Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot lead the nominations for this year's Juno Awards.
Does that sound familiar to you? It should. It's the longest-running story in the Canadian music industry.
Murray has been figuring prominently in the annual awards program since 1970 when the trophies were dubbed Junos as phonetic tribute to Pierre Juneau, former chairman of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission. Lightfoot has been picking up awards regularly since 1965 when the music industry first started paying homage to itself.
Murray and Lightfoot are up again for the top awards this year - Murray for best female vocalist and best country female vocalist of the year. Lightfoot for best mail vocalist and best folk artist of the year.
And while nobody will deny Murray's right to be nominated as best female vocalist - an award she has won half a dozen times already - one has to wonder about some of the other nominations submitted this week by the industry-run organizations known as the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
With her recent Grammy award and the American success of her pop album, You Needed Me, it's fairly obvious that Murray's popularity as a singer is not confined to this country. But country female artist of the year? Does a remake of the old Everly Brothers rocker, Walk Right Back, turn a predominantly middle-of-the-road pop vocalist into a top country artist?
And as for Lightfoot's nomination as folk artist of the year, have members of the Academy forgotten already his "this I don't need" comment when he won the award last year? Lightfoot, who hasn't performed at a folk festival in years, is a particularly unfortunate choice for this award when there are hundreds of better qualified folkies in the country who never get in the running for a Juno.
The other nominations in the folk category argue most persuasively for the removal of this classification for once and for all.
Dan Hill, who records pop songs with full orchestral backing, and Murray McLauchlan, who cuts some of his country tracks in Nashville, are hardly the kinds of performers one would expect to see strumming acoustic guitar at the Bow River Folk Arts Faire in Calgary.
Even Valdy, who used to have some genuine folkie credentials, is now making pop records in San Francisco with producer Elliot Mazer. Only Bruce Cockburn, who still shuns the glitry trappings of showbiz, performs material that bears any relationship folk music.
I can think of at least a dozen folk artists - David Essig, Jean Carignan, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Cathy Fink and Duck Donald, Barde, Ian Tamblyn, Cano, Bob Evans, Stringband, David Bradstreet, Graham Townsend and others - who have more right to be in the list of nominees than Lightfoot or Hill. But then, the Junos are based on record sales and many of these performers will never get a gold album unless they mint one themselves. Recognition of commercial worth, not artistic achievement, that's what the Junos are all about.
Some of the other nominations show how bankrupt the Junos continue to be in terms of recognition of Canadian talent.
Neil Young, who hasn't lived or performed in this country for years, hardly qualifies as a contender for top male vocalist in Canada. It's just as if one were to single out Saul Bellow for the award given to Canadian novelists. Or Glenn Ford for recognition as a Canadian movie star. Joni Mitchell is another California-based singer whose name shouldn't be in the list of nominees. Even though she once studied at the Alberta College of Art and performed in a local coffeehouse, she hardly qualifies as a Canadian artist now.
Country singer Stompin' Tom Connors complained about this very situation last year when he protested the number of "turncoat Canadians" - his term for artists who have moved to the U.S. - nominated each year for the Junos. Guess who hasn't been nominated for a country male vocalist award this year?
How does the Carlton Showband, a pseudo-Irish group that specializes in jigs, reels and clapalong pub songs, manage to qualify for the best country group award year after year? Where are Ottawa's Cooper Brothers who just happen to record for Capricorn Records - one of the major country-rock labels in the States?
And why have the majority of Quebec artists been excluded from the list of nominations this year? I'm told it's because the province's music industry representatives pulled out of the Academy to run their own awards show. But that doesn't explain how Gino Vanelli, Andre Gagnon and Patsy Gallant still managed to be included among the nominees. If they were eligible, why not Fiori-Seguin, Maneige, Harmonium or Michel Pagliaro?
Part of the problem, I suspect, has to do with the way the music industry picks the names of those who "compete" for top honors in the Junos. The procedure, as I understand it, is that the Academy - a 900-member organization composed of record company personnel, broadcasters, talent agents, promoters and the artists themselves - invites nominations from industry representatives, the majority of whom just happen to be the same members of the Academy who decide the winners.
So, in practice, members of a recording group and their manager can pay $15 for membership in the Academy, nominate themselves for a Juno and then vote for themselves. All rather cosy, don't you think? Is this an equitable way of determining the best of a year's worth of popular music in Canada?
A loosely-knit group of about 100 Canadian music writers didn't think so last year when they organized an awards program to offer a more accurate picture of musical achievement in this country and give recognition to deserving artists.
So far, there has been no indication that the writers will stage another awards program this year. On the strength of this week's Juno nominations, I say it would be a shame if they did not. There are too many artists - including Calgary's own Fosterchild, Vacouver's Bim and the multi-talented Cano group from Sudbury - who were by-passed by the Academy this year and who deserve better.
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