Welcome to this week's episode of #ForWhatit'sWorthwithBlakeMelnick, part of our #PasstheJam music series, called #LivingtheImpossibleDream part 1, with my guest @BlairPackham.
My multi-talented guest has been fixture on the Canadian Music and Entertainment Scene for four decades - A prolific singer, songwriter, sound engineer, composer, producer, radio personality and teacher.
In part one, Blair and I discuss the early days of his career with #TheJitters; Life on the road, and in the studio; his song writing influences; The amazing musicians he's worked with, and interviewed on his radio show ...and of course the great stories!
Part 1 is a lead up to Part 2, where I will be joined by our current artist in residence, @OliverMcQuaid, who will engage with Blair in a" deep dive" into songwriting and help me #PasstheJam on to Blair ...We will of course be introducing you to tracks from Blair's brand new, soon to be released record, #SongFood with his band, #ImpossibleDream.
I hope you enjoy, "Living the Impossible Dream" ...For What it's Worth
And if you like the show please consider making a small donation to the cause by buying us a coffee, using the Support the Show link below.
The Music for Today's Show, "Proof", and "You, Ya You" is written and performed by Blair Packham
Click HERE to visit the Blog post for this episode and learn more about Blair.
Other Important Links:
Living the Impossible Dream - Part 1
[00:00:00] [00:00:00] Blake Melnick: that was Proof from Blair Packham's album unpopular, pop Blair. So nice to have you on the show. Welcome.
[00:00:07] Blair Packham: Thank you, Blake. I'm glad to be here.
[00:00:09]Blake Melnick: Let me begin by saying that while I was doing background research for this episode and about you and your history and all the things that you've done, I was absolutely blown away. You must be the hardest working guy in Canadian music.
[00:00:22]Blair Packham: I am. So not that guy. I've never been that guy. That's what people said about James Brown. I would actually say about my old band The Jitters I would say we were not the hardest working man in show business.
[00:00:33] I mean, thank you. But I have to say no, I've just lived over time. I'm old. That's all, eventually you have to do something
[00:00:40]Blake Melnick: I really appreciate your modesty here, Blair, but you really have had a very rich and diverse career in the Canadian music and entertainment industry. And for our listeners, I've known about player for many years. In fact, we grew up walking parallel paths, both born and raised in Toronto, both went to Jarvis collegiate, [00:01:00] and we both know a lot of the same people, but we never really had a chance to meet back then.
[00:01:05]It was only recently through a mutual old friend that we became connected. And of course that's what led up to this episode. But it's been my honor privilege and pleasure to do the background research about you about your career. And of course, that's what we're going to talk about in this interview.
[00:01:21] Blair Packham: Yeah,
[00:01:22]Blake Melnick: I want to start really right from the beginning. I know you have a new record out. We're going to talk about that. We're going to talk about the songs you're submitting to the show, which are absolutely fantastic, but I wanted to really go back to the beginning.
[00:01:33] So you grew up in Toronto and you attended Jarvis collegiate, correct?
[00:01:37] Blair Packham: Yes, I did. I attended on a whim. I was supposed to go to north Toronto collegiate. And, the first day of school, I had been hanging out with friends the night before. Who lived in Rosedale, the Sherman twins. I don't know if you remember them, but, they went to Jarvis and, they said you should go to Jarvis.
[00:01:51] And I said, okay. So the next day, instead of going to north Toronto, I took the subway down to Jarvis and, registered. And yeah, so that was my high school [00:02:00] Jarvis collegiate Institute.
[00:02:01] Blake Melnick: Right. And so is this where the music began? Is this where you decided that this was what you wanted to do? Become a musician, a singer songwriter?
[00:02:08]Blair Packham: Yeah, eventually , it wasn't right away at first. I just wanted to, play guitar and schools for me was a big social, experience. In fact, having to do, any work at all was just a pain in the butt. , I wasn't a great student, but I wanted to play guitar and it seemed to me because I thought playing guitar was cool, that girls would also think playing guitar was cool.
[00:02:29] I don't think they did particularly. But I thought they might, and I didn't have athletics. I didn't have great marks in school. I was a sort of reasonably bookish, but kind of funny guy who played guitar. So that was my thing. But it was in grade seven or eight. My dad bought me tickets to see BB king and I went with my older sister and we went to Massey hall to see him. And I was maybe 12 and, went to B.B King, became in grade nine, went to see him. I got heavily into the blues in high school. And eventually when I was 17 years old. So maybe grade 12 wrote [00:03:00] my first song and thought, this is what I want to do. I really admired John Prine and, Steve Goodman, singer songwriters, Bob Dylan, of course, but John Prine was kind of my guy. And then, I discovered Elvis Costello and, he became my guy. So, yeah.
[00:03:14] It sort of went from there.
[00:03:15]Blake Melnick: It's really interesting. You mentioned John Prine. John Prine has come up a lot in this show. He was a huge influence for our current artists and residents all over McQuaid. He was certainly one of my favorite songwriters and of course we lost John to COVID complications related to COVID, but he was such a gifted songwriter.
[00:03:34] He was so visual for me. He was able to create these incredible visual images in very few words. I found him remarkable and whenever I'm feeling blue, I put on John Prine and just feel better.
