ME AND THE FOZ
I met and played with David Foster for the first time in the early 1970’s, not long after moving from Vancouver to Victoria in 1969. Our first musical encounter was playing at our mutual friend Chris Earthy’s wedding. We had sporadic contact over the next few years, as David visited Victoria regularly.
In 1985, Chris called to inform me about a tribute dinner for David being held at the Empress Hotel, and asked if I would put a band together for the event and perform. I said yes, and volunteered to write a song for the occasion. During the evening’s festivities, which included many acknowledgements, and video clips from several artists David had worked with like Donna Summer and others, we played the song live for David, and afterward, Roger Monk of Little Mountain Sound and Jim Vallance (Bryan Adams songwriting partner) approached me and invited me to come to Vancouver and record the song. They would pay for the studio time and we would present it to David as a gift. The result was ‘Song for David’, which became ‘Dreams’ and is included in my ‘R You That Girl’ compilation.
The following year, in 1986, Chris contacted me again and asked me to arrange for a rehearsal space, and to line up the best players I could get to back up David and ‘some friends’, in what was to become a series of concerts over the next several years, known as The David Foster Celebrity Softball Game, a charity to help provide financial assistance to families whose children are undergoing life-saving organ transplants. I assembled some of my favourite players. That list would eventually include Jerry Adolphe, Norm McPherson, Doug Edwards, Brian Newcombe, Darryl Bennett, Dane Deviller, Tom Colclough, and Bill Sample. Rehearsals began after hours in the Seacoast Sound studios. Some of our first guests were Kenny Loggins and the Jeff Healey Band.
During the following years, David brought up many of his celebrity friends, both musical and non-musical, to participate. The guests included John Travolta, Michael J. Fox, Rob Lowe, Sam Kinison, Sally Kellerman, Olivia Newton-John, Julio Eglasias, Ed McMahon, Tommy Chong, Lee Majors, Wayne Gretzky, Bob McGrath, Fred Penner, Alan Thicke, and others. Performing on stage with us were Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Peter Cetera, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Boz Scaggs, Dan Hill, Robert Lamm and Jason Scheff of the band ‘Chicago’, Michael Bolton, Sheena Easton, Roch Voisine, Dudley Moore, Paul Anka, Kenny G, Ray Parker Jr., Nigel Olson, Mike Reno, Gordon Lightfoot, Burt Bacharach, Stephen Bishop, Richard Marx, John Parr, Michael Damien, Platinum Blonde, and others.
When The David Foster Celebrity Softball series had run its course, David and the band continued doing concerts over the next couple of years. We played at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa with Celine Dion, Rich Little, and the NAC Symphony Orchestra, as Charles and Diana looked on from the Royal Box. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife Mila were in the audience. We played in Atlanta with Celine, Kenny Rogers, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra including two members of Celine’s band. One of our last shows was the opening of Roger’s Arena in Vancouver, featuring Sarah McLachlan, Ashley MacIsaac, and others. The following year, David played a beautiful piano track for me on ‘In the Quiet Night’, a song from my ‘Power in Our Hands’ album, which he was kind enough to list in his discography.
My most recent musical involvement with David was in 2011. I was asked to put a band together and perform a set of ‘Foster-related’ songs at Mount Doug High School’s 80thAnniversary. David had attended high school there, as had Nelly Furtado, who was the special guest along with David. I’m grateful for having known ‘The Foz’, and for the years we spent playing together, and for the many fine singers and players I had a chance to play with through my connection with David.
1994 COMMONWEALTH GAMES
In 1987, while I was working at Seacoast Sound, the City of Victoria made a formal bid to host the 1994 Commonwealth Games. As part of its bid, an audio-video presentation was commissioned, and put in the very capable hands of a wonderfully talented producer, Gary McCartie. Mel Cooper, my Seacoast boss at the time, approached David Foster to write the music. David’s response was “I can’t take this on right now, but you’ve got a guy right here in house who can handle it. Ask Morry Stearns.” He did, and the rest is history.
