Montreal, Music and Me!

Michael Williams.jpg

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio through the mid- stages of the American Music business. If it was rock -n-roll, I saw it, I heard it .Working at two radio stations after high school gave me access to every rock show I could attend, studio sessions, the Cleveland Orchestra and Rock n roll parties.

I did not know anything about Canada or Canadian music but I was, like most Americans, unknowingly, a fan. 

My first Canadian record was by Murray McLauchlan on Columbia Records, 1972. I still have the original promo version on vinyl.  I was folkie then, still am.  I didn’t know he was Canadian, just good and it fit in with all the other music I listened to at the time. After Murray I discovered other great Canadians –The Guess Who, and Five Man Electrical Band, The Stampeders.

Like most young people I got the travel bug. I joined Up With People in 1973 for my last year at high school. We toured the world and, yes, with Canadians too!  Our cast nurse Donna told me about Montreal and it sounded great.

Later that year I met another Canadian from Ottawa who told me about the Communications Arts School at Loyola (now Concordia). When I learned that Marshall McLuhan had been asked to be Dean of the Communications Arts program, I was sold!  I knew who he was!

HarmoniumHarmoniumExcited by the prospects, a great education, low tuition, an immediate fascination for French music and culture, Montreal became home…!

When I travelled with, “Up With  People” ,they taught  me , orientate yourself to the social , political climate through studying culture, politics  and  history.  So I watched docs on the “October Crisis”, mingled with the locals and read history books. Their political struggle seemed close to the struggle of Black people in America, French Canadians also identified with Blacks. Who can forget FLQ’s founder, Pierre Vallières, “White Niggers in America”.

The Quebecois musical identity was the soul of the people developed over a relatively short period of time. It went hand in hand with their political identity. Again it was just good! The music was like nothing I had ever heard, it was distinct, unique, and a separate musical identity from the rest of Canada if not the world!

I was living in musical environment, which was incredibly creative, spearheaded by Chom-Fm.  Montreal is a city where Music, Art and Culture are worshiped in everyday life.

The music came out of Studio Six. Engineer, producer, genius, Quentin Meek was one of the musical midwives helping to give a voice and production sound to this new music of Quebec and Canada. Take Harmonium’s perfect debut, the artist made the music but ChomFm played it all!

From the clubs to the classrooms, music flowed ,the   impresarios included Sheldon Kagan, DKD, Spectel, “Rising Sun” Jazz Club.  Doudou Boicel and Rueben Fogel. When I first heard Boule Noir aka George Thurston, a  Black Man singing in French to tracks by the Muscle Shoals house band produced by Quentin Meek... I stopped the car. Then there was Claude Dubois‘s classic “Mellow Reggae.

It was wonderful bearing witness to the birth of new music. The great personalities, who all loved music with every fiber of their being made up for business and what it became.

Boule NoireBoule NoireIn Montreal, I always heard a larger variety of Black music in the clubs and on the streets. French and English radio were the first to go live to air broadcasting from clubs in Canada with Robert Ouimet, Billboard DJ of the year 1977. He was the most progressive DJ I had ever heard playing hits before they were hits, even making hits. He was ruled by a keen sense of the culture of his crowd

It was club life at its most decadent heights fueled by music that thrilled the soul, Garland Jeffreys  at the Forum, August Darnell aka Kid Creole at 1234 with Machine, Imagination performing at the Limelight, and the Trammps at the opening OZ.

In between the music, I studied and worked my way through Loyola as a student/ mobile Dj with my partner Stanley Darville from Nassau.

Needless to say the two places that I owe my musical taste to are Cleveland and Montreal.

I learned the meaning “Je suis Quebecois”!

Through music...