May 17 -Fairbairn Was More Than A Just Fair Producer

If you’re a musician and people compare you to a Beatle, you’ve done something right. If you’re a music producer and people – what’s more British ones – compare you to George Martin, it’s equally true. You’ve done something right. Today we remember a producer who did many things right, Bruce Fairbairn. He passed away at a young age of 49 on this day in 1999.

Fairbairn helped put Vancouver on the musical map, never traveling far afield from his Canadian home city for work. Like many other musical legends, he took to music early, learning to play by age five. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bruce’s instrument of choice wasn’t the piano (which he could play tolerably well), nor guitar (which Jon Bon Jovi joked you couldn’t bribe him to pick up) but the trumpet! As a kid he played in various community brass bands, but by his high school years he’d developed a love of rock…but still loved playing his trumpet. He joined his first band in high school, one called Sunshyne, which from most accounts was probably inspired by the likes of Chicago and Lighthouse. With them was Jim Vallance, who later became famous as a songwriter, most notably working with fellow Vancouverite Bryan Adams, having credits on many of his hits like “Heaven” and “Summer of ’69”. By 1977, Sunshyne had changed their sound a little to a more typical pop-rock one, scored a record deal and changed their name to Prism. While Fairbairn never was an official member (partly because he didn’t want to tour apparently), he added horns as needed and more importantly produced the band’s records and worked as a defacto manager for them. They did respectably well in the late-’70s and early-’80s at home with songs like “Spaceship Superstar” and “Armageddon”, and even managed to have one single do better in the U.S. than Canada – 1981’s “Don’t Let Him Know” which made the American top 40 and was even a #1 hit on Billboard‘s rock chart.

As his work with Prism diminished in the ’80s, his workload on everything else increased. He became the in-house producer at the city’s Little Mountain Sound. One of the first acts he produced there was Rock & Hyde, a local band who’d done well domestically under the name Payola$. They didn’t manage to duplicate the success under the new name, but the pairing was beneficial nonetheless. Fairbairn hired Bob Rock of that band as an assistant. Rock himself would soon go on to major success in the studio. Before long international acts were making the pilgrimage to Canada’s West Coast to have Bruce produce for them. Among the first, Bon Jovi. Fairbairn produced their Slippery When Wet, and he and Jon hit it off immediately. Bon Jovi says “for the first time, we were allowed to be us in the studio.” Probably typical of many band’s reactions there; Fairbairn said “the producer is just there to enhance what the band has done. It’s like baking a cake with lots of icing.” He also offered that “I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many different talents, but Bon Jovi may be the finest… they were a joy.” Slippery when Wet elevated the New Jersey band to superstar status, eventually selling over 25 million copies. They returned to record the next one, New Jersey, Together the two albums sold close to 50 million and saw the band end the decade with a string of eight-straight U.S. top 10 singles, half of them #1s.

That kind of success of course generated interest in Bruce and the Vancouver studio. Aerosmith’s label, Geffen, instructed them to go there for the 1987 album Permanent Vacation after a string of albums which had only lukewarm success. It became their biggest seller since ’75’s Toys in the Attic, and according to Steven Tyler, “saved our career.” They returned twice more to create a trio of albums he considers their best. Through the late-’80s and ’90s, Fairbairn worked with a host of international stars including AC/DC, the Cranberries and even Chicago, as well as lesser known acts from his homeland like Strange Advance. By the end of the ’90s, he’d produced six albums that sold in excess of five million copies and had won the Juno Award for Producer of the Year three times.

In spring ’99, he had made plans to do another album with Bon Jovi, but was working with Yes when he died suddenly – Jon Anderson of that band had the unfortunate occasion to find his body. It’s believed Fairbairn had a heart attack. Yes performed at a memorial service for him. Noting his passing, Britain’s The Guardian compared him to George Martin and called him “the King of Heavy Metal Producers.” Something we bet a little five year old with a horn would have never guessed he’d ascend to.


