Walt Grealis was the hero of the recording artists and the other craftsmen of the allied arts that he called Cancon. He dedicated his life to creating the Canadian music explosion – the sound heard 'round the world. His goal was to open the door for all artists and build a star system in Canada.
Walt was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1993. As we stepped out of Rideau Hall and into the limo, Walt smiled at me and said, "Not bad for a couple of grade 10 dropouts."
He was a Mountie, a Toronto police officer, a pilot and a skydiver. He jogged six miles a day and went to the gym five times a week. He jogged in Paris, Hong Kong, London, Cannes, Acapulco, Gibraltar, Madeira, Casablanca, Majorca and Saint-Tropez, and on the QE2 and the Norway. He waited each year to sail across the Atlantic, and whatever his world destination, he jogged. If there was a gym, he exercised.
When Walt started RPM Weekly early in 1964, he learned to write and for a number of years wrote the whole magazine by himself. Eventually there was a staff, but at the beginning it was Walt and a bunch of comic-strip-like characters he invented. Most important was a nasty, rumour-mongering lady named Elvira Capreese:
Elvira Capreese: Okay! This is a promotion for the book!
Stan Klees: She would just interrupt Walt and say the most outlandish things.
EC: Do I get my own chapter in the book?
SK: She was the resident gossip and readers couldn't wait for the rumours.
EC: Rumours? This is the truth. This is a shameless promotion for the book.
SK: Ellie! There is no more RPM. No more of your viciousness. You did a lot of damage. People thought you knew something.
EC: I know everything. I have my ear to the woofer!
SK: Oh! Yeah!
EC: Pardon? Speak up!
The writers who worked for RPM read like a who's-who: Kate Taylor is now a renowned writer; Lisa Robinson wrote first in RPM. It was her first outlet before going on to international fame. Even today, writers acknowledge Walt as having given them their first break.
He was always a gentleman and a joy to work for. It was fun to work at RPM. Walt was easy to talk to, easy to know and a great ambassador. I can remember one story when my stockbroker (a lovely lady) invited us to an event to finance a movie made by Charlton Heston's son. As we chatted we noticed Charlton enter with a woman and stand in the doorway, looking confused.
It became apparent that everyone was so impressed by Charlton that no one could muster up the courage to go over to greet them. It was getting embarrassing, so I told Walt to go over. Walt brought them over and introduced Charlton and his wife to everyone and said, "I'm going to take Chuck around and introduce him to some of these people." He called Moses, "Chuck"! He didn't know any of the people there, but suddenly he was the host. And "Chuck" was an instant friend.
One of the outstanding events in Walt's life took place in June 1989, at a 25th anniversary tribute to Walt. Someone drove a $50,000 coach – a gift on Walt's behalf to the Variety Club – into the Centennial ballroom of the Inn on the Park in Toronto. They had never had a bus before and after that they had quite a few. All this to a ten-minute standing ovation. Walt was a great supporter of the Variety Club and Variety Village.
One of the reasons Walt ran afoul of the Juno people was that he fought to stop the foreign acts they kept bringing in for the Junos. He felt it should be a showcase for Cancon artists. They felt the Junos should sell records and pull in high ratings by bringing in foreign acts. Big-time stuff, but Walt didn't buy it. Television producers liked to work with the "big" stars and wanted to add the Junos to their tape resumé to show what big producers they were when looking for jobs in the States. Walt won that monumental battle, but in the end he lost the war.
Regardless of how good RPM looked every week it never made money. It survived on the generosity of friends and certainly not the support of the industry. It just struggled from one issue to another. Walt worked on the magazine from week to week, often into the night. It was a labour of love, even if it wasn't appreciated in the early days or at the end. Walt believed in free enterprise and never dipped into the public purse. RPM never got any government grants or funding. Can you name one other person who has done so much so unselfishly for the Canadian music industry?
In the late '90s, a woman sitting with us at an industry banquet table scolded Stan Klees: "Walt always wears his Order of Canada in his lapel. You never wear yours. Aren't you proud to have been honoured?"
"No, there's another reason," Stan replied. He stood up, excused himself and left the table without another word.
I had to explain that Stan had never been honoured. We were so close and so involved together in the industry that many people believed that we had both been honoured. Weeks later Maureen Forrester (who thought the world of Stan) made the same mistake. She asked me to help her put together a letter so she could write to the Chancellory. How could I refuse this grand lady of Canadian classical music?
Stan was the pioneer of the whole Canadian content (Cancon) movement. He rented a boardroom at the Inn on the Park and invited all the record producers of the day to form the Canadian Independent Record Producers Association (CIRPA). Later he got together a group that travelled to Ottawa to talk to the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG), the predecessor of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). They spoke to Ross McLean and Pat Pearce, two members of the Board, who promised that the BBG was looking at Canadian content regulations.
He talked me into launching RPM and came up with the idea of the RPM readers' poll that lead to the awards. He even financed and organized the awards and his mother Sabina made the sandwiches for the first ceremony at St. Lawrence Hall. (Eight months later the awards were nicknamed the Junos.) On the phone daily with Doug McGowan of the CRTC, he worked tirelessly to bring about the regulations that led to the 30% Cancon rules. He designed the MAPL symbol for his Tamarac record releases and later licensed it to RPM to use in the charts so that radio stations could easily see which records qualified as Cancon. What confusion there would have been if he hadn't come up with the system. What a guy!
Modesty was his middle name. He just liked to get things done. He was always very satisfied with himself and I envied his ease with artists. He just seemed to be one of them and they accepted him. It was nothing to be watching television when the phone would ring and it would be Helmut Lotti calling from his dressing room during intermission at a concert in Boston. Paul Molitor would phone from Maui. I was there when Nancy Sinatra invited him to "stay at the house. I know you would like to meet my dad. You're like family." With John Candy it was mutual admiration.
He and Marshall MacLuhan would lunch by the hour. Marshall once told Stan: "The real professionals would like you a lot. Non-professionals would hate you even more."
At the height of his record-producing career job offers came fast and furious, but would have meant moving to New York City. Stan chose to stay in Canada. He wanted to finish what he had started.
In 2001 SOCAN asked if they could honour Stan and me with a Special Achievement Award. I asked if they would consider honouring Stan alone since he had been completely ignored by the industry. I insisted on making the presentation. A seven-minute standing ovation greeted Stan as he got to the stage and another lengthy standing ovation followed when he left. Gripped with emotion, Stan simply bowed. The audience was mainly songwriters and publishers. There weren't many dry eyes.
I once asked Stan who were the most influential people in his career. He answered very quickly: "You and Bobby Darin, Harriet Wasser, Bob Crewe, Chuck Seaton and Walt Hofer (two U.S. music industry attorneys), John Nathan (renowned U.S. publicist), Connie DeNave (U.S. public relations legend), Lee Hamilton (CHUM disc jockey in 1947) and George (The Hound) Lorenz." What an honour to have been included in that list.
Stan was tested once and found to be "a genius in the second superior." I asked him how he felt about that and he said, "I can never find my car keys." I think that every once in a while, someone is put on this earth to do some very special things and do them well. I believe that Stan was one of those gifted people. How lucky are the people who had the good fortune to know him.