There are numerous cities in North America that are synonymous with a form of popular music. Neighbouring Seattle is associated with ’90s grunge music. San Francisco is known for psychedelic rock’s ’60s heyday. Detroit is the city of Motown.
Minneapolis–Saint Paul is the home of Prince and indie rockers such as the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. Memphis is known for great R&B and, of course, Elvis — just like Chicago is known for the blues, New Orleans for jazz and Nashville for bluegrass.
The music of the Beach Boys, the Doors, Black Flag and Guns N’ Roses each form part of Los Angeles’s identity. Take your pick for NYC — Gershwin, the folk movement, Broadway musicals, the Velvet Underground or the Ramones.
Many, if not all, of these American cities proudly promote the artists and chart-topping melodies they helped make famous. But if we asked which city in Canada has left its indelible mark on popular music, how many would answer “Vancouver”?
I’m guessing not a lot.
There was a time about 30 years ago, however, when Vancouver’s streets seemed to be paved with platinum, the precious metal that signifies a million-selling record.
Many major artists would come here to make some of the most memorable music of our time, yet decades later the connection to Vancouver is rarely made.
After watching a riveting 65-minute interview with multi-platinum record producer Bob Rock, conducted on behalf of the Gibson guitar company, I was left wondering why we seem to have hardly recognized both the talent in our midst and our city’s tremendous cultural influence.
Rock, for the first time in interviews I’ve seen with him, looks awkward and shy in the Gibson video. He hugs a guitar almost like a security blanket. Yet he tells his amazing journey as a child of the prairies who moved to sleepy Victoria, then eventually landed in Vancouver in the late 1970s just in time for the punk music scene to break out here.
His first fame resulted from being a founding member of the Payolas. But it was his eventual role behind the mixing board at the legendary Little Mountain Sound studio on West Seventh Avenue where his talent truly shone.
It was at that all-but-forgotten recording studio in the industrial Mount Pleasant neighbourhood (which I first wrote about back in 1990) where Rock and the late producer Bruce Fairbairn recorded and mixed a long line of smash hits.
Many of the musicians themselves practically used Vancouver as a getaway from drug habits and bad relationships. Working with the Vancouver producers allowed them to focus on their music.
I once spotted the bedraggled members of Aerosmith rehearsing on the sidewalk while driving along West Seventh Avenue in April 1987. I pulled over and shyly asked to take a photo, which they obliged. You can now see that image at the 32-minute mark of the Gibson video.
The record Aerosmith was recording then — Permanent Vacation — would sell more than five-million copies. Mötley Crüe’s breakout album Dr. Feelgood would sell six-million copies. AC/DC’s Razor’s Edge featuring “Thunderstruck” would sell seven-million. Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet moved more than 15-million units.
Metallica’s self-titled masterpiece (“the black album”), produced by Rock, has gone on to sell more than 31-million copies worldwide.
Our city’s reputation as a rock music epicenter was not only earned from talented people such as Bob Rock, but local artists such as Bryan Adams and Loverboy, in-demand songwriters such as Jim Vallance and powerhouse management companies run by Bruce Allen, Sam Feldman and Steve Macklam.
While recording studios such as Little Mountain Sound and Mushroom Studios (where Heart recorded its double platinum debut LP) are a faded memory, Vancouver’s place as a music capital should not be.
Adams has carried on some of that legacy by building the Warehouse Studio in Gastown, where many more recordings by major artists have been made. Local talent Nick Gilder — who sang the slinky, sexy seventies rock classic “Roxy Roller” — recently tweeted a photo of himself and Rock at that studio.
So how about it, Vancouver. Will we ever have a shrine built to recognize our hard rocking history as a music capital?