Rising stars, brewing storms and…legendary snacks - The JUNO Awards

A closer look at the early JUNO Awards: 1971 to 1975

Fifty years later, they’re still talking about the sandwiches.

For the first official JUNO Awards ceremony, held at St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto on February 22, 1971, Walt Grealis had such a small budget that the 600 in attendance were forced to stand because the RPM Magazine publisher couldn’t afford to provide tables. Venue catering also wasn’t provided, so Stan Klees’ mother footed the liquor bill and made finger sandwiches, a Polish bow-tie delicacy known as chrusciki.

But even the low-budget shindig couldn’t suppress the fact that Canadians had enjoyed breakthroughs – in particular, Gordon Lightfoot had scored his first North American hit with “If You Could Read My Mind,” Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” had established her as an international star and The Guess Who became the first Canadian rock group to score a No. 1 hit on Billboard with “American Woman.” 

The night was also buzzing with the promise that the Canadian content regulations would deliver – and, in anticipation, Grealis awarded Pierre Juneau a special Music Industry Man of the Year Award in recognition of those efforts. 

Anne Murray, who was in attendance, won her first JUNO for Top Female Vocalist while “Snowbird” and the album Honey, Wheat and Laughter won Best Produced Single and Best Produced Middle-Of-The-Road (MOR) Album for her producer Brian Ahern.

Other notable winners that year included Gordon Lightfoot (Top Male Vocalist); The Guess Who (Top Vocal Instrumental Group); The Mercey Brothers (Top Country Instrumental Group); Stompin’ Tom Connors (Top Country Male Vocalist), Myrna Lorrie (Top Country Female Vocalist); Bruce Cockburn (Top Folk Singer) and Gene MacLellan (Special Award: Canadian Composer).

With the first full year of Canadian content regulations under its belt, the homegrown music industry took even more interest in the JUNOS, with 1,000 people attending the February 22, 1972 festivities held at Toronto’s Inn On The Park.

Now earning massive amounts of airplay – a catalyst for prompting significant record sales, – were The Stampeders, Five Man Electrical Band, The Bells, Bruce Cockburn, The Poppy Family and April Wine among others.

The majority of winners in 1972 were repeat victors, including Anne Murray and Brian Ahern (Best Produced MOR Album for Murray’s Talk It Over In The Morning.)

Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and Stompin’ Tom Connors at The 1973 JUNO Awards. Credit: Bruce Cole/Plum Communications Inc.

The JUNOS were truly gaining momentum: 1973’s ceremony drew even more attendees – 1,200 that year – to the Inn On The Park’s Centennial Ballroom once again. Twenty awards were handed out, and Gordon Lightfoot – in attendance for the first time – won Male Vocalist of the Year and Best Composer. Anne Murray three-peated for Female Vocalist of the Year; Stompin’ Tom Connors also won his third Male Country Singer of the Year and the Mercey Brothers took the honours for Country Group of the Year. New faces included Shirley Eikhard for Female Country Singer of the Year; ex-Lighthouse singer Bob McBride for Outstanding Performance of the Year (Male); Edward Bear for Outstanding Performance of the Year (Group); Gene Martynec for Best Produced Single for Edward Bear’s “Last Song;” Valdy for Outstanding Performance of the Year (Folk); and Blood, Sweat and Tears singer and songwriter David-Clayton Thomas was given a special award for Outstanding Contribution to the Canadian Music Scene.

The JUNOS kept on growing: in 1974, Grealis charged $12.50 for admission and the Centennial Ballroom at the Inn On the Park was marked “Sold Out” for the March 25th ceremony. Twenty-four awards were presented, and many of the prize-winners were first-timers: Winnipeg’s Terry Jacks, enjoying a phenomenal run with his international smash, “Seasons In The Sun,” captured Male Vocalist of the Year, Contemporary Single and Pop Single honours. Murray McLauchlan also scored a trifecta: Songwriter of the Year for “Farmer’s Song,” which also won him Country Single and Folk Single of the Year. Cathy Young won Most Promising Female Vocalist while Ian Thomas won the male counterpart. And Vancouver’s Bachman-Turner Overdrive nabbed two: Most Promising Group and Best Contemporary Album for its eponymous debut.

The lobby sign at the entrance of the Centennial Ballroom at the Inn on the Park. Credit: Bruce Cole/Plum Communications Inc

Anne Murray won her fourth straight Best Female Vocalist honour while her album Danny’s Song won Best Pop Album, while Stompin’ Tom earned Best Country Male Artist and his Best Country Album honours for To It and At It.

While things were going swimmingly in terms of the JUNO Awards ever-increasing popularity, a storm was brewing between the duo of Grealis and Klees and the rest of the musical community, represented by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA). The debate? Whether or not the JUNOS was ready for prime time – literally. The CRIA felt Canada’s music awards show could and should take the next step in its evolution: a television broadcast. Grealis and Klees weren’t so sure.

It was a difference of opinion that nearly led to the creation of a rival awards show to the JUNOS.

Featured Image: Anne Murray and The Stampeders at The 1972 JUNO Awards. Credit: Bruce Cole/Plum Communications Inc.