Justin Trudeau’s Holiday Reading & a Salute to Two Senior RockersRock ‘n’ Radio: When DJs and Rock Music Ruled the Airwaves
By Ian Howarth, December 2021
In 2017 I had a book published called Rock ‘n’ Radio: When DJs and Rock Music Ruled the Airwaves (Vehicule Press), my tribute to the halcyon days of Top 40 rock radio in Montreal. The book also chronicles the early days of FM radio in Montreal, specifically CKGM-FM, later re-branded as CHOM-FM in 1971, which after 52 years is still a force on the Montreal radio-scape. One of the station’s most recognizable personalities is former morning man Terry Di Monte who began his first stint at CHOM in 1984 and “retired” in May, 2021. Di Monte connected with a ton of people during his radio career – and one of those people was a young pre-MP, pre-PM Justin Trudeau. Di Monte and Trudeau have some history that goes back to Trudeau’s adolescence and coalesced when Di Monte provided refuge for 27-year-old Justin who was mourning the death of his father Pierre Elliot Trudeau who died in 2000. The current PM was a frequent contributor to Di Monte’s morning show on December 25, the birth date of not one, but two Pierre and Margaret Trudeau children (his brother Alexandre is two years younger.)
All of which gives some context to a request from my Liberal Member of Parliament for Lac-Saint-Louis, Francis Scarpaleggia, who wanted to gift the PM my book. Knowing the PM’s Di Monte connection, he thought my book would provide some casual holiday reading for the Prime Minister. So, it was with some trepidation that I took a copy of my book and addressed a short note on the inside beginning with “Prime Minister.” That was the easy part. The salutation and no politics were my only guidelines. I think I wrote something about “a trip down memory lane” or some other cliche, but I was very careful to not mention Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s name.
And thanks to the official Parliamentary photographer, the moment was captured, and it’s obvious Justin Trudeau is used to multi-tasking as he manages to shake hands, support his Christmas holiday homework binder with Canada’s top-secret nuclear codes and hold my book all at the same time. If he only looks at the photos, I’ll be happy.
Lac Saint Louis Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia presented the Prime Minister with a copy of my book Rock ‘n’ Radio at the last caucus meeting of 2021. The PM is good friends with former CHOM-FM morning man Terry DiMonte who is featured in the book.
Two Senior Rockers Pack Up Their Guitars and Exit Stage
Michael Nesmith (wearing touque) played lead guitar for the Monkees and was an accomplished singer/songwriter. He wrote “Different Drum”, a Top 40 hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1969 when she was with the Stone Poneys.
Michael Nesmith (Dec. 30, 1942 – December 10, 2021)
I wrote last time about rock bands back on the road after a year of Zooming their music to fans. But I suspect Omicron has changed all that in less time than it takes to say, “Cue the music.” Of all the artists that were taking advantage of touring again, I chose the Monkees as an example. After the two surviving Monkees, Michael Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz, wrapped up a fall tour, Nesmith succumbed to heart issues (he had quadruple bypass surgery in 2018) on Dec.10 at the age of 78. The Monkees got a bad rap from the very start, mocked as a Hollywood factory band. The Beatles Lite. I’m here to tell you none of that mattered to a 15-year-old me who never missed an episode of their 1966-68 hit TV show. We were told that of all the Monkees, only Nesmith had any actual musical credentials. Which was not true. Lead singer and cute British Monkee Davy Jones had previous experience in stage musicals. He was also the reason why another Davy Jones changed his stage name to David Bowie.
Micky Dolenz (left) and Michael Nesmith of the Monkees completed a fall tour in November. It would be Nesmith’s last as he died barely a month later of heart failure.
I never took much interest in the backstories of the Monkees, but since Michael Nesmith died, I learned he wrote the song “Different Drum ” a mega hit in 1967 for Linda Ronstadt when she was with the group Stone Poneys. He had a post-Monkees career in production, music videos, new bands, think-tanks, books, tv acting and easy more stuff if you want to Wikipedia him. Oh yeah, and Mickey Dolenz just put out an album of Nesmith-penned songs. He was married three times and had four children.
Footnote: Nesmith was the only child of Bette Nesmith (Graham). Her husband, Warren, had fought in WWII and gave birth to Robert Michael Nesmith while he was overseas. Perhaps the war’s impact was too much for either husband or wife to handle because when the war ended (1946) so did their marriage. Down but not out Bette worked as an executive secretary, where a good portion of her job responsibility was typing. The era of the manual typewriter meant that any mistake meant starting over again. Mrs. Nesmith, in an effort to make every secretary’s life easier, began experimenting with white paint to correct and type over mistakes. Bette had hit on what eventually became liquid gold – at first called Mistake Out, then changed to Liquid Paper. The product turned out to be a very lucrative business venture. When she eventually sold the Liquid Paper venture to the Gillette Corp. in 1979, she was $47.5 million richer. Tragically, she didn’t have much time to savour her new wealth. She died a year later of a stroke at the age of 56. Michael, her only heir, inherited close to $24 million.
Photo of Michael Nesmith (circa 1950) with his mother Bette, who was the inventor of Liquid Paper. She died in 1980, one year after selling her company to Gillette Corp for $47.5 million.
Les Emmerson – The Staccatos/The Five Man Electrical Band (September 17, 1944 – December 10, 2021)
Imagine writing a hit song and then live off the royalties for the rest of your life – or at least a good portion of it. That sounds more like the American dream, not one of a humble Ottawa-born lad, who had rock ‘n’ roll flowing through his veins. But that was how life eventually played out for the lead singer and songwriter, Les Emmerson of the Five Man Electrical Band.
Ottawa rock group the Five Man Electrical Band had huge success with hit single “Signs” which went gold in 1971. Les Emmerson, who died Dec. 10, wrote and sang lead on all their Top 40 hits.
Emmerson wrote the song “Signs”, which in 1971 was a huge hit in both Canada and the US, peaking at No. 4 in Canada and No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In May 1971, there was not a single self-respecting Top 40 radio station that didn’t have the song “Signs” in heavy rotation. The single eventually went gold. That’s a million copies,a huge accomplishment for a Canadian band. That put the band in the Guess Who territory. The song hit a chord with the counterculture movement of that time with lyrics that called out the conservative establishment and their resentment of anyone that had long hair. The lyrics were unequivocally hippie:
And the sign said:
“Long-haired freaky people
Need not apply”
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breaking’ my mind
It is the wet dream of any rock ‘n’ roller that has ever starved for success to hear your song played on the radio. And that’s exactly what happened to the band on a drive through the heart of America on their way to a gig. “Signs” came on the tour van’s radio. “We pulled over, got out and we were jumping up and down,” Emmerson said of that day. “We were on top of the world.” Indeed, the song “Signs” is one of those rare rock songs that has durability going for it. In 1990, an acoustic version was a hit for the band Tesla and then sampled in a rap song by Fatboy Slim in 2002. A whole new generation and demographic heard the song. And with that the royalty cheques flooded in, allowing Emmerson a very comfortable lifestyle.
The Five Man Electrical Band would have success with two more singles, “I’m a Stranger Here” and “Absolutely Right”, but by 1975 they were pretty much done. First as the Staccatos, then as the Five Man Electrical Band, they had a good run. About “Signs” Emmerson has said, “I still can’t believe it’s still out there and making me dough.”
Emmerson was elected to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008. In Bob Mersereau’s 2010 book The Top Canadian Singles, “Signs” is ranked No. 38. He leaves behind his wife Monik and daughter Kristina.
Footnote: There’s something to be said about the accidental coincidence of Michael Nesmith and Les Emmerson dying on the same day (they were only one year apart in age with Nesmith the senior at 78), but I’m not sure what there is to say other than there’s some existential synchronicity at play.