May 11 – Jamaica’s Main Man Marley, Reggae Ambassador To The World

The world lost a good one and a musical trailblazer 42 years back. Remembering one of Jamaica’s most beloved native sons, Bob Marley. The most famous and acclaimed reggae musician in the world died on this day in 1981 in Miami at the young age of 36 from wide-ranging cancers.

Marley began his career around 1963 with The Wailers, around the time he switched from the Catholicism of his youth to Rasta, a Christian sect which believed in not cutting one’s hair and smoking pot as a sacrament. As Rolling Stone would note, Marley “almost single-handedly brought reggae to the world,” first by writing “I Shot the Sheriff” which was made a hit by Eric Clapton, and later with his own recordings (particularly those from the mid-’70s when he’d moved to London) such as “Jammin’”, “Could You Be Loved?” and, “No Woman No Cry” which was the first of 13 top 20 hits for him in the UK. Of those, six came posthumously for him, including “Buffalo Soldier” which at #4 was his highest-charter. Although never played by Casey Kasem – he had no American top 40 singles – his popularity is obviously huge and his Legend greatest hits album has gone 15X platinum in the U.S. and has spent over 700 weeks on the Billboard album chart, second-most ever (behind Dark Side of the Moon.)

He was given a State Funeral and the Jamaican Prime Minister, Edward Seaga delivered Marley’s eulogy, saying “his voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world…he was an experience which left an indelible imprint.” Soon after he awarded Marley the Jamaican Order of Merit, the start of the head Wailers growing posthumous importance. In 1994 he was elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ; in 2004 he was in the first group of musicians honored at the UK Music Hall of Fame and the same year Rolling Stone labeled him the 11th greatest artist of all-time. They lauded him by noting “Marley came from the poverty and injustice…that manifested itself in his rebel sound,” and compared him to John Lennon with their ideas “that through music, empowerment and words you can really come up with world peace.”

These days, his son Ziggy carries on the music and message of his dad.

May 3 – Gord’s Final Sundown

A sad day for the music world and his family and friends…but a great day in Heaven.” So reacted retired baseball manager John Gibbons upon hearing the sad news we woke up to yesterday, that Gordon Lightfoot had passed away the Monday evening. The fact that someone from the sports world would say that was just one indication of how impactful Ol’ Gord was on the lives of an entire generation. Lightfoot was 84 and passed away “peacefully” in a Toronto hospital according to his family (he’s survived by wife Kim and six children) after an undisclosed illness which recently caused him to cancel a tour. He tried to play right up to the end; he had quipped “if I’ still pickin’ , I’m still kickin’”.

Gordon had of course been one of the pre-eminent voices (not to mention talented 12-string guitar players) of the Folk scene since the mid-’60s. So much so Bob Dylan called him a “mentor” and would famously say “every time I hear a song of his, it’s like, I wish it would last forever!”. In the ’70s, his popularity took off, with worldwide hits from songs like “If You Could Read My Mind”, “Sundown” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. And, “Rainy Day People” which actually hit the U.S. top 40 this very day in 1975. It was from his tenth album, Cold On the Shoulder, and it made it into the top 10 at home and #26 in the States, where it was his fourth top 40. He’d garner two more; in Canada it was his 16th, and some legendary album tracks of his like the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” weren’t even included as they weren’t 7” singles. Many a wedding reception were kicked off with his song “Beautiful”. Little wonder his “best of”, Gord’s Gold is double-platinum in both countries.

Lightfoot’s distinctive timbre, fine guitar work and ear for a melody made him a favorite of Canadians…and of musicians elsewhere. As noted, Bob Dylan loved his work and besides fellow Canucks like Sarah Mclachlan and Blue Rodeo, artists like Johnny Cash, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley and even Jane’s Addiction have covered his songs. He said Elvis’ take on his “Early Morning Rain” was impressive and “probably the most important recording that I have by another artist.”

