Jaimie Vernon and The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia

Jamie Vernon

Story:Lenny Stoute

Photos: Courtesy Jaimie Vernon

(Jaimie Vernon has been an inspiring presence on the Canadian music scene for 25 years or more. This month Jaimie joined Cashbox Canada as a contributing journalist and we couldn’t be more delighted to have him.)

If you look in the new Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia under ‘Canuck' indie music icon’ you’ll see a picture of Jaimie Vernon. Ok, actually you won’t but that’s only because Jaimie himself has written the Encyclopedia and his innate modesty forbids such self-stroking in public.

After a quarter-century or so as performer, record label owner, encourager and supporter of Canadian indie talent, Jaimie Vernon is now making his greatest contribution to Canadian culture with the publication of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia.
“ It started with (indie label) Bullseye Records, when I began accumulating photos, press materials and early recordings from large numbers of bands. I became aware there was nowhere to go for reliable documentation of all these bands that would go on to be large parts of the landscape By 1988 it seemed kind of natural that we would put out a music magazine, Great White Noise”, says Jaimie of the project’s genesis.

A huge quantum leap in the saga came via a chance conversation with major music journo John Sakamoto who mentioned that The Toronto Sun had licensed a music Encyclopedia but weren’t happy with it.

“I said I was confident I could do better” remembers Jaimie. “When he mentioned the site had archived only 400 bands I told him I could easily find 1,000 acts, all properly documented and catalogued, with actual catalogue numbers”.

Jaimie with Moving Targetz at the Purple Onion in Oshawa circa 1991.Jaimie with Moving Targetz at the Purple Onion in Oshawa circa 1991.With that site as a base Vernon was now able to retool and fine-tune this thing that has become The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. Part of that was the institution of stringent entry criteria. The most primary of which being that the act had been in the business at least a year and in that time had released product in whatever physical format, with the requisite catalogue number.

“I insist that the product be commercially available, I got heat for this but I maintain that’s indicative of a standard of professionalism that you’ve made something that people at large can access and listen to. I’m looking for consistency, a loyalty to the principle of making music, a confirmation your band will stay together for at least the year and in that time, put out a commercially available product”.

“Maintaining that standard hasn’t been easy. It meant leaving out bands I enjoyed, like Ravng Mojos and Chocolate Bunnies From Hell, which had strong local followings but somehow never got around to releasing anything.

Despite the Herculean nature of the task, Vernon is adamant on the subject of hands-on control. Not because he’s a freak on the control thing but it’s about keeping the objectivity pristine. Understandably, he’s leery about the lack of control and the difficulties with keeping a vision consistent inherent in taking the Wiki approach. As with most blogs, too much of that material is opinion not fact. “ It’s artist driven and it’s all about popular music as played in Canada from 1949 onwards. It’s about the artists who made the popular music of the time and for a long time in Canada that was country music. “It started as a website and so I’m accustomed to inter-acting with the readers, I've been at it long enough to understand that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing in that people are always bringing unique things to my attention; I’ll publish something on an obscure band and someone will see it and contact me. During that contact as happened in one instance, the fan told me abut a  7 “ that the band had put out as a promo only, and this person just happened to have one. That kind of thing is exciting and helpful. “ What isn’t helpful is when people use the site for emotional feuding and nitpicking over some issue, especially when neither party has the facts. All that leads to is a further confusion over the facts. That sort of thing just perpetuates sketchy information and helps obscure the real thing. If something can’t be locked in solid or even if there’s any doubt, I leave it out”.

Vernon favours the facts over the ‘truth’, well aware the latter is a slippery and many-faceted slope. He feels a huge sense of responsibility to the music fans and collectors he expects to be his core market, noting that even in the Internet age it’s difficult to get all the facts. A large part of that battle, he notes, is sorting the verifiable facts from among all the published inaccuracies.

As befitting a guy who grew up with hard copy music, Vernon is insistent on publishing a hard-copy edition of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia.

“When it came to getting usage clearance for the artwork, the music community has been most supportive. The major label guys all gave me the thumbs up and I already had solid relationships with the indie bands. Plus I had access to some great vintage stuff from John Rowlands, John Fraser and Bruce Cole, among the many other photographers who contributed”

The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia is a triumph of sterling scholarship and hard-rock research, brimming with love and respect for its subject.

That this towering amount of research was largely conducted by Vernon himself says loads about his stamina in the pursuit of excellence.

The business-savvy Vernon expects to spin off the book into an eBook version and a radio show while offering the Encyclopedia in its entirety on the website.

“ All those press kits came with photos, stickers and all that fantastic memorabilia tied to the music culture. It seemed a shame for that material not to be out there and while it all will be up on the website, hard copy is somehow its natural environment.

What he’s created here is a document of significant cultural and popular relevance; a rare occasion when these dovetail and neither camp should be left unaware of its significance.

“ It’s a document I’m proud of. That said, I don’t expect everyone will agree with everything in it. I’ve set Nov. 1 as the publication date for the hard copy. I’m still shopping the project but if at that time, no publisher has come forward, I’m prepared to do it myself”.

We’d expect no less from Jaimie Vernon.

Read the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia online:

Pre-order a copy of the book to be released in October