Kevin talks with Mike McCurlie of MJM Media, a marketing company that has created thousands of audio and video commercial productions for some of Canada’s best businesses over more than 35 years. A lifelong musician, Mike’s stories and experiences are certainly unique and interesting.
In this conversation, Mike covers everything from his love of music to the formation and history (and a bit about the future) of MJM Media and everything in between, including an extraordinary (but true) tale of how he spent part of his life living in a treehouse!
Mike also gives some terrific insights on marketing, why using music effectively makes a message so memorable, and how marketing has changed over the years. The tidbits he provides should prove valuable to any business looking to get their message across and stand out in today’s market.
To access Mike’s Blog or to see any of the videos or other content referenced in the discussion, the best place to start would be to go directly to the the MJM Media page. All their social channels are clearly linked from there.
Special thanks to Allstage for their support of the No Schedule Man podcast!
Kevin is joined by Jim McCormick, founder of Allstage and the classic rock band, Bender. Jim shares many interesting and relatable stories, such as how and why he initially fell in love with drumming, burned out, gave it up for a long time and then eventually came back to it with more drive than ever.
Jim discusses how the award-winning band, Bender, came to be, how he managed through a forced career change later in life and what inspired and motivated him to create something completely new with Allstage. And in a fun example of “you never know who you’re going to meet,” Jim recalls a chance encounter with an interesting guest, backstage at the Grey Cup several year ago.
I sure love being around creative people, and it was a treat to spend some time with Chad Price recently. Chad’s stories are a box of treasures for any aspiring songwriter!
In the fourth episode of the No Schedule Man Podcast, Chad and I discuss how he first discovered and tested his talent for writing and performing, who his major influences were, reaching out to Producer Bill Bell, recording his first full-length CD, “In This Dream” and his most recent single, “Honesty,” the songwriting process and what’s coming up in 2016 and beyond. Chad also does an acoustic rendition of a song that will be on his forthcoming new album, which he hopes to release some time later this year.
In 2007, I recorded and released my first CD, a little three-song effort titled “I Remember.” The songs were all done in honour of the place where my parents grew up, a town called Wallaceburg, Ontario. And in particular, the CD release was meant to be a bit of a campaign to support an event called “WAMBO” (Wallaceburg Antique Motor and Boat Outing) because of how much it meant to my grandfather, Murray Newkirk.
On Saturday, August 8th, I’ll be back in Wallaceburg to do a performance and support the event – and the town –as best I can. It will be my first appearance there since 2008. I intend to do what I can to honour and celebrate the memory of my Grandpa Newk and two other late, great Wallaceburg citizens and friends, Chip Gordon and Al Mann.
WAMBO, now in its 27th year, is a wonderful weekend celebration that brings its town back to its heyday of casual Sydenham River traffic, wooden boats, cool cars, music, sunshine, family time and smiles all around. It almost feels like the 1950’s version of Hill Valley in the film “Back to the Future.” Seeing the town so alive as it becomes on WAMBO weekend does almost feel like you’ve gone back in time.
I have vivid memories of visiting Grandma and Grandpa for WAMBO. I treasured seeing my grandfather like a kid in a candy store, so proud and excited at all activity. He would marvel at the scores of Chris Craft wooden boats that used to be made not far away, in Algonac, Michigan.
Somewhere along the line, I wrote a song about it, and then let it sit around for many years, collecting dust. Then, after a career change in early 2007, I worked up the courage to call long time WAMBO chairperson, Chip Gordon, and asked if he’d be interested in having a kind of “theme song” for the event. He immediately asked me to come visit him at the Wallaceburg and District Museum to hear the song. He also asked town historian, Al Mann, to be at that meeting, which took place on a cold, icy day in February of that year.
I met Chip and Al at the museum and played them my “WAMBO song” (which eventually became titled “Wallaceburg”). By that time, I’d written a second song referencing my family’s history in the town, a song called “I Remember.” So I played that song for them, too, and they liked it also. It was then that Chip suggested that two songs were better than one, but that three songs would be even better! So, I responded by writing a third tune for the project, a song called “Glass” which references the old glass factory that was the engine of Wallaceburg’s economy for so many years and uses it as a bit of a metaphor for the honour in simply taking care of your responsibilities and working your way through life as best you can. “Glass” remains one of my favourite lyrics I’ve ever written.
Al kindly dug into his historical archives to provide me with photos to use for the project. Chip set me up to perform on both the Friday night and the Saturday of WAMBO that year. He even asked me to come and sit as part of the WAMBO planning committee, and I proudly attended a number of those meetings for a time.
My grandpa, Chip and Al have all since passed on, but the event remains. I got to know the current Chair of WAMBO, Bill Wolsing, during that time 8 years ago. And it was Bill who has made it possible for me to come back. He is doing an enormous amount of work to preserve the event and I am entirely grateful that he’d bother to have me back.
Life moves along pretty quickly. Looking back, I am really glad I took on that project. I am certain it meant a lot to my grandfather, especially considering he was in the latter stages of his life. And in the process of doing something that, at the time, was important to both of us, I met and became friends with all kinds of wonderful people. I am genuinely excited about going back to visit and see as many of them as I can.
So if you’re in the Chatham/Kent area on Saturday, August 8th, please think about stopping in to WAMBO for a visit. I’ll be somewhere downtown in the early afternoon, sharing those songs from “I Remember,” as well as a few from my other two CDs and some other favourites that go along with sitting by the river on a summer day.
Also, I’ll have all 3 of my CDs (“I Remember,” “No Schedule Man” and “Solo: The Return of No Schedule Man”). I will donate every single cent of any sales at WAMBO back to the event, in honour of my Grandpa Newk, Chip Gordon and Al Mann, three wonderful souls who loved the town completely and will never be forgotten.
“Home sweet home.
Hope to see you there.
I love music.
Other than the love of my kids, family and friends, there remain few things that can supercharge my soul as much as a live musical experience that reaches me in some kind of deep, personal way. And boy, did I get charged up at a charity event a little over a week ago, thanks to a band called 7T8.
If you look at the music page of my website, you’ll see that I’ve dabbled in recording and releasing a few of my own musical creations (which represent a fraction of what I’ve actually written over the years). And you might also see that it’s mostly acoustic, bordering on folk music in some cases. And that’s fine.
But I have always been a rock and roller at heart. It’s just that, to record and perform as a rock outfit, you need more people, more gear, more money, more space, more time … more everything. And so to share the few creations I have, I’ve chosen songs that I can just show up and play with my acoustic guitar and nothing more.
The point is that I’ve been through the process of recording, releasing and performing some of my own music. I know from experience that it’s not easy. Far from it. And I can only imagine how much of a challenge it would be to try and record a rock band, especially on a tight budget, and have it come out sounding good.
Last week, I met a band that’s done it. And I’m really impressed.
On March 20th, I volunteered my time to March of Dimes Canada to serve as Master of Ceremonies for their “Rock For Dimes” event here in London, Ontario. It’s essentially a “Battle of the Bands,” with terrific corporate and community support.
At “Rock for Dimes,” each band gets the opportunity to perform for a half hour. They’re judged on their musicianship, audience response, originality and overall level of quality. Most of the bands churn out classic (and some current) rock cover songs and do a fine job of it.
Before I tell the story of what happened at “Rock for Dimes,” perhaps I’l share a bit about my own musical background first. That might help make it clear why I feel I reacted so strongly to this particular experience.
I’ve been a member of a rock cover band before. Back in the late 90’s, some friends in a group they called the “River Band” approached me about joining their group as rhythm guitarist, backup vocalist and … songwriter. They had spent years playing the local clubs around Sarnia and through Lambton County (in Ontario Canada) as the “Whiskey River Band,” but when the local AM country station flipped it’s signal to an FM rock format, they dropped the “Whiskey” from their name and went for more of a pop-rock feel, and anticipated they’d want some original rock music to play. So they approached me, and asked me to write them some songs. And I did, and to this day I know I wrote some really good ones (maybe you’ll get to hear them one day).
The River Band got paid pretty well and worked steadily, thanks to the constant efforts of the band’s leader, my pal Sean Robbins (Sean was a master at getting the band booked). I jumped in with both feet, learned 40 or 50 songs within a couple of weeks and went to work as their rhythm guitarist and had a great time. But I knew all along that the payoff was to start performing and recording original music. Otherwise, I felt, what’s the point?
Coming in to the summer of 1999, we rehearsed a song I’d written that, at the time, we called “Rock the Boat” (I’ve since renamed it “Sunken Soldier”). We performed it on live TV as part of a charitable telethon in London, and got terrific feedback from it. You see, to be on TV, we had to perform original music, as we didn’t have the rights to play any one of the dozens of cover songs we’d always play in clubs and bars. So we played our own song and instantly heard from people that liked it.
A couple of weeks later, we were set to be one of the headlining bands at the annual Canada Day festivities in Centennial Park in Sarnia (some video of that show still exists, with me playing and singing lead on Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ‘69”). Our plan for that night was to perform “Rock the Boat” as part of our set to show the thousands of people who were there that night that we did, in fact, have our own music in the works. But what happened instead is that we were a little short on time and were asked to cut a song or two from our set. Despite my protests, my bandmates chose to cut “Rock the Boat,” and though we went and played that gig and had a great time of it, I knew then and there I would leave the band, because they’d had the chance to put their own work out front and didn’t.
I was not there to sing “Mustang Sally” and “Crocodile Rock.” I tolerated the cover songs so we could get to original songs. But the other guys felt the opposite (which, by the way, I completely understand. They were good at what they did and got paid pretty well to do it. I just wasn’t there for the same reasons, so I left shortly afterward).
During that time, I was always told that “You can’t go into a bar and get away with playing original music.” I always thought that was a load of bull spoken by people too scared to try. It takes guts to get up on stage at any level. But it takes real fortitude to share and stand behind your own creations. I knew I could do it, and I did, the next spring, with a band I called “Freight Train.” But that’s another story.
Writing original music, especially good original music, is harder than it looks. And to get a band to work up a good arrangement of a song is, in my opinion, even more difficult. And even after that, you’ve no guarantee the audience will like it. So it’s a lot easier to just play popular songs, where all that work is done for you.
And so, with all that in mind, let’s jump back to present time and the business at hand. I was truly intrigued when I was reading the band bios in the program at this year’s “Rock for Dimes” event. I saw that one of the bands was going to try something new. Here’s a bit about each band from that night:
There was a group called the RJ Conspiracy. I knew them from last year. They’re a group of guys who work as accountants during the week and come together to gig now and then and they do a great job with their classic rock tastes. Their take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” stood out to me. Their singer, Rick Jankura, later told me it was Peter Frampton’s version of the song. I really liked it.
