My Liner Notes - Perrin Beatty
By Perrin Beatty, Canadian Chamber of Commerce- Guest Blog on Sep 08, 2011
Liner notes appear on the sleeve of an album or CD case and contain a mix of anecdotal or factual information. They often reflect the artists’ personality and contain meaningful statements about the art or life issues. My Liner Notes is a regular feature on Music Canada that allows people of all walks of life to share personal reflections about music.
Sam the Record Man
Like it did for so many other Canadians growing up in Toronto in the Sixties, the city’s vibrant music scene helped define my adolescence. I boarded at a high school where we weren’t allowed to have radios during the week. At night I would bring out the tiny crystal radio that I kept carefully hidden during the day, clip it to the bedspring and listen for something new from The Beatles or from Canadian groups like Little Caesar & The Consuls or The Guess Who.
Music shaped our lives and Toronto was where Canadian music thrived. We devoured the weekly CHUM Chart that was the authority on what songs were hot and which ones had started to fade. On weekends we milled around in Yorkville with thousands of other teenagers who were drawn to what seemed to be the centre of the entire music world. Even if you were too young to enter the coffee houses that hosted the famous voices from the radio, the crowds and the simple presence of performers like Ian and Sylvia, Neil Young, and The Hawks generated an excitement that made you feel part of something important. The fact that city politicians and most adults disapproved of much of what took place in Yorkville made it all the more appealing. Yorkville belonged to the young. It was our refuge and our meeting place.
Our love of the music created a different type of excitement further south on a gritty stretch of Yonge Street, where Sam The Record Man did battle with his neighbour, A&A Records. The fact that Sam actually existed and could often be found behind the counter or among the record bins in his sprawling store left no doubt that this was the definitive source for all recorded music. The gaudy giant neon records that spun on his storefront, the labyrinth of rooms crowded with browsers, and the walls and bins groaning with records made you believe that if a song had ever been recorded, you could find it somewhere here if only you looked hard enough. And Sam’s Boxing Day sale set the benchmark that every store that’s followed has had to meet.
After graduation from high school, I went away to university, but a trip to Sam’s was part of every visit home. Sam Sniderman believed in Canadian artists and his store continued to provide a heartbeat for Canadian music long after Yorkville had gentrified and LPs had given way to cassettes and, later, CD’s. He wasn’t shy about reminding you of his commitment to Canadian music if he saw you carrying a bag from one of the other record stores that had moved into the neighbourhood, and you couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. Many young Canadian musicians today owe a great debt to Sam, even if they never met him, because of his support in the industry’s early days.
Over time changes in technology and the marketplace meant that the crowds stopped coming and Sam The Record Man was finally forced to close. For those of us who grew up with that store, something that had been an important part of our lives no longer existed.
Today we no longer have to make the pilgrimage to Yonge and Dundas to get our music. It’s easier now to find even obscure titles from another part of the world and the new recordings don’t skip or warp like the old LPs once did. Still, it’s hard not to miss a time where discovering and buying your music was an event, and not just a transaction.
Perrin Beatty is the President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.