Ian Tamblyn-Production Retrospective with CKCU
Before I begin this retrospective, I would like to acknowledge the help, assistance and the expertise of the engineers who contributed so much to these projects. I would particularly like to thank Marty Jones, who was my main man for many years and, who engineered many of these projects. Other engineers include: Nelson Vipond, Michael Delaney, John Cybanski, Phil Bova Sr., Roger Grant, Ross Murray, Ken Kanwisher, Dave Bignell, Ray Montford, Mike Dubue, David Cain and Phil Shaw Bova.
I would also like to thank all the following artists who entrusted me with their songs and their dreams. It was a real honour for me to work on these projects; every single one was different and presented different challenges and approaches. I hope I served each project and artist well and that the albums that emerged were what the artists hoped for them to be. My aspiration was always that the albums would have a long shelf life, that the artists could listen to their work years later and hear themselves, not a production fad of the day. I never wanted an artists album to appear dated in spite the incredible changes in technology that took place over the history of these recordings. That was my goal.
And of course none of this could have happened without the community of great musicians I have been fortunate enough to work with over the years. Individual attention will be made as we go through these albums but I would particularly like to thank Fred Guignion who has provided such sonic beauty along the way.
I have had a few guiding principles in my role as a producer. The first tenet was that the album would reflect what the artist wanted in the production. It was their album and I always wanted them to be able to stand behind what they had created. They had to be happy with the album, even though the very act of creation becomes ultimately an act of negation, in other words to create an album of songs is to go beyond it. The second principle I had was that I was wanted the albums I produced to have a long shelf life. I wanted the production to go well beyond the age that they came from. I didn’t want any tricks, any sonic flavours of the month. I acquired these values from many British folk artists and particularly the production work of Joe Boyd or the Canadian/Nashville producer Brian Ahern. If I was to be influenced by the changing sonic of the times I tried to take the most long lasting of these influences whether it be Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel or Daniel Lanois. Although I cannot claim to be a perfectionist, I tried to get the best from each artist on these albums. Sometimes I pushed them pretty hard. And yet, sometimes, that meant listening to others who had a better ears than me in certain areas. At the same time, I believed that if a track that had a certain soul, and might have a mistake or two, that track usually trumped a take that might be technically perfect.
I will admit that with these productions I was often ‘in discovery’ as we went along. Not that I was faking it, but many of the things I came to believe in regarding production values were informed by working on my own albums, theatre soundtracks and film scores as well as simply doing it.. Approaches were learned listening to albums that were released at the time, conversations I had with local musicians, everything informed everything. I valued so much my conversations with Marty Jones and Scott Merritt. I valued my association with Patrick MacDonald, artistic director at Great Canadian Theatre Company. His directorial perspectives helped me direct traffic in the studio and at times encourage a better performance. I don’t think I have ever been regarded as a “producer” as such but the people I worked with thought of me as that, and that was enough. They put their trust in me and I took it seriously. I am forever grateful for their trust. Check out the musical range of these albums. It is quite a journey.
1. Ken Hamm and Friends -1978
Track-12. Work Together
This was the first album I produced with Ken Hamm and Rick Kyle. It was recorded in a small studio in Winnipeg and is pretty much live off the floor. It featured players from Ken’s acoustic band from Thunder Bay, including Seann Mundy on harmonica, Damon Dowbak, mandolin and Lauri Conger on piano. Lauri would later go on to play with Mama Quilla, Heather Bishop, Kim Erickson and Parachute Club. I remember after one successful take Lauri jumped up from the piano so excited, and marched straight into the glass studio door, knocking herself out cold.
Ken remains a brilliant blues interpretor as well as singer songwriter. He lives in the small town of Forget, Saskatchewan. This album was highly praised by Guitar Player Magazine. Work Together is a song by Wilbur Harrison who also wrote “Kansas City”. Lauri Conger is featured on piano.
2. Rodney Brown- When the Bay Turns Blue -1980
Track 2. The Jack of Clubs Hotel
In 1980 I teamed up with another Thunder Bay musician, this time Rodney Brown and his band The Derailers. I had recorded many members of Rodney’s band with Ken Hamm and I looked forwarded to recording Damon Dowbak, Lauri Conger, Sean Mundy, and Tom Sinkins on this project. Kim Deschamps and Zeke Mazurek were also part of this project, on pedal steel and fiddle. Kim went on to play with the Cowboy Junkies and Zeke played with Prairie Oyster for a short time. I have always admired Rodney’s ability as a songwriter, singer and musician and it was an honour to work with him on this, the first of three albums I produced of his work. We recorded this album, again with a minimum of overdubs at Passeport Studio in Hull. Roger Grant was the engineer on the project. The song I have chosen from this record is a country tune called the Jack of Clubs Hotel. The song was written in Wells B.C., where Rodney was touring on the infamous Northern Music Circuit. This song ruefully catches the attentions and inattentions of a small town crowd on a Friday night in a northern bar. I believe that Rodney still plays this song on occasion and that the Jack of Clubs still exists.
3. Dario Domingues – Wind of the Andes-1981-82.
Track 4. Side 2. Wind of the Andes
Dario Domingues was born Dario Espinase in the southern Argentina near the Chilean border. He told me his mother was a Mapuche Indian, his father Italian. I met Dario in the late Sevenites after he moved to Canada with Martha Nandorfy, whom he met while he was touring with a puppet troupe in Mexico. Dario created fabulous puppets at Rudi Haas’ studio on Elgin Street. We recorded this album at Ambience Studio in Oxford Mills, with Phil Bova and Bob Libbey. It was an exciting project and my head was completely turned around by Dario’s composition approach. Unlike many singer songwriters, Dario worked from the rhythm first, recording various percussion tracks and then finishing off with the melody on one of his many flutes. He went on to having a very successful career, particularly in Germany where he toured extensively with local musicians, Bob Libbey, Dominique St. Pierre and Terry Tufts.