[00:03:46]Blair Packham: The great thing about John Prine and something that's very, very hard to pull off is the, mixing of, sad and maybe sentimental with funny.
[00:03:56] Blake Melnick: Right.
[00:03:56]Blair Packham: I hate to say it, but it's relatively easier to write a funny song. [00:04:00] I could write a funny song about, ex president Trump, for instance, and, I just find a bunch of things that Rhythm with Trump and I could write some funny lines, no question, but to write one, that's also poignant and moving. And maybe a little bittersweet. That's something that John Prine could do quite easily as he did over and over again, the songs with wry humor, but at the same time, a serious point. And I don't know why as a teenager that moved me because I think most teenagers would be into not that I was so special, but I was definitely different.
[00:04:29]Most teenagers would be into, songs about partying and sex and so forth. You know, an inordinate number of songs in the charts are about tonight. What's going to happen tonight. John Prine songs were about what happened yesterday or, 30 years ago or what his hopes, his slim hopes might be for tomorrow.
[00:04:46]So it's a different approach. And it really appealed to me. And I wasn't sure at the time how that fit into a rock band format, because I also wanted to be in a rock band and doing like singer songwriter. He stuff didn't really seem to fit that, but. At the time, I didn't know how to do [00:05:00] that.
[00:05:00] Didn't know , how to have a band.
[00:05:01]Blake Melnick: Going back to those early days in Jarvis, I was reading you were in a band called the tools. I knew the tools quite well, and I used to follow them around. They were certainly a favorite for all of us at Jarvis.
[00:05:11] I remember seeing them perform while I was at Jarvis, in the school auditorium, as well as a few other places, which I can't recall at the moment, but they were such an interesting band. And I had not realized that you played with them. And I knew a number of the members of the band as well. David Taylor on drums who lived just down the street from me on Elm avenue.
[00:05:29] And I knew Danny what was that like joining the tools .
[00:05:32] Blair Packham: It was great. I would go to Dave Taylor's basement to listen to them rehearse. And I would hire Dave to do sessions, at a local recording studio because he was the best drummer that I knew.
[00:05:41] And I started getting him to come and play. I started producing my friends from high school, as a way of getting, production experience in those days, you couldn't do it in your home. So it was, was a thing at a studio called comfort sound where I did my first demo.
[00:05:55] I then thought, well, how do I get back in here? And I thought, well, if I go to my singer songwriter, friends at [00:06:00] school, and I say, I'll put together a band and I'll produce these songs, I'll help, train the rhythm section and so forth. We'll rehearse everything and then we'll go to the studio, then I'll get studio experience.
[00:06:10] And I wouldn't even charge them. So no fee for me, it was just, time spent learning how to do it. And I did that with Dave Taylor and sometimes with Shane, the bass player, Shane Adams, and with Lucio that guitarist. So I knew those guys and I would hang out with them.
[00:06:26] Well, one day I went to, I hang out with them. I think Danny had called me and said, are you coming by today? We're rehearsing. And I said, yeah, sure. So I dropped by and they were all sitting in the lounge area, outside the rehearsal room in Dave's basement. And they started singing. Do you, do you, do you want to join our band, the Ramones verse of do you want to dance? And was so taken aback cause I was like, how, like in what capacity, but it turned out that rouland Kerouac, the singer had left the band, and they needed a singer. So at that [00:07:00] point I was going to university. That was actually between high school and university.
[00:07:04] I was going to university for the first time and I needed to improve my marks. So I was taking a correspondence course and I was also a security guard working the night shift at GE at Dufferin and king. I'd arrive at Dave's Taylor's house at nine in the morning having finished my shift at eight 30 in the morning.
[00:07:21] And I'd still be in my security guard uniform. The other guys would drift in at nine 30 or 10, and then we'd rehearse till about two and then I'd go home and sleep from three till 11. And that was a long, long summer. And I did my correspondence courses while I was at my job. So, I ended up getting into U of T and going back to school and stuff. So at the end of the summer, they wanted me to say that I was not going to go back to university, but I said, I worked for this and I really want to do this. And so I went to university and I left the band and then the band ended up breaking up anyway.
[00:07:53] Blake Melnick: So funny I remember being in David's basement too, and some weird memory of listening to the [00:08:00] tubes.
[00:08:00] I think David was a big fan of the tubes drummer. I can't remember his name, and being down in that basement and listening to the tubes, white punks on dope. The first album, Prairie prince, the drummer
[00:08:12] We all ended up going to see the tubes at Massey hall before that record, even I think at the record had just come out, but their reputation preceded them in the art community.
[00:08:20]Blair Packham: The tubes, weren't the pop, the top of the charts band that they became later at that point, they were, are very artistic, original and adventurous rock band and, and Dave was totally into them. And so it was, I was in quite a show. I got to tell you,
[00:08:36] Blake Melnick: I bet. So tell me about the jitters. When did that start? How did you and Danny connect and where did that all begin?
[00:08:45] Blair Packham: Danny. And I connected Danny Levyand I connected high school. He went to Jarvis as well and, he was in the Tools. Full name of the band by the way, the amazing tools. And they were really interesting combination of progressive rock and rock and roll.