Another group that had returned from the year before was a band that calls themselves the Attic Apostles. They’re a great group of guys who put a lot of energy and enthusiasm into their performance. I was happy to recognize John Raposo, their lead singer, and to get the chance to chat with him a bit. Anyone who gets up on stage and sings has my respect, and John has mine. And I was especially pleased when they took on a really tough song from one of my favourite bands, the Trews, with a wailing rock track called “Hold Me In Your Arms.” I also liked their choice of other cover songs.
A band called Oui B Jamon was back for another go. They’d actually won the event a couple years before and they are indeed a neat outfit. Though their keyboardist was the lead singer and seemed to be the focal point, it’s the guitarist, Norm Emblem, who stands out to me for his slick style and smooth sound. He was the only one to play a slide all night, and he looks and sounds cool and laid back when he plays. I enjoy watching him cruise through tunes like Skynyrd’s “Call Me the Breeze” or Thorogood’s “Move It On Over.”
One of the two new bands for this year was a group of police officers who had named their act Duty Calls. I chatted with a couple of them. Great guys. And they did a terrific job on stage with a cool mix of covers. As with Attic Apostles, Duty Calls had me smiling when they finished their set with a Trews song called “Fleeting Trust” (a great track).
Each of those bands were fun to watch and they all did a great job. It’s just that, for me, it was all stuff I’d heard before, in one way or another.
So I was very much intrigued when I read the bio of the other new band for this year, a group from Cambridge that called themselves 7T8. I liked the name straight away. But what I liked even more was reading that, though they’d started as a cover band, they quickly began to gel with each other and write their own music, and had not only begun to play some of it live, but they had also recorded and just released an EP of their own music as well.
That had my full attention.
As the band was setting up for their set, one of the members approached me, shook my hand and said, “Hi! I’m Shane. I’m the singer for the next band, 7T8. I just wanted to thank you for being the MC. You’re doing a great job. Is there anything you’d like to know about our band?”
Nobody else had asked me that, though I’d have welcomed it.
I asked Shane (who I instantly liked), “I read about you guys. Are you going to play a whole set of your own music?”
“We’re going to do a mix,” Shane said. “We’ll play some of our own songs and some other songs people will know.”
I remember my heart jumping a little bit. Shane had confirmed for me that we were going to hear something new that night. A little voice popped into my head that pleaded, “Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck.”
Let me tell you. They didn’t suck.
Impressed, I thanked Shane and wished him good luck and got out of the way as the band finished their quick set up.
A few minutes later, they nodded that they were ready, so I went back up on stage to introduce them. As I came to the end of my introduction, they sensed the timing and started playing what was, essentially, an intro to their own first song. It was the kind of sensing of momentum that most others never seem to take advantage of, and it’s always baffled me why more bands (and performers in general) don’t pick up on that sort of stuff. But the guys in 7T8 were tuned in.
As they tore in the opening chords of their first song, the hair went up on the back of my neck. I didn’t know what the song was. I’d never heard it before. But I knew I liked it, and that I was going to want to hear it again. The air in the room changed instantly. For me, it was one of those soul-grabbing, stupid-smiling, spin-you-around-the-room kind of moments that happens all too rarely.
At a time like that, it’s a lot of fun to observe people’s reactions. The crowd seemed momentarily disoriented at this band that was suddenly thundering new sounds at them with swagger and style, whereas they probably knew every other song that had been played earlier in the night, with those bands maybe not having the throttle pinned all the way to the floor the way 7T8 did. And yet, they weren’t upset. The band sounded too good for that. It was a strange mix of excitement and confusion that lasted about two minutes.
After that, 7T8 had the room. They owned it.
After grabbing the crowd by the collar with their opener, a rip-snorter of a song from their EP called “Outta My Head,” they instantly transitioned into a rollicking version of the song “Paralyzer” by Finger Eleven. Later came their EP title track, “Rebirth,” “My Hero” from the Foo Fighters and then another of their own songs. By the time they reached the end of their set, 7T8 had made it clear the competition was over for that night. They had the crowd in the palm of their hand, and finished their performance with a hair-raising rendition of the Billy Idol song “Rebel Yell.” I’ve always been lukewarm to “Rebel Yell,” but if 7T8 had made a recording of their version of the song available for sale that night, I’d have bought it without even thinking about it.
After they were done, the crowd yelled for an encore, and I don’t think they were being in any way disrespectful to the other bands. They just genuinely wanted to hear more from 7T8. I did too.
7T8’s set that night reminded me of how I’d felt so long ago, that you could play your own songs for an unfamiliar crowd, if your songs were strong enough and if you were confident about it.
I was buzzing from the experience. I was so glad I was there to see that performance. And perhaps I am overstating it, but I can only share what my sincere reaction to it was, and I felt like I’d been a part of something very rare and a whole lot of fun. It’s the kind of emotional response only music can generate for me, and it can’t be manufactured. It just happens.
As soon as I got home that night, around midnight, I chose buying and listening to 7T8’s EP over going to sleep, and I am still happy with the choice. They somehow got that right, too. It’s a fine first effort, and sounds great at maximum volume in my car. If you’re interested, you can download it HERE.
