By Keith Sharp
February 1980: Having scouted out our new house/office at 209 Kingslake Road in the Don Mills area, Conny and I set up shop, with Triumph on the cover of our first Toronto-based issue. We quickly recruited new writers including Aussie Greg Quill, New Zealander Kerry Doole, Roman Mitz, and Lenny Stoute.
June 19, 1981: Music Express rapidly established itself as Canada’s national music magazine with distribution through a chain of record stores (A&A, Music World, Kelly’s, Records On Wheels) plus newsstand circulation through Gordon & Gotch. We had helped publicize the debut albums of Adams and Loverboy and we’re expanding our coverage of international bands when we first linked up with the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. They made their Toronto debut Friday, June 19th and the day before they played soccer against a scrambled together Music Express team. A game that became a feature event before subsequent Iron Maiden concerts.
March 27, 1983: Music Express staged its first annual awards show, staged live at the Spectrum in Montreal. Long John Baldry and Nanette Workman hosted, Martha & The Muffins and Corbeau performed live and Bryan Adams and Loverboy were on hand to receive their first even event awards. The edited show was televised on a number of indie stations including Toronto’s CITY-TV and Le Studio Morin Heights owner, Andre Perry produced the event.
May 1983: Kerry Doole and I made our first business trip to London England. Kerry escorted contest winners to a Rush concert in London I took them to Birmingham to catch Iron Maiden and then we executed a bunch of interviews, me with Fastway and Twisted Sister and Kerry chatted with The Eurythmics and met two young lads called Wham; George Michael and Andrew Ridgely, artists who soon would be household names in North America.
November 1, 1983: I toured Germany and Basle Switzerland with Kitchener band Helix opening for KISS – who were touring for the first time sans makeup. Definitely an eyeopener on how NOT to tour Europe or any other region for that matter.
March 1984: Music Express had outgrown our Kingslake abode and found a new office in Toronto’s Annex area at 37 Madison Avenue. We had the main floor and basement and the vacant third floor remained so because it was rumoured to be haunted! The Madison years were amazing because we attracted many amazing artists (Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Squeeze, A-ha, Sinead O’Connor, Paul Young, Corey Hart, Slade) who all inevitably ended up knocking pints back at the Madison Avenue Pub just down the street.
December 26, 1984: I spent my Christmas holidays touring Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia with Bryan Adams (Honeymoon Suite opening) as his third album, ‘Reckless’ was making headway in the U.S. Manager Bruce Allen asked me which song I thought should be Bryan’s third single off the album. I suggested “Heaven”. Bryan disagreed because that song had appeared in the movie “One Night In Heaven” which bombed at the box office. “Yes,” I countered, “but the song didn’t bomb.” Heaven was subsequently released as Bryan’s third single and his first No. 1 hit on Billboard.
July 13, 1985: Live Aid Concerts In London and Philadelphia. I covered London and Lenny Stoute covered Philadelphia. What an amazing experience! Boomtown Rats’ Bob Geldof frontman got together with Ultravox frontman Midge Ure to assemble an all-star cast super group Bandaid that previous December to record a charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” as a fundraiser for famine relief for the people in Ethiopia. The U.S. and Canada followed suit with their own recordings. The result was the biggest concert ever staged! London was amazing, 100,00 people cheering the likes of David Bowie, The Who, Elton John, U-2 and of course that memorable set by Queen. Whilst watching Paul McCartney close the show I had this feeling that if John Lennon had been alive that day, surely Live Aid would have staged a Beatles’ reunion.
February 26, 1986: I received a phone call from Mark Greenberg, Vice President Warner Distributing out of New York. He had obtained a copy of Rock Express (renamed because of a conflict in England with the established New Musical Express) and wanted to know if we wanted to be distributed in the U.S as a rival to Spin which was being circulated by rival company Curtis Distributing. Our staff was so small we could not imagine expanding into the states, but with our never-say-never attitude, we agreed to test a 10 city circulation so we launched an April issue with the Sammy Hagar-led Van Halen on the cover and hired a team of regional writers to promote Rock Express in each area.
April 21, 1986: One of those regional writers; Carter Allen was a deejay at Boston radio station, WBCN, invited Rock Express to attend a station-promoted fan fair to promote our magazine. So Robert Kunz, Julia Owen and I drove down to Boston to promote our magazine and utilized guest appearances by Platinum Blonde and Wendy O Williams to draw attention to our magazine. On the way back to Toronto, I read a blurb in Billboard about a Minneapolis-based record chain; Sam Goody/Musicland who was expanding into California taking over the Licorice Pizza chain. Marketing director Bruce Jesse was quoted in the story. On the first day back in the office, the phone rings, it’s Bruce Jesse calling to ask if we wanted to become the official instore magazine of Musicland/Sam Goody which would eventually expand to over 1,100 stores throughout the United States.
September 17, 1986: Toured one date In Budapest Hungary and six dates in Poland with Iron Maiden. Played goal for their soccer team before 8,000 spectators in Gdansk Poland against a local team and Maiden won 4-2.