Many responded to the news of his death, including Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau who suggested “Gordon Lightfoot captured our country’s spirit in his music and in doing so, he helped shape Canada’s soundscape. May his music continue to inspire future generations.” Bryan Adams noted “this one is really hard to write…I was lucky enough to say Gordon was a friend, and I’m gutted knowing he is gone.” The Toronto Sun pointed out that the famous Massey Hall in the city was nicknamed “Gord’s Room” because he played there so frequently, to which he had said “it became my place for me to worship the crowd, not for them to worship me.”

Worship” might be a tad strong, but many looked upto him as a musical hero and a big part of the soundtrack to their childhood or youth. As Kiefer Sutherland says “”Canada’s lost part of itself. And I lost a hero.”. RIP, Gord, thanks for all that Gold, eh.

April 28 – Remembering Buckwheat

Remembering a big man on the Texas scene who passed away this day in 1988. Sadly, B.W. Stevenson was just 38 at the time. Like his lifelong friend Michael Murphey, B.W. was essentially a country artist who had the odd luck of starting his career with a pop hit that had him labeled a “one hit wonder”. Unlike Murphey however, Stevenson’s country career didn’t take off very much.

B.W. was born Louis, but picked up the nickname “Buckwheat” while young, growing up in Dallas and shortened that to just “BW”. He played guitar and sang in a few rock bands in his home city as a teen but was shipped off to the Air Force during the Vietnam era and when he came home, he moved to Austin to be a part of the fast-growing music scene there. And that he did. In fact, he was supposed to be the very first artist on the then-new Austin City Limits show, but producers didn’t think the quality of their recording was good enough, so he was passed over for his friend Willie Nelson instead.

Stevenson got signed to RCA in 1972, and put out an album that went largely unnoticed. That changed in ’73 though as he collaborated with songwriter Daniel Moore. Moore had written the song “Shambala”. Stevenson recorded it and had it out as a single; unfortunately for him but lucratively for Moore, Three Dog Night also recorded it and put it out as a single just two weeks later. Theirs was the hit version.

But he got back together with Moore and they decided to more or less re-write “Shambala” as a love song to a woman. Moore had lyrics lying around for “My Maria” for two years, but couldn’t get it to sound right. “I showed it to him. Of course, he wrote the rest of the lyrics in about 15 minutes. Bless his heart.”

The song was a breakthrough hit on Top 40 radio and easy-listening stations, hitting #9 domestically and #7 in Canada. It sold nearly a million copies. Maybe it should be no surprise it was a pop hit – Wrecking Crew members Jim Gordon and Joe Osborn played on it and David Kershenbaum (a future executive with A&M who spearheaded Joe Jackson’s career) produced. Happily for Moore and Stevenson’s estate, country act Brooks & Dunn recorded a version in 1996, which was the #1 country song of that year and to date has been played over six million times on radio!

Following that, he recorded four albums which garnered decent reviews but sparse sales. His last album, Lifeline, was a Christian pop one and handed him a hit on that specialized radio genre, “Heading Home.

Sadly he died very young, due to weird complications from heart surgery. He’d just moved to Nashville with his wife and young baby, and though the surgery itself went fine, he got a Staph infection from it and died from that.

In case you’re wondering, he finally did get on Austin City Limits, in 1976. And he got to work with that show’s first performer, Willie Nelson, recording a duet with him “Heart of the Country.”

April 19 – The Sad Postscript For A Happy Songster

A great, multi-talented musician integral to two of the biggest, most fun hits of the ’80s and a tragic twist ending. We remember Greg Ham today, 11 years after he died at age 58.