In the late Nineties Dario was brutally mugged near his home in Centretown, Ottawa. After this assault, Dario suffered a series of depressions and, after a misdiagnosis of medication he sadly took his life in April of 2000. This album won a German Music Critics Award in 1982.
4. Cathy Miller – Footprints on the Moon 1988
Track 2. Side 2 The Last Days of Pompeii
Footprints on the Moon was Cathy’s second album after her cassette release of Superwoman in 1982. Cathy had been doing some jazz standards with local jazz guitarist Paul Boudreau as well as her more folky material. On this album she wanted to reflect her interest in jazz and as a jazz vocalist. We got a team together which included Ron Drake on piano, Brian Tansley on saxophones, Bruce Wittet on drums, Paul Boudreau on guitars with Phil Bova on stand up and electric bass. Marty Jones was the engineer and the project was completed without overdubs.. I worked very hard on this project, particularly with Cathy’s approach to these songs. Cathy has an indefatigable voice and I will admit now that I had her sing the song over and over to soften some of the edges, to wear her down a bit. She knew what I was doing and went along for the ride.
I remember this project as well for the piano playing of Ron Drake. Ron was a piano player on the hotel circuit, playing jazz standards and the American songbook. I recall how much Ron enjoyed playing these original tunes on this album and how he wanted to get it just right. It was a cross generational meeting and Ron was a very good player. Ron owned a cassette duplicating business and he helped a lot of local musicians during this time. The track I going to play from this album is Michael Smith’s Last Days of Pompeii. Michael Smith is best known for his song The Dutchman and Cathy was a great fan, friend and supporter of his work. Michael passed away last summer at the age of 78. I know Cathy would want to remember him.
5. Two- Sandy Stubbert and Mary Ellen Anderson- Loose Marbles-1988
Track 2. Side 1-The Right
Sandy Stubbert and Mary Ellen Anderson were two musicians on the folk scene in the 1980’s and 90’s around Ontario. Though they lived in Toronto, they had connections with North Western Ontario and Kingston, Ontario where Sandy grew up. Sandy was an incredible guitar and mandolin player, Mary Ellen played Appalachian dulcimer and they both had strong distinctive voices. We recorded this album in Oakville at Sound design Studio, Vince Agostini was the engineer. The band featured Al Cross, drums (Jane Siberry) and David Woodhead bass (Brent Titcomb, Scott Merritt.) We mixed the album in Ottawa at Ambience Studio with Vince and Phil Bova sharing the mixing duties. I played piano and synth on this production. The track I have chosen is The Right written by Sandy Stubbert. The words are quite prescient today. As I listen to the track now I can hear a bit of the Swedish group Ace of Base in the sound and groove of this white reggae tune. Only thing is that Ace of Base didn’t exist in 1988!
I remember a funny thing about the Sound Design sessions. It seemed that everyone playing suffered from hypoglycaemia to one extent or another. I remember one track we were trying to get down and Vince and I noticed the takes were losing energy. I went into the room and everybody was nearly asleep! Everyone on the session had missed their breakfast! It was definitely time to get the almonds out of the fridge!
Sandy and Mary Ellen split up a few years after this album was released. Mary Ellen went to work for CBC Radio in Toronto where I would see her from time to time. Sandy continued to play solo but she began to suffer from bi polar syndrome around 1999. She struggled with this illness for the rest of her life while working with mental help groups in Kingston. Just as she was about to release her fourth recording she succumbed to her illness July 2, 2018. I was shocked to hear of her passing as I had seen her the winter before in Haliburton. Her last album is called Driftwood released in March of 2020.
6. Bob Stark- Levels of Survival- 1990
Track 2. Big City Movie
Levels of Survival was recorded by Marty Jones at Ambience Studio on Rideau Street in Ottawa. As I look at the liner notes it seems everyone involved in the acoustic music scene in Ottawa was on this record and in some ways the scene was at its height during this period. Basically, we used the skills of the group “Fat Man Waving” on this album with Ross Murray on drums, Dan Artuso on pedal steel, James Stephens on bass, Fred Guignion on guitars and Rebecca Campbell on harmonies. There were many other guests as well.
The challenge for this album was that Bob brought many songs of concern and social protest to the table for this recording. While I supported Bob’s point of view and songs, I was worried that a complete album of protest songs might be too much. I felt with too much pointing of the finger, listeners would learn to duck. I think we managed with the arrangements on this album to overcome the proselytising factor and, in retrospect, I should not have been concerned. Bob and I have chosen Big City Movie to play for this retrospective. In many ways it is a companion piece to the song This Side of Dreamland on Bob’s One Candle Burning album.
7.Paddy Tutty- Prairie Druid- 1992
In the Greenwood- 1998
Track1. Island Spinning Song
Paddy Tutty is the only traditional song artist I have recorded. However, I have been interested in this music since I was introduced to folk music in the late Sixties and with the resurgence of Irish music in the mid Seventies. The author Charles de Lint introduced me to a whole collection of Irish music when he ran a record store in Ottawa. Paddy lives in Saskatoon and spent a lifetime researching and singing traditional ballads from England, Scotland and Ireland. Dotted among these songs are a few contemporary selections, including a lovely song by Norm Walker celebrating spring and the blooming of the prairie spring crocus. I produced two albums for Paddy, the first in 1992, the second, six years later.
Finding a harpsichord and lifting it up three flights of stairs was one of the challenges of the first recording. Figuring out how to mic and record a harpsichord was the next challenge as it is a rather unforgiving instrument. The harpsichord is a plucked instrument and the keys clack and so the mics have to be placed in such way to keep the mechanics of the instrument down to an acceptable level. I think you want to hear the workings of the instrument but not so it interferes with the notes and tone. Uilleann pipes provide similar challenges. I hope we found a reasonable compromise.
In the Greenwood, Paddy’s second album with me, was recorded in 1998. It was around the time of the ice storm and, given that the album centred on the green wood, Paddy was deeply affected by the damage she saw around her. In retrospect, though Paddy is a singer of traditional songs, she was ahead of her time in her understanding and appreciation of the trees around us. Perhaps, as Paddy might suggest, those who wrote the songs originally may have had had a closer relationship with the greenwood.
John Geggie played stand up on this album, Ian Robb played English concertina and Paddy played fretted dulcimer, guitar, harpsichord, fiddle and whistle.
This track is called Island Spinning Song. Women often sang songs together while spinning wool or around a table singing as they would “waulk” the wool. The rhythm of their work is confirmed in the rhythm of the song. I remember participating in one of these waulking sessions on the isle of Barra, a demonstration of this tradition.
8. Bob Stark – One Candle Burning 1994.
Track 3. Tous Les Matins
One Candle Burning was the second album I produced for Bob, this time at Sound of One Hand Studio on Clarence Street, engineered by Marty Jones. As usual, there was quite cast involved in this recording including Suzie Vinnick on bass and back up vocals, Mich Pouliot on drums and Meg Lunny on piano and back up vocals. At the time we had the loan of a beautiful grand piano, and Meg made good use of it. There was a large ensemble of vocalists, almost a choir for a song called Irish Dust which included Lynn Miles, Peter Chapin, Lonesome Paul, Terry Tufts, a rare guest appearance by Chopper McKinnon and others on the chorus. I could play any number of songs off this album, there are lots of good ones like One Candle Burning, This Side of Dreamland or Irish Dust but with Bob’s permission I have chosen Tous Les Matins. I love Meg Lunny’s sparse but beautiful piano track, the perfect juxtaposition with Bob’s finger picking on classical guitar. I have always loved Bob’s voice, though it is hard to capture in the studio. He has a quality in his voice that reminds me at times of two Jessies’- Jessie Winchester and Jessie Colin Young. The song goes well with a fire place, a candle glowing and a glass of red wine. Bob is truly one of the last surviving romantics of the 21st century and a dear friend. Both One Candle Burning and Levels of Survival garnered strong critical support for the recordings.
9. Fun for Malakai Reverie-1992
Track2. From Plug- The Gift.
Looking back, I am not sure I was the best producer for this project. I think I was more a facilitator. Perhaps a friendly ear. I enjoyed the members of the band and I had perhaps been instrumental in getting James Milks the bass player his first instrument. I worked for a time at his father’s garage. Chris Swail was the lead singer and writer. His work had definite poetic bent to it but I had no idea what he was talking about. He claimed he didn’t know either! Chris was also manager and co owner of one Ottawa’s quaintest pubs, The Manx on Elgin Street. Peter von Alten was the drummer for the group and he went on to play with the Skydiggers, Lynn Miles and more recently Kathleen Edwards. Ian LeFeuvre was the monster of guitars and had more pedals than The Edge if that is possible. He often played in front of me between the two speakers, ripping my ears off it was so loud. Politely said he was a precocious nit! He was a very good guitar player, still is. It was not long after this album was released that they broke up, maybe because Chris had taken on part ownership of the Manx. Ian and Pete formed a short lived group called Starling with Danny Michel, that received a lot of attention from record labels. Ian moved to Toronto and became a very successful musician with Terry O’Reilly’s ad agency. You can hear him every Saturday morning with Shelly Posner, playing the theme song for CBC Radio’s ‘Under the Influence.’ He has produced some beautiful albums for Lynn Miles and perhaps he should have produced this one. The Gift is one of the quieter tracks on this album. I tried to get Chris to drop the Eighties British hair band accent but I can hear it still!
10. Furnaceface – No one to Vote for -1994
Track 1. No One to Vote For
The track “No One to Vote For” was a co-production with Furnaceface and involved my long time association with engineer Marty Jones. The track was recorded at his studio, Sound of One Hand. Marty was a member of this band for a few years under the moniker Smarty Moans. I enjoyed the boys in the band and I worked with them also on their subsequent project This Will Make You Happy. I later worked with guitarist Pat Bannister on the soundtrack of Macbeth for Toronto Young People’s Theatre. This song however got me in some trouble in my own village of Chelsea. I was supposed to play at St. Stephen’s Church but I had to go before a moral board to answer some questions. One of the questions was about my association with Furnaceface and my thoughts on this song “No One to Vote For”. I thought it was a good song and said so. My concert at the church never happened. I was found to be devoid of moral principles and was not allowed to play at the church. How did they know, based on so little.
11. John Reid- 1996
Track 3. God Don’t Want his Angels Playing that Rock n Roll
In November 1996 I was working as musical director for a musical production of Christmas Carol at Bishop’s University. I had done this production at Young People’s Theatre for the previous two years and it was definitely part of the way I celebrated Christmas. There was a member of the cast who had a fantastic voice, he sang rockn roll covers with a band at the local pub, The Lion. He had a Scottish working class brogue, as he had grown up in Glasgow and moved to Canada when he was eleven. He had a keen interest in a music career to the degree that he had teamed up with a business student, Craig McAdam, at Bishop’s to come up with a model of how he could achieve his goal to become a Canadian star. At the time he sang mostly rnb, and had a bit of Rod Stewart take on things. He asked me what I thought might be the most accessible way to the top in Canada. I thought country music in Canada might be the easiest door to open. We did a couple of recording together, it was the first time he had been in studio with a band he put together in Lennoxville. The following is a track from those sessions. I talked to him a few years ago when I was passing through Nashville. He was still the same guy, surprised to hear from me but he wanted me to come over to see his new house and studio outside Nashville. Johnny Reid was doing alright.
