Last night (Oct. 23), I had the privilege of taking part in a group interview organized by Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. It was to launch Music From Far and Wide: Celebrating 40 Years of the Juno Awards (Key Porter), a book I co-wrote with three esteemed Canadian music journalists Karen Bliss, Nick Krewen, and Larry LeBlanc.
For any non-Canadians reading this, the Junos are Canada’s Grammys, the annual awards overseen by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS). It was CARAS that commissioned the book earlier this year, and I was fortunate to be asked to write the chapter on the 1990s.
Talking about my approach to that decade in the book was part of this discussion last night, conducted by CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi. Sharing the stage with myself, Nick and Karen was Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy — who wrote the book’s foreword — as well as acclaimed singer/songwriter Dan Hill, who admirably filled in for Larry as the authority on the 1970s.
It was a lively conversation throughout, mostly focusing on the development of the Junos from a small, stiff, and industry-centric affair to the extravaganza (at least by Canadian standards) that it is today. We all got to mention our favourite Juno moments, mine being Leonard Cohen’s Hall of Fame induction speech in 1991, and Sloan’s bubble machine-fuelled performance of “Money City Maniacs” in 1998. But the best anecdotes stemmed from the evolution of the televised show, illustrated by several other clips interspersed throughout the night.
I have to give Dan Hill much credit for consenting to relive the moment in 1978 when he accepted a Juno for his classic hit “Sometimes When We Touch” from Kim Mitchell and Rush’s Alex Lifeson, both of whom clearly didn’t want to be there that night. In announcing Hill’s name at the podium, Mitchell even went so far as to call the song “Sometimes When We Brunch.” Hill said that obviously a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and that he looks back on those ’70s Juno shows like they were high school yearbooks.
When talking further about the conservative attitude the CBC had toward the Junos — at least until the mid-90s when the show began to allow fans to attend — Jim Cuddy told a funny story about an idea the CBC had for a Blue Rodeo television special in the late ’80s that would show them playing songs in different rooms of large house. For the finale, it was proposed that Jim would go down a big slide from the top floor into the backyard, whereupon he would sing the band’s biggest hit at the time, “Try.”
He also regaled everyone with the story of backing up The Band’s Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson for their induction in the Juno Hall of Fame in 1989. As I’d heard Jim describe before, the event was extremely stressful for Blue Rodeo, since Robbie’s initial reaction upon arriving for rehearsal was, “What’s all this? We only need a drummer.” Jim said the performance was saved by Rick Danko, who gregariously insisted that all the musicians play together. Also of note, the gorgeous Gretsch guitar Robbie played that night belonged to Jim’s band mate Greg Keelor.
So, thanks again to the folks at CARAS for including me in this project, Key Porter’s Carol Harrison who worked so hard to put it together, and my co-authors. If there’s a fan of Canadian music in your family, this book will make a great Christmas gift.
And congratulations to Celine Dion on the birth of her twins.