Perhaps Cancon should be renamed WaltStan. No two individuals deserve more credit than Walt Grealis and Stan Klees for the patriotic groundswell that surged into a campaign for Canadian content on public airwaves. They were inseparable friends and business partners and their combined efforts helped open the doors for a distinct Canadian musical identity that led later to the Juno awards.
The two pioneers of the Canadian music industry lobbied singers and songwriters, the recording sector, entertainers, politicians and airwave regulators. They became champions of the go-big-here-first movement. When others went to New York or Los Angeles or Nashville, they led the cause north of the 49th parallel. They branded “Made in Canada.”
Grealis came to the music business after Klees. Ironically, Grealis didn’t even own a record player at that point and knew nothing about the record business. He had dropped out of high school in Toronto in Grade 10 to become a Mountie. Later, he became a social and sports director in Bermuda. But the pull of his native country tugged him home and he took a position with the O’Keefe brewing company, moving later to Labatt.
He was successful as a beer pitchman but the traveling bothered him. He was always on the road. Through his friend, Klees, who also got as far as Grade 10, he landed a job at Apex Records and began promoting records. By the time he had moved to London Records, he began seeing first-hand the low profile of Canadian artists in their own country. For his part, Klees was running Astral Records at age 28.
He and Grealis saw that approaching record companies and radio stations would result in more Canadian voices on the music scene. Klees pushed Grealis to start a small weekly trade publication known as RPM Magazine, which Grealis often ended up writing all by himself because of a lack of staff. It was 1964 and the roots of Canadian musical content had been planted. Klees contributed to RPM and came up with the idea of an RPM readers’ poll. He organized the first Canadian awards ceremony at St. Lawrence Hall. Klees’ mother, Sabina, made the sandwiches.
Together, both men lobbied the industry and government. Klees once rented a boardroom at the Inn on the Park hotel and invited record producers to form an association. He took a group to Ottawa to meet with the then-Board of Broadcast Governors, the forerunner to today’s Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Klees was on the phone constantly to the CRTC, pushing for minimum Canadian content regulations. The idea was to push the Canadian production of music and to promote composers as well as recording artists. Klees designed the MAPL symbol – for Music, Artist, Production, and Lyrics – for his Tamarac record releases. RPM asked permission to use the MAPL logo in their magazine. The symbol enabled radio stations to identify immediately which records were of Canadian origin and helped avoid inadvertent violation of the new content rules.
By 1970, the two men had seen their aggressive vision become a reality. A CRTC ruling mandated that radio stations had to incorporate a level of 30 per cent of Canadian content into their programming. At the 1976 Juno Award telecast, Randy Bachman called Grealis up from the audience to present him with an unofficial award on behalf of Canadian musicians. The award was inscribed: “You have always been there when we needed you.” He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1993.
Grealis shut RPM down in 2000. The magazine had printed 10,000 charts and written countless stories about the Canadian music scene. While Klees did not receive an Officer of the Order of Canada award, he was honoured in 2001 with a special achievement award from SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada). Grealis insisted on making the presentation. It was followed by a seven-minute standing ovation.
A fitness buff most of his life, Grealis died of lung cancer in January last year (2004). Five months after his death, Anne Murray paid tribute to him at the 2004 Juno telecast, recognizing him posthumously with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, an honour bestowed by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. CARAS said the award would henceforth recognize “individuals who have contributed to the growth and development of the Canadian music industry”. For his part, Klees was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.
Before he died, Grealis wrote a majestic tribute to Klees, which might be fitting words for both men. In his tribute, Grealis wrote: “How lucky this industry has been to have such a pioneer, innovator, visionary and above all Canadian to admire and respect. He should be an example to the young people who enter our industry. Because of him, this country is a better place.”