Happy Birthday Stan !
By Sandy Graham
In the fledgling days of the Canadian Music Industry, there were two men who saw the future, and inevitably helped shape it. Walt Grealis and Stan Klees. The names go together like peanut butter and jam, milk and cookies, RPM and CANCON. It is hard to mention one without the other.
This week marked the 80th birthday of Stan Klees. Finally a senior teenager. Klees lost his long-time friend and business partner, Walt Grealis in 2004, after a short three year battle with cancer. Close to eight years later, Stan Klees is still seen about town; frequenting Mirvish Productions and lunching with old friends.
For those of you who don’t know the story of RPM, ‘the little paper that grew’ here is a short history lesson. RPM started in 1964, and was ‘The Conscience of Canada's Music Industry’. Now, a huge industry here in Canada, it is now hard to believe, with the success of Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan, Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams, Blue Rodeo, Rush, Avril Lavigne and countless other artists, that there was a time when English-Canadian popular music was rarely heard on the radio or promoted by Canadian record companies. In the 1960’s Canadian artists were regarded with indifference, and many were forced to turn to the U.S. to make a success of their talent. One person who decided to change that was Walt Grealis.
Walt Grealis, Toronto-born, started out in 1947 with the RCMP, then later the Toronto Police Force, then changing career paths, and after a stint in Bermuda, he then worked doing sales and promotion for O’Keefe and Labatt’s breweries. His skills led him to the music industry, and in 1960 he worked for Apex Records the Ontario distributor for Compo, an early Canadian record company that today has evolved into Universal (www.umusic.ca). He later joined London Records, where he worked until February 1964, when he established RPM as a weekly trade magazine. From the first issue on February 24, 1964 to its final issue on November 13, 2000, RPM was the bible and, in many respects, the conscience of the recording industry in Canada. On February 24, 1964 the first 500 copies were sent out free-of-charge. With time, the format of the magazine changed. Advertising started to cover the costs and RPM went from being a tip sheet, listing Canadian recordings with a little commentary and editorializing, to a full-fledged glossy trade magazine with charts, national reports, articles on musicians and complete coverage of the industry. RPM was more than just a trade magazine. It was a powerful force in the industry.
Fast forward to 1971 and enter Stan Klees. Stan Klees, Grealis's colleague, shares the responsibility for many of RPM's innovations. Born in Toronto on April 29, 1932, Klees had been involved with music since his youth. He played accordion professionally as a child and was a disc jockey at CHUM Radio when he was 16. Eventually he went to work at London Records. In 1963 he started his own label, Tamarac. Then in partnership with Art Snider, of ACT Records, and Duff Roman, of Roman Records, he founded Red Leaf Records. Despite some success, Klees' records were coming up against a wall of indifference; many radio programmers felt that a Canadian record could automatically be trashed without listening to it, because it was, by definition, inferior to the American product. Good English-Canadian artists, it was assumed, would follow the traditional route, pioneered by Guy Lombardo, Paul Anka and countless others, and find success in the United States, before they would receive recognition at home.
In 1971 Stan Klees joined the staff of RPM as a designer and eventually became a "special projects consultant." Klees' design and organizing capabilities were essential in ensuring that RPM would have a major impact on the Canadian recording industry. In 1995 Stan Klees was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Grealis and Klees wanted to make RPM into something more than just a trade magazine and the Canadian music industry into more than a U.S. branch plant. Their goal was to create a star system for Canada and a Canadian industry that could stand on its own. The Canadian recording industry can attest to RPM's contributions: The Canadian Independent Record Production Association (www.cirpa.ca), started by Stan Klees in 1971, is now a leading industry voice for Canadian record companies and the MAPL logo (for Music - composer, Artist, Production - recording location, Lyrics - lyricist) designed in 1970 by Stan Klees for use on his Tamarac label has become an accepted industry standard for indicating Canadian content. RPM helped with industry promotional events such as the Maple Music Junket, the Canadian presence at MIDEM (www.midem.com) and the Canadian Music Week (www.cmw.net/cmw2006/index.asp), which started as an RPM industry get-together called Three Days in March. RPM also helped establish the Canadian Country Music Association (www.ccma.org), which had its roots in the 1975 creation of the Big Country Awards and the Canadian Academy for Country Music Advancement. RPM was also responsible for the publication of various industry directories. For the public at large, RPM's biggest impact was in the establishment of national awards and ceremonies to honour top Canadian artists, and as a champion of Canadian content regulations.
Perhaps RPM's most significant contribution to Canadian music was as a leader in promoting Canadian content (Cancon) regulations for radio. RPM knew that, if there was to be a star system in English-speaking Canada, it was essential for Canadian records to be played on Canadian radio. Recordings were being produced in Canada prior to Cancon regulations but they were usually made for an older audience or for a specific niche market. Not many featured the kind of music popular with the nation's youth. Rock-and-roll programming in Canada followed the lead of American sources such as Billboard, Cashbox and the Gavin Report. If Canadian discs were added to a station's playlist, they were usually by local musicians, with a limited reputation, for a regional audience. Few thought nationally.
Initially RPM did not push for Canadian content regulations: "RPM felt that a soft policing by the broadcast industry alone would bring about the necessary musical nationalism" (Vol. 4, No. 7, October 11, 1965). To facilitate this "soft policing," the Maple Leaf System (MLS) was created in 1969 with Walt Grealis as coordinator. The idea was that 12 radio stations from across the country would review Cancon singles every week and then select ones to be given regular airplay and promotion. The system fell apart when the stations didn't follow through and actually play the records. In a series of articles in the fall of 1969, analyzing the state of Canadian content recordings, RPM concluded that if MLS was to work, it "would have required courage on the part of the members and stations involved and unfortunately Canadian radio has been capable of very little creativity and courage." On November 24, 1969 Grealis resigned from his MLS position. MLS limped on until 1973 when lack of interest brought it to an end. By then, Cancon had moved to a new level.
A series of ten articles that began on April 20, 1968, written by Stan Klees, started a heated debate on the pros and cons of legislated Cancon. RPM recommended that 25% of programming be 100% Canadian: "production, creation, performance and control." The discussion, which still continues among broadcasters, musicians, and record companies, took a decisive turn when the issue was picked up by the CRTC and championed by its chairman, Pierre Juneau. On January 18, 1971 regulations requiring most Canadian radio stations to play 30% Canadian recordings came into force.
They say in life we all want to leave a mark, a legacy behind. RPM was this legacy. The old school remembers. The new ones should read more about RPM and the legacy Stan and Walt gave us as an industry.
I started out in Radio, and in the late 1970’s, as a Music Director, I used RPM to guide my way, to find those Canadian gems for rotation. Walt Grealis was a character, a mentor and a true trailblazer. Stan Klees is a huge reason Canadians can enjoy the success on radio here now.
Without RPM, and people like Walt and Stan, I wouldn’t have a career today.
Happy Birthday Stan! And thank you for all you do!!