[00:08:58]He was one of two guitar [00:09:00] players in that band. And, when school ended I had figured out how to have a band, before that I was a singer songwriter guy, but I'd been in the tools briefly. And I was a big, big fan of David Wilcox and the Teddy bears. I would go see them on school nights when I really should have been studying, but I hadn't figured that out yet.
[00:09:16] And I went to see David Wilcox, night after night, you could see him. He was playing six nights a week at the chimney upstairs the gasworks for instance. So I would go see him. And, there was a format for a band, two guitars, bass, and drums like the Beatles, but here it's right in front of me.
[00:09:31] It's not like this thing of myths or memory it's right in front of me. So when high school ended, I decided I wanted to go on the road as with the cover band. Cause I thought that's what you did. You played other people's songs. And so I had a band with Danny, well first with another friend, but he left after about a month and then Danny and I did a version of this band. I called black slacks after the, Robert Gordon's cover version of a sparkle tone song called black slacks, which actually literally went black slacks, [00:10:00] black slacks like that. You had to do that sound and get spit all over the microphone. And so we did that for a few months and we had some adventures, man, like not good but fun in retrospect.
[00:10:11] You asked Danny about the stripper named peaches for instance, or ask him about, , setting the hotel on fire in thunder bay. Ask him about playing in Paris, Ontario, and, basically causing a bar fight, , that involved us getting a beer bottle, getting thrown through the window of the van and us getting chased off the property. And then chased out of town basically. So we had these adventures in this cover band, but it didn't take too long for me to figure out I didn't want to do that. Like playing other people's songs. I became an original song snob even though I see the value of playing in cover bands, for sure.
[00:10:46] The Beatles were a cover band. They only started writing songs because they got a record deal, they had a couple of songs that George Martin didn't even really like that much, but, they got a record deal because they were such a great, live act and they were charming personally.
[00:10:56] So it was only with that in mind that they were like, I guess we [00:11:00] should write some songs. So being in a cover band didn't really make much sense to me being in these really crappy hotel rooms. In little towns, all across Ontario and Quebec didn't appeal to me at all. So I decided that I needed to somehow stay home and I thought I was going to have to get a job.
[00:11:15] And I was very depressed because despite what people may think, like when I say, I thought I might have to get a job, and having said already that I'm lazy. I actually was a hard worker and I did work hard at this stuff. And people who have never lived this life or been self-employed, they might not realize how hard you have to work to keep a band on the road and actually making money and making sure ,the band members and any crew members get fed and actually, are able to survive and so forth.
[00:11:43] Hustling is it's you learn how to hustle and you learn how to be self-employed you know, time manager and so forth. And it's really challenging. And so the idea of working for somebody else. In what I would call a McJob. It didn't appeal to me and yet I had dropped out of university.
[00:11:58] I went for one year and then dropped [00:12:00] out. So I didn't have a degree. I wasn't going to be able to get a good job. So when that recording studio that I mentioned earlier called the one that I did all the productions at, they asked if I might want to learn how to be a, an engineer. And this was Doug McClement who owned the studio.
[00:12:14]And I was thrilled. It was, a literal lifesaver. Doug had figured out that, Hey, this guy, Blair Packham, seems like a nice guy, got a good sense of humor, hard worker. He keeps bringing us clients. He keeps bringing in projects for us to do, and he's not making any money. So he's clearly doing it to learn and he's doing this in earnest. Maybe I should hire him and he'll continue to bring in people, but I'll end up having a good engineer working for me. And, so that's what I did in 1980. I got a job with Comfort Sound and I began working with them as a recording engineer. And, Doug was an excellent teacher and he remains an excellent teacher is a huge figure in my life and we're friends, despite the fact that he's a huge figure. I'm able to treat him like a normal person rather than the linchpin he is in my life.
[00:12:59]Blake Melnick: And [00:13:00] so when did the jitters officially form?
[00:13:02]Blair Packham: Well, so at that point, Black slacks. Black slacks was no more obviously , and I was working at comfort sound and I started playing in a part-time cover band occasionally, which was great because suddenly my income doubled first of all, I had an income. Second of all, it would occasionally double because I'd be playing in this cover band for a whole week long gig somewhere. But during that time, I was also given all the downtime that I could eat. Basically, that's all, you can eat buffet at Comfort Sound, as long as there wasn't a paying client in the studio.
[00:13:30] I couldn't bring in other people, to record them because, that would be taking business away from the studio, but I could record my own stuff. Well, this is pre drum machine. And I couldn't do it alone because it's in an actual studio. So if I press record on the machine, , how would you sound check and so forth?
[00:13:47] So I called Danny levy and asked if he would come and help me. And then he called his friend, Glen Martin, who I knew from Jarvis, and so we started recording at Comfort Sound all the time and, Foolishly we never thought we would release [00:14:00] anything. We always just did themlike demos and the songs would sort of end badly or They would be be mixed poorly, at that point, it was not a DIY kind of aesthetic, so we just did demos. Our plan was to get a record deal. And that started in 1981. We had Bob Segerine come in, who was a local luminary, and we had asked him if he would produce us. And he said he would for a bottle of Jack Daniels, a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels every time he came through the studio door.
[00:14:24] And so we thought, well, you can do that. So Bob Segerine, he produced us. He offered to manage us at one point, but we, declined because we had our sights set on bigger things. And in fact, shortly after that, we started working with Bob Ezrin, who had just finished recording the wall for pink Floyd.
[00:14:39] Bob heard our demo. He said it was one of the best, independent demos he'd ever heard. And he wanted to know something. I sent him an eight by 10 the band. And when he first called and be like is that Blair? It's Bob Ezrin. Bob Ezrin had produced not only pink Floyd, which, I was a fan of pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, which I was a big fan of and Kiss but Alice Cooper, for [00:15:00] me, that was huge. This is the guy who produced love it to death. I'm 18 with Jack Rich. So for me, talking to Bob Ezrin on the phone was a big deal. So I said, yes. And he said, I got your tape. I got your promo package. I, I want you to know, I probably won't like it, just the way things go, but, I need to know something before I listen.
[00:15:17] Okay. Which one are you? And I said, I'm the big guy. I didn't know what else to say. I'm the big guy. And he goes, oh, thank God. And I said, okay. And he said, well, because if you're the big guy and you're the lead singer and songwriter, we can build a story around that. If the big guy was the bass player, we'd have to fire the big guy because he doesn't look very rock and roll.
[00:15:38] But since you're the central guy, we can actually build an interesting story around that. Around the fact that you're a bit of an outsider in the rock and roll world. And I'm like, okay, I like the sound of that. That's good. So we started working with Bob Ezrin and, unfortunately nothing came of it. We did a bunch of demos and hung out with Bob. We wrote some songs with Bob, , but, ultimately the one record label that showed really strong interest [00:16:00] in us said, if you come attached with Bob Ezrin , we won't sign you. What?
[00:16:04]Blake Melnick: You'd think it would be the opposite, right.
[00:16:07]Blair Packham: Yeah. He had produced the biggest record in the world. The wall with pink Floyd, two years before. , and they said, yeah, because, he would make the budget uncontrollable and the project uncontrollable. , now these record company guys, they were there. Good guys, really influential in the Canadian music business, but there was a certain amount of ego involved and I really felt like anything they signed, they wanted to make sure it was their baby. So they didn't want to have some person come in who clearly had more success and had a very forceful way about him. I think that was it. I'm surmising, but I think that was it.
[00:16:42]Blake Melnick: The Jitters came together and you released the first record in 1987, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but from what I read, you started by releasing a number of singles first. Take Me as I Am and the Last of the Red Hot Fools, and then you open for Huey Lewis and the News at the CNE. You placed third and Q107's [00:17:00] homegrown contest. And in 1989, you were nominated for a Juno for the most promising band. These must've been really heady days for you.
[00:17:08]What was that?
[00:17:09]Blair Packham: The order of the way you described things is a little off in the sense that, we did "take me as I am" as a video. Never released it as a record, but because as much music was new and because the video was funny, frankly, and charming, it got played a lot, got played a lot and foolishly stupidly again, no, do it yourself attitude. We didn't press up a bunch of singles and sell them. We just had the video out there and we're like, yeah, we got a video and people who'd recognize us on the street and we go, yeah, that's us.
[00:17:37]We didn't try and capitalize on it at all, which is odd. Especially in this capitalist world, we live in, where you're taught not to miss a trick, don't miss an opportunity. We were like, yeah, we have a record out I mean, I'm kind of like that now. I really am . I have recorded a lot of music and I haven't released any of it , since 2017, because I'm sort of like, yeah, I've got another song I'm working on now, you know? , so there was that, and then the [00:18:00] homegrown contest happened. And that was with last of the red hot fools, which you mentioned before, which became our first single for capital, Capitol records, the Beatles label but that wasn't until a year later because it wasn't the same version. We actually did a different version with a producer and a studio owner named Paul Gross, the Huey Lewis thing, which was the biggest crowd we'd ever played for before. It was for 24,000 people at the, Canadian national exhibition grandstand and Huey Lewis had asked, local promoters in this case, CPI for the best unsigned local band to open the show. He was doing that at every stop on the tour. So for Toronto, we were it, we were picked, we were a band that had lineups outside Lee's palace. We had lineups outside the horseshoe before that we would play the downstairs on Mocambo and have a full house on a Tuesday night, which is a big deal.
[00:18:48] We were a popular local band and we had an enormous amount of Goodwill. So when you ask for the best. unsung local band that would fit with his music. I mean, there were other bands they're not [00:19:00] easily arguably better, but they might've been in sort of new romantic Duran Duran style bands.
[00:19:04] They wouldn't have necessarily fit the bill. We fit the bill. And so we got a chance and it was amazing. I actually said to the crowd, I said, you know, that TV show thrill of a lifetime. That's what this is for us. And it really was like that. It was amazing to play that show and then to get a record deal shortly after that, with the Beatles label, for me, that was really important.
[00:19:24] And it was so important that when they released the album, we asked them if they would put it out using the old, long, since discontinued black label with rainbow ring around the outside, which is what the Beatles records were. The ones I grew up with, the albums, not the singles.
