The early days of the JUNOS and the birth of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame were by no means seamless undertakings. In fact, back in the 1970’s there was a battle for control over the earliest awards show. The debate? Whether or not the ceremony honouring Canada’s recording artists was ready to be viewed by a national audience on prime-time television.
JUNO Award founders Walt Grealis and Stan Klees felt the move to televise the show was premature, while Brian Robertson, President of the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), had a differing opinion.
“In the early ’70’s, it was very much a regional industry,” Robertson said in a 2011 interview. “There really wasn’t any coherent thread pulling it together across the country.” The motivation, he said, was to find a vehicle that might achieve that. “[The] first thought was The JUNO Awards – because we’d seen how obviously well The Grammys were established.”
Robertson initially approached Grealis and Klees about licensing the JUNO Awards for a television vehicle. “We thought if we could get a nationally televised event, that would be the start of pulling everything together.”
Robertson said the negotiations quickly turned “acrimonious” and, prior to the staging of the 1974 JUNOS, the CRIA announced its own plans to establish the Maple Music Awards, with record sales entering the equation and forming the basis of category winners. International music categories would also be introduced for the first time.
The CRIA was close to negotiating with CTV to televise the show a month following the March 24th presentation of The JUNO Awards, but cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached.
RPM Weekly publisher Walt Grealis blinked first and compromised, allowing the music industry more involvement in the awards show. And, as a result, the Canadian Music Awards Association (CMAA) – the precursor to The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) – was formed to administer the 1975 JUNO Awards with Grealis.
“We got an agreement to use the name,” Robertson said. “But we determined at the time that the Academy, which became CARAS, had to be representative of all elements of the industry in terms of major record companies, independents, music publishers, artists, writers – the whole framework.”
In pulling CARAS together, which essentially administered the first show in 1975, Robertson managed to get a deal with CBC for the telecast. “I ended up administering the Academy and I produced the show until 1983.”
With the CBC on board for the 1975 show, it was time to find a celebrity host worthy of the task. And who better than Paul Anka? He was the first Canadian to score a No. 1 Billboard hit and was, at the time, enjoying a career resurgence with the massive hit “(You’re) Having My Baby.”
Except, things didn’t quite go as planned, as Robertson recalled.
“We used the influence of the record company – United Artists at the time – to get the introduction,” said Robertson. “We went down there to Caesar’s Palace [in Las Vegas, where Anka was performing] to persuade him to host the show.”
Anka agreed to emcee the Queen Elizabeth Theatre show, but only if he could travel to Toronto by private jet. United Artists covered the cost of the jet, scripts were sent and show organizers were assured that the singer would arrive in time for the Wednesday rehearsal prior to the Saturday event. But then Wednesday came and went, and no Anka. Thursday and Friday, too: no show. As organizers continued to sweat it out, Anka eventually landed in Toronto at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday – the day of show – and joined the 2 p.m. rehearsal.
As for the script? Anka never saw one, but a series of cue cards saved him – and the day.
Aside from Anka, performers that night included Andy Kim, Anne Murray, The Stampeders, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Susan Jacks and Terry Jacks, while a pre-taped performance of Bachman-Turner Overdrive also aired.
As for the some of the notable award recipients on the night? Randy Bachman was a triple winner that night for Producer of the Year, while BTO won Best Selling Album for Not Fragile and Group of the Year. Both Gordon Lightfoot (Male Vocalist of the Year, Folk Singer of the Year) and Anne Murray (Female Vocalist of the Year, Country Female Vocalist of the Year) double-dipped, while Gino Vannelli and Suzanne Stevens earned Most Promising Male Vocalist and Most Promising Female Vocalist kudos respectively. The Most Promising Group in 1975? Toronto rockers, Rush. The Carlton Showband won Country Group or Duo of the Year, while host Anka received Composer of the Year.
His day’s work done, Anka was back on the private jet for Vegas by 11:30 p.m. And despite the pre-show tension, the event, having been a complete success, became the blueprint for future editions.
Three years later, CARAS introduced a historically significant element to The JUNO Award proceedings: induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, a legacy award to honour artists who had accomplished lifelong achievements of distinction.
In 1978, the very first award was presented posthumously to Guy Lombardo, and the second went to the iconic Canadian giant of jazz piano, Oscar Peterson.
The ever-humble Peterson said in his acceptance speech: “I would like to accept this award not just for myself but on behalf of some of the great players we have not only in this orchestra but in Canada that will be in line for many awards, certainly many of these.”
With that storied blessing, the Canadian Hall of Fame – a standing tribute to everlasting homegrown musical artists – was born.
Featured Image: Paul Anka hosts the first televised JUNO Awards in 1975. Credit: Bruce Cole/Plum Communications Inc.