When I began reading Keith Sharp’s ode to his music magazine “Music Express: The Rise, Fall & Resurrection of Canada’s Music Magazine”, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was not only a decent read, but a new insight into Canadian music.
Following a brief foreword by Glass Tiger’s Alan Frew, Sharp leads us from the infancy stages of the “Alberta Music Express” to its current days as “The Music Express” within the city of Toronto. Along the way we embark on a journey featuring not only Canadian artists, but international stars as well. Anyone who is or was anyone in the music business has appeared within the pages of “Music Express”.
Being from America many of the names mentioned in the book were not familiar to me. It was interesting to learn about groups with names such as Zon, Toronto and Martha And The Muffins. Even more interesting was learning Mike Reno’s real last name is Rynowski, Bryan Adams was once known as Bryan Guy Adams and Jim Vallance was in a group called Prism. I found a common ground with the mention of comedians John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas and verified the fact that the El Macombo was indeed one of the hottest clubs for acts to play.
I found Sharp’s connection with the members of Iron Maiden humorous, especially on the soccer field. As I read about the frequent soccer matches between the “Music Express” staff and Iron Maiden, I was hoping to read about the game that took out Alan Frew’s knee. The incident is briefly mentioned in the acknowledgements.
I was thrilled to learn that Platinum Blonde have actually been to Boston, appearing at WBCN’s Rock Expo in 1986. They, along with Wendy O. Williams, appeared at the “Music Express” booth. The Blondes and Williams signed autographs while WBCN radio personality Carter Allen interviewed Sharp on-air to plug the magazine.
Another memorable moment mentioned in the book was how Sharp managed to upstage the Juno awards (more than once) with his own Music Express awards. Canada’s attempt at their own Live Aid, called Can-Aid, ended up being not much more than a financial disaster. Then there is the amazing tale of how they barely pulled off a fundraising concert as part of their music award show. The event was to raise funds for young burn victim Joey Philion. The club they were using had just been constructed and unbeknownst to the event holders, didn’t have a liquor license yet. Probably the most remarkable event Sharp witnessed was Bryan Adams playing both sides of the Berlin wall in 1988
The book also reveals the trials and tribulations of Canadian groups making or breaking it in the United States. Many groups like Loverboy and Glass Tiger were faced with record label shake-ups which hindered their growth south of the border. Loverboy hit it big just as the American music industry was being affected by a “payola scandal”. Priority for promoting Glass Tiger was lost when their original label Manhattan Records evolved into Capitol-EMI.
Aside from the choppiness of the writing in places and various grammatical and factual errors (Glass Tiger’s song is “I’m Still Searching” not “I’m Still Standing” and Bryan Adams’ album is “Waking Up The Neighbours” not “Waking Up The Neighbourhood”), “Music Express: The Rise, Fall & Resurrection of Canada’s Music Magazine” is still a good read for Canadian and non-Canadian music fans alike. It’s also good to know that through everything, the publication is once again going strong in the digital age.