Stony Plain Marks its 35th Anniversary with CD/DVD Collection

Cover May 20, 2011

By Sandy Graham

Stony Plain Records is a major Canadian independent record label, which specializes in roots music genres such as country, folk and blues

In 1976, Holger Petersen along with partner Alvin Jahns, launched ‘the little label that could’, and despite all odds in this fickle business of music, they have made a success of it. Now 35 years later, it doesn’t look like Petersen plans to slow down at all. He also hosts the weekly series, ‘Saturday Night Blues’ on CBC Radio, a well-listened to and well-rated radio show, as well ‘Natch’l Blues in on the CKUA Radio Network in Alberta  and also os programming the ever popular GALAXIE Blues Time channel  on Satellite Television.

I had the opportunity to speak with Holger Petersen in his Edmonton office, “I started out as a record collector as a kid. I used to go this store that sold the 45’s that went into the local jukeboxes. On a Saturday afternoon, I would go in there and go through all the bins. You could buy 5 singles for a dollar. In those bins were used 45’s, but there were also artists in there that were completely unknown or unpopular. I used to sift through there and find great artists. So the truth is I started out as a collector. I realized what I really wanted to become a record producer, so in 1972 I worked with artists like Roosevelt Sykes and Johnny Shines; actually the first record I produced was by Walter ‘Shakey’ Horton in 1972. He was on tour and I had the opportunity to do a recording with him, and then later on we did the whole album.”

Long John BaldryLong John BaldryThen it was on to the label section of this story. “I then had the luck of the draw by getting a distribution deal in Montreal at the time with London Records. At the time, London was a vibrant label, with  labels such as Gamma, Much and Anthem under their umbrella of distribution. That was the beginning of the vision of Stony Plain. (Today, SP are distributed by Warner in Canada, ADA in the US and CRS in Europe.) After a few producing stints, and then looking at an entire catalogue of only 8 releases, we realized if we wanted to be taken seriously, we have to release more records. This led to the deals with Flying Fish, Sugar Hill, High Tone  and Rounder Records. We grew fast and furious after that, with deals that led us to licence and distribute high caliber names like Asleep at the Wheel, Robert Cray, and icons like Maria Muldaur and Long John Baldry. We were actually the first label to licence Ricky Scaggs through Rounder, then a second deal for Ricky through Sugarhill. We still do licensing and distribution with Blind Pig Records has grown into one of the premiere blues labels in the world.”

Jay McShannJay McShannOther artists who have released albums on Stony Plain include the labl's biggest seller Ian Tyson, Sylvia Tyson, (who is now enjoying a new career as a book writer with best seller ‘Joyner’s Dream) Cindy Church, Long John Baldry, Linda McRae, The Paperboys, Corb Lund, Amos Garrett, Jr. Gone Wild, Rita Chiarelli, Maria Muldaur, Tim HusMendelson Joe and Spirit of the West. The label has also been the Canadian distributor for albums by notable American artists such as Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Duke Robillard and Emmylou Harris.  To date,  the label has released over 300 albums of blues, classic R&B, folk, country, bluegrass, rock and roll, and music that is impossible to put into neat pigeonholes. The common element in all of these forms of music is that the artists, regardless of current fad or fashion, put their hearts and souls into the music they create. 

Stony Plain has received six Grammy Award nominations including Maria Muldaur’s ‘Richland Woman Blues’ in 2001 and Jay McShann’s ‘Goin’ to Kansas City’ in 2003. The label and its artists have also garnered numerous W.C. Handy Blues Award nominations and won several Handy Awards. In Canada, Stony Plain has won 11 Juno Awards (Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy), Canadian Country Music Association Awards, Maple Blues Awards and Western Canada Music Awards.  On a personal level, Holger Petersen was honoured for his contributions  to Canadian arts and culture with an honorary Doctorate from Athabasca University in 2002 and was awarded the highest honor a Canadian can receive, the Order of Canada, in 2003.

Sylvia TysonSylvia TysonStony Plain has had an incredible sixth sense in the signing of artists; being smart enough to seek them out in between major label deals, and sign them to this vibrant label.  This is all due to the insight, vision and determination of Holger Petersen. He is quick to give credit to his team as well. ‘There are very few small companies (we are a team of 5) who can boast that we have an experienced C.A. (Alvin Jahns) as my long time partner, who has an excellent business background. I am fortunate to have an extremely compatible staff in Julie King, Peter Chapman, and Angeline Cumming. We are blessed with their expertise and tireless spirits.’

Holger concedes it is difficult to keep up with the rise and demand of the current industry standards and demands. ‘I recognize the limitations of my own time, so I generally only get  involved with an artist who will work as hard as we will do for their career. You have to  decide what your own priorities are and follow a plan 24-7 if you intend to be successful. It is my love of the music and an understanding in the world of blues and the world of roots music that keeps me motivated.’ 

HOLGER PETERSON Photo courtesy of Darren JackniskyHOLGER PETERSON Photo courtesy of Darren JackniskyIt has been the determination of Petersen that has made this label survive in a time where majors are falling out or being taken over by each other. I have had the pleasure of meeting up with Holger on our yearly jaunts to MIDEM (the music festival in Cannes, France) and I can truly say he is one of the nicest men I have ever met in the music industry. But, that aside, it is his sheer enthusiasm that is infectious when you talk to him about music. It is that basic – he loves music. You can see it in his eyes when you talk to him about other legacy artists like The Flying Burrito Brothers or Tommy James (of the Shondells). He actually is a ‘fan’ of the artist, and it is his singular vision that has made this label flourish in its own right. I truly believe it is also his honesty and integrity along with nurturing spirit that makes the  legacy as well as the new musical artists previously signed to  label giants jump to be on Stony Plain.

