Joey Cee

Cover January 14, 2011

Joey Cee

The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ !

by Sandy Graham

 

When you first talk to Joey Cee, you are expecting the typical music business veteran voice; the one that tells you he has been in this for decades and isn’t quite sure or happy with the direction it is all going with music these days. Almost a bit of the grand ennui. What you are not expecting is the high energy, excited dialogue and music memories that this guy talks about; laughing while telling you great stories of Canada’s music legends, producers and radio gurus that Cee worked with while building his JCO empire. I can’t imagine what he was like as a young lad, selling The ‘Telly’ (Toronto Telegram) or The Star on downtown street corners. The delightful part of talking to this walking music encyclopedia was how great his stories are and how happy he is to tell them.

 

‘When I was a kid, around Grade 6 or 7, I developed the competitive edge, I loved the sales part but I loved the fact you got rewards with sales,’ Cee reflects. ‘I always won the top sales for chocolate bars, school incentives, things like that. I realized even back then that everyone is a salesman of some sort. We are always selling ourselves. I just happen to have made a great career out of it.’

 

Joey at 18Joey at 18Born in Malta, Joey moved here with his parents at the age of one, and grew up with a strong influence of the support of his mother. ‘She always supported my drive to do music, she helped me buy my first sound equipment, signing for it on her credit, but I made sure I always paid it off in full. I never put my Mom in a position where she was stuck with my bills. I bought my first 45 record at Woolworths at the Yonge and Queen Street store. My mother worked in the cafeteria there and I used to hang around. I remember it too. It was ‘Running Bear’ by Johnny Preston. So many of those artists influenced me back then; Elvis of course, Gene Pitney and Bobby Vee, mostly because I could actually sing their songs quite well. Later on in life, Neil Diamond was a huge influence on me. I got to work with him, which was great, but that is another story.’

 

Joey Cee started his own live performance part of his career by high school dances. His direct involvement came from being the high school ‘hitpicker’ for 1050 chum, first at St. Michael’s College, then Western Tech. ‘One of the first events I remember going to as an official ‘hitpicker’ was a Bobby Curtola Pizza Party somewhere near Casa Loma. Here we are all these years later, and Curtola and I are still rockin’, Cee states with that contagious laugh of his. ‘Reporting to 1050 chum got me involved in music and new records. I started doing all the high school dances I could, then church dances; finally that led me to working with live entertainers. I booked the Yorkville talent, the Myna Birds, Neil Young, Sparrow; remind me to tell you more about ‘Born to Be Wild’. 

 

Working with live bands segued into doing dances almost full time while going to school. ‘I had part time jobs, but my mind was always on music. I ended up buying my own DJ equipment at Bay Bloor Radio, and once again Mom stepped up to the plate and helped me put equipment on time payments. Traynor speakers, turntables, you name it, I was saving, buying and developing my own portable show. I was the first mobile disc jockey in Toronto. My Dad used to drive me to the gigs in his 55 Oldsmobile until I got my own driver’s license and he let me borrow the car. Back then I was lucky to break even, but more often than not, it cost me to work. From what I hear from bands today, that hasn’t changed’.

 

SteppenwolfSteppenwolfWhen Joey discovered American Bandstand on tv, a lightbulb went off. What if he could do an after school dance and call it Canadian Bandstand? The year was 1961, and Cee found a dance studio with a space upstairs located at  Euclid and College, The 3 Star Dance Studio, complete with a stage and a mirror ball. At the $ 40 rent he would have to pay, his start date for the first dance was Wednesday  Jan. 9, 1963. He teamed up with a DJ friend, Dave Alexander and they had the stage name of Joe and  The Professor. They thought about it, and thought a table on the stage with just equipment would look stupid with nothing on it so they put plywood in the front gluing the CKEY call letters; their main ‘sponsor’ for the dance.  Then they had ‘Joey and the Professor’ letters in glitter and the pièce de résistance, his first experience with a ‘light show’. ‘Nobody had ever done this before. We took Christmas lights stuck them in drilled out holes in the plywood. We hooked it up to the sound system and when the music played the ‘light box’ pulsated when the music played. It became our trademark. State of the art’, Cee laughs.

 

Joe Cee CompilationJoe Cee CompilationJoey Cee did it all for this first show. He printed the tickets, did the posters, got ready for the first show. It was 35 cents to get in, 4 pm to 6 pm, dancing after school and still be home in time for dinner. The initial date came and to Joey Cee’s dismay, a major snowstorm happened. Discouraged and thinking no one was going to come, Joey was told to hurry up and open the doors. There was a line-up outside that was blocks long – and his hit dances were born.  ‘The Professor’ and I had a routine. We closed the curtains, turned off the lights, and lit sparklers on each side of the stage. And then, as the curtains opened we played our theme song, ‘Because We’re Young’. It grew from dj music to live entertainers as special guests, just like Dick Clark. The first guest we had was a guy who had a record on Art Snider’s Chateau Label. This skinny, young guy came in and sang his single, ‘Remember Me’. That guy was Gordon Lightfoot. Those weekday Wednesday dances turned into Sunday dances that featured R&B music. That is where the idea to start my own chart came from.’ 