Gary and I worked closely together over the next few months and the result was ‘Welcome to Our Island Home’, a 20-minute video presentation with music, sound effects, and narration. I composed the music and most of the lyrics, with lyric contributions from Dale Baglo and Gary himself. Dale wrote the beautifully worded narration voiced by Delores Bate. It was presented as a large multi-projector slide show, displaying the natural wonders of Vancouver Island, the beauty of Victoria in particular, and its suitability to host the Games. It was visually quite beautiful, and combined with the music, sound effects, and narration, elicited a lot of heartfelt emotion. The bid went to Montreal and competed against Halifax, Ottawa, Vancouver/Richmond, and others. We were thrilled to find out we had won for Canada.
The following year, in 1988, the world-wide competition was to be held in Seoul Korea, and this time we were competing against New Delhi, India and Cardiff, Wales, so a second AV presentation was commissioned, and I was again given the honour of composing the music. This time, Gary asked me to work with Paul Smith and Paul Belserene, two of his fellow producers from Vancouver. The result was ‘Hear the Call’. It was sent to Seoul, and we waited with nervous anticipation for the results. Victoria got 29 votes, New Delhi got 18, and Cardiff got 7. We were stunned and overjoyed when the news came from Seoul that we had won, and there was much joyous celebration.
Then of course, the real hard work began—building all the venues and facilities for the Games themselves, six years away, which seemed so very far off at the time. I wasn’t involved in any of those preparations, but in 1993, I received a call from Jacques LeMay, who was the head choreographer for the upcoming opening and closing ceremonies. He said there was a contest to pick a theme song to close the show, that there was a $5000 prize for the winner, and asked if I would like to enter. I said yes, of course, and went to work. I wrote “Let the Spirit Live on Forever”, did a demo and submitted it. A few days later, Jacques called and said “We have a problem.” The contest had resulted in two finalists—myself and Bob Buckley, a very talented Vancouver-based keyboardist, composer, and producer, also a friend of mine. Jacques asked if we would be willing to split the prize money. We both agreed. We recorded both songs at Seacoast Sound, and Bob’s tune ‘Let the Sprit Take Flight’ was played mid-show at the closing ceremonies and ‘Let the Spirit Live On Forever’ was the closer.
My dear friends Duncan Meiklejohn, April Gislason, and I performed the song mid-field to an estimated world-wide TV audience of nearly 500 million. As we were singing, hundreds of the athletes left their bleachers prematurely and stormed center field, and we soon found ourselves completely engulfed in a sea of swaying, sweating, cheering, bodies. Very exciting and a bit scary.
After all the festivities were over, a celebration was put on to thank all the volunteers, staff, etc., and I was asked to write a song for the occasion. I wrote ‘Celebrate Victoria’ and Duncan, April, and I performed it for the crowd.
The Games were a great success, and left a wonderful legacy in Victoria. I was so very proud of our little City and very proud and honoured to have played a part. Thanks to David, Mel, Gary, and all the fine musicians and singers who took part.
“Let the Spirit Live On”.
THE SAMPLE STEARNS BAND
First contact between Bill Sample and I occurred in Mission City, BC, around 1954. I would have been 7 or 8, and Bill 3 or 4. My parents and I occasionally visited the Samples, since my Dad, Len Stearns, played sax in a small combo with Bill’s Dad Rod on trombone, and his Mom Ruth on Piano. They played for dances and parties all around the Fraser Valley. Bill and I both have memories of being at some of their rehearsals. Dad would give me spoons or whatever, and I’d play along. Bill and I likely met, but because of our age difference, probably didn’t ‘hang out’.
We weren’t to meet again until 17 years later, after I moved to Victoria from Vancouver in 1969. Bill once told me that he had come down to the Strathcona Hotel to check out ‘this new guy from Vancouver’. I was hired to play there six nights a week in the Old Forge Nightclub. Coincidentally, David Foster had played the same gig a year or two before.