I love music, and want to thank March of Dimes for having me as their MC again to help remind me why. I also want to tip my cap to all the bands that were there that night, not just 7T8. They were all great and worked hard and played well and supported a great cause.
I think I’ll go pick up my guitar.
When concert-goers take over for the singer and deliver the vocals of a tune as one, my voice sometimes catches and I have trouble singing along. Even in the car, when the mood strikes, I will sing along with a song and, beginning to sing a harmony part, the vibrations will kick in, and my emotions will often swell up and bubble over.
Heck, I’ll even get choked up hearing thousands of people sing the national anthem en masse at a hockey game.
There’s just something about several voices blending together that makes me feel full of hope.
One of the first recollections I have of this sensation came from a Christmas Eve church service. I was just a kid. I recall that my family and I were in the balcony, the perfect spot to absorb some beautiful sounds. I’m sure there were many songs sung that evening, yet the one I recall clearly was “Silent Night.” Hearing, and feeling, all those voices collectively offering such a gentle song into the atmosphere was a wonderful thing to behold. I will never forget the feeling that overtook me when my grandmother, who was standing and singing beside me, began to sing in harmony to the rest of the congregation, during the third verse of the song. I was young enough that I didn’t really know what “harmony” was, but I vividly remember how completely beautiful it sounded and how I immediately became emotional at the sound and didn’t quite know why. It was one of the sweetest things I could ever remember hearing, and I’ve been hooked on harmony and people singing as a group ever since.
I once wrote a song lyric that says, “One voice alone can be enough to lift an angel’s wings.” I love the line, and believe it to be true. But adding a second voice can give you the vibration of harmony. Add even more, and you begin to generate an energy that fuels a real spirit of hope and togetherness.
Regardless of what you celebrate or recognize at year’s end, I bet that music is some kind of key part of it. Have you ever wondered why that is?
Music, to me, is the sound of creativity expressed and hope kept alive. If I’m right, the more voices, the better.
Four years ago today I achieved a goal I’d held for at least a decade: to complete and release a full-length CD of my own music. It was June 26, 2010, when “No Schedule Man” was finally released with a concert at the London Music Club here in London, Ontario. Much has happened since then. And looking back, I feel proud of myself for seeing the goal through to completion, and I’m glad I have those songs recorded in some form.
It took me almost a year and a half to finish the project (I documented the whole process with a weekly journal. All the entries can be found HERE). At the time, I was not enjoying the accomplishment as much as I’d been hoping to, as I was truly hurting with sciatic nerve pain caused by herniated discs in my lower back (which actually caused a two-week delay in releasing the CD). In fact, just one week after the CD release show, I decided to cancel the rest of the appearances I had booked for that summer because I was just in too much pain and wasn’t enjoying myself at all. Partly because of that, I never really felt those songs got the push they deserved.
Shortly afterwards, many significant life changes took place, including a divorce, change of address and change in career, all of which happened pretty much at the same time. In the face of that, playing the songs from “No Schedule Man” quickly fell down the list of priorities.
For the better part of two years after all that, I didn’t even really look at my guitar, let alone go anywhere and play. My mind was only on being with my two boys, keeping myself healthy and learning what I needed to learn from the life changes that had taken place. To that end, I feel grateful for the lessons I’m not sure I could have learned any other way. But there was always a part of me that felt bad about watching “No Schedule Man” sit and collect dust.
Eventually, the urge to start creating and sharing music bubbled back up. But it was different this time. There was much more patience, and even hesitation, to move forward. As I’ve written and talked about before, it was really my oldest son, Eddie, who nudged me to start working on music again, and so last summer I recorded a handful of new songs that became the acoustic EP, “Solo: The Return of No Schedule Man.” In the process of getting ready to release that collection, I went back and started rehearsing some of the songs from the original “No Schedule Man” CD again and thought, quite honestly, that there were some really good songs just sitting and waiting for me to pay them some mind again.
Now that “Solo” has also been released, my guitar is mostly quiet again, at least for now. I’m still not sure where all this fits in the scheme of a guy who makes his living as a Marketing Consultant and Radio Account Executive. But when I burden myself with trying too hard to make sense of it all, I think back to the lyrics of the “No Schedule Man” title track and remember that “No plan is all part of the plan.”
The idea of control is really a fallacy. Change is inevitable, and this present moment is truly all we have. So I strive to be more like the character I created with “No Schedule Man,” to the extent where I’ve since adopted it as a kind of “brand” for most of the things I do, and hope to be.
No Schedule Man, the character, doesn’t aim to have. He simply wants to be.
One day, I’ll give those songs the attention I always felt they deserved. In the meantime, I can look back and feel proud that they even exist in the first place, and feel emboldened about my ability to navigate through whatever changes and challenges may come from here. With that in mind, I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore and celebrate your own creativity as well, in whatever form that may be. I did, and I’m glad I did.
Happy Anniversary, No Schedule Man. I’m better for knowing you and am curious to see where we set sail next.
I recently was afforded the great pleasure of serving as Master of Ceremonies for a really neat event called “Rock for Dimes.” A key fundraising initiative for the March of Dimes Canada, the “Rock for Dimes” night featured a variety of rock bands and special guests, all coming together to help raise money and awareness for a great cause.