October 1986. Launched debut Musicland/Sam Goody Rock Express issue in the U.S with Huey Lewis & the News on the cover. Glass Tiger was featured in this issue that earned us credit for breaking their debut album `A Thin Red Line’ in the U.S.
February 1987: The full power of Musicland/Sam Goody was on full display when they invited me to attend the annual North American Retail Merchandiser’s Association (NARM) conference held that year at Miami’s famous Fontainbleau Hotel. This is where all the major record companies preview their future releases for the retail industry and allowed me to meet all the major record company executives as well as mingle with such stars as The Bee Gees, Gloria Estefan, Lita Ford, Michael Bolton and an up and coming young singer called Maria Carey.
April 1987: Musicland/Sam Goody officially announced the acquisition of Licorice Pizza at a mega party staged at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles where they also promoted Rock Express. Crowded House provided the live entertainment and the guest list was a whos/who of rock stars and television/movie stars including Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Tom Petty, John Waite, Yes frontman Jon Anderson, Steve Van Zandt and celebrities such as Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court) and Lou Diamond Philips. Seated with me and Conny were Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
November 1987: By this point we had established great relationships with virtually all of the U.S based record labels, boosting our circulation to 1.3 million copies monthly with Michael Jackson on the cover of our November issue, had established offices in Los Angeles, New York, London and of course Toronto and in November I escorted two contest winners to Sydney Australia to catch David Bowie’s Glass Spider concert. Interviewed Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett while in Sydney and my subsequent interview in our January 1988 issue helped break their Diesel And Dust record in North America.
January 1988: Alan Lysaght and Doug Thompson combined to launch the Music Express Syndication Radio Program which aired every Sunday morning on key stations like Toronto’s Q-107, CHOM Montreal, CFOX Vancouver and K-97 Edmonton to name just a few. The début broadcast featured an interview with Paul McCartney and the show host was MuchMusic’s, J.D. Roberts.
March 1988: Bruce Jesse, who initiated our connection with Musicland/Sam Goody suddenly resigns from his position with the company. Conny and I meet with President Jack Eugster and VP of Marketing Gary Ross at the second NARM convention staged at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles who assured us that the loss of Bruce did not affect our agreement, but as we did not have a long-term contract, both Conny and I felt a little uneasy about our future with that company.
May 1988: We were asked to change our magazine’s name back to Music Express as Bill Graham’s merchandise line was also called Rock Express which also meant we had to change the name of our radio syndication back to Music Express.
June 1988: Met with Eugster and Ross at New York’s Park Plaza hotel to discuss our future contract with Musicland/Sam Goody. If I could re-live this meeting, the outcome could have been different but my partners Conny and Allan were confident we had established a solid relationship and Ross and Eugster both seemed keen to establish a future agreement. Four months later though, Musicland changed their mind and demanded full control of ME, something Conny and Allan would never agree to.
October 1988: Music Express on Madison Avenue and in December, staged a swank party featuring Warner Music Act The Razorbacks. The guest of honour was Led Zeppelin’s, Robert Plant.
March 1989: Received a phone call from Gary Ross saying Musicland was cancelling our agreement and launching their own magazine but they gave us four more issues to affect the changeover. Met with Bruce Jesse at the third NARM conference in New Orleans and he agreed to launch ME at Warehouse Records in Los Angeles along with another relationship we established with Sound Warehouse in Dallas.
October 1989: Launched with Warehouse but the impact was never the same. Spent three years juggling distribution with A&A Records in Canada declaring bankruptcy and then returning, but our whole existence was shaky.
January 1993: Due to internal problems, Warehouse had to cancel their distribution so Music Express was literally finished. Our print bills had been mounting so Allan Gregg took over ownership, asked me to declare Music Express bankrupt, eventually changed the magazine’s name to Impact and through the year, eventually replaced Conny, her son Robert, and Friday, January 21, 1994, fired me.
March 1994: I started to work for Tony Tsavdaris at his Strawberry Records operation, as Impact collapsed, I set about launching a new magazine, Access working with Q-107 and in May 1995 launched ACCESS with Sean Plummer acting as editor. ACCESS existed until 2010 when the advent of social media, a loss of retail outlets, the financial crisis of 2008 and the disappearance of most record companies left ACCESS insolvent.
July 2010. At the insistence of Calgary’s Doug Wong, I started to chronicle my Music Express adventures in a book titled Music Express: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Canada’s Music Magazine that was published by Dundurn Press in 2014.
August 12, 2012. While I was writing my book I supplemented my income by working as a security officer for G4S. So I find myself at the CNE supplying security for artists performing at The Bandshell, that night Trooper is performing. Lead vocalist Ra McGuire and guitarist Brian Smith spot me from the stage, after the gig they asked what I was doing and virtually demanded that I re-launch Music Express as a digital magazine. That night, on the Go Train back to Scarborough I decided to take Trooper up on the challenge and relaunch Music Express as a digital magazine. With help from Chad Maker’s Agency 71 company, Music Express was relaunched at 11 am October 2012 as a digital magazine and has thrived ever since.