 

The Toronto Star did a story on this young entrepreneur, and then asked if he would do a weekly feature – ‘Joey Cee Predicts the Hits’, a column that lasted from 1965 thru 1967. The accuracy of his ‘pick hits’ caught the attention of Ron Hewitt, and he contacted Joey to tell him that CKFH was going from a sports to pop music format and they wanted to offer him the Music Director position. This was the dream job Joey was waiting for. ‘It really was like WKRP. Right down to the beautiful, blonde receptionist and all the dysfunctional on air and office staff to go with it. We got to launch hits like ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harum, Guess Who hits like ‘Laughin’, These Eyes, Undun’, and the controversial ‘Je T’aime…Mons Non Plus’ by  Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. I fought for that record to go on the air. The deal was if it caused big problems I would lose my job. I came in the morning after I playlisted it to stacks of messages. Some from advertisers saying they would never listen to us again. The rest was stacks and stacks of fans wanting to know where to buy it. I knew then and there my ears could tell a hit. That job was at the height of the some of the greatest music from 1967-68-69. I had the great pleasure of receiving my first gold record for breaking ‘Born To Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf. I had booked them when they were Sparrow. Ed Preston (RCA Records) told me about this new band ABC Dunhill had signed. I had no idea until we got the venue in New York it was John Kay and Sparrow. I received many gold records over the years, but ‘Born to Be Wild’ was my first. In those days there were three of us. Neville Grant (CKOC) and Rosalie Tremblay (CKLW) and I would confer to see what new songs we would play. It was a magical time. I hear oldies on the air now and I realize I held those records in my hands when they were brand new.’

 


Joey CeeJoey CeeJoey had always wanted to record his own material. When the radio stint ended, and recording his own material would not be a conflict of interest.  ‘I was still on the mailing list for new product, and I got this album I really liked by two writers, Webber and Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar). I wanted to record with a choir, so I went to the church and got the choir and chose two songs, ‘Any Dream Will Do’ and ‘Close Every Door’ (10 years nominated the best song in the Tony Awards). Capitol EMI released it and it was supposed to be a two single deal, but when the time started to drag, Joey got antsy and when he ended up meeting  Pete Bennett at a Bobby Vee concert at the Yorkville Embassy Club.The young Cee didn’t know at the time that Bennett  was also involved with Tina Turner, Ringo Starr, Fats Domino, and  Neil Diamond. ‘Oh What A Summer Can Do’ and Joey was now a recording artist on the prestigious A&M label.  Also, another trailblazer moment for this whirlwind dynamo was his stint with the CBC, Radio an all Canadian feature on Music Canada, the 1
st Canadian Syndicated Radio Show.  This developed into the Music Canada Pamphlet which turned into the Music Canada Magazine, a quarterly publication that was endorsed by the industry. That led to Record Week, a hip newspaper that had charts and stories from the music industry across Canada. (Editor’s Note: Sandy Graham was the Editor for Record Week in 1977) 


Today, Joey Cee runs HOToronto. A slick, glossy hard copy publication, as well as an online presence like no other and celebrating it’s 17th year.  If you want to know what is going on www.hottoronto.com has it all. It is a virtual City Entertainment information on-line magazine for the city of Toronto, Mississauga, Niagara and Southern Ontario, Canada. atures dotting the GTA and southern Ontario landscape. For more than 16 years, HOToronto has been the city's number one entertainment planner, guiding residents and visitors to the best in theatre, concerts, shows, exhibitions, galleries, sporting events, movies, restaurants, galas, fundraisers, wine tours, attractions, grand openings, casinos, nightlcubs and much more.

 

In addition to being the full time editor and sales manager for HOToronto, Joey Cee decided Chocolate was the way to go, so he started the successful event, The Chocolate Ball, an event that encompasses the passion for chocolate on all levels. Now heading into it’s 7th year, the event is held both in Toronto and Vaughn. Check out www.thechocolateball.com for upcoming news of the next event.


The Hits Just Keep on Comin’ for this boisterous and bold entrepreneur.  Cee’s hits are now continuing music projects, where he is still involved in booking live entertainment. BEACHFEST, BEACHES JAZZ FESTIVAL, CANADA DAY COUNTRY JAM, CANADA DAY SUMMERFEST are active yearly events that have featured all the biggest Canadian stars live over the past 23 years. As Associate Producer of the Beaches Jazz Festival but Co-Producer along with Executive Director, Lido Chilelli and Artistic Director, Bill King, it is sure to be bigger and better than ever. The 23rd Jazz Festival will take place July 15-24 2011 and you can find more about all that jazz at www.beachesjazz.com.


Joey CeeJoey CeeWhen asked what he thinks of the current state of the music industry, Joey Cee has this to say. ‘I predicted in 1977 that the business was going to electronics. And it has. If you are going to stay in this business, whether as an artist or a music industry person, don’t overestimate yourself and you must stay loyal to yourself and be tenacious.’ 



When asked if there was anyone he would like to thank, Joey said there are so many. ‘I was privileged to work with the best. Dave Alexander, David Farrell, Marty Melhuish, Gerry Lacoursiere, Ritchie Yorke, Ed Preston, Mel and Fran Shaw, Sandy Graham and Kathy Hahn to name a few. Walt Grealis and Stan Kulin need to be thanked for RPM Magazine, which started the Maple Music Awards that grew into the Junos, now celebrating The 40
th Anniversary this March.’

When asked what the future has in store, Joey says there is a brand new online project in the works he is set to unveil shortly. And if it is Joey Cee involved, it is sure to be a hit – cuz with him, The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.


www.joeycee.com


*Editor’s Note: With over 2000 words to this story, we still only touched on a small portion of what Joey Cee has contributed to the Canadian Music Industry. Check back in the future when we feature Joey Cee and his U.S. dealings.