Shelley Siegel – A Canadian Success Story Not To Be Forgotten
by Sandy Graham
It was 1975, and I was Music Director of the radio station in Montreal known as CJFM – FM 96, owned and operated by Standard Broadcasting at the time. We were # 2. CHOM-FM our big competition was # 1.
It was a different era; first off I was a female in the Music Director chair; and thanks to Rosalie Tremblay at CKLW in Windsor showing that a woman could be in radio, it was a chance I was given to show the ‘big boys’ a girl could do the job.
In the ‘day of the dinosaurs’, we had what was called ‘Record Day’, usually on a Wednesday, when all the promo record guys would line up outside my office, and wait for their chance to pitch their new product. It was what would be considered an archaic way to do things nowadays, but I sometimes wonder if the current email, WAV, MP3 tracking system really works; back then the promo person got to stand there as you put the new tune on a turntable, and they got the chance to dance around and get you excited about their latest passion. It was also an opportunity to receive a WHOLE album, and maybe find another gem on there that wasn’t the single release. Cover art was just as important as the product, not to mention liner notes that told of who played, produced and backed the product.
It was on one of these Wednesdays in my Montreal MD days that I met Shelley Siegel. At around 5’ 6 “, with bushy long hair, he came flying into my office, waving a single of Heart, and their latest release ‘Magic Man’. He had a high voice and a slight frame, so in my haste to get to him, I assumed he was a girl, and accidentally said, ‘Nice to meet you, Sheila’. Shelley never let me forget that moment. He was a true ‘record guy’, wouldn’t take no for an answer, complained that he was having issues ‘breaking’ the single on AM Radio, as ‘Magic Man’ was an astonishingly long song (5:35 minutes) for that era, and AM refused to play anything that was over 3:00 minutes. Siegel was refusing to shorten the song, as the issue was the amazing guitar riff that actually ‘made’ the song. (Rumour had it that Siegel ended up ‘convincing’ the guys that filled the jukeboxes to put ‘Magic Man’ in the slot for ‘Brown Sugar’ by The Rolling Stones.
Bar patrons kept putting in money and getting ‘Magic Man’, stores were getting requests and rack jobbers finally had to get Heart’s album to the public. All rumours they say.) Back to that day. Shelley Siegel was an enthusiastic bundle of energy, and his huge personality and belief in the band is what got me to listen to the song. ‘Dreamboat Annie’ was in our library and getting rotation probably before I could even get Shelley to leave my office. Or so he told people. ‘Magic Man’ was the second single; ‘Crazy on You’ was a bit rockier for our format back then. (hard to believe in current radio airplay)
Mushroom Records was a recording label company founded in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, by brothers Wink and Dick Vogel in 1974. Mushroom Studios, a Vancouver recording studio, is a separate operation from the record label. The studio was built by Aragon Records in 1966, 8 years before the formation of the Mushroom label. The studio was also known as Can Base Studios (derived from its principal investor) during the early 1970s when the Mushroom record label began. The studio and label formed a partnership during the label's existence, and many of its albums were recorded there. In the mid 1970s the studio employed producer Mike Flicker and musician Howard Leese, who began to work with Heart. Contrary to what most people thought, Anne and Nancy Wilson were Americans. Heart got their start in 1963 in Seattle, Washington formed by bassist Steve Fossen and brothers Roger Fisher (guitar/mandolin) and Mike Fisher (producer and sound engineer). The group went by the name The Army and White Heart, before settling on just Heart in the early 1970s. Ann Wilson joined the group in 1970. Romance sprang up between her and Mike and she came along when they moved to Vancouver to avoid the Vietnam draft.
Soon after the move, Ann’s sister Nancy Wilson joined the group. Mirroring her siste, Nancy became romantically involved with Roger. The band gained a following in Canada and was signed to the small Canadian label Mushroom, which issued their debut album, ‘Dreamboat Annie’, in 1976. ‘Dreamboat Annie’ was recorded with new members’ guitarist/keyboardist Howard Leese and drummer Michael Derosier.
With the success of Heart, Shelley Siegel went after his ultimate dream. He moved to Los Angeles, California and opened an American office on Sunset Boulevard, right across from the famous Tower Records. Siegel invited me to LA to visit and do some work together. I remember arriving there in the winter, and thinking what a go-getter this little guy was, within two years, he had a hit band with Heart, as well as other artists on the horizon back in Canada. He jokingly told me a great story. ‘I was so excited when I got to Sunset Boulevard. I was walking down the street carrying Heart albums, and some guy rushed up to me and grabbed them out of my hands. I thought, wow, I have a hit band here. Then I realized he had stolen my wallet as well.” Welcome to Hollywood. Little did I know that would be the last time I would see Shelley Siegel.
A favorite quote from Shelley was when Rolling Stone did an article about Heart and they interviewed Shelley. Something like “. . . . I’ve sold a million fuckin records in LA and nobody knows who I am. When they find out, I’ll sell a million point 2 . . . . .”
A well documented fallout between Heart and Mushroom Records arose causing the beginning of the end for both Mushroom Records and Shelley Siegel. In 1977, Heart moved to CBS affiliate Portrait. This didn’t go well with Mushroom owner Shelly Siegel, and a legal battle ensued. Heart was still signed to Mushroom Records for another album and Shelley Siegel fought hard to make that clear to the courts. After the smoke cleared, Heart’s second album “Little Queen” was released on Portrait in 1977. It was a substantial hit, but wasn’t the enormous hit their debut album was. Only one single, “Barracuda,” from the album made the Top 40 this time around. (Some say ‘Barracuda’ was written about Shelley Siegel.) Curiously, the single, “Heartless,” from the unfinished LP “Magazine” released by Mushroom charted higher than Little Queen’s other two singles, thus fulfilling the second album commitment to the label.
On January 17, 1979, Shelley Siegel died of a massive brain aneurysm, at the age of 32. After all the legal battles, The Wilson sisters were at the funeral, despite the legal battles, and Mushroom Records releasing their second album Magazine after they had signed with another label. Shelley Siegel’s family released information that the brain aneurysm was present from birth, and the cause of his death was not caused by drug or alcohol abuse. Supposedly, Siegel is buried in Mount Sinai Cemetery, proving to all that he finally made his mark in Hollywood.
In 1980, Mushroom Records declared bankruptcy, proving implicitly that Siegel was the heart and soul behind the label. Mushroom Studios, still located at 1234 West 6th Avenue is still in operation; some say it is haunted with the ghost of Siegel.
When I think of success stories in this industry, despite all the trials and tribulations, Shelley Siegel is a name that stays with me throughout all these years. He was funny, passionate about his label, knew how to promote music and had an indefatigable work ethic. Heart was talented, but would they have made it without the guidance of Shelley Siegel? I, for one, don’t think they would have even got past the door of radio back then.
As for Shelley Siegel, I personally think the music industry lost a vital member in 1979, and if he had lived who knows what he could have achieved with the drive and faith he had in music.
You might not have known his name before this story, but you knew his successes. That is all he would have wanted in the long run.