Over the next couple of years, Bill and I got to know each other and often marveled at the coincidence of our parents having played together when we were kids. We started doing some gigs and jam sessions together, and eventually, along with Norm MacPherson and Jerry Adolphe, began discussing the idea of forming an original band. So in 1974, Bill Sample, Morry Stearns, Norm MacPherson, and Jerry Adolphe formed the first version of The Sample Stearns Band. We settled on that name after failing to come up with an alternative everybody liked. ‘Thrush’ was a contender until we realized that as well as the name of a bird, it was also the name of a fungal infection. So, since Bill and I were the two main songwriters, ‘The Sample Stearns Band’ seemed like the most straight forward and unpretentious solution. We did a number of gigs as a four-piece, with Bill on keys, key bass, and vocals, me on keys, bass, and vocals, Norm MacPherson on guitar, and Jerry on drums and vocals.
Eventually, we felt the need to expand our sound and instrumental possibilities, so we decided to have two full time keyboardists and a full time bass player. We auditioned several players, and eventually asked Lee Oliphant (Bill’s old friend, recently returned from the UK) to join us. We continued doing gigs and shows around Victoria, the Island, and the BC interior as a five-piece, but by 1976, gigs were getting harder to find, so we finally decided to go our separate ways, explore other possibilities, and try to make a living.
Bill went to Paris. Norm and I and eventually Jerry went to LA, where we played with Kenny Rogers’ nephew, Dann Rogers, Booker T, Priscilla Coolidge, Burton Cummings, Michael McDonald, Tom Bresh, Susan Raye, and came close to doing a tour with Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn of Booker T and the MG’s, and Levon Helm from ‘The Band’. We were invited to become an ‘in-house’ recording studio rhythm section at Crystal Sound in Santa Monica, where many different artists had recorded, including Stevie Wonder, Ben Vereen, Millie Jackson, Jackson Brown, Eric Burdon & War, and others. Stevie had been the sole client for almost two years doing ‘Songs in the Key of Life’.
Meanwhile, Norm had formed a friendship and a musical relationship with an amazing young LA singer/songwriter named April Fulladosa. At the time, April was working at the Starwood, a well-known Hollywood showclub where Van Halen, The Monkees, The Meters, Glen Campbell, and others had played. We began to spend some time together, playing music, and exchanging song ideas, and in 1977, collaborated on April’s first solo album, ‘Home Base’, which we recorded at TTG Studios in Hollywood, where Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and The Doors had recorded. Bill flew in and contributed some strings, horns, and keys on the album.
All during this time, one of Norm’s musical dreams was to combine April’s amazing songs and vocals with The Sample Stearns Band, and the letters and phone calls had been flowing back and forth for a while. Finally, in late 1977, the decision was made to return to Canada and reform The Sample Stearns Band with April.
The rehearsals began in our friend Ken Ashcroft’s garage... and off we went. It was truly a labour of musical love. We were obsessed, possessed, or whatever the right word is. Maybe ‘dedicated’ says it best. Our rehearsals were like our day jobs. We would spend hours, days, working on a song, an intro, or a particular lick. It all had to be as perfect, as beautiful, and as tight as we could humanly make it. And it paid off... at least in terms of recognition. ‘SSB’ became one of the West Coast’s best loved and most followed bands. We did sell-out shows at Harpo’s Cabaret in Victoria, several radio and TV concerts and specials. We toured with Maynard Ferguson of ‘Rocky’ fame, opened for Tower of Power, and with the help of Rob Mingay, one of our ‘co-managers’, we secured a recording deal with Shelly Siegel of Mushroom Records in Vancouver, where ‘Heart’ and many other bands had recorded. We recorded our first official demo there. We were very excited and really thought we were off and running. Suddenly, without warning, Shelly died, and the deal died with him. A few dubs and cassettes were made, but the two inch master tapes remained in the vault at Mushroom Records until 1997, when Bill was informed that they were clearing out old tapes. He and engineer Rolf Hennemann put the tapes through a ‘baking’ process, since they wouldn’t play anymore, and Bill went on to produce ‘The Baked Tapes’ CD, the only actual digital recording of The Sample Stearns Band.
