Ankle deep in cow manure!

Truth is the launch of Alberta Music Express (as it was originally titled) was purely an act of revenge against my then employers, The Calgary Herald.

Rolling into the summer of 1976, starting a music magazine was the last thought on my mind. Having joined the Herald’s sports department in March 1972, straight from Cambrian College, North Bay (now called Canadore) at the age of 19, I was happily settling into a career as a junior sports writer on a six-man staff in which the next youngest member was 42 years old.

This meant that while the other five members all had their established beats (Calgary Stampeders, Calgary Centennials (Junior A Hockey), Varsity sports, Golf, Baseball; I was assigned a whole range of minor sports from high school activities, Junior A Tier Two hockey, plus all the British sports (soccer, rugby cricket) which reflected my Manchester England heritage.

Meeting a legend, Keith Sharp's first chat with BTO's Randy Bachman
Meeting a legend, Keith Sharp’s first chat with BTO’s Randy Bachman
Keith Sharp interviews Randy Bachman[/caption]In four short years, I covered the 1975 Calgary Grey Cup Final (Montreal 9 Edmonton 8), like the coldest final ever! Spent two weeks in Czechoslovakia with the Calgary Spurs Midget Hockey team (national champions) in 1976 as well as establish a reputation as a hustling young writer. But by the summer of 76, I took steps to eventually toss all of this away.

One of the beats that went with the territory of being a rookie writer was the dreaded Calgary Stampede. You are no doubt aware that the Calgary Stampede is a famous rodeo and entertainment festival staged in this city during the first 10 days of each July.

To tourists and pro rodeo athletes alike, the Stampede is a spectacle of rodeo events, chuck wagon races, parades, pancake breakfasts and major stars performing each evening at the Stampede Grandstand. Being such a major news event, the Herald sports department is obliged to provide extensive coverage – which meant yours truly got stuck with this gig for four years running.

Trust me; there was nothing more gruelling than trudging through cow and horse crap for 10 straight days, interviewing some cowboy about his performance on a bull or a stallion, only to hear that his score had just been beaten by someone else whilst you are still talking to him.

Still, when it came to 1976, I was looking for a new challenge – which surprisingly came from the Herald’s entertainment department. Aside from the Rodeo, several major recording artists annually performed at the Stampede and this year, Calgary’s own Stampeders rock band were headlining on a Thursday night.

Now you need to know that the resident music critic at the Herald at the time of my arrival was a chap called Eugene Chadbourne. Eugene was a talented jazz-fusion guitarist in his own right – but he totally hated pop music and felt that actually interviewing musicians was beneath him – which made him an odd choice for the job as the Herald’s music muse!!!

[quote]Another positive review in the Herald? What the hell was going on?[/quote]Being 19 when I first joined the Herald and being a major music fan, I was able to worm my way into a bunch of free concerts, eventually befriending David Horodezky, the city’s top concert promoter with Brimstone Productions. Through this connection, I had access to see Bachman Turner Overdrive (with Bob Seger), and Chicago at McMahon Stadium and a number of shows at the Jubilee Auditorium and The Corral Arena (including a memorable concert by Queen). But I never envisioned my career deviating from sports. Chatting with Eugene during lunch breaks in the Herald cafeteria, I was able to score a few free LPs off him to review in the weekend entertainment section. An initial break came when Shelly Segal, owner of Vancouver-based Mushroom Records, called Chadbourne to ask if he was interested in interviewing the label’s debut band, Heart, who were opening for ZZ Top at The Corral.

Shooting the breeze with Bachman and Polygram Record reps Barry Shoesmith and Mike Stetch
This was March 1975. Chadbourne (as usual) passed on the interview, but did suggest I should tackle it. No worries, I jumped at the chance to meet Shelly and the Wilson sisters, Anne and Nancy at the Crowne Plaza hotel (now called the Marriot).

It was my first ever music interview but Heart had an amazing story to tell (band member Mike Fisher draft dodges from Seattle to Vancouver, Anne Wilson chases after him, joined by Roger Fisher and Anne’s sister Nancy, to create the nucleus of Heart) I was particularly impressed that Segal funded the band out of his own pocket. I found the Wilsons to be very engaging (and both stunningly attractive), their debut LP “Dreamboat Annie” proved to be a future rock classic – and shock of all shocks, the Herald actually ran a positive music feature in its pages.

When asked to review a concert by English band, The Strawbs (with Calgarian Gaye Delorme opening), the local record industry started taking note. Another positive review in the Herald? What the hell was going on? Suddenly the Herald switchboard was receiving calls from record companies asking for Keith Sharp – and having their calls directed to the sports department.

Entertainment Editor, Pat Tivy, wasn’t too thrilled about these calls. Yet as the 1976 Stampede approached, a call came through from Stampeders’, manager Mel Shaw, suggesting – based on their upcoming concert appearance – and their original history in Cowtown, the Herald might consider running a major feature on his band.

This request was passed on to me and I jumped at the chance. Here was my opportunity to tackle an interesting story idea while avoiding that dreaded Rodeo routine. So there I was, a couple of days before their Thursday concert, hanging out with band members Rich Dodson, Ronnie King and Kim Berly in their Calgary rehearsals, getting the full lowdown on their rags to riches story. I banged off what was supposed to be a major two-page feature scheduled to run in the Saturday entertainment magazine, two days after the band’s scheduled performance. But there was a problem!

Photography by: Charles Hope (Featured Image), Ian Mark (Randy Bachman shots)


Music Express: The Rise and Fall of a Canadian Music Icon

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