At a time when the industry is moaning about how everything has changed, how hard it is to promote talent, break onto charts, and basically get your artist out there, Holger Petersen and Stony Plain show us the real reason this label works – it is all about the music. The folk, roots and blues scene has flourished and survived in this country, and I for one believe a label like Stony Plain and Holger Petersen are a true example of success when you believe in your product and your artists. 

‘Who knows what the next few years will bring,’ Holger states. ‘The music business is like a house of cards, all relying on the other parts to hold it up. We all need to be as realistic as possible and understand the importance of budgets, and support from the artist in the way of touring, off stage sales, personal and professional marketing and branding. My advice to any artist is to become part of the industry organizations. Join the appropriate ones pertaining to your music; the CMA, CMAO, Alberta Music, become part of the blues foundations, provincial music organizations. Experience every seminar, music event you can; it is a huge learning curve right now so educate yourself in your field, look for all the opportunities you can.’

Maria Muldaur & Her Gardens of JoyMaria Muldaur & Her Gardens of JoyEvery five years, Stony Plain releases a double disc to commemorate their survival and success as a label. Now marking it’s 35th Anniversary, the folks at Stony Plain have released a giant 2 CD-plus-DVD package, with more than 40 tracks and eleven videos. This is an incredible musical journey that has cuts from the late, great Jeff Healey, Corb Lund, David Wilcox, Long John Baldry and Blue Rodeo (who do a great version of Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds.) Stony Plain also released an Ian Tyson Tribute CD awhile back, once more showing the respect for the ones who made this industry to start with. This CD offering reads like a rock radio playlist from the past and present.

Exclusively featured on the 35 Years Stony Plain compilation are three previously unreleased tracks by the legendary singer-songwriter Bob Carpenter, recorded as publishing demos in 1979. Bob only made one album - Silent Passage, now out of print, but available digitally - these tracks are a reminder of what music was lost when he passed away 15 years ago. These demos were previously only made available on the digital-only release ‘Eight Demos 1979’,  that came out at the end of 2010. 

Stony Plain Records has also made this affordable for all music lovers for a great price of $ 25.00 Canadian.

Disc 1 CD Disc

  1. Maria Muldaur - The Diplomat 
  2. Jeff Healey - The Wildcat 
  3. Harry Manx & Kevin Breit - Looking For A Brand New World          
  4. Corb Lund - Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier 
  5. Steve Earle - Ben McCulloch 
  6. Ian Tyson - Blaino's Song 
  7. Tim Hus - Country Music Lament 
  8. Valdy & Gary Fjellgaard - Still In The Running 
  9. Ray Bonneville - Canary Yellow Car 
  10. Asleep At The Wheel - That's Your Red Wagon 
  11. Sunny And Her Joy Boys - Strictly From Dixie 
  12. Amos Garrett - Get Way Back 
  13. David Wilcox - Bend A Little 
  14. New Guitar Summit - Shivers 
  15. Spirit Of The West - Our Station 
  16. Emmylou Harris - Wheels 
  17. Blue Rodeo - Four Strong Winds 
  18. Rodney Crowell - Closer To Heaven 
  19. Bob Carpenter - Dreaming 
  20. Bob Carpenter - Magdelana 
  21. Bob Carpenter - Chameleon Man 

Disc 2 CD Disc

  1. Duke Robillard - Stomp The Blues Tonight 
  2. Joe Louis Walker - Black Widow Spider 
  3. Jay McShann & Duke Robillard - Moten Swing 
  4. Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne - Heaven Send Me An Angel 
  5. Doug James & Sugar Ray Norcia - Dirty, Dirty People 
  6. Jeff Healey - I'm Torn Down 
  7. Rosco Gordon - No More Doggin' 
  8. Amos Garrett, Doug Sahm, Gene Taylor Band - Teardrops On Your Letter 
  9. Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters - Miracle 
  10. Rory Block - Mississippi Man         
  11. Big Dave McLean - Police And High Sheriff 
  12. Long John Baldry - Gallows Poll 
  13. Sonny Rhodes - Honey Do Woman 
  14. Ellen McIlwaine - Crawling King Snake 
  15. Billy Boy Arnold - Hello Stranger 
  16. King Biscuit Boy - Ain't Broke And Ain't Hungry 
  17. Robert Nighthawk - Nighthawk Boogie 
  18. Robert Nighthawk - I'm Gonna Murder My Baby 
  19. Robert Nighthawk - You Missed A Good Man 
  20. Robert Nighthawk - Back Water Blues 

Disc 3  DVD Disc

  1. A Tour Of The Stony Plain Offices 
  2. Jeff Healey - Like A Hurricane 
  3. Jay Mcshann & Johnnie Johnson - Going To Kansas City 
  4. Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters - Bobby’s Bop 
  5. Duke Robillard - Workin’ Hard For My Uncle 
  6. Corb Lund - The Truth Comes Out 
  7. Ian Tyson - Springtime In Alberta 
  8. Downchild - Bop ‘Til I Drop 
  9. Long John Baldry - Shake That Thing 
  10. Jr. Gone Wild - I’m So Glad 
  11. The Paperboys - After The First Time

Happy Anniversary Stony Plain ! Congratulations and here’s to another 35 years in the business.

For further information or to purchase 35 Years Stony Plain visit www.stonyplainrecords.com