Ham was Colin Hay’s sidekick in Men At Work. He grew up in Melbourne, Australia and had been friends with Hay since a young teen. Not surprisingly, he joined Men At Work from the get-go, being a talented player who could handle saxophone and other horns, flutes, harmonicas, most keyboards, even guitars to some degree. He wrote and sang lead on the song “Helpless Automation” on their debut, Business as Usual, as well as co-writing the third single, “Be Good Johnny” (on which he delivers the spoken word bits like “you sure are a strange boy Johnny”) and played an assortment of the mentioned instruments. Most notable however, was his sax work on “Who Can it Be Now?” and the haunting flute melody on “Down Under”… which would indeed come back to haunt him.

He contributed a song, “I Like to” to their sophomore release, Cargo, while once again playing anything from keyboards to sax, and stuck it out for their poorly-received third album, Two Hearts after Hay had fired a couple of members. When Men At Work reformed in 1996, as a touring act, he was the only original member to be with Hay consistently.

In the downtime, he worked in an R&B outfit called Relax with Max, which drew some attention in his homeland and opened for Kylie Minogue at times. Then he went on to teach guitar and other instruments in school.

Although Men At Work weren’t a big-seller or huge draw anymore in the 2000s, with the money from the perhaps 30 million-selling Business as Usual, Ham was presumably comfortable in his life in Victoria, Australia. Until that flute came back.

Turns out there was quite a similarity between Ham’s flute bits on “Down Under” to an Aussie kids song from the 1930s, “Kookaburra”. Many knew that song Down Under, and most if they gave it any thought at all, presumed it was old enough to be in the public domain. Turns out that wasn’t the case however, and when rights were bought by a publisher (Larrikin Music) they jumped on Men At Work and Columbia Records, suing for plagiarism in 2009.

The band said they hadn’t knowingly copied any song for theirs, but the lawsuit dragged. Eventually Larrikin won, although they were no doubt disappointed by the ruling, since the judge only gave them 5% of revenues from the song, and only from 2002 on… likely only a few thousand dollars. The trial took a heavy toll on Hay and Ham though. The flute player was hurt that he was accused of stealing a tune and apparently one of the last things he said to his buddy was “I’m terribly disappointed that that’s the way I’m going to be remembered – for copying something.” Hay says Ham’s condition deteriorated through the trial and he began over-drinking.

Sadly, Greg was found dead in his house in 2011. Speculation was rampant; some suggested he was a heroin addict and had OD’d, others suggested he commit suicide. But a police search of his home and an autopsy found nothing suspicious and it was chalked up to a heart attack.

Still that does nothing to placate his friends… particularly Colin Hay’s. Hay says his buddy was “a great, great friend” and the funniest guy he knew as well as “a very inspired and instinctive musician.” Others called him “polite” and “humble.” Hay attributes Greg’s death directly to being sued and that’s not all. He believes it also “knocked off” his own father, Jim, who died while the trial was going on. “He knew that when I wrote the song, there was nothing appropriated from anybody,” the son said. “He was incensed. The smoke would come out of his ears!”

So, if you’re keeping score, it’s another win for music lawyers and another loss for musicians…and humankind in general.

April 1 – Sad End To Motown Great

What’s going on?? Yesterday was the 28th anniversary of rising Tejano-pop crossover star Selena being slain by her fanclub president. Today we look back a little farther, to this day in 1984 when one of the great R&B artists of all-time, was shot dead by his father! Marvin Gaye, a day shy of his 45th birthday, was killed at his parents L.A. home around lunchtime, by his dad Marvin Gay Sr.

You’ll notice that the singer had changed the spelling of his last name. He’d done that not only to lessen innuendo about his sexual orientation but also to distance himself from his violent dad with whom he’d always had a pretty rocky relationship, it would seem. Gaye appeared to be on the brink of a major career renaissance, riding high on his first CBS Records release, Midnight Love, and its possibly cringe-worthy smash hit “Sexual Healing”. The album had been the biggest of his career and the single his first top 10 at home in five years and only his second in ten; the single his fourth career #1 after “I Heard It Through The Grapevine“, “Let’s Get It On” and “Got To Give It Up”. It topped Billboard‘s “Black” chart for 10 weeks and was named by them the R&B hit of the entire decade. This came after a long period of commercial and personal decline for Marvin; his Motown records had pretty much stopped selling, he had a very heavy cocaine problem and had only just returned from Europe where he’d been hiding out from the IRS (to whom he owed tax money.)

On the fateful day, his parents had apparently been fighting for hours, Marvin intervened, started hitting his dad (a minister, believe it or not) who in turn shot him at point blank range. Senior was charged with murder but eventually got a suspended sentence for manslaughter because of his own illness – apparently he had a brain tumor – and evidence Gaye had initiated the physical fight and was high at the time.

“Gone but not forgotten” certainly applies to Marvin however. His reputation and respect have grown substantially since his death, with him being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in only its second year and his 1971 album What’s Going On recently being chosen by Rolling Stone as their greatest album of all-time.

March 11 – After Winning A Six-pack Of Record Of The Years, More People Should Have Known Hal’s Name

Remembering fondly one of rock’s all-time greats, who passed away four years ago today. Few have been a part of so much of the soundtrack to the ’60s and ’70s; fewer still were less well known than Hal Blaine. The Massachusetts-born, California-residing drummer passed away at age 90 from natural causes this day in 2019.

We’ve heard of John Bonham, we’ve heard of Charlie Watts, and of course Ringo, yet all of them combined arguably had their sticks in fewer hit records than Blaine. The busy drummer was the erstwhile leader of the Wrecking Crew, the loosely-aligned group of super studio musicians who seemed to be on almost every record made in California… and then some… in the ’60s. Among the others in the Crew were bassist Carol Kaye who’s still around, as well as Glen Campbell and keyboardist Larry Knetchel, both of whom proceeded Blaine into the great beyond.

Blaine began his career playing in strip clubs in the post-war era and soon was backing Count Basie. By the early-’60s rock was taking over – but many of the artists exceled at singing and performing, not actually playing their instruments. A demand for quality studio musicians arose, and Blaine answered the call, and got together with the various talents who made up the Wrecking Crew. Of course, at first he met with resistance from both the bosses and the artists, in many cases. “A lot of people thought (rock & roll) was a dirty word. They didn’t want to hear that kind of music. They had no idea we were all well-learned and well-studied musicians,” he remembered. In fact, some executives saw them in their studios, in Levis and smoking and worried they were “wrecking” music – hence the nickname. But soon those execs would catch on!

His role as drummer/percussionist was especially important on some of the early rock records. “The beat was always essential,” he’d say years later. “A single had to feel solid, and pop and make people want to get up and move. That’s why people bought them.” And making a beat people wanted to move to was something that came naturally to Hal, as we hear on some of his old hits like Elvis’ “Return to Sender” and the iconic Ronettes “Be My Baby”. Of that Rolling Stone noted, “if (he) had played drums only on the Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ his name would still be uttered with reverence. But he was so much more.”

Besides working on some of Motown’s greats by the likes of The Supremes, he changed with the sound of the day. Famously he was recruited by the Beach Boys for their brilliant Pet Sounds album, even though Dennis Wilson was officially their drummer. He recalled Wilson loving it when he would sit in on the kit in the studio, so the Beach Boy could go out and surf or ride his motorcycle. His contribution was not unnoticed by Brian Wilson of the band who says “Hal taught me a lot and had so much to do with our success. He was the greatest drummer ever.” Something echoed by Toto’s Steve Lukather, who after hearing of Blaine’s death said “there will never be another. Go Google the hits he played on!” Hits that included at least 40 #1 singles, ranging from Neil Diamond to John Denver to Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” and an unprecedented streak of 6-straight Grammy Record of the Year winners, from Herb Albert’s “A Taste of Honey” for 1965 through Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” for 1970, with Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”, the 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up & Away” and “”Aquarius” as well as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” in the years between. He was Sinatra’s preferred drummer, and so well-regarded casinos in Las Vegas put Blaine’s name on the marquee with Sinatra’s, albeit in a smaller text. On “Bridge over Troubled Water”, he  not only tackled the drums, but dragged some chains around on a concrete floor, part of the reason Rolling Stone ranked him as the fifth greatest drummer of all-time, saying his “true legacy is his chameleon-like adaptability to any session.” Add in numerous hits from artists ranging from the Righteous Brothers to Elvis Presley and no wonder when Jimmy Webb won a Song of the Year Grammy he would later say all he could remember about getting the award was being sure to thank Hal Blaine!