As I took in each performance, I was struck by the variety of music that was played, and I noted what songs were covered and what other famous artists had been represented. I was interested to see what kind of songs these performers had so deep in their souls that they would be willing to dedicate so much time and effort into rehearsing and, ultimately, sharing them on stage.
I also wondered what it was that got each of the members of these bands to pick up an instrument in the first place? It was clear that they loved what they were doing, and that they were singing and playing as an extension of their spirit, rather than just a means to an end.
It was nice to watch, and it all got me thinking about what had inspired me musically. Once I started to really think about it, I was amazed at how many wonderful things in my life have come as a result of embracing and expanding upon the music I love. I had fun looking closer at which artists and albums had actually had the largest affect on me over the years.
Most of the truly “iconic” bands were a little before my time. While I appreciate them, I never had a love affair with the Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, Queen, the Who or other bands of that caliber. In that sense, I feel I was born a decade or two too late. I bet I’d have loved following along with groups like that.
Some of the big hit-makers of the 80’s, such as AC/DC and ZZ Top, are among my favourites. I still listen to their music and enjoy them from time to time. But they didn’t particularly influence me to do or try anything beyond just listening to their songs.
The albums listed here are not necessarily my “favourites,” or the ones I still listen to the most. But each of them will have made this list for having had an incredible impact, in one way or another, on my own creativity, curiosity, thirst for further knowledge and happiness in general. To have made this list, the album had to have had a considerable influence on me in one way or another.
I consider these the 10 most influential albums in my life (so far):
Here we go:
10. Volbeat – Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies
Granted, this one is very recent, so it may be a bit of a stretch to include it here. But I’ve no doubt that Volbeat’s “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” will not only hold up over time, but will probably move even further up this list as the years go by.
A year ago right now, I had never heard of this band. I first encountered the track “Heaven Nor Hell” while listening online to an out-of-market rock station last summer. The song practically jumped out of the speakers at me. I’d not had that kind of exciting, “what the heck is that?” kind of experience in a long, long time.
I wrote down the name of the band, and looked them up online once I got home. For years, I’d hoped to find a current group that wrote heavy, solid riff-based rock but with really attractive melodies and insightful lyrics. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever find one. And so, when I did my online search, I was astounded to learn that Volbeat had been around a while, had already sold millions of records and had a very large and loyal following, particularly across Europe.
As my taste for Volbeat grew, I eventually got to “Outlaw Gentleman and Shady Ladies” and it resonated with me right away, from start to finish. I remember the first time I listened through it. I had my headphones on and was in the kitchen, preparing to make dinner. Just after the opening instrumental (“Let’s Shake Some Dust”) rattled to a close, the cold opening of “Pearl Hart” practically body-slammed me with an immediately likeable melody. I instantly giddy. That song is so infectious that it got into my bones straight away. I thought, “That was awesome, but the rest of the CD can’t possibly be this good.”
But it is.
After “Pearl Hart,” another stellar track came next. Then another. And another. And another.
I cannot pick a favourite song from the disc. Looking further into the band’s inspiration for the whole concept of the record helped me to feel the spark of my own creativity again. The excitement over hearing new music I loved as much as Volbeat got me back strumming the guitar again after having been away from it for the better part of three years. At the time, I’d been wavering on completing and/or releasing an acoustic EP I’d been working on. Volbeat’s arrival in my life helped me to see that it was important to me to finish that project, regardless of what anybody else might have thought of it.
Bonus points for this record: my 11-year-old son, Eddie, LOVES Volbeat. I don’t know why. But he does. He insisted upon seeing them live. We are going to see them in May.
It will be his first concert ever. And it’ll be with his Dad.
9. David Francey – Skating Rink
David Francey writes astonishingly beautiful songs. They are brilliant in their simplicity, in that they sound somewhat minimal at first blush, but are in fact quite complex, insightful and thought-provoking. Francey is the most efficient lyricist I’ve heard, and he packs more wallop into just one or two lines than any other artist I can think of.
This CD has had a massive influence on me. I’d have put it further up the list, except for the fact that we’re going to run into Francey again in a bit.
I remember listening to “Skating Rink” for the first time. Back then, I enjoyed the title track (which is also the first song on the disc). And the second track, “Broken Glass,” is also lovely. But it was the third track, “Exit,” that initially stopped me in my tracks. I’d not heard many artists include a song with vocals but no music accompaniment, but it’s not uncommon for Francey, and he does it with “Exit.” The song is just Francey’s voice alone until a sweet little musical bit appears and then fades the song out, like a reluctant acceptance of what he sings about before the instrumentation comes in: “Rich or poor or young or old. Some of us carry a heavy load.”
“Skating Rink” is a beautiful CD from start to finish. Standout tracks for me include “Belgrade Train,” “Nearly Midnight” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” an absolutely beautiful song that would be a massive hit if it were covered by the right popular band.
My sister giving me this CD turned out to be the impetus for many inspirations and wonderful experiences in the years to come, including getting to meet and visit with David Francey on several occasions. And spending time with him has only deepened my appreciation and sincere affection for these wonderful, beautiful songs.
8. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
I held a strong dislike for this group for a long time. They became popular at a time when the band that I still consider my favourite (more on them a little later) was not getting anywhere near the attention I felt they deserved. Partially because of that, I didn’t like Green Day and never paid them any mind. I thought they were childish punks. And maybe they were. But they certainly were churning out better music than I ever gave them credit for.
