Stories He Tells: True Tales From 60 Years Of Music

June 21, 2015


(Originally published on February 28, 2011)

Featuring (this week):

Billy Connolly, CTV, Ivan Fecan, Michael Cohl, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Jadea Kelly

When Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian, comes on stage he usually begins by saying something like this: “Now… the hardest thing about standing here and talking to you is this: Where the fuck do I start?”

I know what he means.

So I’ll start with the BCE takeover of CTV. $1.3 BILLION dollars it cost. So, somehow, they’ve got to get this money back. And if I worked for CTV – or any of the other TV properties involved — I’d be scared shitless.

Because the first thing big corporations do when they buy something is lay people off. “Cutting overhead” they call it, but there’s a huge human cost involved. Heck, Ivan Fecan saw the future — and before the ink was dry on the paper, he quit.


I can’t lay my hands on it, but I think I act6ually saw — maybe in the New York Times — an new photograph of the reclusive Michael Cohl; finding a picture of the man is almost impossible. Now about 60, he looks like an amiable hippie who’s just had a joint.

In fact, he’s invested some of his many millions into a Broadway musical calledSpiderman: Turn Off the Dark. The total budget is apparently $50 million (not all of it Michael’s) and the music’s by Bono and The Edge, and previews start November 14.

The PR machine is running smoothly. The aforesaid NY Times had a premium full-page four-colour ad in yesterday’s Sunday edition, and a nice profile of the unknown star, 21-year-old Reeve Carney.  Just think: Half a dozen media critics can kill this stone dead; if I was Michael Cohl I’d be very frightened indeed.

Cohl is a great storyteller, and a few years ago he told me a wonderful yarn about the filming of Live at the Max by the Rolling Stones. Originally an IMAX movie, it was plagued with problems — IMAX cameras at the time were bulky, only took six minutes worth of footage at a time, and changing film canisters was equally time consuming.

Filmed on the band’s 1991 stadium tour in Italy, everything was shot except the opening song, “Start Me Up.”  And at the last date of the tour, in Turin, the director went to Cohl after four or five numbers and said: “Sorry, Michael, we still didn’t get the opening tune.”

It was desperately needed for the film, so Cohl negotiated a deal with the local promoter to rent the stadium for another day, keep the stage and the gear in place; they’d wait until nightfall, and then the band would keep playing the tune until it was safely in the can. The audience could be dubbed in later…  At three in the morning, the paperwork was done, the cost (just shy of $1 million) settled, and finally Cohl went to bed.

Next morning he was awoken by his production manager, Steve Howard. “Shoot, Michael, we can’t get into the stadium. There are guys in suits with two-way radios at every entrance and they won’t let us in.”

Cohl hurried down, several cash payments were negotiated with the guards, and the crew entered to prepare for the night’s shoot. Then, looking for a quick bite, he entered a nearby trattoria, and saw, to his surprise, his local promoter.

“Hey,” Cohl said, “what the heck was that all about? I thought we had a deal!”

To which the promoter replied: “Just because I sign a contract does NOT mean I agree…”


Quote of the week: “Black American music begins on the auction block.” — James Baldwin.


Download of the week: ”West End Blues” by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Seven (1927). As Miles Davis once put it: “No Louis, no Miles.” How amazing that a 70-year-old recording sounds so perfect.


Shopping cart:

(1) Randy Newman, Good Old Boys — Rhino/Reprise R2 78243. This is his classic 1974 concept album about the changing South — and it comes with a second CD of demo material for a musical he called Johnny Cutler’s Birthday.  A must for any record collection.

(2) Jadea Kelly, Eastbound Platform — Independent JKCD 0002. Jadea used to be my assistant; she has a sweetly vulnerable voice and the covers she chooses (Justin Rutledge, Jack Marks, Lori Yates) are as convincing and as personal as her own songs.


Non-music video of the year: