Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Lindsay Gillespie’s 30-plus year career in the music business saw him brushing shoulders with the who’s who of the Canadian music industry and beyond.
Evidence of his importance throughout the 1980s and 1990s line the wall of his basement entertainment room in the form of gold records presented to him by the artists whose success he helped nurture.
Teenage Head, Haywire, Lee Aaron, Maestro Fresh Wes, the Nylons, Jennifer Warnes, and Katrina and the Waves are just the ones who made the cut for the main part of the space. Others sit amongst his boxes of memorabilia in a room above his garage.
Canadian musicians such as Triumph, Dutch Mason, the Irish Rovers, Great Big Sea, Goddo, MacLean and MacLean, Shirley Eikhard, Downchild Blues Band, Domenic Troiano, Joe Sealy, Rob McConnell and the Killer Dwarfs all crossed paths with Gillespie through the years.
And on the international side of things, he worked with the likes of George Thorogood, Motorhead, Big & Rich, Billy Bragg, Kris Kistofferson, Spencer Davis and the Arctic Monkeys.
Gillespie and his wife Julie moved to NOTL about 10 years ago after he sold his business, Music Manufacturing Services (MMS), to a Texas company. It was his final stop in a career that also encompassed working in radio and rising to the highest ranks of one of Canada’s most important independent record labels.
While attending North Albion Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke, the teen-aged Gillespie knew he wanted to be involved in music. Unfortunately he was not a musician.
“But I was as interested in reading the studio credits (on album jackets) as I was the other stuff,” he tells The Local. “Where it was recorded, who engineered it. And I knew I wanted to be in the business, but not being a musician, I was more interested in the recording and producing side of it.”
Through David Marsden, one of the top disc jockeys at CHUM-FM, Gillespie managed to arrange a meeting with an engineer at Toronto recording studio Thunder Sound.
Upon walking in, Gillespie was in awe with the size of the console in the mixing room, where the engineer was piecing together a song by Tommy Ambrose called People City, the original theme song to a brand new television station, CITY-TV, which was licensed in 1971. The engineer allowed the young Gillespie to stay as long as he wanted to watch him work.
He was hooked.
He enrolled in nearby Humber College’s radio broadcasting program, the closest thing he could find to the recording arts at the time. But midway through his studies, Marsden offered Gillespie a chance to intern at his Lip Service Productions, run out of the basement of Thunder Sound.
Gillespie hustled to find government programs that would allow his internship to turn into a paid gig. He worked his way upstairs to Thunder Sound, and began writing and producing radio commercials and doing anything they needed done there. Top jazz musicians such as Rob McConnell, Moe Kaufmann, and Tommy Ambrose were in and out of the 24-track studio playing and singing on jingles.
In 1977, with Thunder Sound floundering, Dave Marsden left to take a job at a newish radio station in Brampton, CFNY-FM.
“CFNY had a 100,000 watt signal, which made it as powerful as CHUM-FM,” Gillespie says. “Marsden went to work there, and became the program director. He called me and asked me if I would take on a producer job.”
Gillespie produced all the commercials and the radio shows. From time to time he did on-air shifts for the young, free-form station, as it began to gain in popularity.
He recalls one evening when he was filling in on an overnight shift that members of Martha and the Muffins had just flown in from the U.S. with masters of their new album. They drove straight to the Brampton studios and Gillespie gave their new music its world premiere.
When a corporate broadcasting entity threatened a takeover of CFNY, Gillespie produced a song called Working on the Radio, written by one of his colleagues. He enlisted legendary Canadian guitarist Dominic Troiano, members of Hamilton band Teenage Head, and eclectic violinist Nash the Slash to play on it. Gillespie even takes a verse or two on the track that can be easily found on YouTube.
For a 20 to 21 year old guy, it was a great life.
“Every second night I was at the El Mocambo,” he remembers, “drinking on the record company’s tab. We were on all the guest lists, saw all the great bands. It was fun and exciting, but I wasn’t making a lot of money. I noticed that the record company guys wore great clothes and drove great cars. I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Gillespie reached out through his contacts, and in 1979 was hired at Attic Records to be their marketing manager.
One of the first acts he had the pleasure to work with was power trio Triumph, probably the band most closely tied to the Attic label at the time.
“Those guys were smart,” he laughs. “They were professional. They knew the business better than anybody. They just chewed me up and spit me out. They knew where their royalties were, and they sold a lot of records here and in the US.”
His connection with Teenage Head through CFNY became an asset for him at Attic.
“One of the first artists we broke after Triumph was Teenage Head,” he says. “We did a lot of work with them at CFNY. When I went to Attic, it was a natural fit. I went from being the radio guy who could help them to being the record guy who was responsible for helping them. We had a huge success with Teenage Head.”