12. Malaika – Live – 1996 with Ross Murray.
Track 1. Malaika
Malaika was an accapella group made up of Beth Ferguson, Lee Hayes, Neema Mugala, Stella Haybukhai and for a time, Christine Graves. This album was a Live recording for a release at the National Arts Centre. Ross Murray was the co-producer on this project.. I think I was brought into the project because I had been working with Beth Ferguson and she thought I might be able to help work on some of the arrangements and harmony blends. Everyone was a good singer and harmonizer even though I remember having to convince Stella that she was great. She has a wonderful low voice but was not always confident of her parts. On the other end of the scale was Neema Mugala who had lots of experience and confidence working with the Sifa Choir. Both Neema and Stella sang with the world music group Cheza. We worked on the blend of voices before going to record the live performance. They were a joy to work with. I remember still Stella’s husky laughter.
Malaika enjoyed much success at music festivals across North America. At times Christine Graves would join the group subbing for Beth Ferguson when her health was not good. Chris White was manager of the group and they helped the Ottawa musical community be seen as an international celebration.
I think the name Malaika ( angel) came from a Swahili song that Miriam Makeba sang .
13.Kevin Closs- Homecoming- 1996
Track 1. The Bitter Pill
Kevin Closs is a wonderful musician from Levack, Ontario although his roots are on Manitoulin Island. Kevin has covered the waterfront as a far as musical exploration goes. He has been leader of a rock band,(Sopwith Camel) a metal band, (The Nobs) and a traditional Irish group. He was also part of Charlie Major’s country band. He could do it all. He is also an exceptional songwriter and singer. The album Homecoming was recorded at Sound of One Hand Studio in a new big space in Ottawa’s east end. Marty Jones was the engineer for this project. The usual crew were present as well as Ian Mackie on drums and percussion. I really enjoyed working with him. He always had great percussive ideas and had “big ears” as they say. Ian also had interest in Foley work and he followed that career to Vancouver and work in film, This track, The Bitter Pill features Mackie’s percussion work. I had just returned from Costa Rica and had witnessed an Easter Sunday “stations of the cross” parade. It spoke to the theme of this song and I incorporated some of the Mayan rhythms from Central America. Admittedly, I had been listening to Peter Gabriel a lot.
14. Alex Houghton – Rocket Science 1997
Track 1. The Bear
I got the chance to work with guitarist Alex Houghton on her second album Rocket Science in 1997. I had known Alex through her work as a teacher of guitar at the Ottawa Folklore Centre. I was familiar with other new instrumental guitarists through the work of Alex de Grassi, Michael Hedges, Don Ross and an earlier generation of instrumental players John Fahey and Leo Kottke. I was also a big fan of Pierre Bensusan, the French wizard of DADGAD tunings. Alex and I had several discussions about these artists and how an instrumental album could be presented. Alex was interested in presenting her guitar pieces in a different direction, using drums and bass. Drums and bass and acoustic guitar- wow, that was going to be challenge because sonically I was concerned that the drums might eat up a good portion of the territory occupied by the acoustic guitar. Most of the recordings of contemporary guitar instrumentalists at the time were solo outings, often using a cathedral of reverb, making the guitar much bigger than life. I understood completely why Alex wanted to head in another direction. And we did.
We got Ross Murray in on the project and he is both an excellent drummer and engineer and he understood the situation. With Marty Jones as engineer we carved a place for Alex’s guitar, Ross adapted his kit and this monster bass player arrived on the scene, Tom McKay. Tom had played with Ross in a group called “Five Guys Named Moe”. They understood each other well. We recorded and edited Alex’s guitar first and then brought in the bass and drums. As you will hear this was no mean feet either because Ms. Houghton has a lot of spaces in her music, change ups, time changes, pushes, different sections, you name it. Basically Ross and Tom had to memorize each track, it was anything but coming in and setting down a groove. This piece, The Bear is a ferocious introduction to Rocket Science . Alex told me recently that this track was chosen to be part of a women’s contemporary guitar album that was released by Vanguard Records in the United States. Well deserved.
15. Beth Ferguson – Dance on the Earth – 1997
Track 6. Breathe You in
Dance on the Earth was first of two albums I produced with Beth Ferguson. We recorded the guitar and vocals for this album at Steve’s Barn in New Denver, B.C. with Steve Graupe as engineer. Beth was recovering from the first of several battles with cancer and found the landscape around New Denver uplifting and spiritually powerful. She wanted to sing these songs in the mountains as part of her recovery. Chris White was by her side.
It was always an honour to work with Beth Ferguson. She was, as her voice was, clear, direct and committed. Beth was also a lot of fun. Beth was also very open with her songwriting. We completed these tracks back in Ottawa with Marty Jones at Sound of One Hand Studios. Lee Hayes and Rebecca Campbell sing harmonies on this song “Breath You in”.
16. Frank Wheeler 1999- 2010
I have to say one of the strangest recording experiences I ever had was working with songwriter Frank Wheeler. Frank Wheeler grew up with the London group of songwriters – W.P. Bennett, Stan Rogers, Doug McArthur among others but one of his big influences had to be Fred Neil. Frank wanted to record his album in Santa Cruz California. He found it to be a spiritual place and so I did a little research and found a little studio on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, Bear Creek Recording Studio with Vince Sanchez, the engineer. I had friends in near by Moss Landing and in Aptos so this plan suited me quite well. I was to meet Frank in Carmel a few days before sessions began at a certain cafe. It appeared to me quickly that I had arrived a half an hour too late although Frank might tell a different story. Let’s just say that Frank had met a women in Carmel and Frank was gone by the time I arrived. Although we recorded the bed tracks for the album the following week, Frank was on another planet and his girlfriend was giving Frank the “Californication” experience. Each day his new friend was there gonging his ears, massaging him till the studio smelled a massage parlour. There were Tibetan bells, omne padi oms, special teas for Frank as well as potent ingestibles. It was something else.