[00:19:40] And they did, they put it out, they put the record out like that. And then we got an airplane across the country and we started touring. I did a promo tour on which I met David Bowie and Duran Duran, it was really exciting stuff. And, we toured across the country and eventually, in the spring of 88, we opened for Heart on a UK tour and we played Wembley arena three nights in a row. it was mind boggling. [00:20:00] Actually. It was everything that I hoped.
[00:20:01]Blake Melnick: So three years later, you released your second album called louder than words, a collaboration with American singer songwriter, Juul sheers, but that's the last album you released as a group, and then you disband it.
[00:20:12] Blair Packham: three years between albums is inordinately long. That again came down to what I believe was record company ego. And it's weird when the record company has a bigger ego than the artists. And that's what I feel was going on that label at that time, God bless them and we were signed to them and they were essentially effectively partners, but I do believe that there was a lot of sort of star making going on that they wanted to do.
[00:20:37] And the world was changing. Nirvana had exploded in 1990 and, the sort of indie folk rock scene, locally, the sky diggers had emerged and, blue rodeo had actually exploded and they were friends and rivals of ours before, but , we had earlier and bigger success than they did, but their thing, strumming acoustic guitars and the heartfelt ballads and the country influenced or roots [00:21:00] music influence stuff that really took off in a way that had nothing to do with what we were doing, but also had nothing to do with what the record company wanted to do. So a lot of people blame their record companies and I tend not to, because I think they had their hearts in the right place, but I would blame them in this case. We had about, 30 songs ready to go for the second album within a year of the first album coming out and we could have recorded them right then and there.
[00:21:25] And they were in the same vein as the stuff we'd already put out, they were fun and catchy and smart sarcastic and so forth. They didn't want them, they wanted something with more depth. They kept saying more maturity. And I'm thinking, am I allowed to swear? We were a fucking rock and roll band, like nobody's looking for maturity from us,
[00:21:43]So anyway, then suddenly we're asked to be like spokesman for our generation, which is ridiculous. And, we didn't know really how to do that. So then we went back and forth. We asked all these different guys could produce us and, the label was saying, I don't think you have the songs.
[00:21:56] And I was thinking we have the songs, we absolutely have the [00:22:00] songs. And at one point I thought, just let us go. We'll sign with a different label. We'll sign with a smaller label. I don't care, but we want to do these songs, but we didn't stand our ground. And then they said, In this long list of producers well, what about Juul? Shear? I was a huge Juul shear fan, like huge. He had a band called Juul and the polar bears that I loved, and, I was a huge fan. Loved his voice, loved his songwriting, loved his lyrics. He was never particularly successful as an artist. He had a song that was in the billboard charts he's had a few that were by him, but he had bigger success, writing for other people like the Bangles, if she knew what she wants or Cyndi Lauper All Through the Night. But I was a fan really of his earlier stuff. He had had a great band called, the Reckless Sleepers, a fantastic album called, Big Boss Sounds
[00:22:48] so when we had the opportunity to work with Juul and did, at that point, I was like, okay, let's do that because clearly we weren't going to be allowed to make a record on our own or , of the songs we wanted to and Jules only would do it if he [00:23:00] could co-write the songs with us. So now we're right back at the drawing board, right back at square one.
[00:23:06] And we've got to write songs for this album and , even though an album might have 10 or 12 songs, you can't just write 10 or 12 songs. You've got to write more so that the record company reject most of them. Right. So we ended up taking. Initially, it was about six weeks to write it was two, three week bursts. And then we had a couple more that we had that sort of throw in there, but they were all co-writes with Juul. And as a result, he kicked our butts, , as lyricists, no question. But he got a bigger piece of the songwriting credits than anybody in the band, because he got one third and each of us, got whatever was left over. We fought over those scraps. It's a really good record. It was deleted many years ago. I'm not sure if it's available anywhere. I don't think it's on Spotify or anything, but those songs, man, they're really good. And we had a hit with, " Til the Fever Breaks and with a song called The Bridge is Burning and , these were Canadian hits.
[00:23:54]When I say Canadian hits, what I mean is, you don't have any idea who it's by. And if I hum you a little bit and you [00:24:00] go, "oh yeah, I think I know that" that's a Canadian hit but they're really good if I do say so myself. The whole thing was taking its toll on the relationships within the band. And, we were starting to hate each other and these guys were my best friends, so that was really hard. That was really tough. I felt like I was alone. And at various times I felt ganged up on by the band. I don't think I actually was. I think it was paranoia. It was fueling my paranoia.
[00:24:24] And so after we did some touring with Colin James and some other people, , across the country and , we did some chores on our own. The record company told us that they were going to let us go. They actually never told us directly. They told our manager, but they never told us. And this is weird.
[00:24:37] Cause we had a relationship with them that went back a number of years. At that point, you think we'd actually have a drink or they'd say, you know what, I'm sorry, but they never did that. And I always resented that, but once they let us go, I was so eager to move on to other things and these guys were kind of hating me we had a band meeting and I said, Hey, guess what? We got dropped. And it [00:25:00] wasn't forced hilarity. I was actually relieved. And they were like, what do you want to do? And I said, I want to break up the band. And they were like, okay. , and so we broke up the band and it was a relief.
