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Billy Talent
  • Artist

    Billy Talent

  • Album

    Dead Silence

  • Label

    Warner Music Canada

If I Had a Million Donuts by Larry LeBlanc, March 2012


For a decade, the Junos has been a big, uninterrupted party in a candy story for the Canadian record industry.

Undeterred by increasing predictions of a down-turning economy, the industry has annually partied on a high note for a near week of Juno activity.

And why not this year?

Canada has hit a sweet spot in terms of music and creativity; online music sales are finally exploding; and audiences worldwide have opened their doors to Canadian music.

While many lost souls moan that CARAS is a Toronto-focused, major label organization; that reality has actually been shattered in recent years.

It was first altered in Calgary in 2008 when Celine Dion was shut out of the winner’s circle despite six nominations; and Avril Lavigne lost all five of her nominee chances.

That year Michael Bublé never had a Juno sweep chance. He only won one category in five nominations. He won the Juno Fan Choice award.

The night belonged to Calgary hometown girl Leslie Feist who swept the night with five wins in five nominated categories.

The most visible and telling sign of the independent-driven changeover was Ms. Feist, recording for Toronto indie Arts & Crafts Productions, winning top album honours against recording by Anne Murray, Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion, and Michael Bublé.

You could feel the air being sucked out of the first 20 rows of the Calgary Telus Convention Centre when that happened.

A further signal of Canada’s music industry shift was Metric walloping Billy Talent, Hedley, Blue Rodeo and The Tragically Hip for Group of the Year in 2010. The band also took home the best alternative album trophy for its fourth album, “Fantasies.”

This year, veterans Feist (yep, she’s now earned her vet stripes), Michael Bublé, Nickelback, Drake Arcade Fire, City and Colour, Doc Walker, Kardinal Offishall, and Sam Roberts Band dominated the nominee listings; but, significantly, a tier of cool new acts also came to strut on the red carpet.

Among them: Deadmau5, the Sheepdogs, Down With Webster, the Arkells, Dan Mangan, Lindi Ortega, Braids, Timber Timbre, JRDN, Mia Martina, the Deep Dark Woods, Twilight Hotel, and Melanie Fiona.

Despite withering contempt from detractors, and despite its own imperfectness, the Junos are critical for being an annual, unbridled national celebration of Canadian music. The event has long shed its amateur CBC-TV beginnings (early telecasts are hilarious to watch) to now being the centerpiece of CTV‘s entertainment portfolio.

The Junos were founded in 1970; a time when Canada was so thirsty for any kind of star that just a glimpse of something good, and people would immediately start throwing accolades.

Despite a handful of domestic and international successes, Canada’s music industry was then dominated by artists with flinching visions; vivid as individuals, but indistinct as an industry. Most had more than a decade of blowing their music to the wind to sober themselves about the harsh realities of the business. Their sole mission was to exist; their only ambition was survival.

The awards were the idea of RPM Weekly publisher Walt Grealis and Canadian record producer Stan Klees, who was also the publication's special projects director. The awards were first known as the RPM Gold Leaf Awards, and were renamed the Juno Awards in 1971.
Pierre Juneau with Anne Murray, Myrna Lorrie, Stompin' Tom Connors, and the Mercy Brothers backstage at the first Juno Awards in 1971
Photo Credit: John Rowlands, via Larry LeBlanc

The first RPM Gold Leaf Awards to be held in public were presented to the winners of a RPM Weekly poll in December, 1969 at a reception at the St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto in early 1970.

In 1974, when the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) was founded, the new organization immediately sought to develop the Junos as a national television awards show to further the identity of Canadian music.

Grealis and Klees, however, wanted to keep the Junos an industry show.

After failed negotiations, CRIA announced it would establish an awards of its own, The Maple Music Awards.

However, many Canadian acts, including Anne Murray, the Guess Who announced they would boycott an awards presentation that would compete with the Junos.

Within several weeks, however, Grealis and CRIA agreed to work together toward developing a new broad-based awards that would be broadcast nationally on CBC-TV.

