New book revives classic Canadian hitmakers

By Adela Talbot, BA'08, MA'11

Kearney Tn

Mark Kearney, BA'77, and Randy Ray, best-selling Canadian authors known for their syndicated columns and trivia quizzes, are celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial with a new book – an updated compilation of newspaper articles they co-wrote some 20 years ago about hundreds of Canadian musicians who chased stardom in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

As The Years Go By …: Conversations With Canada’s Folk, Pop & Rock Pioneers is the pair’s 10th book and features more than 100 stories of bands whose names or songs you might not know, but who played an integral part in our country’s music landscape, said Kearney, who teaches writing in the Faculty of Information & Media Studies and the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at Western.

Anecdotes and stories of performers such as Lighthouse, The Diamonds, The Stampeders, Streetheart and The Five Man Electrical Band – among others, including London-area bands and connections to Western – will transport readers “back to the days when they attended dances in high school gyms and church basements, danced close with a first love at a Saturday night house party, or left a downtown watering hole with their ears ringing after watching a favourite band,” Kearney explained.

Those years were a pivotal era for Canadian music, he added.

“A lot of (these bands) had started in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s – and that was when the government regulated that radio stations had to play a certain percentage of Canadian music every day, like 30 per cent. Radio stations hated it, but the performers loved it because, they thought, ‘Hey, we’re finally going to get our music heard.’ That was a watershed moment in Canadian pop music history,” Kearney noted.

“There is a lot in this book where that comes through – a lot of the performers said when they started out, they couldn’t get a radio station ‘to listen to us, let alone play our record.’ A lot of their records first broke in the U.S. because the stations didn’t want to play them, and as that changed (with that regulation), you started seeing a lot of these bands touring nationally, rather than just playing their local towns. And I think that’s the legacy of that time.”

As The Years Go By has less of a ‘where are they now’ approach when compared to the early columns written by Kearney and Ray. It is more so a look into the careers of early pop and rock musicians in Canada, and what they thought about their music and success at the time. Stories are organized regionally, by time period and genre for readers who want to dive in, looking for specific names, connections or bits of nostalgia. Since its release in June, the book has been in the Top 10 list in Amazon’s Music Reference category.

As to why the book doesn’t address some of the biggest names in Canadian music at the time, Kearney said he and Ray wanted to spotlight lesser-known tales of attempts to break into the music business.

“We don’t have, other than some passing references, stories about people like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young or The Guess Who partly because a they’ve been written about by a million other people and have their own books, and they didn’t fit in into the ‘where are they now’ approach we originally took with the columns because they were still performing,” Kearney noted.

“With this project, we wanted to go a little deeper and touch on the bands that had big success, like Steppenwolf. We wanted to focus on the bands that got airplay to some extent, either in Canada or the U.S., and had some kind of records in the charts, or that had a following in a regional sort of way.”

As The Years Go By is available online from Amazon and the Indigo website as well as Hard copies are available in London at the Western bookstore and at Brown and Dickson on Richmond Street for $19.99.

Kearney is also a contributing author in another book celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial. The Fur-Bearing Trout … and Other True Tales of Canadian Life features non-fiction short stories of Canadiana from 16 authors, current and former members of the London & Southwestern Ontario chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada.