Wednesday, August 29, 2007

As you may know, I am no longer at Billboard after close to 17 years. However, as I have been a music industry journalist for 40 years, I will continue writing and being a commentator on TV. I certainly have enough work at hand. This summer has been quite busy. I wrote reports for The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records, as well as Canadian Heritage.
I am now writing liner notes and an accompanying biography for Anne Murray Duets: Friends and Legends, recorded with legendary producer Phil Ramone. Anne has re-recorded some of her best-known hits with Shania Twain, Nelly Furtado, Emmylou Harris, Carole King, Jann Arden, kd lang, Isabelle Boulay, and Shelby Lynn.
While I do have several offers to write for publications, many music industry people have urged me to make continued use of my extensive e-mail list—nearing 6,000 names worldwide-- to write a regular blog. I don’t want to. Most blogs seem to be rants with little information. However, I feel an informative newsletter on the music industry in Canada—including overviews of label, retail and publishing activities as well as noting key releases—might be more appropriate.
Without a trade paper in Canada, now that The Record and RPM Weekly have gone, I think there’s room for a weekly (or so) newsletter — The LeBlanc Newsletter. It won’t be my full-time gig—Billboard certainly wasn’t—but it will hopefully shed a light on our industry. Feel free to pass it on or post it on your website when appropriate. For its debut, here’s an article on the late Doug Riley—Dr. Music—who passed away this week. I hope you enjoy it.
The LeBlanc Newsletter - August 29/07
If Toronto had a Music Row or a Broadway, its lights would be dimmed this week in the memory of 62-year-old keyboardist/arranger/producer Doug Riley, who passed away Monday (Aug. 27). He was en route from Calgary back to his home in Little Pond, Prince Edward Island, after headlining a jazz and blues festival. Today (Aug. 29), Doug’s wife, Jan, and their sons - Ben, a 31-year-old drummer, and Jesse, a 28-year-old police officer - are in Toronto to meet the body and return it to Prince Edward Island.
Doug-- a Canadian mix of Duke Ellington, Allen Toussaint, and Henry Mancini-- was not a household name to Canadians, although he was awarded the Order of Canada in 2004. However, widely known as "Dr. Music", his music was played in almost every Canadian home for decades. The loss to Canadian cultural life is immeasurable.
Only a handful of top musicians in this country past age 35 didn't work with Doug in one project or another over the years. His workload--from writing three ballets for the National Ballet to doing jingles and recordings and working alongside symphony orchestras and with Placido Domingo, Measha Bruggergosman, and Ofra Harnoy--was staggering.
Born April 24, 1945, in Toronto, Doug suffered from polio as a child and took to the piano as a way of expressing his creativity. At four, he took lessons in classical piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Later, in Montreal, he studied pipe organ with Harry Duckworth at St. Anne de Belleville Church and piano with Paul DeMarky.
"Ray Charles was my first influence outside of boogie woogie and stride pianists like Albert Ammons and Fats Waller", said Doug in a 2006 interview with the Toronto Star. “When I was six, I discovered jazz from my dad's stride and boogie piano 78s - Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller - I had perfect pitch so I learned from the records.”
Doug went on to earn a Bachelor of Music in composition from the University of Toronto while playing on the local R&B circuit. Forty years ago, Toronto was a British WASP backwater with its best-known musical exports being the vocal acts The Diamonds, The Four Lads and The Rover Boys.
In the 1960s, as pop music took hold internationally, Toronto became the music mecca of Canada. On the Yonge Street strip downtown, Arkansas rockabilly cat Ronnie Hawkins, backed by Levon & the Hawks (later renamed The Band), reigned at Le Coq d'Or. A handful of clubs on Yonge Street, like the Friar’s Tavern, The Zanzibar, The Bluenote, and the Colonial Tavern booked local bands. Most local bands, however, played the Southern Ontario high school circuit booked by the Ron Scribner Agency (later renamed The Bigland Agency). This included such R&B bands as The Lincolns, Little Diane and the Starlights, David Clayton-Thomas and The Shays, R.K. and the Associates, Ritchie Knight and the Midnights, the Du-Kanes, Little Caesar and the Consuls, The Five Rogues, and The Silhouette Review featuring Dianne Brooks, Jack Hardin and Little JoAnne.