In 1975, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) was founded to oversee the planning and the presentation of the awards. Grealis and Klees retained some control over the awards through a newly incorporated company, Juno Awards Presentations Ltd.

In 1977, Klees and Grealis gave CARAS effective control of the Junos. In 1984, CARAS negotiated the name and the rights of the awards show from Grealis. CARAS has since established the nominations, mailed out the ballot, and certified the results, hosts, the awards presentation and arranged the telecast.

Since 2002, several public entertainment events have accompanied the Junos, including Junofest, which presents concerts in the host city. The awards are held over two nights. The non-televised Juno Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony takes place on the evening preceding the televised Juno Awards.

After being so wildly successful in St. John's, Newfoundland & Labrador in 2002, Juno organizers figured the event could become a permanent road show. So the Junos hit the road to Edmonton, Halifax, Saskatoon, Calgary, and returned again this year to Ottawa.

Gaffes; wardrobe malfunctions; poor host choices; controversy; and low brow raunchiness have been part of the Junos’ rich legacy.

Back in 1981, paunchy Toronto rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins grabbed national headlines when he ripped his pants while trying to get out of a Rolls Royce convertible onstage at the Junos held at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto.

A highlight of the televised 2003 show in Ottawa included host Shania Twain chatting with Vancouver rappers Swollen Members. "Excuse my butt," she told one audience member. "I would take a seat, but I wouldn't dare sit on a swollen member."

When Alanis Morissette hosted in 2004, she was dressed in a bathrobe which she took off to reveal a flesh-coloured bodysuit. It was a response to the era of censorship in the U.S. caused by Janet Jackson's breast-revealing incident during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. Informed by the Juno’s assistant director that "we can't show nipples or pubic hair on national TV," Alanis then pulled off the fake body parts.

And controversy?

In 1978, Stompin’ Tom Connors returned his six Juno trophies and withdrew his name for Country Male Artist at the Juno Awards. Connors disagreed with Juno nominations going to Canadians residing and working most of the time outside Canada. This iconic Canadian performer has since steadfastly refused to let himself be nominated for a Juno or be included in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Vancouver rap trio Rascalz caused a substantial media flap backstage at the 1998 Junos in Vancouver by refusing its Juno for best rap recording. The group was not in the arena when the award was presented, prior to the show being broadcast nationally by CBC-TV. After arriving and being informed of their win, the trio declined to accept the award, protesting the organizers' decision not to include the rap, reggae, and dance awards in the televised portion of the show.

But there have also been innumerable golden performance moments at the Junos over the years, as well.

Among my favourite are:

* Drake joining teen heartthrob Justin Bieber onstage during his performance of “Baby” in 2010, whipping the crowd at Mile One Centre in St. John’s into a frenzy.

* k.d. lang in 1989 with her performances of “Crying” (recorded with Roy Orbison shortly before he died); and, again, in 2005 in Winnipeg when she magnificently performed Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah."

* Rita McNeil, backed by the Men of the Deeps, bringing the house down in 1989 with a moving performance of “Working Man”;

* Country singer Carroll Baker wowing audiences in 1976 with “I’ve Never Been This Far Before” that led to her being signed by RCA Records.

Whatever your take is on the Junos, I’ll bet you have your own golden memories as well.

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world.

Legendary BBC2 DJ/historian Bob Harris has described him as "the glue that holds the Canadian music industry together."

Senior editor of CelebrityAccess since 2008, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007, and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.

He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times.

He is co-author of the 2011 book,” Music From Far And Wide” chronicling the growth of Canada’s pop music scene.

Music Canada Editor:  Which of Larry's JUNO highlights are your favourite? Let us know in our poll on our homepage at www.musiccanada.com!

(Will not be published)

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FACTS - Gold & Platinum

  • Elton John holds the highest certification for a Single, with Candle In The Wind (Mercury Records) reaching Nineteen Times Platinum status in December 1997.