I asked Frank to cut rough vocals to see if they lined up with the tracks but Frank was confident he had it down.. They’re good he said. At the end of the week I returned to Ottawa with the master tapes and Frank lingered in la la land.
Sometime later in Ottawa, Frank arrived to finish the tracks, sing vocals, and be there as the other musicians came to do overdubs. The only problem was, in many cases, what Frank put down in California was not exactly the song. Verses were missing, bridges, choruses. There was only so much Marty could do in terms of editing the two inch tape. We did what we could. Frank reinvented some songs to suit the “new” arrangements and in one or two cases we re-recorded the song, hoping to match the sonics and mics used in the Bear Creek sessions. It was a challenge but it got done and the album was completed. Mixed but not mastered. Frank went home to think about it.
Ten years passed when I got a phone call from Frank. “I’ve been thinking” he said “Ian, now is the right time to release the album”. “Frank, is that you?” I said. In the intervening years, a lot had changed. The studio where we recorded the album was no more. Sound of One Hand was gone. Marty Jones, the engineer had left the biz and was incommunicado, at a bush party- somewhere. There were no ½ track machines around to master the album. All studios had completely made the transition from analogue to digital. Fortunately I kept DAT masters of the final mixes and by good fortune these masters were fortunately intact and usable. I mastered the album with David Cain and sent the masters of this ten year old album back to Frank.
I had one more call from Frank regarding the number of albums he was going to print. Frank had not really performed publicly since the late Seventies and so I said optimistically that he might print 500 CDs. Cds were at their peak in 2010 and I thought if he got out there he could sell this number. He replied that I was a pessimist and said that he thought he could sell 10,000 cds. He said they would be cheaper in quantity. I nearly fell off the phone. Well Frank as far I know never did get back out on the road, he was a dental hygienist by trade. Unless he had 10,000 clients, if he went ahead with that order, I am sure he has quite stack of Frank Wheeler Cds in his basement. We remain friends.
17. Beth Ferguson- Inside Talking-1999
Track 4. For You, Johnny
It is difficult for me to talk about Beth’s recording of Inside Talking which she completed in 1999. Cancer had returned to haunt her and at the time of this recording she was frail and her voice was frail and she tired easily. She didn’t have much time. And yet, none of this was evident in her resolve to record this album in the time she had left. My admiration for Beth remains complete.
I remember one occasion where Beth had finished a take that left Marty Jones and I in tears in the control room. She came into the studio and caught us. I remember her saying to both of us , “Now boys, put that away, we don’t have time for any of that right now.” Chris was a great support for Beth during these difficult times.
I have chosen her song For You, Johnny for a couple of reasons. Beth was very proud of the Ottawa Valley and her Renfrew roots. This song was written for her father Johnny Ferguson, recalling a tumultuous family relationship. Even as Beth was facing her own mortality her thoughts were often looking outwards. Marion Luxton plays fiddle on this selection and wrote Ferguson’s Reel at the end of the tune. Terry Tufts plays guitar and Rebecca Campbell sings harmony. I love this song as it a wonderful expression of reconciliation and redemption that speaks to Beth’s strength of character.
My lasting memory of Beth is dancing with her across the stage at the conclusion of her CD release held at the great Canadian Theatre Company. She was so frail, at the same time, so strong.
18. Kim Erickson – Away 2000
Track 2. Away
Despite the fact that Kim Erickson had been playing music and writing songs for twenty-five years, Away was Kim’s first album project in 2000. She had however, already contributed to several albums including singing on three of my albums.
I met Kim when she was taking a music major at Carleton. Our voices blended really well and we sang together for several years, including a tour across Canada opening for Joan Armatrading.
Around 1980 Kim continued her music studies in the Netherlands at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht. There she took up a study of Sanskrit and while there, her voice and performance style extended beyond folk music, including world music and avante garde music. When she came back to Canada her music and approach had completely changed. A few years later, she formed a duo with Lauri Conger. They were quite fabulous, combining theatre, dance and music into a highly entertaining, completely unique combination.
I mention all this because Kim brought all these influence to her first album including her considerable gifts as a piano player. This album reflects all of Kim’s musical interests and it was fun trying keep up with her imagination.
The album was recorded at Sound of One Hand with Marty Jones engineering. Kim plays piano and kalimba, Joe Phillips on stand up bass with other cameo appearances.
This next song is the title track from this album, and is a perfect example of Kim’s musical adventure.
Kim continues to write and play music back in her home town of Thunder Bay. She teaches music and voice at Lakehead University and released a highly acclaimed album in 2015 entitled, Raven’s Wing .
19.Terry Tufts- Walk On 2000
Track 1. – Many Miles Away from You.
Terry Tufts gave me the opportunity to produce a record for him in 2000. Terry is a brilliant and dedicated musician, one of the country’s top acoustic players, an excellent singer and songwriter. Though well known for his impressive guitar playing, Terry is also an excellent dobro player. Because his previous albums had showcased his acoustic guitar work I chose on this album to feature his dobro playing along with his guitar work. I think we started with thirty five songs! but winnowed them down to about twelve with two covers – John Martyn’s Sweet Little Mystery, and Frank Ifield’s iconic I Remember You which gave full range to Terry’s vocal abilities. This album was recorded at Sound of One Hand with Marty Jones engineering. As I recall there was a lot of laughter and some very good playing on this album. At its conclusion, Terry took the album to Toronto and it was picked up by Borealis Records. There are many great tracks on this record. Terry has asked me to play the first track on the album, Many Miles Away from You.
