Sam the Record Man is Taking the Stairway to Heaven

Sam the Record Man Sept. 28.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

The Canadian music world lost a good friend and a valuable family member this week. Sam “The Record Man” Sniderman passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 92.  A major promoter of Canadian music, Sniderman was a Member of the Order of Canada, an inductee of the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. He also received a Governor General Award and Honorary doctorates from Ryerson University and the University of Prince Edward Island.

Sam had a couple of close friends growing up, Johnny Lombardi and ‘Honest’ Ed Mirvish.  Lombardi went into radio, starting CHIN radio, and Ed of course got into the theatre game with Mirvish Productions as well as the store Honest Ed’s. Sniderman and his brother, Sid opened a small store on College Street in Toronto in 1937 and stayed in business until 2007, seventy years of serving the record buying public. The Yonge Street flagship store, was opened it’s doors in  1959 and became the focal point of musicians and music lovers alike. SAM’s changed with the times, filling his racks with vinyl and later CDs,  but eventually came MP3s which couldn’t be racked. The downtown Toronto landmark closed down in 2007, Sam Sniderman heart closed down five years later. One store, in Belleville Ontario remains open.

Sam the Record Man’s geographic location on Toronto’s Yonge Street made it easily accessible to the musicians who worked the downtown area and road warriors who stopped in TO on their tours. A stop at Sam’s was as important as a stop at a radio station. Canadian stars like Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, the Guess Who and Gordon Lightfoot would often stop by to sign autographs and chat with the fans. Gordon Lightfoot started his career next door at Steeles Tavern. Ronnie Hawkins worked up the street at Le Coq D’Or and The Nickelodeon.

Hawkins started going to see Sam when was in his “li’l bitty shop all by himself” the Hawk said. He went on to say “I would go in and look for blues records that nobody had. Sam didn’t stock ‘em but he’d order ‘em for me.” He went on to say he’d take a young Robbie Robertson in to listen to some “blues licks that he could copy and put in to some of our tunes.” “ There’s was nuthin’ like Sam’s anywhere else in Canada.”

Tributes poured in from industry giants who thanked Sam for his support. Randy Bachman of the Guess Who and BTO  said  “Sam Sniderman was truly everyone's friend. As kids from Winnipeg all of us in The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive couldn't wait till our next Toronto visit to go to his store. It was the equivalent of Disneyland for all music lovers. I used to spend afternoons there and then eat dinner upstairs. He will be missed by all and Toronto and Canada will never be the same.”

Lenny Stoute, Editor of Cashbox Canada said “Back in the pre-Internet era I worked at the Toronto Star on the entertainment beat. One of the sweetest parts of the gig was rolling up to the front desk section and saying, “Gotta to do some research at Sam’s”, passwords to a couple of hours of musical chilln’ and thrillin’. Once inside Mr. Sniderman’s monument to musical magic, the buzz was palpable. It felt like all things were possible. It felt like if you went up to anyone working there and hummed any mix of random bars, without breaking a sweat the kid would go something like, “ Oh yeah, that’s on the B-side of ‘The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders. They would be right every time. That kind of pride in the work gave Sam’s the air of a musical mission house, preaching the righteous boogie to all who would hear, with a mind-blowing sheet music department to boot. Plus it had that new vinyl smell, right up there with new car smell and new baby smell as essential smells of passage. Sadly, that new vinyl smell is now extinct. I’d like to think that Sam’s casket was lined with coloured vinyl.

Singer/Songwriter Andy Kim, saddened by Sam’s passing said, “ As a recording artist when I went on a 'promo' run in Toronto,  it was just as important to visit Sam the Record Man as it was to visit RPM, Record Week and the AM Radio stations like CFTR, CKEY and of course 1050 Chum.  I remember the first time I met Sam... He knew about my initial trip from Montreal to New York & that I had become part of the Brill Building lore. He mentioned that he liked my writing & prophesied there would be many more Andy Kim hits.  Next came my introduction to the front line staff, they knew my music, embraced me as an artist & along with Sam made me feel special... In later years Sam & I would have dinner & talk about life, politics & family but the conversation always came back to music & lyrics. Wonderful memories and a wonderful man. Thank you Sam Sniderman for the chance to be part of music history on Yonge Street.  Sam wasn’t just the Record Man, he was a community.

Brian Chater, Carole Reisch, Sam Sniderman, Bill Hill, Harry MarksBrian Chater, Carole Reisch, Sam Sniderman, Bill Hill, Harry MarksBill Hill of Chestnut Tree Productions and guitarist and founding member of  J.B. and the Playboys; “ We would stop in to Sam’s whenever we were in Toronto. We toured with the Rolling Stones, opening for them, and went to Sam’s when we played Maple Leaf Gardens. Our records were always well displayed and promoted. He was definitely a groundbreaker.”

Mel Shaw (Producer and original manager of The Stampeders) remembered; “ We met Sam on our first day in Toronto. We headed down to Yonge Street to meet the legendary Sam.....We did not have a new record, we were unknown to him and yet...."How are you boys"...welcome to my home"..That is what Sam was like for all who ventured into his domain...on Yonge street. "Do something guys and I'll put your picture on the walls....Sam showed us the glossy photos of the stars and that along with a gold record was the goal. Our thoughts are with the family for their loss and Sam is being recalled by many artists that covered the walls of his Store....Canada has lost one of its most memorable personalities.”

“Sam took great pride in being the best friend of Canadian musicians,” Rush frontman Geddy Lee said in a statement Monday. “I remember the first time we were awarded a Canadian Gold Record; it was presented to us by Sam at a dinner arranged at Sam the Chinese Food Man restaurant,” (one of Sniderman’s other business ventures.)

Bobby Curtola, Canada’s first teen idol said  “ Sam was the best friend a Canadian artist  could have. He treated us like family. He racked us up front and gave us a chance to do live, in-store shows. You didn’t go to Toronto without going to 1050 CHUM AND Sam the Record Man. God bless you Sam.  Time to rest!”

Ken Tobias, legendary Canadian singer/songwriter; “Rest in Peace Sam Sniderman. 
Sam always believed in my music and used to front rack my albums in his Yonge St store right next to all the great international artists. He was a man who believed in Canadian Music and it's artists. Thank you Sam you will be missed. RIP.”

Dick Damron, a member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame along with Sniderman, said this from his winter home in Mexico. “ First met Sam in 1968 at the BMI Canada Awards, he made me feel like my little 45 would launch me into the music world, forever grateful.....encouragement was hard to come by in those days.”

Sam’s was three floors of music, music for everyone. The walls were covered with photos of a smiling Sam Sniderman, standing beside Wolfman Jack, The Guess Who, Oscar Peterson, Dionne Warwick, Alice Cooper, Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell,  Anne Murray and on and on.

Rest in peace Sam. Now you get to hang out with Johnny Lombardi and Ed Mirvish again  and you all can reflect on the great legacy you left behind. Rest easy!