The gold record for their second album, Frantic City, was the first in Gillespie’s collection. He is mentioned frequently in Geoff Pevere’s 2014 book Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story.
Besides developing homegrown talent, Attic also represented international artists in the Canadian market. Gillespie was heavily involved in the success of British-American band Katrina and the Waves and their iconic song Walking on Sunshine.
“We broke that at the same time as Capitol did in the U.S.,” he says. “That was a huge success for us.”
Gillespie still says today that 1987’s Famous Blue Raincoat LP by American singer Jennifer Warnes, released in Canada by Attic, may be the best record he has ever heard.
“Leonard Cohen’s songs, Jennifer Warnes’ voice, the production is phenomenal,” he marvels. “It’s just a magic record. She was a big fan of Leonard’s. I don’t know how you get better than Leonard Cohen as a songwriter. That was one of our big successes.”
He remembers going to the Masonic Temple in Toronto with his boss to meet with British heavy metal band Motörhead, whom Attic was representing. One of the loudest bands ever, they were fronted by the very unique Lemmy Kilmister.
“Instead of listening to the Motörhead show, which wasn’t my thing,” Gillespie says, “we went across the street to a patio and had a couple of beers while the band was on. We went back, and Lemmy asked us how it was. We said ‘great’. He said ‘bull____, you guys were out drinking somewhere. I wouldn’t have sat through it either!’”
His success in marketing led to him taking over the sales department. Later, he was promoted to vice-president, then finally senior vice-president. And, beginning in 1988, he began a side gig with his own company, called Music Manufacturing Services.
“One of our artists came into my office and said he got dropped from the label,” Gillespie explains. “He had his master tape, and he said he had gigs coming up, and he needed product to sell at the shows. I made some arrangements to get his CDs made, and a light bulb went off that there were a lot of artists that needed this kind of service.”
He leveraged his access to all aspects of the industry to help independent artists get their records made and their covers designed and printed.
“We would take their masters and their drawings and put it all together for them,” Gillespie says. “Two weeks later they would pick up their finished records, CDs or cassettes, shrink-wrapped and bar-coded. It could go in a store, they could sell it at gigs, they could do whatever they wanted.”
MMS grew to the point where in 1993 he left Attic Records to focus on it full-time. MMS eventually had offices in Toronto, Montreal, St. Johns, Halifax, New York City and Nashville.
MMS became a sizeable operation, with Gillespie’s roster of hundreds of independent clients competing with the major labels for time in the pressing plants. His clients were receiving the same product out of the same factories that the big acts were receiving. MMS had an art department and a mastering department to help that product look professional, too.
Under Gillespie, MMS pressed east coast band Great Big Sea’s first two independent records. And their Nashville office received an order from country duo Big and Rich early in their career for 1.3 million CDs, MMS’ biggest order ever.
Gillespie just might be also somewhat responsible for kickstarting the success of Nickelback.
Equally loathed and loved, the Alberta hard rockers pressed their first independent CD in 1996 through MMS.
“I’ve been told that someone got ahold of that record from us,” Gillespie remembers, “and that led to them being signed. We would offer to send some copies out to some guys that were connected. And we did. That indie record is what got them noticed.”
The band, led by the Kroeger brothers, went on to become one of the top-selling artists of the 2000s.
And he came full circle with a couple of his old Attic acts. Shirley Eikhard and the Irish Rovers were ignored by record labels later in their careers, forced to go the independent artist route. So Gillespie and MMS helped them get their records made. He even went on the road to help the Rovers sell CDs at a few of their shows.
As the 1990s gave way to the new millennium, more and more artists were finding it hard to make ends meet. And once streaming became legal, production orders began to drop. The writing was on the wall for Gillespie.
“When we started the business, the average order was about 500 CDs,” he says.
“As it got easier for the public to stream music, and indie acts started getting picked up by iTunes, the orders fell. Things were changing. I sold the company and chose to retire.”
He says today he doesn’t much miss the music business. He keeps in touch with a few of the artists he worked with, and is always happy to run into musicians who are still doing well financially. Some, of course, died at a young age, such as his friend Frankie Venom of Teenage Head.
He and Julie bought a house in the country here, and when he plays records in his entertainment room it’s usually jazz.
As president of the Niagara chapter of the Ferrari Club of America, the couple love to drive along country roads with other fans of the Italian-designed sports cars. And he tinkers in his garage with his collection of classic motorcycles, something he has loved to do since his days at CFNY.
He laughs when he sees that all of a sudden, music lovers have begun to purchase vinyl again.
He points to an article from 1996, when he and a partner, Jack Hawthorn, had just bought a vinyl record pressing machine for their Pickering operation. Of course, they got out of that business just before the vinyl resurgence.
“The article quotes me as saying ‘I’m either a genius or an idiot’” says Gillespie today. “Turns out I was both.”