I met Doug during this period when he played with the Silhouettes. I booked them several times at Dunbarton High School in Pickering and saw them play such hot club spots as The Gogue Inn, The Bluenote, and The Hawks Nest.
My life turned around in 1964 when Doug’s close friend and long-time collaborator, David Clayton-Thomas, released a smoky, funky rendition of John Lee Hooker’s "Boom Boom" with his band, The Shays. It was only a regional hit, but it had a vocal that stopped you in your tracks. The single was one of the reasons I wanted to cover the local music scene as a music journalist. Clayton-Thomas later made his mark, with some encouragement from Doug, more forcibly with his next band, The of the first rock bands anywhere to incorporate jazz musicians. In 1966, the band released the explosive anti-war single "Brainwashed", a jazz piano/rock guitar roar of fear and refusal, tougher than any rock recording you can name from the era.
In Yorkville Village's bustling coffeehouse and club scene then, we heard bands such as The Mandala, The Ugly Ducklings, Jack London & The Sparrows (later renamed Steppenwolf), The Paupers, Luke and the Apostles, Jon & Lee and The Checkmates, and The Mynah Birds (featuring Rick James and Neil Young), as well as such Canadian folk acts as Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie. There also was a growing jazz scene there downtown, highlighted by the superb musicianship of Doug Riley as well as Lenny Breau, Hagood Hardy and Moe Koffman, local jazz players of dizzying technical prowess.
After Yorkville flamed out in the early '70s, and as many of these musical figures left Toronto to achieve stardom in the U.S., such local acts as Edward Bear, Motherlode, Rush, Triumph, Lighthouse, Downchild Blues Band, The Good Brothers and pianist Hagood Hardy would also make their marks on domestic and international charts.
In 1968, Doug was hired to be the second keyboardist and arranger on Ray Charles' Doing His Thing LP. Charles asked him to join his band, but Doug opted to stay in Canada. Doug had started writing music jingles in 1964 and had written over 2,000 by the early '90s, working with producer Mort Ross (with whom he co-founded the Revolver label with future Triumph member Mike Levine working A&R), and then with Tommy Ambrose and Larry Trudel.
In the early '70s, Doug became a partner in the Toronto Sound Recording Studio, the first 16-track studio in Toronto. In 1971, Moe Koffman approached GRT Records of Canada with the idea of making contemporary jazz and pop-style recordings of classical music, with Doug producing and arranging. The first, Moe Koffman Plays Bach (1971), went gold (50,000 units) in Canada, as did the 1972 follow-up, the two-album Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which featured interpretations by Koffman and by Riley of Antonio Vivaldi's compositions. In total, Doug recorded nine albums with Koffman for GRT Records of Canada before its demise in 1979.
His pop/rock ensemble, Doctor Music, also recorded for GRT and scored national hits with "Sun Goes By" and "One More Mountain To Climb." Meanwhile, Doug served as arranger/pianist for a slew of TV shows in the early '70s - "Music Machine, Tommy Ambrose's "Celebrations", "The Wolfman Jack Show", "The Ray Stevens Show", and so on. Doug served as Musical Director of the Famous People Players for over 20 years.
Over the years, Doug arranged or played on more than 300 albums, including for Dan Hill, David Clayton-Thomas, Anne Murray, Sylvia Tyson, Molly Johnson, Jake Langley, Serena Ryder, Natalie McMaster, the Brecker Brothers and Bob Seger.
“Doug was not only a simply fabulous musician with a God-given talent, but also an unassuming, sweet guy”, summed up Toronto-based publisher/producer Frank Davies in an email to industry contacts this week. Davies had worked with Doug in the '70s, and he arranged for Doug to play on Serena Ryder’s recent EMI Music Canada album, If Your Memory Serves You Well.

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