Tomorrow evening, I plan to be at the NAC’s Fourth Stage for a musical tribute to my late friend Jacques Emond, to whom I paid tribute on this blog in the days following his passing, barely two months ago. Jacques’ death was a blow to those in search of — in need of — a little jazz in their lives. Few in this city knew jazz like Jacques. Those present tomorrow evening will attest to that — to his passion for the music and to his support of musicians local, national and international.
And on the eve of that celebration of a life — and even as Canadians continue to justly mourn the loss of Stompin’ Tom — comes news of the passing of another voice for Canadian music. Indeed, a strong case could be made for A.L. “Chopper” McKinnon as the voice of Canadian music and musicians. For nearly four decades, Chopper championed homegrown singers, songwriters and players. Exclusively. Oh, the occasional “Space invader” may have insinuated his or her way onto McKinnon’s Saturday morning CKCU institution, Canadian Spaces. But only after passing a rigorous screening from the curator of Canadian folk music. For Chopper, our home and native music came first.
And for lo those many years on the air, for thousands of devoted listeners Chopper marked the true start to the weekend, as our host never struggled to fill his two hours with an all-Canadian playlist. Take a quick trip up and down the dial right now and you’ll hear the same handful of chosen Canadian artists spread thinly across a dozen commercial stations. For programmers, Canadian content has been viewed as something of a burden. For Chopper, it was a bonanza — an unending source of inspiration, of voices of and for our country.
As with Jacques, Chopper’s passing reminds me of that first fateful phone shift I did for CKCU a generation ago. At the time, Chopper’s show set the standard for what CKCU could be — and the loyalty it commanded was the envy of every announcer in Canada. It has remained so, as Chopper never strayed from his folksy call to listeners to grab a favourite “hot brown drink” and his generous show-opening helping of 40 minutes of uninterrupted folk.
Today, that flow has been interrupted, as Canada has lost its second voice of the people in barely a week. This time, it hits particularly close to home; though, Chopper’s domain, like Stompin’ Tom’s, spread across this land. I had the pleasure of hosting Canadian Spaces on a number of occasions and recognized then as now that Chopper McKinnon’s shoes are impossible to fill. Such loyalty from listeners is all but unheard of today. Rarer still, is the host so deserving of it. McKinnon’s admiration for the musicians and musical friends he welcomed to the airwaves was apparent. The feeling was invariably mutual. Many is the Canadian folk musician indebted to Chopper McKinnon. Just ask one.
So long, Chopper. Saturday mornings will never be the same. And for that, I’ll be partaking of a brown drink or two this evening. But it won’t be hot.