I recently was afforded the great pleasure of serving as Master of Ceremonies for a really neat event called “Rock for Dimes.” A key fundraising initiative for the March of Dimes Canada, the “Rock for Dimes” night featured a variety of rock bands and special guests, all coming together to help raise money and awareness for a great cause.
As I took in each performance, I was struck by the variety of music that was played, and I noted what songs were covered and what other famous artists had been represented. I was interested to see what kind of songs these performers had so deep in their souls that they would be willing to dedicate so much time and effort into rehearsing and, ultimately, sharing them on stage.
I also wondered what it was that got each of the members of these bands to pick up an instrument in the first place? It was clear that they loved what they were doing, and that they were singing and playing as an extension of their spirit, rather than just a means to an end.
It was nice to watch, and it all got me thinking about what had inspired me musically. Once I started to really think about it, I was amazed at how many wonderful things in my life have come as a result of embracing and expanding upon the music I love. I had fun looking closer at which artists and albums had actually had the largest affect on me over the years.
Most of the truly “iconic” bands were a little before my time. While I appreciate them, I never had a love affair with the Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, Queen, the Who or other bands of that caliber. In that sense, I feel I was born a decade or two too late. I bet I’d have loved following along with groups like that.
Some of the big hit-makers of the 80’s, such as AC/DC and ZZ Top, are among my favourites. I still listen to their music and enjoy them from time to time. But they didn’t particularly influence me to do or try anything beyond just listening to their songs.
The albums listed here are not necessarily my “favourites,” or the ones I still listen to the most. But each of them will have made this list for having had an incredible impact, in one way or another, on my own creativity, curiosity, thirst for further knowledge and happiness in general. To have made this list, the album had to have had a considerable influence on me in one way or another.
I consider these the 10 most influential albums in my life (so far):
Here we go:
10. Volbeat - Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies
Granted, this one is very recent, so it may be a bit of a stretch to include it here. But I’ve no doubt that Volbeat’s “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” will not only hold up over time, but will probably move even further up this list as the years go by.
A year ago right now, I had never heard of this band. I first encountered the track “Heaven Nor Hell” while listening online to an out-of-market rock station last summer. The song practically jumped out of the speakers at me. I’d not had that kind of exciting, “what the heck is that?” kind of experience in a long, long time.
I wrote down the name of the band, and looked them up online once I got home. For years, I’d hoped to find a current group that wrote heavy, solid riff-based rock but with really attractive melodies and insightful lyrics. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever find one. And so, when I did my online search, I was astounded to learn that Volbeat had been around a while, had already sold millions of records and had a very large and loyal following, particularly across Europe.
As my taste for Volbeat grew, I eventually got to “Outlaw Gentleman and Shady Ladies” and it resonated with me right away, from start to finish. I remember the first time I listened through it. I had my headphones on and was in the kitchen, preparing to make dinner. Just after the opening instrumental (“Let’s Shake Some Dust”) rattled to a close, the cold opening of “Pearl Hart” practically body-slammed me with an immediately likeable melody. I instantly giddy. That song is so infectious that it got into my bones straight away. I thought, “That was awesome, but the rest of the CD can’t possibly be this good.”
But it is.
After “Pearl Hart,” another stellar track came next. Then another. And another. And another.
I cannot pick a favourite song from the disc. Looking further into the band’s inspiration for the whole concept of the record helped me to feel the spark of my own creativity again. The excitement over hearing new music I loved as much as Volbeat got me back strumming the guitar again after having been away from it for the better part of three years. At the time, I’d been wavering on completing and/or releasing an acoustic EP I’d been working on. Volbeat’s arrival in my life helped me to see that it was important to me to finish that project, regardless of what anybody else might have thought of it.
Bonus points for this record: my 11-year-old son, Eddie, LOVES Volbeat. I don’t know why. But he does. He insisted upon seeing them live. We are going to see them in May.
It will be his first concert ever. And it’ll be with his Dad.
9. David Francey – Skating Rink
David Francey writes astonishingly beautiful songs. They are brilliant in their simplicity, in that they sound somewhat minimal at first blush, but are in fact quite complex, insightful and thought-provoking. Francey is the most efficient lyricist I’ve heard, and he packs more wallop into just one or two lines than any other artist I can think of.
This CD has had a massive influence on me. I’d have put it further up the list, except for the fact that we’re going to run into Francey again in a bit.
I remember listening to “Skating Rink” for the first time. Back then, I enjoyed the title track (which is also the first song on the disc). And the second track, “Broken Glass,” is also lovely. But it was the third track, “Exit,” that initially stopped me in my tracks. I’d not heard many artists include a song with vocals but no music accompaniment, but it’s not uncommon for Francey, and he does it with “Exit.” The song is just Francey’s voice alone until a sweet little musical bit appears and then fades the song out, like a reluctant acceptance of what he sings about before the instrumentation comes in: “Rich or poor or young or old. Some of us carry a heavy load.”
“Skating Rink” is a beautiful CD from start to finish. Standout tracks for me include “Belgrade Train,” “Nearly Midnight” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” an absolutely beautiful song that would be a massive hit if it were covered by the right popular band.
My sister giving me this CD turned out to be the impetus for many inspirations and wonderful experiences in the years to come, including getting to meet and visit with David Francey on several occasions. And spending time with him has only deepened my appreciation and sincere affection for these wonderful, beautiful songs.
8. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
I held a strong dislike for this group for a long time. They became popular at a time when the band that I still consider my favourite (more on them a little later) was not getting anywhere near the attention I felt they deserved. Partially because of that, I didn’t like Green Day and never paid them any mind. I thought they were childish punks. And maybe they were. But they certainly were churning out better music than I ever gave them credit for.
Ironically, it was it was another fan of that same favourite band of mine (the one I’ll reference in just a bit), that suggested that “21st Centrury Breakdown” was a “masterpiece.” I laughed at the thought and challenged him on it. He challenged me back. So I went and gave it a listen, and was floored by the scope of it. There was so much to dig through in this one record alone. For some reason, its tone and lyrics spoke to me at the time in a way that kept this CD in my stereo for months.
The style of writing and overall concept of this album left me considering different ways to write, and to listen to and enjoy music. I’m still finding things on this record I’d not notice before.
Green Day may be best known for “American Idiot” or their debut, “Dookie,” but it’s “21st Century Breakdown” that had the biggest influence on me, and made me a fan of the band.
7. The Trews – Hope and Ruin
The Trews are a Canadian rock band from Nova Scotia, and I absolutely love them. All of their records are among my favourites, but this one came out at a time when it almost felt as if it had been created just for me. Having just been through a marital separation (and eventual divorce), the very title of this collection had me feeling as if the band was inside my own head.
Songs like “Hope & Ruin,” “Love is the Real Thing,” “I’ll Find Someone Who Will,” “You’ve Gotta Let Me In,” “If You Wanna Start Again” and “Dreamin’ Man” all hit home for me in a deep and profound way. I clung to this record for many months, and felt rather emotional when I got to see them live on the headlining tour they did to support this effort.
I’ve got a bunch of songs kicking around that I wrote in the months following this CD’s release. It both held me up and inspired me.
For a time, I held on to this record like a life preserver.
6. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
I love the story about how Bruce recorded these tracks alone, at his home, and when he brought the songs into the studio for the E Street Band, they just couldn’t recapture the original emotion and feeling, no matter what they tried. And so they ultimately decided to master and release Springsteen’s original demos, a gutsy, bold move. The results are downright spooky.
It’s a good lesson in the power of a good song not needing much instrumentation or production. If the song is solid, it will still remain (and maybe even become more impactful) even with much of the instrumentation stripped away.
“Nebraska” is loaded with heavy, heavy tracks about common people and their daily struggles, their simple hopes, collective fears and frailties.
I tried to write some songs in this style in the mid 90’s, but I realized I didn’t have the knack for it. Most don’t. Springsteen’s ability to tell a story in the framework of a song is absolutely incredible. His characters appear on the scene fully developed, and the settings are clear from the get-go. I don’t know how he does it. Some novelists take pages (or even chapters) to do what Springsteen achieves in a single lyric line.
To me, the album is absolutely heart wrenching, but a good reminder of the thin line between happiness and despair that lurks within us all.
It’s also powerhouse songwriting that leaves me a little breathless if I really dive into it.
5. Great Big Sea – Courage, Patience and Grit (Live)
In trying to remember how I first came upon this disc, I think I may have been going through a phase of enjoying all things about pirates and found the song “Captain Kidd.” If memory serves, I think I found this double CD at the local Wal Mart and bought it without having heard anything from it. In fact, that would have been an odd thing to do, as I’d previously been aware of Great Big Sea as the band that performed “Ordinary Day” and “Sea of No Cares” but, to be absolutely honest, I never much cared for them. It’s not that I disliked them as much as I just really wasn’t interested. But when I listened through this collection of songs, that all changed.
As with Springsteen, I don’t listen to Great Big Sea all that much anymore. But I still love them. And for a time, I played this particular album over and over and over again. The Celtic, folk, pop, rock and traditional tones that run through all of Great Big Sea’s music strongly influenced a lot of the stuff I was writing at the time (I consider my songs “Hope Over Hurt” and “Glass” to have been heavily influenced by Great Big Sea).
I love my country and feel even more deeply Canadian when I listen to this band. And most of all, I suppose I just truly appreciate the sincerity with which these fellows perform, particularly Alan Doyle. At the time I found this CD, I had just come off of a particularly draining job change. This music helped me to feel revitalized, and I will always remember and be grateful for that.
The musicianship, the vocal harmonies, the tone of the songs and the general feeling of being in a big ‘ol Newfoundland kitchen party are all things that appeal to me about Great Big Sea. And maybe it’s because one of my sisters lives in St. John’s. Perhaps this music helps me feel a little less removed from her. In any case, it’s all great stuff.
4. Extreme - Pornograffitti
Here is the band I referred to earlier, writing about Green Day. Back in the early 90’s, I resented Green Day (and a lot of other bands) for getting the attention I felt Extreme rightly deserved. Luckily, I’ve grown up a lot since then!
Still, Extreme was the wrong band at the wrong time. In my view, they are easily the most misunderstood and under-appreciated band of my generation. They were not a “hair metal” band, nor a “grunge” band. They were just a great group of musicians who always showed incredible reverence to their own musical idols like Queen, The Who, Zeppelin and the Beatles.
“Pornograffitti” sounds like KISS one minute, then the Everly Brothers another minute, then the Red Hot Chili Peppers another, and Frank Sinatra the next. They grew even more eclectic in future recordings, and I loved them for it.