20. Kathryn Briggs – Small Awakenings 2000
Track 11. Lunassa
Kathyrn Briggs is a very talented pianist and teacher who now plays with her husband, Terry Tufts, in their group The Algonquin Ensemble, honouring the work of artist Tom Thomson.
In 2000 Kathryn approached me to produce an album of her piano pieces with the encouragement of Terry. The challenge was to find a good grand piano and location for this recording . It has been my experience that good grand pianos have a habit of coming and going. You would think that something as sizeable as grand piano might stay in one place but they don’t. At the time, there were no grand pianos available in Ottawa but in conversation with my friend and compatriot Scott Merritt, he told me of a grand in a small church in Arkell, Ontario just south of Guelph.
Kathryn and I made our way to Arkell and Scott set up his recording gear and we recorded the album in that beautiful little church. We completed the album with Terry Tufts on guitar, Bruce Wittet on drums and Tom McMahon on bass at Sound of One Studio in Ottawa with Marty at the board.
One funny story about this and a few other albums I produced. A few years after this album was recorded, my wife, Amanda overheard a conversation between several women who I had produced including Kathryn. The talk was about what a taskmaster I was in the studio and, to quote Alex Houghton in her liner notes, “a pain in the ass!” It is true I am a pain in the ass, but in my defence, I was always trying to get the best from the people I worked with. I think that is why I can play any one of these albums with pride- each artist rose to the challenge though they may have resented the push at the time.
21.Chris Maclean – Learn to be Loved -2000
Track 11. Light of Day
Chris Maclean grew up in Peterborough Ontario. When I went to university there Chris was hanging out with the likes of Stan Rogers and Nigel Russell, two luminaries of the Trent folk scene. We were travelling in similar circles but I didn’t get to meet Chris until twenty five years later when I was introduced to her through the Ottawa Folklore Centre.
This album Learned to be Loved could be called a loves lost / loves found album and Chris and I had to approach each song, looking at each condition with a different lens. I remember we spent considerable time talking about the different intent of each song and then shaping the song with that intent. I remember as well some very fun sessions with Chris’s childhood friend and songwriter Mae Moore.
The album was recorded at Sound of One Studio with Pete von Alten on drums , Mae Moore and Andrea Karam on back ground vocals, Ken Kanwisher on bass, Fred Guignion on guitar, and Dominque St. Pierre on percussion. Marty Jones was the engineer on the project.
After the album Chris went to Toronto where she got some soul destroying words of advice from a svengali of the Toronto music scene. He basically told her she would never have a place in the Canadian music world because of her age, 47 at the time. Sadly it took her some time to see through that bullshit. Fortunately for us she did, and the music community today benefits from her music, her caring and commitment. She predicted her own future in this song, Light of Day.
22.Tony Turner- A Matter of Time -2002
Track2. Them Dance Hall Girls
A Matter of Time was Tony’s first recording and it was recorded at Ken Kanwisher’s west end Teletune Studio in 2002. Tony had been playing around Ottawa for several years however, and was instrumental in the production of the Christmas Goose Shows,Writer’s Bloc, the Ottawa Songwriter’s Circle and the Songwriter’s Song Along that happened each spring. He was a great catalyst for songwriters in Ottawa. He is now carrying on similar work in Nanaimo with his Harbour Lights concert series.
Tony has a wonderful baritone voice and presented a lovely collection of songs on this album. I remember this album because it was Tony’s first time in the studio and I remember the red recording light got to him at first. It became my job I guess to assure him that his playing was fine. It was. Listening 19 years later I don’t hear any nerves on this production. The Ottawa studio all stars were present on this album- Fred Guignion, Terry Tufts, Rebecca Campbell, James Stephens and a young drummer from Perth, Ontario named Tobias Smith. Tony’s song “Circle of Song” on this album went on to considerable fame and was covered by many choirs and community groups. The song became part of the Sing Out! Songbook series, a wonderful honour for him. Because Circle of Song has been played quite often on Canadian Spaces, I have asked Tony if I could play his version of Alan Fraser’s song “Them Dance Hall Girls”, one of my favourite songs by a Canadian songwriter. Tony later met Alan who said Tony’s version was his favourite.
23. Rodney Brown- Into the Woods- 2001
Track 3.The Forgotten Ones
In 2001 Rodney Brown returned to Ottawa to record his album, Into the Woods at Ken Kanwisher’s Teletune Studio. This time Rodney left his band at home and so the Ottawa crew of Kenny, Fred , James Stephens, with Pete von Alten on drums along with Tobias Smith joined in the sessions.
There are many amazing songs on this album including Dancing with the Daughters of Radon, Somebody get me a Job or The Only One but the song I have chosen is called The Forgotten Ones, reflecting Rodney’s deep affection and concern for the First Nation communities and people of North Western Ontario. For years Rodney travelled, taught and sang in those northern communities that the rest of us might only hear about when a crisis struck. My admiration for Rodney is unbounded for life of work there. Here then is The Forgotten Ones.
24. Alise Marlane- Stillness Hold On- 2004
Track 4. Stones
Alise Marlane is vital part of the Wakefield music community. She is a brilliant guitar and mandolin player, singer and songwriter with a unique take on things musically and lyrically. To be honest I am in awe of her talent. Alise has also been part of the group Frida’s Brow and currently with the Paugan Dames with Chris Maclean and Tina Therrrien.
