Still More True Tales From 60 Years Of Music

June 21, 2015


(Originally published on February 28, 2011)

THIS WEEK: Steve Goodman, Ron Proulx, David Baxter, CIMA, Arts & Crafts, J.D. Shore, Mary Gauthier, Downchild, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Domino, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and more….

The pot of gold at the end of the movie

Music industry lore abounds about the riches that accrue when music is used in TV and film. But the best story of all was told me by Al Bunetta, who manages the publishing of the late Steve Goodman (as well as the on-going career of John Prine).

Goodman’s best-known song is “The City of New Orleans,” a huge hit for Arlo Guthrie back in 1972 — and arguably the best train song ever written. Many years after Steve succumbed to leukemia in 1984, an ad agency wanted to use the song exclusively for a year in print, radio and TV.

That was the good news, Bunetta told Nancy Goodman, the singer’s widow. The bad news? The campaign was for a laxative product. Nancy laughed, knowing that constipation was one of the side effects of the disease that took her husband. “Al,” she said, “Don’t you remember how Steve used to say that if he could have one good dump, he’d live for ever? See what you can get…” 

Result: A six-figure payout for the use of six words from the song — the hook-line: “Good Mornin’ America, how are ya?”

During and after the recent and unlamented Toronto International Film Festival, I spent a bit of time with some music supervisors, and — given how hard many musicians work to get their music into films and onto TV screens — I have to report that the bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow is now something of an illusion.

My pal Ron Proulx, who’s supervised the music for dozens of films and hundreds of TV episodes — and splits his time between Toronto and LA — warns that the money is getting less, especially for Canadian productions.

Not only that, he says, music is almost always the last consideration, and usually happens after the film itself is completed. At that point, speed is of the essence — and the supervisor’s job is to find the right music, and often songs, that best complement the on-screen images. The choice, then, is down to the supervisor’s musical knowledge — of artists, of song content, of “sound.”  If a particular artist’s song is chosen, they’re in luck — but it most certainly is a crap shoot.

Keeping front of mind with the dozens of film supervisors is impossible for most independent artists, since they already have to be — in most cases — their own managers, agents, record companies, publicists, songwriters and performers. My friend David Baxter, who contributes guitar to the sound track on the De Grassi TV series suggest artists get their songs to the editors — not the supervisors — when the film is being put together in its initial form. The editors lay in a track for a rough cut, and producers frequently say “Wow, that’s cool!” and the song stays.

If luck strikes, terrific. But those who hit the jackpot are few; the chances of a million dollar lottery win, or a hole in one, are way better.

With that in mind, how valuable were the three nights of music laid on for film supervisors toward the end of the TIFF?

Organized by CIMA and the folks at Arts & Crafts, hundreds packed into a small club in what we Torontonians loosely call “the entertainment district.” And a blue ribbon group of artists did their best in front of jabbering, drinking, schmoozing bunch of people enjoying the free bar (hey I was one of ‘em). In the main, most folk there couldn’t have given a rat’s ass about what was happening on stage, or the musicians who were playing.

In other words, film people are as indifferent to music as most of the people who watch movies; they only hear mere background noise.


This week’s neat indie CDs you’ve never heard of:

J.R. SHORE, Talkin’ on a Bus.  Waits-ian boho roots-rock rambling, gruff voice, good (if wordy) songs, strong supporting players, solid production (Barry Allen at Homestead in Edmonton). It also has the worst cover, the most unreadable artwork, a typically hideous MySpace page with no tour dates listed, and a merely adequate website:


Vaguely interesting factoid of the week:


What turned out to be the final recordings of the great blues singer Bessie Smith,were cut in New York on Nov. 24, 1933, with producer John Hammond.

Three days later, the same producer, in the same studio, and using many of the same musicians, produced the first recording session by Billie Holiday.

Additional trivia — John Hammond signed the following artists to Columbia Records: Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Name me ANY a&r person with a track record to equal that!


Finally, this week’s video:

Astonishingly, there is a huge revival of that silliest of instruments, the ukulele.  As my pal Shelley O’Brien puts it:  “It’s not difficult to play, people smile when you perform, it’s portable, and it’s full of glee.”  Proof of all this comes from The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, which is playing a lone Canadian date Nov. 6 at Convocation Hall in Toronto. If you don’t laugh at this, please seek medical help; you’ve been in the music “business” too long.