Extreme is, and always will be, my favourite band. I have an irrational attachment to this group, and the fact that most people don’t understand or appreciate them at all only makes me love them more. “Pornograffitti” was the record that started my love affair with their music.
Like many others, my first exposure to Extreme was through the smash acoustic song, “More Than Words,” which hit in 1991. I did not like that song at all at the time. Just another hair band, I thought (and, as it turned out, that’s what many others thought as well). “More Than Words” was a Billboard Number 1 sensation and helped Extreme sell millions of records worldwide. The trouble was, that song was not at all representative of Extreme’s real body of work. It turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. While I resented the song somewhat for overshadowing the collective work of the band, I later came to appreciate that it, too, is really special piece of music that went to number one for a reason: it’s good. Really good.
“Pornograffitti” is a brilliant rock record. A theme runs throughout, following a character named Francis as he’s subjected to the allure of money, sex, power, love and the rat race of life in general. It starts with “trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses” in what is still probably my favourite song of all time, “Decadence Dance” (shame about the hideous music video for this song, though. Ugh. No wonder people had the wrong idea!). From there, it follows many twists and turns addressing all of life’s temptations until it comes back to rest with “Hole Hearted,” a song many misinterpret as a boy-meets-girl love song, but is actually more of a statement the singer is making to his or her interpretation the Divine: “There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you.”
Those who feel this record sounds like other 80’s-based rock of the time are missing the message. Extreme was always different, and they foreshadowed their falling out of sync with the popular music industry in general with the very first song of the record: “It’s hard to stop once the music gets started. Til the souls of your feet harden up like your heart did.”
The first big festival-type concert I ever went to, I attended simply to see Extreme. When Gary Cherone, the lead vocalist, climbed up and over the runway/risers behind the drum kit as the rest of the band launched into the opening song, I thought, “Oh my goodness! I want to try to learn how to do this!” It was one of the most exciting things I’d ever experienced, and led me to writing songs, learning how to sing and, eventually, to play guitar.
Extreme was my band. They still are.
They always will be.
3. David Francey – Right of Passage
To me, all of David Francey’s songs are gems. Each of his albums is a gift, and it almost seems wrong to rank them. I’ll just say that, of all of the truly incredible CDs he’s shared, this one means the most to me.
Francey’s story behind the song “All Lights Burning Bright” makes me emotional. I sang this song at my Grandpa’s funeral.
I remember seeing Francey perform in Aylmer, months before the release of this CD. He sang “The Ballad of Bowser MacRae.” When he got to the part of Bowser’s son saying to his Dad, over the phone, “I love you Daddy, good luck and goodnight,” I cried. I am almost doing it again right now. I think of my own two sons and get a lump in my throat every time I hear that song. My sons mean everything to me, as they do to Bowser as well.
I love the stories behind “Kansas,” “The Conversation,” “The Gate,” “Stone Town” and “Under the Portland Weather” (if you’re curious, you can find all the lyrics and liner notes to these songs HERE).
Part of Francey’s liner notes about the instrumental track “Ferry to Cortez” served as inspiration for part of the lyrics to my song, “No Schedule Man.”
I was fortunate enough to be a at Hugh’s Room in Toronto to see the CD release show for this stellar collection. I had never heard (or heard of) a Shruti Box prior to that, but I will never forget its mournful tones as it opened the show with Francey then singing, “Well it was Edmonton late in the fall, and I was done for good and all.” It gave me shivers.
There were only two times that I can remember when I saw someone perform and thought to myself, “Wow – I want to try that.” One was the first time I saw Extreme. The other was seeing David Francey at Hugh’s Room. What an incredible inspiration.
To me, each of David Francey’s CDs rate a rock solid 10 out of 10.
“Right of Passage” gets an 11.
2. Jimmy Buffett - Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
I can’t help but chuckle, looking at this album so far up this list. In the late 90’s, I was in a band that played (among other songs), “Margaritaville.” I detested the song. I felt that we were lazy for including it in our sets and trying to appeal only to the “lowest common denominator” (I felt the same way about many other songs we played as well, including “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Mustang Sally,” “Honky Tonk Woman” and a whole bunch of others). Of course, I can now admit that those songs are all very popular for a reason. If I’d been choosing which songs to play, the bar would have been empty!
In the early 2000’s, I visited Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida. Among the many restaurants and bars at that complex is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. There was a cover band playing in there that night. Their music was being piped out to the walkways outside the restaurant as well, and I distinctly remember the singer saying, “We’re in Jimmy Buffett’s bar. I guess we should play one of Jimmy Buffett’s songs.” They then went into an upbeat track I’d never heard before and I thought it was really catchy. I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I didn’t know what the name of the song was but remembered that they kept getting back to singing, “Fins to the left, fins to the right.”
A couple days later, I saw on the news that Jimmy Buffett had been kicked out a Miami Heat basketball game I had attended the day before (in fact, that was the reason for the trip: to see the Heat in Miami playing their arch rival at the time, the New York Knicks). I figured that was a sign. At least Jimmy Buffett and I had the Miami Heat in common.
On the last day of that vacation, I decided I’d try to find a Buffett CD, maybe with that song on it, so I could have it as a kind of soundtrack-type reminder of the vacation. I went into the FYE music store in Florida Mall, expecting to find some kind of collection like “Margaritaville and 10 other songs you’ve never heard of before.” I was shocked when I found row after row of albums by Buffett, in stock. There must have been 25 different selections. I couldn’t believe it. How could a guy that only had one “hit” have recorded and released so much music?
I combed through the bin until I found “Live: Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays.” I figured it would be a good sample of his career, and saw that one of the songs on it was a tune called “Fins,” which I figured was the one I’d heard a few nights before.
When I first listened to the album, I didn’t like it right away. But as I started to go through some of the songs and they began to sink in a little more, I started to realize I’d been way off in my assessment of Jimmy Buffett and his music. Songs like “One Particular Harbor” and “A Pirate Looks at Forty” infused me with a sense that Buffett was a guy who knew what he liked, was entirely comfortable inside his own skin, was happy to share what made him happy, had more insight to offer than it seemed from the surface, and that there were a LOT of people that were happily in on it.
Despite the fact that he’d only ever had one “hit” (and “Margaritaville” never even got to the top of the charts), Buffett had been selling out stadiums and amphitheatres for years. He’d established a successful restaurant chain, began his own internet radio station (eventually picked up by Sirius/XM satellite radio), and had made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list as both a Fiction and Non-Fiction writer.
My curiosity led me to reading Buffett’s books, which resulted in me reading other authors he’d referenced (including Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Herman Wouk and Carl Hiaasen). I began devouring historical books about pirates, privateers and also modern day adventurers. One work led to another, and another, and another.
Listening to Radio Margaritaville helped me discover many other artists that I now love but wasn’t hearing anywhere else (some examples include Will Kimbrough, Sonny Landreth, Todd Snider and John Hiatt).
I eventually acquired Buffett’s entire recorded catalogue (that took a while!) and saw him in concert a couple of times. I wrote scads of songs off the various inspirations from the music, literature and experiences I gained that all started with discovering Jimmy Buffett (a couple of examples include two songs from my “No Scheudule Man” CD, “Orlando” and “Do Better,” the latter of which references the Buffett song, “Fruitcakes”).
In terms of sheer volume of additional influence and inspiration, this album really deserves to be at the top of this list. Looking back almost 15 years later, the inspirational ripple effect of first listening to Buffett has been staggering, and unmatched with anything else I’ve enjoyed.
And I guess that statement alone should give you some idea of just deep into my bones I feel about the only record that could rank ahead of this one, it terms of its influence on who I am, what I’ve created and what I still hope to be ….
1. Extreme - III Sides to Every Story
This album spun my head off my shoulders. It helped to shape the way I think about a lot of things, and still do. This was the one that spoke to me on a very meaningful level when I was an 18-year-old, bordering on adulthood and trying to figure out what my place in the world was going to be, who I really was and what I really thought about things.
Songs like “Am I Ever Gonna Change,” “Stop the World,” and “Who Cares” resonated with me very deeply. It was as if lead singer and lyricist Gary Cherone had lifted the thoughts from my head, made them eloquent and set them to incredible music.
Once I’d truly absorbed this record, I was so moved that I was sure I wanted to try and learn how to write songs to express my own thoughts and feelings. This is where my songwriting started.
When I eventually picked up an acoustic guitar, I didn’t learn by doing basic strumming patterns to traditional songs like “Tom Dooley.” Instead, I wanted to be able to play what I was hearing come out of the speakers when I put on an Extreme record. I bought any guitar magazine that had any reference at all to Extreme and tried to figure out the tablature so I could learn some of what guitarist Nuno Bettencourt was doing. I didn’t beging with basic lessons. I tried to learn how to play “Warheads,” “Cupid’s Dead” and “Peacemaker Die” instead.
I don’t recommend that, by the way!
Three sides to every story: Yours, Mine, and the Truth. It’s still true. And I can’t say enough about how this record just resonates with me deep into my soul.
The use of part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the song “Peacemaker Die” is breathtaking. The band had to secure permission from Dr. King’s family to use that audio. The family must have sensed what Extreme was really all about, and I thank them for giving their blessing. The song is a masterwork.
The old Dr. Pepper commercial parody in “Warheads” works perfectly. It’s tragic comedy, illustrating just how casually we seem to accept violence and aggression as part of our everyday being. Sadly, that song resonates and holds up just as much today as it did over 20 years ago.
I may have learned a lot about other artists from Jimmy Buffett, as I outlined earlier, but my world expanded greatly because of Extreme long before that. Extreme would constantly nod their respect to the artists that influenced them. Their songs are laced with references, both lyrically and instrumentally, to iconic musicians like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Queen, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and many others.
For evidence of just how much the members of Extreme respected those that came before them, listen to what Brian May says about them (in the video below) before they took the stage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium. Extreme then effectively stole the show with a spot-on medley of Queen songs in a display of absolute love, appreciation and reverence for Freddie Mercury.
“III Sides to Every Story” was acclaimed critically as a masterpiece. And it is. But it didn’t resonate with the public the way “Pornograffitti” did off the strength of “More Than Words.” It also was released at a time when the Seattle-based “alternative” sounds of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots were taking over the airwaves.
Extreme was cursed to have been the wrong band at the wrong time, at least in terms of sustained public success. But that doesn’t make their work any less impactful to those who found and embraced it
My love of “III Sides to Every Story” was a watershed connection in my life. I’ll never be that same age again. I’m not likely to ever be that impressionable again. I’m just glad it was this particular record that found its way into my spirit, as I believe I am better for it.
