorious end to an otherwise ridiculous ryder request involving Bo Didley. Haslam also explained his formula of “presenting” a well-known, well-received act, to generate income for “promoting” artists who were not as well-known, but who he felt had talent and potential. “I look at bands much the same as an art curator.” He also sees a need in Ottawa for a centrally-located concert venue that has a more mid-range capacity of 1,000-1,500.
Later, the floor was opened up for questions, and any who had experiences of their own to share. Longtime local radio celebrities, Dave Kittle, and Gary Michaels, both came up to light up the room with their past hilarious station studio antics, which could easily have been comedy scene sketch material for WKRP. The room of lucky listeners grew to realize quickly, that they were witnessing a truly unique and inspirational collective of cherished local celebrities that have been some of the creators of our own musical folklore, and responsible for shaping Ottawa’s music scene in so many ways. Ottawa has indeed, a rich musical legacy, and continues to thrive with its ongoing flow of talent, fresh ideas, and a growing amount of supporters.