Ironically, it was it was another fan of that same favourite band of mine (the one I’ll reference in just a bit), that suggested that “21st Centrury Breakdown” was a “masterpiece.” I laughed at the thought and challenged him on it. He challenged me back. So I went and gave it a listen, and was floored by the scope of it. There was so much to dig through in this one record alone. For some reason, its tone and lyrics spoke to me at the time in a way that kept this CD in my stereo for months.
The style of writing and overall concept of this album left me considering different ways to write, and to listen to and enjoy music. I’m still finding things on this record I’d not notice before.
Green Day may be best known for “American Idiot” or their debut, “Dookie,” but it’s “21st Century Breakdown” that had the biggest influence on me, and made me a fan of the band.
7. The Trews – Hope and Ruin
The Trews are a Canadian rock band from Nova Scotia, and I absolutely love them. All of their records are among my favourites, but this one came out at a time when it almost felt as if it had been created just for me. Having just been through a marital separation (and eventual divorce), the very title of this collection had me feeling as if the band was inside my own head.
Songs like “Hope & Ruin,” “Love is the Real Thing,” “I’ll Find Someone Who Will,” “You’ve Gotta Let Me In,” “If You Wanna Start Again” and “Dreamin’ Man” all hit home for me in a deep and profound way. I clung to this record for many months, and felt rather emotional when I got to see them live on the headlining tour they did to support this effort.
I’ve got a bunch of songs kicking around that I wrote in the months following this CD’s release. It both held me up and inspired me.
For a time, I held on to this record like a life preserver.
6. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
I love the story about how Bruce recorded these tracks alone, at his home, and when he brought the songs into the studio for the E Street Band, they just couldn’t recapture the original emotion and feeling, no matter what they tried. And so they ultimately decided to master and release Springsteen’s original demos, a gutsy, bold move. The results are downright spooky.
It’s a good lesson in the power of a good song not needing much instrumentation or production. If the song is solid, it will still remain (and maybe even become more impactful) even with much of the instrumentation stripped away.
“Nebraska” is loaded with heavy, heavy tracks about common people and their daily struggles, their simple hopes, collective fears and frailties.
I tried to write some songs in this style in the mid 90’s, but I realized I didn’t have the knack for it. Most don’t. Springsteen’s ability to tell a story in the framework of a song is absolutely incredible. His characters appear on the scene fully developed, and the settings are clear from the get-go. I don’t know how he does it. Some novelists take pages (or even chapters) to do what Springsteen achieves in a single lyric line.
To me, the album is absolutely heart wrenching, but a good reminder of the thin line between happiness and despair that lurks within us all.
It’s also powerhouse songwriting that leaves me a little breathless if I really dive into it.
5. Great Big Sea – Courage, Patience and Grit (Live)
In trying to remember how I first came upon this disc, I think I may have been going through a phase of enjoying all things about pirates and found the song “Captain Kidd.” If memory serves, I think I found this double CD at the local Wal Mart and bought it without having heard anything from it. In fact, that would have been an odd thing to do, as I’d previously been aware of Great Big Sea as the band that performed “Ordinary Day” and “Sea of No Cares” but, to be absolutely honest, I never much cared for them. It’s not that I disliked them as much as I just really wasn’t interested. But when I listened through this collection of songs, that all changed.
As with Springsteen, I don’t listen to Great Big Sea all that much anymore. But I still love them. And for a time, I played this particular album over and over and over again. The Celtic, folk, pop, rock and traditional tones that run through all of Great Big Sea’s music strongly influenced a lot of the stuff I was writing at the time (I consider my songs “Hope Over Hurt” and “Glass” to have been heavily influenced by Great Big Sea).
I love my country and feel even more deeply Canadian when I listen to this band. And most of all, I suppose I just truly appreciate the sincerity with which these fellows perform, particularly Alan Doyle. At the time I found this CD, I had just come off of a particularly draining job change. This music helped me to feel revitalized, and I will always remember and be grateful for that.
The musicianship, the vocal harmonies, the tone of the songs and the general feeling of being in a big ‘ol Newfoundland kitchen party are all things that appeal to me about Great Big Sea. And maybe it’s because one of my sisters lives in St. John’s. Perhaps this music helps me feel a little less removed from her. In any case, it’s all great stuff.
4. Extreme – Pornograffitti
Here is the band I referred to earlier, writing about Green Day. Back in the early 90’s, I resented Green Day (and a lot of other bands) for getting the attention I felt Extreme rightly deserved. Luckily, I’ve grown up a lot since then!
Still, Extreme was the wrong band at the wrong time. In my view, they are easily the most misunderstood and under-appreciated band of my generation. They were not a “hair metal” band, nor a “grunge” band. They were just a great group of musicians who always showed incredible reverence to their own musical idols like Queen, The Who, Zeppelin and the Beatles.
“Pornograffitti” sounds like KISS one minute, then the Everly Brothers another minute, then the Red Hot Chili Peppers another, and Frank Sinatra the next. They grew even more eclectic in future recordings, and I loved them for it.
Extreme is, and always will be, my favourite band. I have an irrational attachment to this group, and the fact that most people don’t understand or appreciate them at all only makes me love them more. “Pornograffitti” was the record that started my love affair with their music.
Like many others, my first exposure to Extreme was through the smash acoustic song, “More Than Words,” which hit in 1991. I did not like that song at all at the time. Just another hair band, I thought (and, as it turned out, that’s what many others thought as well). “More Than Words” was a Billboard Number 1 sensation and helped Extreme sell millions of records worldwide. The trouble was, that song was not at all representative of Extreme’s real body of work. It turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. While I resented the song somewhat for overshadowing the collective work of the band, I later came to appreciate that it, too, is really special piece of music that went to number one for a reason: it’s good. Really good.
“Pornograffitti” is a brilliant rock record. A theme runs throughout, following a character named Francis as he’s subjected to the allure of money, sex, power, love and the rat race of life in general. It starts with “trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses” in what is still probably my favourite song of all time, “Decadence Dance” (shame about the hideous music video for this song, though. Ugh. No wonder people had the wrong idea!). From there, it follows many twists and turns addressing all of life’s temptations until it comes back to rest with “Hole Hearted,” a song many misinterpret as a boy-meets-girl love song, but is actually more of a statement the singer is making to his or her interpretation the Divine: “There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you.”
Those who feel this record sounds like other 80’s-based rock of the time are missing the message. Extreme was always different, and they foreshadowed their falling out of sync with the popular music industry in general with the very first song of the record: “It’s hard to stop once the music gets started. Til the souls of your feet harden up like your heart did.”
The first big festival-type concert I ever went to, I attended simply to see Extreme. When Gary Cherone, the lead vocalist, climbed up and over the runway/risers behind the drum kit as the rest of the band launched into the opening song, I thought, “Oh my goodness! I want to try to learn how to do this!” It was one of the most exciting things I’d ever experienced, and led me to writing songs, learning how to sing and, eventually, to play guitar.
Extreme was my band. They still are.
They always will be.
3. David Francey – Right of Passage
To me, all of David Francey’s songs are gems. Each of his albums is a gift, and it almost seems wrong to rank them. I’ll just say that, of all of the truly incredible CDs he’s shared, this one means the most to me.
Francey’s story behind the song “All Lights Burning Bright” makes me emotional. I sang this song at my Grandpa’s funeral.
I remember seeing Francey perform in Aylmer, months before the release of this CD. He sang “The Ballad of Bowser MacRae.” When he got to the part of Bowser’s son saying to his Dad, over the phone, “I love you Daddy, good luck and goodnight,” I cried. I am almost doing it again right now. I think of my own two sons and get a lump in my throat every time I hear that song. My sons mean everything to me, as they do to Bowser as well.
I love the stories behind “Kansas,” “The Conversation,” “The Gate,” “Stone Town” and “Under the Portland Weather” (if you’re curious, you can find all the lyrics and liner notes to these songs HERE).
Part of Francey’s liner notes about the instrumental track “Ferry to Cortez” served as inspiration for part of the lyrics to my song, “No Schedule Man.”
I was fortunate enough to be a at Hugh’s Room in Toronto to see the CD release show for this stellar collection. I had never heard (or heard of) a Shruti Box prior to that, but I will never forget its mournful tones as it opened the show with Francey then singing, “Well it was Edmonton late in the fall, and I was done for good and all.” It gave me shivers.
There were only two times that I can remember when I saw someone perform and thought to myself, “Wow – I want to try that.” One was the first time I saw Extreme. The other was seeing David Francey at Hugh’s Room. What an incredible inspiration.
To me, each of David Francey’s CDs rate a rock solid 10 out of 10.
“Right of Passage” gets an 11.
2. Jimmy Buffett – Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
I can’t help but chuckle, looking at this album so far up this list. In the late 90’s, I was in a band that played (among other songs), “Margaritaville.” I detested the song. I felt that we were lazy for including it in our sets and trying to appeal only to the “lowest common denominator” (I felt the same way about many other songs we played as well, including “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Mustang Sally,” “Honky Tonk Woman” and a whole bunch of others). Of course, I can now admit that those songs are all very popular for a reason. If I’d been choosing which songs to play, the bar would have been empty!
In the early 2000’s, I visited Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida. Among the many restaurants and bars at that complex is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. There was a cover band playing in there that night. Their music was being piped out to the walkways outside the restaurant as well, and I distinctly remember the singer saying, “We’re in Jimmy Buffett’s bar. I guess we should play one of Jimmy Buffett’s songs.” They then went into an upbeat track I’d never heard before and I thought it was really catchy. I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I didn’t know what the name of the song was but remembered that they kept getting back to singing, “Fins to the left, fins to the right.”
A couple days later, I saw on the news that Jimmy Buffett had been kicked out a Miami Heat basketball game I had attended the day before (in fact, that was the reason for the trip: to see the Heat in Miami playing their arch rival at the time, the New York Knicks). I figured that was a sign. At least Jimmy Buffett and I had the Miami Heat in common.
On the last day of that vacation, I decided I’d try to find a Buffett CD, maybe with that song on it, so I could have it as a kind of soundtrack-type reminder of the vacation. I went into the FYE music store in Florida Mall, expecting to find some kind of collection like “Margaritaville and 10 other songs you’ve never heard of before.” I was shocked when I found row after row of albums by Buffett, in stock. There must have been 25 different selections. I couldn’t believe it. How could a guy that only had one “hit” have recorded and released so much music?