In 1980, we signed a management agreement with David Foster and his attorney, Ned Shankman. They attempted to ‘shop us around’ to various labels in LA, just when the record industry was going through some very rough times. Unless you were Elton John or The Knack, you either couldn’t get a record deal or you lost the one you had. The timing couldn’t have been worse for SSB, a jazz/fusion/pop/rock/whatever band with no particular ‘hit’. Eventually, reality set in. We just weren’t able to keep it going financially. So sadly, we reluctantly went our separate ways, but kept in touch, did a couple of reunion shows, and remain close to this day. We continued performing and recording together in different combinations during the follow years, collaborating on various studio projects, concert appearances, etc.
The legend of SSB still lives on in the hearts and minds of our most ardent fans. And even the slightest tease or mention of a possible reunion causes social media to go ‘all-aflutter’.
It was a priviledge being in The Sample Stearns Band, probably the best original band I was ever fortunate enough to be a part of.
Thanks Bill, Norm, Jerry, Lee, and April.
The seeds of Seacoast Sound were planted in 1980. During the last few months of The Sample Stearns Band, we were recording some demos at Keye Studios in Victoria. One of their other clients at that time was Bruce Innes. Bruce and his wife, Dixie Lee Stone, were ‘The Original Caste’, a 70’s Canadian pop group with hits like ‘One Tin Soldier’ and ‘Mr. Monday’. Bruce and Dixie had moved to Victoria from Calgary, where Bruce had established a jingle company. He formed a partnership with CFAX radio station owner Mel Cooper, and began producing jingles as ‘Bruce Innes Music’.
Discovering The Sample Stearns Band was a windfall for Bruce and for us as well. Right out of the gate, he had access to a great rhythm section, players and singers, all in one package... and we had work. We did some tracks for Bruce and played on some other Keye Studios projects.
At one point, Bruce asked me if I’d ever written a jingle. I said I’d written songs, but never a jingle. He explained the basics, such as length, style, lyric requirements, singing the client’s name and slogan etc., and gave me a file. My first client was ‘Thompson Valley Credit Union’. I can still hum it. (Tell me jingles don’t work). I wrote and produced it at Keye Studios with the help of some of the SSB boys, and as we say in the jingle biz... “it flew!” So Bruce gave me another, and then another. It didn’t take long before it became apparent to both of us that I seemed to have a knack for these things.
Eventually, Bruce made me an offer I literally could not refuse... a salary! It wasn’t huge, somewhere around $1750 per month, but in 1980 as a freelance musician going from gig to gig... it sure looked like ‘up’ to me.
During this time, Mel Cooper decided to move CFAX from central downtown to a separate, larger building on Broughton Street, and build a new recording studio on the top floor, in partnership with Bruce Innes, Dennis Ferbey (Bruce’s old friend from Edmonton), and Paul Mann. Dennis brought all the recording equipment, furniture, etc. from his studio in Edmonton. We purchased some instruments, a beautiful Yamaha grand piano, a drum kit, and away we went. Dennis asked his Edmonton engineer, Bob Benson, to move to Victoria and join the team. He did... and became a life-long friend. Sandra Lang, formerly from Keye Studios, was hired as studio assistant and second engineer.
Over the next couple of years, we produced singles, albums, soundtracks, music for Ice Capades (which I had the honour of writing), and dozens of jingles all over Canada and the US. One of many highlights was a short Alberta tour with Bruce, Dixie, Dennis, myself, and Stu Mitchell (their former Alberta bandmate), as The Original Caste.
All in all, we had a great run, and made some great music, but by 1983, mounting financial pressures eventually led to the closing of Bruce Innes Music. Looking back, it was a time of great learning, not just about jingles, but recording and production in general, especially vocal production and session singing. I learned much from Bruce and Dennis, and I’m very grateful for the experience.
When Bruce Innes Music ended, I returned to playing gigs around Victoria, the Island, and some on the road. I also did some shows with Norm MacPherson and our old friend, Valdy. It was on one of these Valdy gigs, somewhere up-Island, that I got a message from Mel Cooper. He said he was re-opening the studio under the name ‘Seacoast Sound’, and asked if I was interested in returning to work as production manager. I was stunned... and thrilled. He also said he had a client for me... a fashion boutique close to where we were playing, called ‘A Touch of Class’, and that I should go see her. I did... and ended up writing her jingle... my first for Seacoast Sound.
