How did the Museum of Canadian Music get started?
It evolved from a project that I’d been working on for just over 20 years, trying to catalogue every Canadian recording. I’ve always liked Canadian music and consider myself to be a pretty patriotic person.
The two just came together around 22 years ago when my brother went to manage a pub in England and I kept sending him Canadian music. It just evolved over the years, where the deeper I dug into it the more I found, and I needed to get more people to help build it because it’s much larger than what one person can possibly manage.
The website says you have more than 50,000 music artifacts.
Yes. It’s the largest private collection of Canadian music in the world. The only larger collection would be at the Library and Archives of Canada. They have 150,000. CBC and a few radio stations have upwards of 120,000, but I don’t know what their Canadian content is. The government owns all that.
Where do you store all of it?
I store a lot of it in a vault. Locked away. It’s basically an online museum for the time being until we can get some funding and get a location. We have a long way to go.
What’s the long-range plan?
The idea is to basically catalogue every Canadian recording and tell the story of Canadian musicians and their discographies.
Why is it important to you to document and catalogue all that?
It’s to remind ourselves we do have a deep and rich music history. I always wanted to dispel the myth that Canada was lacking culture. It’s so deep and it’s told in our music. I’m going to dig up all these old records and turn them into digital format hoping the artists let me sell their music, or at least put an online player to listen to them.
How many hours a week do you put into this?
Probably 30. It’s a part-time job, strictly volunteer. This is all just for the love of music. We have about 10 or 15 people helping out.
What was the first album you ever bought?
It was Helix’s Breaking Loose in 1983. I was 17. I still have that album and I still like it too. It’s before they were a metal band; they were more country-rock. Their first single was “Billy Oxygen” and it’s just a really nice, cool song. Google it. It should go down as one of the Top 1,000 singles of all-time.
What’s your prize piece in the collection?
That’s hard to say. Do you go for value, the cool factor or something you just like? But I’d have to go with my favourite album, By Turning a Knob, by Peter Tessier. It’s such a good album, a psychedelic rock album from 1973.
Was there a lot of good Canadian psychedelic music around that time?
Yeah. From ’67 to ’73 I would say is probably Canada’s most fruitful period for psychedelic rock. Before CANCON rules came into effect we had really deep, quality music coming out of Canada. The Canadian content rules may be well-intended, but they didn’t make Canadian content any better; they just got more of the mainstream stuff played on the radio.
Where do you get the money to buy these artifacts?
I get paid well for working in the engineering business. I’m not rich; it’s just my pastime. Some people buy expensive vehicles; I buy records.
What’s the one Canadian music artifact you’d kill a kitten to get your hands on?
I can’t really say. It’s not really about finding what you’re looking for. It’s about finding one you didn’t know existed. I find that more thrilling. If you know something exists and someone says, “I have this, do you want to pay $4,000?” it’s like a transaction. Whereas if you find something you didn’t even know existed and pay $1 for it, to me, that is way cool.