This, her first album, Stillness Hold On, was recorded with Ken Kanwisher at Teletune Studio. John Geggie played stand up bass, Phil Bova Jr. on drums, with Peter Kiesewalter on clarinet and soprano sax. I played accordion and bg vocals on the track I am about to play. The sessions were quite arduous, as I recall. It was Alise’s first album and she is a perfectionist.
At one point in the process Alise and I went to Toronto to record a cellist at David Woodhead’s studio. It didn’t work out. The cellist was having an off day and for love or money she could not get the part. It was not a good day in the studio and a wasted trip to Toronto. To this day I still shudder about it because while I sympathized with the cellist, I felt like I had disappointed Alise. I ended up playing the part using a cello sample.
But we got there and listening to this album 18 years later, I think this album still works. Stillness Hold On indeed. This track is called Stones and it was written by Alise and Antoine Fraser her step son. I particularly love the line “I’d love to stay but I’ve got places to go, I’ve got teeth to be pulled..” Alise has a lovely and quirky sense of humour.
25. Doug McArthur- Thunder into Heaven- 2007
Track 4. Cottontop
Though I had talked with Doug McArthur about various artists and their albums, it wasn’t until 2007 I got a chance to work with him. Doug had moved to Chelsea and Wakefield Quebec a few years earlier and had become a central participant in the artistic community of the Gatineau Hills.
Doug had several songs he wanted to record with me with the plan to combine them with songs he had recorded with his musical partner Jeffra, in California. I decided it would be a good thing to record the songs in the hills that Doug had come to love and sing about. Doug lives down the road about four kilometers from me and, between the two of us is James Stephens’ Stove Studio.That’s where several of the tracks for Thunder into Heaven were recorded. James joined in on bass and violin, Alan Marsden on guitar, Anouk Gregoire on vocals- all local musicians. Alvaro de Minaya played drums and percussion.
The song I have chosen for this airing is Cottontop, a rueful reflection on the ageing process in which one, particularly men, gradually seems to disappear. The song is set in the Haight Street district of San Francisco where Doug lived for several years. Doug is both a serious songwriter and also an ironic commentator on our journey. The harmonies at the end of the song are a re- interpretation of harmonies on the Rabbit Proof Fence soundtrack sung by the Blind Boys of Alabama. No apologies- it seemed to fit.
26. Chris Maclean- Feet be Still- 2009 with Chris Maclean and James Stephens
Track 5. Song for Tibet
The second album I recorded with Chris Maclean was in 2009 at James Stephen’s Stove Studio in Chelsea, Quebec. Nine years separated this recording and her first album and I think she would agree that she had found her voice and themes by this time.
The recording seasons went smoothly , the songs were less pop driven and more in the acoustic vein. In the intervening years between her first album Learn to be Loved , Chris had been part of a world music group called Kalicha and her interest in world music is evident on this album.
Feet Be Still was co produced with Chris and James Stephens and its release garnered several nominations and awards across Canada. Subsequent to this album, Chris spent half a year in South Africa taking a music and healing course.
Chris remains incredibly active in the music scene of Ottawa and the Gatineau Hills playing with the Paugan Dames and orchestrating a community singing group called The Song Kitchen.
I have chosen to play Song for Tibet because it shows off Chris’ beautiful voice and also expresses her deep rooted political sensibilities.
27. Rodney Brown -The Big Lonely- 2009
Track 13. All that Remains 6:27
Big Lonely was the third album I produced for Rodney Brown. For this project, I went to work with Rodney and his band at Danny Johnson’s studio in Thunder Bay. This made sense because Rodney was eager to work with his home town team. As well, the album focused on the early history of settlers in North Western Ontario, particularly the history and exploits of the North West Company which founded Fort William under the leadership of William McGillvary. Rodney had played these songs at the Old Fort William historical site with the band. The songs were great period pieces and the recording went well, pretty much “live” from the floor. I had a little trouble with some fiddle parts because the player wanted to print his effects. I think, in retrospect, it was to hide some pitch problems. I didn’t care for the effects, they didn’t suit the historical nature of the songs, and so I asked Danny to record a dry signal of the fiddle along with the “effected” tracks so I could make adjustments during the mixing process. When we got the tracks back to Ottawa for mixing, Dave Bignell spent a great deal of time “tuning the fiddle” as it were. The results were worth it and the fiddle sounded like – a fiddle. I am not sure the fiddler ever appreciated this clandestine approach.This track, All that Remains is a beautifully conceived historical song. It speaks to the past, the present and what could be on the long road to reconciliation. The streets mentioned in this song are the streets of my formative years but I never knew that the Bethune Street mentioned in this song was the grandfather of Norman Bethune.
28. Sneezy Waters – 2011
Track 7. You Never Can Tell
In 2011 I got to produce an album for my hero and friend Sneezy Waters, aka Peter Hodgson. My respect for Peter is immense, I think he is the true carrier of the folk flame. So it was a real thrill for me when Sneezy asked me too produce an album for him.
I had joined Sneezy on his first album Sawdust on the Floor of My Heart. It was truly a “live” studio album, representing his live performances at the time. I wanted to do an album of Sneezy songs that were more intimate and less informed by performance. I knew Sneezy could do this because I had heard him do it. I also knew he knew the difference between stage acting and movie acting. Performance is a “hot” medium to use McLuhan’s term, whereas an album for the most part is a “cool” medium; it is a relationship between the listener and the speakers.
Sneezy got where I was headed and we chose songs more suited to this intimacy. In all we recorded twenty or so songs and brought those down to about twelve for the album
The album was done with Ross Murray at Happy Rock Studio in the Gatineau Hills. The players included Anne Downey bass, Vince Halfhide on guitars, Dave Bignell guitars ___________drums and Brian Sanderson on horns. These sessions were a gas, Ross got the project completely and Sneezy served up a totally wonderful and completely eclectic yet matched set of songs. Sneezy was nominated that year for best traditional singer by the CFMAs.