So, sadly now most of us to whom he was anonymous in life now know his name in death. Those wanting to know more about Hal and the Wrecking Crew should check out the documentary of that name, which interviews Hal as well as Carol Kaye and Tommy Tedesco in depth and add great clips from their heyday as well as with other Crew-members like Leon Russell. Undeservedly little-known as he was, I don’t think he’d want us feeling too sorry for him. He loved drumming, he loved music and as he mentioned to Modern Drummer, “I’ve had 263 gold and platinum records, made literally a couple of million bucks. So I was laughing all the way to the bank.” And I imagine. going to the bank walking in 4/4 time!

March 8 – The First ‘Fifth Beatle’

The “Fifth Beatle” passed away in his sleep at the ripe old age of 90 on this day seven years ago. George Martin might never have become a household name had he not liked John Lennon & Paul McCartney’s harmonies and George Harrison’s wit.

After all, initially he called the Beatles “rather unpromising” when Brian Epstein first played a demo for him in 1962. “They had that idiotic sense of humor that I love too, and that made me want to be with them,” he later explained. Before that he’d produced mainly comedy records for the likes of Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. And, as he says, back then being a producer meant “I was responsible for the work on that label. I had to choose not only the artists but what they were doing, make sure they were going to make a record that was going to sell.” Back at that point, Martin was largely a fan of classical music and rock & roll was rather foreign to Britain anyway, so he went in to work with them rather “blind.” That helped along the way as he went on to add to many Beatles songs, like adding the strings to “Yesterday” (initially against Paul’s wishes) and “Eleanor Rigby” as well as adding his own piano work to songs like “Lovely Rita.” He was quite a good keyboardist and expert in arranging string sections and in fact whole orchestras, as we also found out on “All You Need is Love”, . Although he was used to working with simple consoles and spoken word before the music of the Beatles, soon he got to be proficient as their producer, with his studio magic including mixing together two different recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever” to make the single we know and the funky organ on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. After the Beatles broke up, he continued to work with Paul on several of his records, like “Live and Let Die’ (for which Martin composed the movie score) and “Ebony & Ivory” but was distant from John, who said he “took too much credit for Beatles music.” Julian Lennon saw things differently though. “The fifth Beatle, without a doubt.” Although manager Brian Epstein has also been referred to as such , and later Billy Preston who played such big part in their final year as a band and the famed “rooftop concert“, it seems fair to say no one other person had more to do with making The Beatles, well, The Beatles than Martin.

He also produced hits in the ’70s and ’80s for the likes of America, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck and Little River Band and won one of his six Grammys for his work on The Who’s stage version of Tommy in 1993. Fittingly, Martin was one of the first producers enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1999. 

February 23 – The Week The Upstart Upended The Boss

A British David vs Goliath battle of sorts this day in 1985 saw the little guy winning. That was the day The Smiths hit #1 on the album charts over there…knocking “the Boss”, Bruce Springsteen off the top. Brits were buying Meat is Murder in bigger quantities than Born in the U.S.A. that week, which is a bigger deal than it might seem at first glance.

