Alberta Music Express was launched the first week of October 1976 without much fanfare. I had secured a printer, The North Hill News and Joe Thompson, branch manager at Kellys Record Mart in Calgary had agreed to circulate AME in all their Alberta retail outlets. As mentioned, Daltrey was on the cover of No.1 with my feature on The Stampeders finally seeing the light of day.
AME was designed like the British music tabloids with a few key stories on the front, the obligatory album and concert reviews and a section on local concert listings. CKXL deejay Tommy Tompkins contributed a column plus an interview with Graham Nash, The Edmonton Journal’s Joe Sornberger featured an Edmonton column and interviewed Nazareth while Mike Rogers supplied a Lethbridge column (I guess we couldn’t find anyone in Red Deer or Medicine Hat !!)..But the rest of the book was written by yours truly. As mentioned, under the guise of a number of false bylines.
I had no investment cash on hand for my new venture and had no thought beyond that first issue. I was quite shocked when the printers wanted to get paid upfront and I consumed my credit card limit to fund that first issue. There it was the debut issue of Alberta Music Express. I printed about 10,000 copies and according to Thompson, the mag was eagerly snatched up at Kellys. I did the rounds and dropped off copies at all the local record company offices where the book was enthusiastically received. I still got the biggest kick out of receiving stacks of free albums.
All the local industry reps gave Alberta Music Express a strong endorsement. They also encouraged me to send copies back to music reps in Toronto and Montreal, supplying names of key contacts. Shortly after AME debuted, I received a phone call from Terry McGee at Columbia Records in Toronto. “Hey, Keith received your first issue of AME. Good stuff, when’s the next one coming out?” “Next one,! Jeez, you mean I have to do this again” said I, not even considering the consequences of printing a second issue.
At lunchtimes, I popped across the street to the PolyGram office where I was warmly greeted by Ken Graydon and his sidekick Harry Hrbinsky. Graydon was a great character who embraced his job and was always bubbling about his latest releases. “Oh you should hear this, Dire Straits (Sultan Of Swing)”, and PolyGram had all the key disco titles of the time, Village People, Bee Gees, Donna Summer. Plus Ken was a big supporter of Canadian music, Bachman Turner Overdrive being a key PolyGram group at that time.
[quote]“I’m not playing this shit,” screamed Tompkins as a vinyl Frisbee flew out of his office[/quote]Bryan Tucker at Columbia was another great supporter and it was always a thrill to sit in his office while he gave me the first listen to Journey’s `Wheel In The Sky and Boston’s `More Than A Feeling’singles or Meat Loaf’s ” Bat Out Of Hell” album. This was a time when great music was being released virtually every week.
Alex Clark had replaced Don Boas at Warner and the affable Scot was another true music fan. I remember him making a big production of playing me Queen’s `Bohemian Rhapsody’ – “as the greatest thing I would ever hear”.
I received a call from Lou Blair at the Refinery saying he wanted to meet to discuss a potential investment in the magazine. I showed up at the Refinery nightclub in early March to discuss my future plans and I am introduced to his accountant, a Dutch lady called Conny Kunz who sat in on the sessions. He asked for financial records, passed the information to Kunz and said he’d get back to me. As I got up to leave, Conny gave me a nod, indicating she wanted to continue the conversation.
We went next door to this Mexican Restaurant (Primos) and over a plate of tacos, Conny advised me she didn’t think Blair was serious about investing and that I should be looking at other options. She also hinted that her services might be one of those options.
One incident graphically showed me there were still perils in being associated with the Calgary Herald. I had first caught Queen in concert during their “Sheer Heart Attack” tour March 4th 1975 and had been totally dazzled by their performance. So when I found out Brimstone was bringing them back for two nights March 16-17th 1977 on their “Day At The Races” tour with Thin Lizzy opening, both photographer Ian Mark and I were there for both nights.
Of course the Herald’s Brian Brennan had to be negative about the show and although he reluctantly complemented Queen, he absolutely shredded Thin Lizzy. Backstage before the second night’s show, I am chatting with Horodezky and somehow my connection with the Herald was mentioned. Next thing I know, Thin Lizzy vocalist Phil Lynott ran up behind me and is throttling me with his bare hands. “So you work for the fooking Calgary Herald, you fookin bastard.” screamed Lynott. “Sports department,” gasped I, on the verge of turning blue and passing out.””Oh sorry mate, I thought you were that fookin Brian Brennan”, said Lynott apologizing profusely. “No worries,” said I and he took me back to meet the band where we or course talked football and I plugged my own magazine.
For that second night, Ian brought along a stack of live shots he had taken of Queen on the first night. We handed the shots over to the band’s tour manager and he disappeared inside the dressing room with the photos. A few minutes later, he re-emerged and said the band were impressed with the shots and wanted to meet us. Next thing I know, Ian and I are sitting next to Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon and they are raving about the photos. If I had any doubts I was in the wrong business, meeting Queen sealed my fate.