One of the songs that did not get on the album was Tony Bird’s, You Never Can Tell. Sneezy got permission from Tony’s publisher to record the song but when Sneezy gave Tony a courtesy call about recording the song, Tony hit the roof. He threatened he would send the gods down on us if we released the song. I wrote Tony a note indicating that Sneezy had been Tony’s greatest ambassador in Canada, singing his song Bird of Paradise in nearly every concert. My letter was not well received. But Sneezy listened to Tony and the song was withdrawn from the collection. Tony Bird has since passed and Sneezy has now included this song on his website. I think Tony got quite twisted and bitter because he deserved some credit for Paul Simon’s Graceland album and he got none.
29. Bill Hawkins Project – Dancing Alone 2014
Track 11. Disc 2 . Bill Stevenson- Gnostic Serenade
In 2014 I was presented with the biggest recording project I had ever undertaken. I was approached by Harvey Glatt to produce an anthology of Bill Hawkin’s songs, featuring a cast of 24 singers plus back up musicians. It was to be a two record CD and many of Harvey and Bill’s friends had been invited to play including Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLachlan, Bill Stevenson, Sneezy Waters, Brent Titcomb and Lynn Miles.
One of the best parts of the project was that I got to spend time with Bill Hawkins before his passing a few years ago. At one time central to Ottawa’s musical mythology, Bill was the ‘enfant terrible’ of the scene. He alternately terrorized and inspired the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Sandy Crawley, David Wiffen and Sneezy Waters. I sort of knew him by reputation and his song Gnostic Serenade that Sneezy included in most of his concerts. However, by the time I met Bill he was a more kindly “eminence gris“ than a terror. For most of his adult life Bill drove cab for Blue Line. Harvey wanted to celebrate Bill’s life as a songwriter. Bill was a kind man who was so supportive of the project. It was an honour to spend time with him.
Though intimidated somewhat by the guests on the record, (there were so many artists and songs I had to apply myself to) the logistics of organizing studio time, and scheduling musicians, that there was little time to be in awe. I recorded part of the album at Teletune Studio and also at Happy Rock Studio with Ross Murray engineering. I had the good fortune of recording Bruce Cockburn with Ross. The song was The Trains Don’t Run Here Anymore. Bruce said he had admired this song for years and enjoyed the opportunity to record it. He had a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the song. He had brought a special Linda Manzer guitar that was designed for lower open tunings. This song might have been in open C tuning. I was there that afternoon to listen, encourage- not arrange the song. I noticed however that he seemed to sing the song with greater engagement when he was playing, I mentioned this, and so we recorded the song both ways and A/B,d them. Bruce agreed the song came off better when he was playing and singing at the same time. More engaged. Ross was able to get a good mix without too much eq. interference between the vocal and guitar mic and the song was done. Bruce was a joy to work with in the studio. After he left Ross said to me,” Tamblyn, you got your nerve telling Bruce Cockburn how to record a song.” I guess I didn’t see it that way, I was just listening to try and get his best performance, same as everyone else. Serve the song.
I would like to mention one other guest at the table. Richard Patterson started this project but fell victim to premature Alzheimer's before it got underway. It was heartbreaking. There is a whole other retrospective that should be dedicated to his presence and his influence on the Ottawa music scene.
I would like to say that I think the best song and performance on this album is Bill Stevenson’s version of Gnostic Serenade. I wish I could say that I produced it but I didn’t. It was done by Bill in his own studio in Halifax. It is a stunning performance of a very good song.
30. Ken Walsh- Refreshments Will Be Served -2016
Track 8. Song for You
Ken Walsh’s album was the second last album I produced. Ken grew up in Sudbury, and worked underground at Inco’s Creighton Mine. He played drums with guitarist and blues expert, Paul Dunn and the South Bay Honeydrippers in his early years. Ken is a very talented guitar player and song writer and this album was an exciting challenge. We met in Wakefield at various sessions and songwriting weekends. He presented several different styles of music in this recording as is often the case of a first record. As it is said, you have a lifetime to bring your first recording to fruition, you have six months before the second. The project was recorded at Ken Kanwisher’s studio Teletune, Jim Bryson’s studio in Kanata and was mixed with Dave Bignell at his Speed of Sound Studio. Jim Bryson and Dave Bignell added guitars to this collection. Ken lives in Masham and has been a regular playing at the Kaffe 1870 and Open Mic Series. There are few who can match his guitar picking skills.
31. Paul Rainville 2018
Track 3. Chanson de Boulevardier
I met Paul Rainville through the theatre community that surrounded the Great Canadian Theatre Company. We were involved in several theatrical productions, most recently the production of Brian Doyle’s Up to Low at the National Arts Centre in 2018. Paul often brought his guitar to the rehearsals and practiced during the times when he was not in a given scene or there was a break in the production. Paul is a very elegant guitar player and his songs have a theatrical and jazzy bent to them. I think I encouraged Paul to do this album and, after a health scare a few years ago, Paul thought it might be a good idea to get these tunes down. I picked a group of musicians who might respond to Paul’s tunes. I brought together a small jazzy ensemble, Olivier Fairfield (drums) who had done some theatre work at La Scene, Petr Cancura on horns and mandolin and Ken Kanwisher on upright bass- Ken also engineered the project at his Teletune Studios. James Stephens joined in for some tasty fiddle sections and Rebecca Campbell added lovely vocal touches. Every album is different and often needs a different team to reflect the artists vision. My job is to facilitate that goal. This song finds Paul in a Kurt Weill/ Bertolt Brecht space complimented by the klezmer clarinet commentary of Petr Cancura. There are some lines in this song that I think are sublime.