You see, while Springsteen was an established superstar on one of the world’s biggest record labels, Columbia, The Smiths were quite new and on a tiny, indie label, Rough Trade. Britain has had its share of little, feisty indie labels as long as there’s been recorded music it seems, but they really took off when punk did, around 1977. Sort of makes sense, punk was supposedly rebelling against the establishment, so why not have a distributor that was doing the same. Or perhaps, many punk and alternative acts simply couldn’t get a deal with the biggies like Columbia, Warner Bros. or MCA. So many artists put out records on these little labels that the Official Charts began a separate chart for “indie singles” by 1980. This because, those little labels often had spotty distribution (some large chains didn’t want to be bothered stocking them, and merely shipping the records out across the whole land might have been difficult for some companies) and vastly smaller marketing budgets than the major labels did. Thankfully, there were a lot of independent record shops as well, and a few prominent media types like John Peel on the BBC who kept an ear to the ground and regularly played and promoted some of the up-and-coming acts.

The Smiths, as noted were on Rough Trade, and for you Canadians wondering, no, it wasn’t associated with Toronto punk-ish band Rough Trade but did take its name from them. It was started by Geoff Travis in 1976. Geoff at the time ran an indie record store in London’s Notting Hill district, and he seemingly had the idea of helping along some of the new acts that were customers of his put out records. Their first release was in early-’77, a single by Metal Urbain. That didn’t exactly set the sales tallies aflame, but Rough Trade was up and running. Soon after, they put out their first whole LP, Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers. That one did catch on, and in fact got to #14 in the UK, a record for an indie release at the time, and sold past 100 000 copies – good enough for a gold record there. Pretty impressive for a company run from a High Fidelity-style shop! Travis also endeared himself to other indie music types by starting a distribution company that got indie records by other small labels like 4AD and Factory to the shops.

Soon after he’d signed Scritti Politti, who shared his leftist political ideas. Travis in fact tried to run Rough Trade as a co-op rather than a traditional corporation. Their fortunes were elevated greatly though when he came across and signed the Smiths in 1983. The Manchester quartet caught the public’s attention right away with the refreshing combination of Johnny Marr’s jangly guitars and Morrissey’s dour lyrics and vocal delivery. The Brit press went crazy for them, and their second single, “This Charming Man” – also on Rough Trade – went platinum.

Of course, The Smiths in-fighting kept their time in the spotlight to a few short years, and after they disbanded, Rough Trade would falter. By the end of the decade, it had gone bankrupt but Travis, never one to give up easily, resurrected it in the ’90s and had The Strokes among other acts on it.

The Smiths would have a couple more big albums, but not #1 ones, although one of their greatest hits albums did do so in 1992, but by that time Warner Bros. had their account. After Meat is Murder, the next indie album to top British charts was The Innocents by Erasure in 1988.

As for the “Goliath”, it’s probable Bruce Springsteen didn’t really notice his album dipping from #1 overseas. Although it spent one short week at #1 in the UK (though later it would return to the top that summer), it had spent seven weeks at #1 in the U.S. and was well on its way towards its 17X platinum sales there.

February 22 – Bowie’s Black Star Shone On Brightly

Gone but not forgotten is one apt way to summarize David Bowie. There was plenty of evidence of that this day in 2017 when Britain’s main music awards, the Brits recognized him posthumously. Bowie won the “Best British Male Solo” performer and “Best Album” award, the latter for Blackstar, the grim album released only days before his death.

For Bowie, it was his third trophy for Best Male, with past wins in 1984 and 2014; the album award was his first. It was the first time either had been awarded posthumously in the awards 40 years. the three Best Male awards ties him with Phil Collins and Paul Weller, trailing (strangely to us North Americans) Robbie Williams who’s taken it four times. The award for Album of the Year was picked up by his son Duncan, who said if there was one thing he’d want his own son to know about David, it was that he “was always there for people who were a bit different” and said in closing, “this award is for the kooks!”

It came only days after Bowie had cleaned up, again posthumously, at the Grammys, winning four including Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Rock Album. Prior to that, he’d only won one “regular” Grammy (for the “Blue Jean” video) plus a Lifetime Achievement recognition there.