[00:25:11] But the thing is because we were really deep down friends. We ended up playing together almost immediately after that. And we had a couple of gigs left over that were big money gigs. There was a new year's Eve think at the end of that year, that was the most money we'd ever been paid. So we did those gigs and we enjoyed hanging out, especially without any pressure.
[00:25:27]Blake Melnick: I remember reading that , you work closely with Jake gold.
[00:25:30] I know Jake, through Jack Ross. He's a real old school guy, get out on the road tour, tour tour,
[00:25:35] Blair Packham: very much so. When he was managing us at, during that latter period, that was his solution to any problems which is get out and play.
[00:25:42] And I remember. We're waiting for the ferry at, horseshoe bay in BC , to the Vancouver islands, to play some shows. And we got there late at night and, and realized, there were no hotel rooms booked. And I called Jake and I said, I think there was an oversight on the tour itinerary.
[00:25:57] And he said, no, no, no, you're just going to sleep in the [00:26:00] van.
[00:26:02] And, when I said Jake, on 30 years old. I'm not sleeping in a van. And he's, you said you don't have it in you, , how badly do you want this? And I said, I don't think playing the Queens, the hotel in Nanaimo is a make or break kind of thing.
[00:26:17] He said, we've got no budget. You want to lose money? And I said, I want to sleep in a hotel. I need to keep them be a crappy hotel, but I want to sleep in a bed. I don't want to sleep on a bench seat or over beside another guy, I like Jake and if we saw each other, we'd probably still be friends, but that was definitely his attitude at the time.
[00:26:34]Blake Melnick: It's very difficult being in a rock and roll band, especially with friends of yours and spending 24 hours a day in the studio or on the road together. It's a really grueling experience. And I think anybody that's done it can relate to your story.
[00:26:50] So let's move on the band breaks up, but that doesn't stop you.
[00:26:53] You keep going in different directions and you've done so many things. I want to talk a little bit about your time [00:27:00] on the radio and your work in television.
[00:27:01] Blair Packham: The week that I had that band meeting with the guys to tell them that we'd been dropped and that I wanted to move on, that week, the same week to me, it's incredible.
[00:27:11]I got a call coincidentally from, fellow named Bruce Fowler, who said, my client TSN wants to do a new theme for their NHL hockey series. It's called the NHL tonight and they want to do a new theme and they want it to sound like blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, or the jitters, because we were well known enough that people would use this as an example, and, he said, well, I know the guy from the jitters, I'll just call him and see if he wants to do it. So he said, what do you think, would you like to try and write a theme? And I said, yeah, he said, what are you doing these days? And I said, absolutely nothing. The band had just ended. And then he told me how much money that they would pay. At that point, the jitters, were taking home a hundred bucks a night. So when Bruce told me that I would make, something like $6,000 for two weeks work, I was like, yeah, I think I can do that.
[00:27:57] So I started doing that with Bruce. For years, we did a [00:28:00] lot of TSN stuff, anything that he thought was vaguely rock and roll he'd call me , so I did everything like any sport you can think of, a world cup soccer and tiddlywinks, , any, anything that I'm joking. Cause I don't think there were any tiddlywinks on TSN, but I did a lot of sports rock, until about 2000, we never had a falling out or anything like that, but we just sort of drifted apart and he started doing more documentary work that had, less rock and roll, but we did our first, TV series on global TV. Called, Destiny Ridge. We scored a bunch of shows for CBC and for CTV it was really great. And, , the really cool thing about the TSN stuff was because of a loophole in the Canadian law, the copyright law, TSN wasn't paying royalties. You got paid up front and then in 1998, the law was changed due in part to lobbying from the songwriters association of Canada and from SoCon and other groups, the law was changed to require them like any other broadcaster to pay royalties.
[00:28:55]Well, suddenly seven years of royalties come in all at once. And I was able to buy [00:29:00] a house and a car and RSPs and, put money away it changed my life and made me feel like I could have a baby. Not physically, not biologically, but with my wifeArleen also producing and playing in her band
[00:29:12] and it just opened up our lives, in a really beautiful way. The TV music thing is fun when I teach at Seneca college. And when I talk to my students, I'll tell them, briefly at the beginning of the first class, , so I had this band in the eighties and we were signed to Capitol records, which is the Beatles label. We opened for heart and a bunch of, the birds and Huey Lewis and all these bands they'd never, ever heard of. And I say, we played at Wembley arena and they, they're sort of barely staying awake during all of this. And then I say, I still have a career in TV music, but the only things that you might know, I wrote, co-wrote the words to bay blade.
[00:29:43] And they go no way. And then I say, not only that, but I was the voice of rescue heroes. And they're like, no way. And they're just like, Amazed and suddenly I'm a rockstar to them.
[00:29:56]Blake Melnick: Well, I played that track from a baby to my [00:30:00] daughter last night and she remembers it. And I remember it too.