The fate of AME seemed to have been determined when I received news from Conny that Blair had passed on any financial investment. I got the word May 1st, the day CJAY FM was launched as Calgary’s hot new radio station. I attended the event, convinced M.E was past tense. For the record, Blair acknowledged he decided to decline investing in ME (he was also launching a booking agency with Dean Cross and Tim Contini at the time) but felt that booking the back cover of Music Express for his Refinery club still showed his support for my magazine.
Tom Tompkins, my old buddy from CKXL, who was featured in the debut issue, was the station’s new music director, and he did his best to cheer me up. Tompkins, who later became a major figure in Canadian Country Music circles, was your atypical music jock. Think of Johnny Fever from WKRP and you have a spitting image of Tommy Tompkins. The guy knew his music. He was the first jock in Canada to pick up on The Dire Straits and never let station politics cloud his love of what tracks he programmed. Listening in on meetings between Tompkins and program director Ross Davies (later of CHUM FM fame) were classic. “I’m not playing this shit,” screamed Tompkins as a vinyl Frisbee flew out of his office, threatening to decapitate some luckless soul walking by. I was further cheered up by a phone call from Terry Magee. Heart were launching their second album, “Little Queen” with a homecoming concert in Seattle and he asked if I wanted to fly out there, catch the show and interview the band for our next cover. Wow! My first music junket!
Somehow wangling the time off from the Herald, I flew out to Seattle, met Terry at the airport and spent an amazing warm May afternoon at the Seattle football stadium (in the shadows of the famous Space Needle). With an all-access pass, I utilized the event to also interview opening acts, Foreigner, making their US debut to launch their first, self-titled, album. Stephen Bishop and the initial seven-piece Prism line-up from Vancouver (starring drummer Rodney Higgs a.k.a Bryan Adams’ song writing partner Jim Vallance and future top producer Bruce Fairbairn).
Heart, were amazing live and after the concert, the whole band gathered backstage for interviews with a number of journalists including Harrison from the Straight and Toronto Sun’s Wilder Penfield 111, Dee Lippingwell took some stunning shots of the band silhouetted against the fading light. I flew back from Seattle determined more than ever to make Music Express successful yet still keeping my hands clean at the Herald. I executed a series of major interviews during the summer and fall of 77, two memorable ones being Kiss and Styx.
Always found Kiss (especially Gene Simmons) to be accessible for interviews and this goes back to the summer of 1977 when the band executed a major tour of Western Canada, opening act being the colourful Cheap Trick. Help from PolyGram‟s Ken Graydon secured me an interview and I traveled to Lethbridge to catch the band open the city’s brand new Sportsplex Arena, July 28th. There are no words to describe vintage Kiss. Their live show was simply unbeatable. The pyrotechnics, Simmons blowing flames, spitting blood and Peter Criss’s hydraulic drum kit, shaped like a Dragon’s head that spewed flames during their climactic encore.
July 31st, day of the first Calgary gig, I am at the Calgary Inn, knocking on the hotel door of the band’s road manager. “Oh you’ll find Gene in the coffee shop,” said he, pointing down the hallway. As I walked towards the coffee shop it dawned on me I am not supposed to know what Gene Simmons looks like! Not a problem though. One table is occupied by two elderly ladies drinking afternoon tea. And at the other occupied table sat a tall guy dressed in black leather with a silver dollar sign on his boots. Er! I think that’s him.
Simmons proved to be a colourful and informative interview. He told me of the band’s early gigs in Calgary at SAIT ( Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) when their Kabuki makeup was greeted with heckled derision and how they created their Kiss army via the success of their Kiss “Alive” album. The interview went so well he invited me back the band’s hotel rooms where he insisted I also talk to drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley. I was surprised Criss, sans makeup looked quite old with his graying hair, but he gave me a great insight into the success of his ballad `Beth’ which was currently topping the charts. Frehley, sans makeup, boasted the sharp, high cheek boned-features of a Native American and wasn’t particularly coherent. Overall, though, it was quite a revealing look at such a superstar unit.
Styx was interviewed in a McDonald’s restaurant on MacLeod Trail. They were touring on a package with Black Oak Arkansas and Ronnie Montrose. Day after the concert, these keep-fit boys were playing squash at a local club. Following their workout, I met for the interview and they decided to execute it the nearby fast-food outlet.
The scene inside the restaurant was surreal. There I am chatting with Dennis DeYoung, J.Y Young and Tommy Shaw, and these Styx members were definitely recognized. It was amusing to watch kids, pointing at us and gossiping to their mates. One or two nervously walked towards us, but couldn’t believe the band they had seen in concert the night before, were actually sitting in the same McDonald’s! Finally, one brave soul summoned the nerve to ask Shaw if indeed they were Styx. Upon receiving an affirmative, all hell broke loose as kids swarmed forward. Things got so hectic I ended up concluding the interview back at their hotel.
Photography By:Charles Hope (Queen, Kiss), Ian Mark (Thin Lizzy)
Music Express: The Rise and Fall of a Canadian Music Icon
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