Thus began a whole new chapter in my musical and personal life. The next few years were a wonderfully creative and productive time. To begin with, as any freelance musician would agree, having a full time salaried job with benefits while being paid to write and produce music in a beautiful studio was and still is a very rare and precious opportunity.
As time went by, the ‘team’ grew. Mel’s son, Dean Cooper, took over as general manager, Bob Benson and Sandra Lang stayed on, and we were soon joined by Duncan Meiklejohn and Dale Baglo, two very talented writers and musicians, who moved to Victoria from Kelowna. As we got busier, we added a third engineer: Rick Erickson, (Dennis Ferbey’s friend, also from Edmonton) and eventually Dennis himself returned as a writer.
I went on to write and produce literally dozens more jingles for radio and TV. We produced jingles for Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand, Japan, and Hawaii, including clients like McDonalds, KFC, Denny’s, AirBC, and Chrysler. I was commissioned to write several larger soundtracks, including music for both of Victoria’s winning bids to host the 1994 Commonwealth Games, music for The Canada Summer Games, and others.
I had the opportunity to produce, play, and sing on many different singles and albums for other artists. I wrote ‘Pass Me the Torch’, to commemorate Steve Fonyo’s cross-country journey, completing what Terry Fox had started. The song aired nationally and I sang it live as he dipped his prosthetic leg in the ocean at Mile 0 on Dallas Road in Victoria. In 1990, I was commissioned to write a song to commemorate the 20thAnniversary of Earth Day. The result was ‘Mother Earth’, named Canada’s Earth Day song, which was made into a video and also aired nationally.
Being allowed the use of the studio after hours was a great privilege, and was instrumental in helping me develop my songwriting and production skills.
During my years at Seacoast, I also produced several cassette albums of original material, a couple of singles, and eventually, my first major label solo album ‘Power in Our Hands’, on the Polydor label.
As the late 80’s morphed into the early 90’s, rising costs and a decline in the ever cyclical jingle biz, eventually brought about the closing of Seacoast Sound, but I have no regrets... only much gratitude and lots of great memories.
From the inception of Bruce Innes Music, right through to the closing of Seacoast Sound, I enjoyed a nearly 13-year run... doing what I loved most: making music and getting paid for it. It doesn’t get much better than that. Just like the SSB alumni, the Seacoast Sound alumni or ‘Seacoasters’ as we call ourselves, remain close friends to this day, and often work together on various projects.
Thanks to all for sharing the adventure.
During my tenure as Production Manager and eventually Creative Director of Seacoast Sound, I was responsible for not only my own work, but also a team of other writers—up to nearly ten at our peak. One of those writers was Tom McKillip, a wonderfully talented Vancouver-based producer, writer, guitarist, sax man, and vocalist, who would become a very dear friend and band mate.
As Seacoast began to wind down in the early 90’s, Tom asked me to join a band he was assembling to back up Canadian country artist Lisa Brokop. He implied that it would be a short tour—perhaps “just a few weeks.” It sounded like fun and I said yes. We put the band together in Vancouver, and after a few auditions and rehearsals, we headed for Nashville, Lisa’s home base at the time.
“Just a few weeks” turned into six years, during which time we did shows all across Canada and most of the US. The shows ranged from country bars and show clubs, all the way up to full-on 20,000 seat arenas, opening for country artists such as Alan Jackson, George Strait, George Jones, John Michael Montgomery, Vince Gill, Leroy Parnell, Steve Wariner, Ian Tyson, Clay Walker, Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn etc. We did several TV appearances, including Nashville’s premiere country music variety show ‘Nashville Now.’
Nashville truly lived up to its name: ‘Music City’. I loved it... the whole modern country music scene, all the fine players and singers, the many great shows we did, the travel, seeing parts of Canada and the US I probably would never have seen otherwise... the whole adventure. Even the sleepless nights on the big sexy black rock ‘n roll tour bus... all of it.
Thanks Tom. Thanks Lisa!