[00:30:02] Cause they'd played over and over. They were, yeah, that's right. Well, and although I didn't write anything for rescue heroes, I was the voice that goes
[00:30:11] rescue heroes
[00:30:14] Blair Packham: for the class. They're like, oh my God, that's you. I can't believe that's you, , but that's my claim to fame, I just, did some songs for a seseme street show, called Esmay and Roy and, it was nominated for some Emmys and stuff and that was a great experience. I'm hoping, of course always a freelancer always hoping to do more, but I love writing music for film and TV.
[00:30:34]Blake Melnick: And you were a DJ on Q one oh seven late night. I think that for a period of time and I do remember hearing you actually,
[00:30:43]Blair Packham: Yeah, that was from 11:00 PM till six in the morning on Sunday night, like the absolute graveyard shifts. And that came about merely because I had this philosophy, which is pretty simple, say yes. But when I see an opportunity, I think. [00:31:00] I can do that. So I saw in the newspaper that the overnight guy on Q1 and seven had been fired. So I thought, well, that means they'll need somebody. And I had done college radio at UFT. So I sent in a demo tape to Gary Sladeat Q 107then, and he called me in and said, this is great. We could just hire you, but I've decided to turn it into a promo. So we're going to do a contest. Take it from me unless something drastic happens. You'll win. But we're going to do it as a promo. And, and then we'll give you a regular shift. And I was like, okay, so we did it.
[00:31:33] And one of the contestants, Kristi Knight, ended up getting an actual gig. I got a gig, but it was like every Sunday night, it was kind of the worst, you I mean, I'm glad to have it, but she got a regular gig, like in the earlier part of the evening. And it's because of the, he turned it into a contest.
[00:31:48] So it's great. He actually got to find somebody who was really talented and really into it. And for whom radio was her life. For me, it was more of a diversion. And it was around that time that the jitters, came in third in the Q 107 contests. So they [00:32:00] pressed an album from that Q and a seven homegrown contest.
[00:32:02] And I was able to play the song. That was on the album and say, and here's the band from Toronto. I hear the singer is a great guy. I didn't really imagine having a career in radio, but then later I did, I co-hosted a show on, CFRB on Newstalk 10, 10, , initially it was called rock talk and then it was called in the studio and I co-hosted it with Bob Reed.
[00:32:21] Who's a dear friend of mine and we did that for almost 12 years. , interviewing almost anybody you can think of and lots of people you would never think of, from Bob Ray to Steve Earl, to Ray Davies of the kinks, Gordon Lightfoot, Randy Backman Burton Cummings, Serena rider, Judy Collins, Solomon Burke, the list goes on and on .
[00:32:42] Cause we always had at least two guests every week. And that was a blast. That was great.
[00:32:46]Blake Melnick: So let's talk about this a little bit. You've interviewed some amazing people on your show. Some of my absolute favorite singer songwriters, you interviewed Steve Earl, who is my favorite song writer. You mentioned John Hyatt. I recently read an article where Bob [00:33:00] Dylan said John Hyatt is the greatest living songwriter.
[00:33:02]You interviewed Nick Lowe. I was a huge Dave Edmonds fan and of course Nick Lowe and Dave Edmonds collaborated for many years. And I think one of my favorite records of all time was the little village album, which featured Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner. So with all these people that you've interviewed over the years, what was your favorite interview and why?
[00:33:23]Blair Packham: I think the best was Solomon Burke for me, Solomon Burke. Soul legend.
[00:33:28] One of my top 10 favorite records of all time, and that includes the Beatles. Is Solomon Burke's album "don't give up on me". I love the production.
[00:33:35] I love his voice. I love the songs. Just the sound of it. I was thrilled to talk to him. he was promoting the next album after that and he wanted to talk about that one, but of course, I just wanted to talk about, the other one. But we laughed and joked and he was truly a larger than life figure. , he was a very big man. He would appear at shows. He had, a throne that they brought with them on the road. It was a huge carved wooden [00:34:00] chair, a big throne literal and he would have a Cape and a crown and people would carry out the throne.
[00:34:08] I think it might've been with him in it. Solomon would stand up and shrugged off the Cape and then start to sing. But as he was about to begin, the Cape would run off stage on its own.
[00:34:19] And it's because his valet was a little person who was hidden under the Cape, until it was time to take the cape off he was that kind of performer and larger than life and not afraid to use gimmicks and stuff. I had recorded him with comfort sound.
[00:34:37] I had recorded him in about 1982 at a club in Toronto called Xanadu. I remember that. And they would present soul greats every week. It was a different soul. Great with the house band and their plan was they would make records with these people who didn't have record contracts anymore.
[00:34:52] So they were available to be recorded. And they would hire comfort sound to come in, but we only did one show there because, and [00:35:00] Solomon told great stories during those shows. And I was just sitting there in raptured by him, but then afterwards, after tearing down all our equipment and loading the truck, Doug McClemmits went to get paid.
[00:35:11] And the manager of the club, the owner of the club said,
[00:35:15] I'm not paying him. And I was in the room when, because I was finished my work as well. So I was there sweaty and ready to go home. It's one 30 in the morning. And he said,
[00:35:24] I'm not paying you, Doug.
[00:35:25] I don't have the money. I thought I would have the cash, but I don't.
[00:35:28] And at that point, Doug had already handed over the tapes. So it had zero leverage at all. And Doug was getting upset naturally because even in those days it was still a considerable amount of money. It was a thousand bucks or something like that.