I combed through the bin until I found “Live: Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays.” I figured it would be a good sample of his career, and saw that one of the songs on it was a tune called “Fins,” which I figured was the one I’d heard a few nights before.
When I first listened to the album, I didn’t like it right away. But as I started to go through some of the songs and they began to sink in a little more, I started to realize I’d been way off in my assessment of Jimmy Buffett and his music. Songs like “One Particular Harbor” and “A Pirate Looks at Forty” infused me with a sense that Buffett was a guy who knew what he liked, was entirely comfortable inside his own skin, was happy to share what made him happy, had more insight to offer than it seemed from the surface, and that there were a LOT of people that were happily in on it.
Despite the fact that he’d only ever had one “hit” (and “Margaritaville” never even got to the top of the charts), Buffett had been selling out stadiums and amphitheatres for years. He’d established a successful restaurant chain, began his own internet radio station (eventually picked up by Sirius/XM satellite radio), and had made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list as both a Fiction and Non-Fiction writer.
My curiosity led me to reading Buffett’s books, which resulted in me reading other authors he’d referenced (including Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Herman Wouk and Carl Hiaasen). I began devouring historical books about pirates, privateers and also modern day adventurers. One work led to another, and another, and another.
Listening to Radio Margaritaville helped me discover many other artists that I now love but wasn’t hearing anywhere else (some examples include Will Kimbrough, Sonny Landreth, Todd Snider and John Hiatt).
I eventually acquired Buffett’s entire recorded catalogue (that took a while!) and saw him in concert a couple of times. I wrote scads of songs off the various inspirations from the music, literature and experiences I gained that all started with discovering Jimmy Buffett (a couple of examples include two songs from my “No Scheudule Man” CD, “Orlando” and “Do Better,” the latter of which references the Buffett song, “Fruitcakes”).
In terms of sheer volume of additional influence and inspiration, this album really deserves to be at the top of this list. Looking back almost 15 years later, the inspirational ripple effect of first listening to Buffett has been staggering, and unmatched with anything else I’ve enjoyed.
And I guess that statement alone should give you some idea of just deep into my bones I feel about the only record that could rank ahead of this one, it terms of its influence on who I am, what I’ve created and what I still hope to be ….
1. Extreme – III Sides to Every Story
This album spun my head off my shoulders. It helped to shape the way I think about a lot of things, and still do. This was the one that spoke to me on a very meaningful level when I was an 18-year-old, bordering on adulthood and trying to figure out what my place in the world was going to be, who I really was and what I really thought about things.
Songs like “Am I Ever Gonna Change,” “Stop the World,” and “Who Cares” resonated with me very deeply. It was as if lead singer and lyricist Gary Cherone had lifted the thoughts from my head, made them eloquent and set them to incredible music.
Once I’d truly absorbed this record, I was so moved that I was sure I wanted to try and learn how to write songs to express my own thoughts and feelings. This is where my songwriting started.
When I eventually picked up an acoustic guitar, I didn’t learn by doing basic strumming patterns to traditional songs like “Tom Dooley.” Instead, I wanted to be able to play what I was hearing come out of the speakers when I put on an Extreme record. I bought any guitar magazine that had any reference at all to Extreme and tried to figure out the tablature so I could learn some of what guitarist Nuno Bettencourt was doing. I didn’t beging with basic lessons. I tried to learn how to play “Warheads,” “Cupid’s Dead” and “Peacemaker Die” instead.
I don’t recommend that, by the way!
Three sides to every story: Yours, Mine, and the Truth. It’s still true. And I can’t say enough about how this record just resonates with me deep into my soul.
The use of part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the song “Peacemaker Die” is breathtaking. The band had to secure permission from Dr. King’s family to use that audio. The family must have sensed what Extreme was really all about, and I thank them for giving their blessing. The song is a masterwork.
The old Dr. Pepper commercial parody in “Warheads” works perfectly. It’s tragic comedy, illustrating just how casually we seem to accept violence and aggression as part of our everyday being. Sadly, that song resonates and holds up just as much today as it did over 20 years ago.
I may have learned a lot about other artists from Jimmy Buffett, as I outlined earlier, but my world expanded greatly because of Extreme long before that. Extreme would constantly nod their respect to the artists that influenced them. Their songs are laced with references, both lyrically and instrumentally, to iconic musicians like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Queen, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and many others.
For evidence of just how much the members of Extreme respected those that came before them, listen to what Brian May says about them (in the video below) before they took the stage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium. Extreme then effectively stole the show with a spot-on medley of Queen songs in a display of absolute love, appreciation and reverence for Freddie Mercury.
“III Sides to Every Story” was acclaimed critically as a masterpiece. And it is. But it didn’t resonate with the public the way “Pornograffitti” did off the strength of “More Than Words.” It also was released at a time when the Seattle-based “alternative” sounds of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots were taking over the airwaves.
Extreme was cursed to have been the wrong band at the wrong time, at least in terms of sustained public success. But that doesn’t make their work any less impactful to those who found and embraced it
My love of “III Sides to Every Story” was a watershed connection in my life. I’ll never be that same age again. I’m not likely to ever be that impressionable again. I’m just glad it was this particular record that found its way into my spirit, as I believe I am better for it.
So there we have it! That’s my list. Thanks for reading. Please feel welcome to share yours as well, in the comments below. Maybe it will inspire others!