[00:35:44] But if you're counting on that, that's a big chunk taken out of your week and, he would still have to pay me. So it wasn't great. Doug, wasn't happy. During this Solomon walks into the office and he was a preacher. He, [00:36:00] commanded your attention.
[00:36:01] So he walked in and he's wearing this black sort of thing that I can only describe as a Moomoo cause he was a big, big man. And so he walked in wearing this thing and
[00:36:11] Everybody stops talking and then. We started talking again because Solomon is not saying anything. He just walks in and looks from face-to-face
[00:36:17] doug is saying,
[00:36:18] you have to pay me. Well, I'm not going to Doug. I'm sorry.
[00:36:21] I'm not going to,
[00:36:22] I'm not going to be able to, we'll see how these recordings go.
[00:36:25] So it's not even a promise of I'll pay you next week
[00:36:27] now it's on spec. We'll see what happens,
[00:36:29] and Doug's getting more upset.
[00:36:31] And Solomon goes to gentleman and everybody turns to him, what we need is a hamburger
[00:36:43] because he was hungry, and the rest of us, we look at him and then, and Doug goes, I have to be paid, ignoring what Solomon had just said, but Solomon was hungry. Anyway, we ended up driving away without getting any money and Solomon [00:37:00] got his hamburger. And, that was the end of that. But I reminded him of that story. When we did the interview, he laughed like you wouldn't believe it was very satisfying to make him laugh.
[00:37:09] He was like, I said that and I said, yes, he did. And he said, I always got hungry after gigs. And then in the background, while we're talking about this and laughing about this, I hear
[00:37:25] said, Solomon, what's that beeping? And he said, Oh, that's just my chicken. I had some chicken in the microwave. You mind, if I eat while we talk and it was like, dude, do you never stop? So it was just so funny and fun and lighthearted he likes the idea that he'd been so entertaining way back when, and I just love talking to him.
[00:37:46] It was great.
[00:37:47]Blake Melnick: What a great story. And again, I'm envious of all these people that you've had a chance to work with and meet over the years. , quite remarkable. So now I want to shift gears a bit and talk about teaching. [00:38:00] I know you're teaching songwriting and Seneca college. I have a lot of questions around that, but I know that all of our McQuaid also does.
[00:38:06] So I'm not going to ask all of mine. But I do want to understand how that all happened, how it all came about. I know you're still teaching now. So this is obviously something that inspires you. Let's talk about that a little bit.
[00:38:19]Blair Packham: I started volunteering for the songwriters association of Canada, which isn't so can, by the way, for your listeners, it's not the same thing. It's not a royalty distribution body. It's really an advocacy body, on behalf of the creators of songs, the creator of words and music.
[00:38:36]There is no other organization like that. So I thought it was a really worthy organization. And I joined the board. I eventually became a co vice president with, Rick Emon and, we were doing a lot of good stuff. And they still are, doing a lot of good stuff. One of the things I did with them and for them was, were songwriting workshops, where we'd had spend a weekend with, 12 aspiring writers and, three mentors, me and maybe Christopher [00:39:00] Ward, and maybe Mark Jordan or Jane Sabrie, or, some, a well-known songwriting figure.
[00:39:05]And, I really enjoyed it. I just dug it. It was fun to listen to people's songs and offer ideas and, hopefully constructive criticism. So, when the opportunity came up to teach, first of all, Rick eminent and I started a songwriting workshop, that we do every July called songs studio, and it's going into its 17th year. But at , pretty much the same time that we established that, Seneca college came calling and asked if I would, teach songwriting in their program and then Humber college called and they asked if I would teach songwriting in their program. So I did, Humber college for five years and I'm still with Seneca.
[00:39:43]What I love about it is, honestly encouraging people. I feel like my role is to be a cheerleader, not wearing the outfit, but, cheerleading, people, to do better, to write songs that communicate better.
[00:39:55] I know that there's a certain amount of songwriting. That's subjective. There's no question [00:40:00] about that. But I also feel that, we have language and we have ways of speaking and writing some ways work better than others. And so my argument is there might be a better way to say that. And, our job is to move people. Our job is to make people feel something. And if we're writing only about our own innermost feelings. That might be moving to us, but it might not be moving to anybody else. Steve Earle says, songwriting is empathy. It's nobody cares how you feel. It's how you make them feel. And so I, try and get that across and, and I still find it exciting and invigorating. I feel I have stuff to offer and I feel good when my students agree I -love being around, young people
[00:40:38] Blake Melnick: I did have one question I wanted to ask you do you think you can really teach somebody to be a good songwriter?
[00:40:44]Blair Packham: Yes. I get asked this question a lot. There is a commonly held belief among music fans and civilians in general, that songwriting is purely an act of self-expression and , if it's worked on at all, if it's crafted at all, then it's less honest. If you don't just have this song [00:41:00] pour out of you, fully formed , and you actually work on it, then you're somehow less sincere and the songs are somehow less meaningful.
[00:41:08] I think that's complete and utter BS and it's romanticized. I think it's a romantic notion of what creating art is.
[00:41:16]End of Part 1