So there we have it! That’s my list. Thanks for reading. Please feel welcome to share yours as well, in the comments below. Maybe it will inspire others!
I’ve seen a common theme from the clients I’ve visited over the past while: good people that are strapped for time, finding it a challenge to engage more of the right people to help grow or get the most out of their business.
And when I say, “the right people,” I mean much more than just employees. Opportunity is everywhere for those who are willing to look.
I know from experience that when you own and operate a small business, you live, breathe, eat and sleep all aspects of it. It truly is all-consuming. There is very little that is glamorous about the lifestyle. It is a grind. There is no moaning about “the boss,” because you’re it. There is no room for leaving things undone, because you’ll only be leaving them for yourself to deal with later. Sure, you may have employees, but just as you may depend on them to help with the day-to-day operation of the company, they depend upon you for literally everything else: leadership, work environment, training, safety, compensation, structure, opportunity, direction and so much more.
Beyond that is a web of other service providers crucial to keeping a business on track: accountants, lawyers, inspectors, bankers, landlords, government and city representatives and supplier reps, among others.
Find the right person who really understands you and your business in one of these roles, and you can get a lot of things done. But the wrong person can often hold things up, and even grind certain processes to a full stop.
Typically, the “right person” has empathy and understanding for others and their reality. They are proactive, resourceful and resilient. They take 100 percent responsibility for themselves. They present solutions instead of problems. They look for a win-win scenario in every situation without fail. And, like anyone else should, when they realize the scales are tipped into a win-lose proposition for either party, they keep to integrity and move along.
In order to carry forward in business, we must rely on other people. No one can get the train up the hill by themselves. But you have to find the right people. And you also have to be willing to move on without the wrong people. Have the trust in yourself to know the difference, and the discipline to act upon it.
I see it almost every day: there are so many good, hard-working entrepreneurs out there driving our economy and looking for help in all aspects. They need more of the right people in their world. Can you be one of them?
In all cases, there is more opportunity out there than you may think.
As the grip of this relentless winter starts to slowly let go, I can’t help but recall one of the coldest, most challenging projects of my career:
Snowcross at Delaware Speedway.
Back when I was General Manager of that half-mile stock car track, the people I worked for thought it would be a good idea to try and create another event in the wintertime.
Part of the reality of a “seasonal” business is that you only have so many chances to try and put money in the bank. You’re not open fifty-two weeks of the year like most businesses. At best, we had around 30 – 40 dates annually to bring in revenue (in other words, we would go 325 – 335 days of the year without any actual event). That’s daunting, and not an especially comforting business model.
Still, we understood this and so we worked our tails off year-round to supplement that trend by strategically trying to spread out the flow and timing of other forms of revenue, such as: annual banquet, driver registration and membership, event and race division sponsorship renewals and deposits, billboard advertising renewals, and season ticket renewals.
But the bulk of the revenue came from ticket and concession sales and sponsorship directly associated with a race. So it was decided a winter event was a good idea.
And so, in the winter of 2005, we set about the task of dumping snow on our race track.
The concept of Snowcross was to turn the track into a venue that people could visit in February. Instead of watching stock cars on the asphalt, they’d watch snowmobiles on (and above) the snow. Think motocross hills, but with snow instead of dirt and snowmobiles instead of motorcycles.
Sounds neat, right? I agree! But I wish it had been hosted by somebody else.
And here begins the lesson in this story.
For starters, the possibility of conducting this particular event required snow, and lots of it. So the first challenge was to find approximately 400 truckloads of the white stuff and deposit it on to the front straightaway of our race track, and on top of pit road. Say that out loud and see how it sounds: “Let’s take our race track, which has not been resurfaced for roughly 30 years and which we depend upon for the very existence of our business, and let’s drop 400 truckloads of snow on top of it.”
We had no way of knowing whether we would even get enough snow or cold temperatures in the area to make it happen, let alone how we’d get the snow to the race track. We could well have done all the work to prep for the event and end up not having it happen. On top of that logistical challenge, we were also faced with the reality that our facility was never meant to be used in the winter. There was no heat in the concession building or ticket windows, nor in the announcer/scoring tower, washrooms or hospitality lounge.
In addition, we had to try and figure out how to staff the place for just one day, how to find and activate sponsorship (the event really couldn’t be very profitable without it), and how to advertise and market it. Preparing for the upcoming stock car racing season came to a temporary halt.
I will never forget that day. It was frigid. I believe the high reached about minus fifteen Celcius. Before we opened the gates to spectators, I was troubled with how much ice was caked all around the facility. Parts of the grandstand steps – already crooked and uneven at best – were icy. The walkways: ice. I furiously tried to put as much salt down as I could before actual paying customers came in. I remember worrying that someone would get hurt.
Amazingly, no one did get hurt, though we came within an eyelash of a disaster in the parking lot. A number of vendors had created a “tented village” along one part of the fence inside the facility. Unfortunately, someone had decided to tether all of the pop-up tents together, and when a strong gust of February wind arose, the tents all went with it, flipping up and over the wall separating the track from the parking lot like a cross between dominoes and a giant snake, barely missing a hydro line that ran above that fence. I can recall with exact emotional clarity how I felt at that moment: I wondered what I was going to see when I went into the parking lot, fully expecting to discover a series of smashed windshields and scraped-up hoods. I knew there was no way those tents could not have fallen on top of the cars of some of the customers from that day.
But they hadn’t. They missed by inches. I couldn’t believe it.
By the end of it, people that attended did seem to have enjoyed it. The folks that ran the Snowcross organization were lovely people and nice to work with.
But, ours was a 50-year old stock car track, made for the summer, not for a snowmobile event in the winter.
All told, financially, the event did a little better than breaking even. But the true cost would not be clear until much later.
Four hundred truckloads of snow do not melt quickly. Nor is it clean, especially when you’ve had racing machines running on top of it. Much of it was trucked in from places like shopping mall parking lots. As it melted, we began to see the sheer volume of garbage, salt and filth it carried with it. It literally turned black as winter turned to spring. And it reeked.
Pit crew members of race teams stood on top of hills of blackened, stinking, rotting snow hills during the first couple of open practice sessions for stock car race teams that spring. It was a sorry sight. If the race teams were upset about it, I wouldn’t have blamed them one bit.
As time went on, the physical effect of that event left real consequences for the track owners. In short, dumping all that filthy snow on the facility pretty much wrecked pit road. It eventually had to be completely re-paved with concrete, a job costing tens of thousands of dollars.
All told, while well intentioned, adding one random Snowcross event to the schedule of a facility that was not built nor personally equipped to handle such a thing, ended up being little more than one big party whose bills continued to show up for years afterward.
The lesson? In your business, know your core product or service and stay true to it. Even (especially?) when times are slow. Know your key customers and what they come to you for and prioritize them over “side shows” and other distractions. Otherwise, you may find that chasing short-term gain might just bring you long-term pain.
And your business may get left out in the cold.
Here in London, Ontario, I think most would agree that, even by our hearty Canadian standards, this has been a relentless grind of a winter.
In business, we’re feeling it, these last eight weeks especially.
When terms like “Polar Vortex,” “Snow Squall” and “Special Weather Statement” are heard (and then experienced) so consistently, the collective energy of the people grows weary. I can scarcely recall a time when so many seemed so universally worn down as they do right now.
Heck, at the suggestion of a friend, I even looked up details about the phenomenon called “Mercury Retrograde” (and found a great article about it by Gala Darling here ) just to see if there was any further explanation for this current, collective malaise. And it’s interesting.
But I digress.
These kinds of times affect business in a number of ways. We, as consumers, are tougher to reach. We’re staying home. We’re tired. We’re putting off more proactive decisions and dealing more exclusively on matters more urgent to our current day-to-day life.
Idle foot traffic is flagging; we’re moving about by appointment only, and in little mood to browse, or even get to our vehicle and back in such bitter ice, cold and wind.
For retailers, restaurateuers and many other businesses, this is incredibly frustrating.
But, as marketers, we’ve got to look ahead.
This weather will not last. To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We just haven’t see the reaction yet.
But it’s coming.
Right now, people are down, cold, weary, and tired. But the flipside of it all is the great likelihood that, once the weather breaks, we will see people out and about in droves. People are aching to get back out and do the things they enjoy, go to the places they like, and buy the things they want.
My question to you, as a business owner, is: Are you preparing for that, or are you moping through the final stages of winter like everyone else?
Now’s the time to get your plan in place. When the surge hits, the greatest percentage of the spoils will go to those who are prepared and have laid the groundwork in advance.
Those who are consistently marketing during these dark, colder times are building their brand and investing in their future. They’ll be top-of-mind when the consumer is finally ready to make a buying decision, or even just that first exploratory internet search. If you’re in this category, good for you. You have a head start on your competition.
But even if you’ve battened down the hatches this winter and have been largely silent, you can still put a plan in place and be ready to invite people to your business for the times when you’re pretty certain they’ll be looking to come out.
So, what’s coming up? Take a look ahead, and think about how your business relates to the many benchmarks we’re about to encounter. To generate some positive momentum, we’ve got to get ourselves into a better head space.
March Break will soon be here. For those who will be traveling with their kids, they may need to have their vehicle serviced before they go away, and may even require the purchase of other essentials (swimsuits, luggage, summer clothes) before they set out. If you’re in those fields, are you talking to your potential customers now?
Many more will stay at home and will be looking for things to do with their kids during the break. Others will finally break out to their favourite restaurant, pub or bar to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day or to watch the annual NCAA basketball tournament.
Are you inviting these people to come see you?
Easter is not far off. Family gatherings will be held in abundance. Many forms of retail should see new activity as well.
In the sports world, golfers will be aching to get on the course, especially with The Masters tournament coming up soon. Baseball players are already in spring training, and the Memorial Cup should have our downtown core abuzz later in the spring. We’re also soon to see the NHL Playoffs begin, and if the Leafs, Canadians and Red Wings all make it in, there will be excitement; a “buzz” that will make these frozen days of February feel like a long time ago .. once they finally get here.
A few weeks after the snow starts to melt, just watch the “for sale” signs pop up on neighbourhood lawns. Who’s getting the listings? And who’s showing the new homes?
After this harsh winter, it’s a good bet that many people will be in need of home improvement and other contract work to touch up whatever’s being hidden by the ice and snow currently. Driveways will need repair. Eavestroughs will be replaced. Roofs will be re-shingled, decks will be built and pools will be installed.
Those who enjoy their garden will be starved for their favourite pursuit more than ever.
We’ll trade snow shovels for garden hoses, sidewalk salt for lawn fertilizer, and boots for shoes!
Anyone who enjoys fashion will surely love to explore some new looks for a new season, completely over-tired of being bundled in scarves, hats and mitts for these last many months.
Once the salt and grime come off our vehicles, we’ll see a lot of scratches, dents and dings that local body shops may wish to be fixing. While many of us will finally do those repairs, others, having finally arrived through the other side of winter, will decide to start anew and will finally go and look to test-drive (and maybe purchase) something new.
Tax return refunds will begin to arrive.
Eight weeks from now, wedding season will be ready to begin. Golf will be in full swing. Patio furniture, barbecues and other outdoor accessories will be flying off the shelves.
It feels better even just thinking of those times, doesn’t it?
Are you ready, or just waiting?
Like the old song says, the sun will come out tomorrow (well … maybe in several more tomorrows, but it will be back sooner or later). My suggestion: put some thought to how you may best take advantage of what’s coming, and put your plan in place now.
When the rush hits (and it will), you’ll be glad you did.
Kevin celebrated the release of his new acoustic EP, “Solo: The Return of No Schedule Man” at a concert event on February 21, 2014 at the London Music Club in London, Ontario.
The performance was Kevin’s first in over three years.
With an enthusiastic crowd in attendance, London’s Alexa Kay began the night with set of songs that showcased her natural ability as a singer-songwriter, mixing some of her original compositions along with cover versions of other popular songs. Alexa’s incredible talent and sunny personality put the concert on the right track from the start.
Kevin then took to the stage by himself (“Solo”), roaring into the set with the acoustic pop-rock track, “Bilge Rat Blues” from his new EP. He then mixed in a couple of more familiar songs before stopping to discuss the song that really began the whole EP project, “Déjà vu” (for more of the story behind “Deja Vu,” click here).
A medley of songs from 2010’s “No Schedule Man” CD followed, along with another couple of popular tracks and then Kevin’s song “Lullaby” from the new EP.
Bulmer was then joined on stage by Al Coombs from News Talk 1290 CJBK. Together, they played the song “Do Better” (from the “No Schedule Man” CD) and also mixed in some hijinks with other tracks, including a tip of the cap to the late Stompin’ Tom Connors.
Next to the stage was Kevin’s 11-year-old son, Eddie, who joined his dad to perform “March” (from the new EP) and then went into a medley of cover songs that earned young Eddie a standing ovation.
To end the night, Alexa Kay and Al Coombs came back to the stage to join Kevin and Eddie on the title track of 2010’s “No Schedule Man” CD.
Taken all around, it was a grand evening a long time in coming. Sincere thanks to Pete & Janice Denomme from the London Music Club for their continued support, encouragement and hospitality.
Hard copies of the CD are available by contacting Kevin directly.
To contact Kevin to inquire about booking him for a performance, or as an MC or speaker, please click here.
I’ve been fortunate to get to know a great many interesting and inspiring people. I’m grateful to have learned a lot from each of them.
One those people is Fred Geiger.
Fred co-owns a London, Ontario-based business called Custom Mobility, which provides wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility devices, as well as home healthcare equipment. Compassion, integrity, transparency and empowerment are all extremely important to Fred, and he brings all of these things (and more) to Custom Mobility on a day-to-day basis.
Currently a weekly host of his own “Ask the Experts” radio show on 1290 CJBK (Mondays at 12:00 pm), Fred has always been one to explore new and different opportunities. He has been in the Military, Police, Education and has helped build private businesses on a couple of different fronts.
Even at the age of 17, he was ready to take on a challenge, feeling at that time that he could (should?) open a McDonald’s franchise. His feelings about it were strong enough that he took the initiative to contact the restaurant chain’s Regional Vice President, with whom he eventually took a meeting … at 17 years of age! Among the many things that came from that conversation was the prediction from the McDonald’s Executive that Fred would be “a millionaire by the time he was in his 40’s.” He was also offered a position in the company at that time, but eventually decided to pass due to potential travel concerns.
Those things will come up again later in this conversation.
All of it has brought Fred to where he is now, at the wheel of Custom Mobility, a business that helps people find comfort and independence in their own homes at a time in their lives when they are more potentially vulnerable – both physically and emotionally – than they may ever have been before.
Fred is a man of great integrity, and he seems genuinely content inside his own skin, so I wanted to talk to him and find out more about his story and what got him to this point, and to see what I could learn from him. It was time very well spent.
Here is my conversation with Fred Geiger of Custom Mobility:
Kevin: Your first real interest was in Policing?
Fred: “Well, first, it was the fire department. But when that didn’t look like it could happen, yes, I wanted to get into Policing.
“Now, part of the problem was that to get on the police department, you needed to have either a two-year college program under you or you had to have two university credits. I had neither.”
Kevin: So why not go back to school?
Fred: “At that time, when I was 18, I already owned my first house, so I thought, ‘I can’t quit and go back to school now.’”
Kevin: So then what?
Fred: “And then I looked at military police because they were taking people, and I thought, ‘Okay, then what I’ll do is go into military police and work at that for a little bit and then from that, I’ll be able to leverage that to be able to get on to a police department. And so I joined the military police, with the intention of, later on, switching to the police department, which is exactly what I did.
“From the military police, I got on to the University of Western Ontario police department, which at that time was just a security department but it was transposing into a police department so I was there through all that process. From there, five years later, I got on Niagara Regional Police department. And then I bounced to St. Thomas (Ontario) from Niagara because I wanted to be home, closer to my son from my first marriage. My son was living in London and I didn’t want to be a weekend Dad. So I quit Niagara Region and joined St. Thomas City and that was a story in itself.
“But after a while, from there, that’s when I went to Westervelt (College, in London, ON), to teach, and started the Police Foundations Program.
Kevin: Do you mind telling me how long you were in Policing and what age you were?
Fred: “13 years. I’m gonna say I was 35 when I got out.”
Kevin: At some point over those 13 years, and you’re in the prime of your life, are you thinking, “Gosh – I’ve invested almost a decade and a half of my adult life into this. It doesn’t light my fire anymore. But how can I maybe take some of what I’ve invested in myself and extract from it and then apply it in a way that will maybe feed me a little bit more?”
Fred: “I think it was exactly that. What I had also done in the meantime, I started going back to university part time. I did get my university degree. I wasn’t complete by the time I left the police department but I continued with it. What I did was pretty significant because I had been on the police department long enough that I wasn’t going to get laid off. And, great benefits, excellent money, pension. I gave it all up. I just wasn’t happy. My wife Vera has always been wonderfully supportive so with her blessing, I took a big pay cut to go from the police department to Westervelt College.
“I don’t regret that for one second.”
Kevin: Tell me more about what you did at Westervelt.
Fred: “When I started teaching at Westervelt, they had a version of a law and security program. And from there I heard that there was an inkling that they wanted to go to this new standardized training and it was called the Police Foundations Program. So I kind of ran with that.
“It’s getting buried pretty deep now, but even if you Google my name, I have an acknowledgement from the Solicitor General because I sat on the original curriculum development committee for all the Police Foundation Programs. And because we were private colleges as opposed to the community colleges, we were able to beat everybody else to the marketplace.”
Kevin: How long did you do that?
Fred: “Close to 7 years.”
Kevin: So now you’re in your early 40’s. Next thing you know, you’re getting into the truck wash business ….
Fred: “What happened was, at Westervelt, now there were new owners from back then. They had a different vision.
“When I first started there, and I started telling them that I had this vision of the Police Foundations Program, I was telling them, ‘I think I can build you a really successful program.’
“When I started there, they had 8 students in their security program. I said, ‘You give me five years; I’ll have 100 students in my program.’
“Well, within 5 years, I had 150 students in the legal programs.
“We had a great program. I said, ‘You give me five more years, I’ll have 500 students in this program.’
“We put together one helluva program with a lot of credibility and that’s why we were beating so many people out of the gate. But then I began experiencing resistance on how I believed the program needed to develop to grow successfully and to maintain its integrity. I had a lot of pride and seeing the program shift in a way that I felt was diluting the quality, I said, ‘It’s time to move on.’”
“So, I went from that, I got offered a job to help import this equipment from Sweden, which is a whole other story.”
Kevin: How did you feel about life in general around that time?
Fred: “I remember feeling a little bit of pressure. It’s funny, because you pointed it out. There was a little bit of pressure in me from what that guy at McDonald’s had said (about being a millionaire by the time he was in his 40’s). Because I thought it was almost like I was letting him down at that time.”
Kevin: Him or yourself?
Fred: “Maybe both.
“But I remember thinking ‘You know, I wanted to prove him right.’ But it just turned out a different way. I’ve forgiven myself for that now, because I also believe that at age 17 when I made that kind of bridge – you know – I can’t be an entrepreneur because I don’t have the money, that I went the different direction of the employment route, being on the police department. I think that really stagnated me for quite a while. Because when I was at Westervelt College, honestly, I was a pure entrepreneur. I developed a program, I put the program together. I marketed it. I got the Chiefs of Police to say it was a good program. There was a lot of work. It was like building a business within a business and I really loved that part. That part was just great.
“And I really believe that the only way that you make what you deserve in this world is working for yourself. That’s a little bit harder. That steady paycheque isn’t there or anything. And there is that work in the trenches and everything else. But at the end of the day, it’s not all about money.”
Kevin: That’s a hard thing to learn.
Fred: “We always want to make as much money as we possibly can, but there’s so much value in your quality of life. And it’s maybe a cliché, but most people don’t live it.”
Kevin: So, it sounds like you’re saying that if you consistently do the right thing, the results you require will eventually find their way to you?
Fred: “Yes. Because I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think you can be incredibly ethical and do a good job and still make money at it. You don’t have to cut corners. Of all the industries, it should be able to be done in this one.”
Kevin: And for all the talk of money, it seems to me it would be just as gratifying, if not more so, to go another however-many-years and look at – where there was nothing – and then look at what had been established and the lives that had been effected and the people that had been helped. There was nothing there, just like the Police Foundations Program, but then you created it and helped a lot of people along the way. We talk about money but there’s also this challenge that seems to keep running through everything you’re telling me about.
Fred: “You’re right. Because that is still one of my proudest accomplishments, is that whole Police Foundations thing. Because there was absolutely nothing. And now there are 35 colleges and universities that offer that program. And to say that I was the first guy out of the gate on that … there’s a lot of pride in that.”
Kevin: I was going to ask about what would be something that stands out that would make you particularly proud. It sounds like that would be at the top of the list?
Fred: “That’d be up there. And I haven’t found what the one is yet here (at Custom Mobility). I haven’t put a finger on it. But I get the sense it will evolve around the fact we have so many clients say to us, ‘You know, thanks. You’re the first people that listened to me.’
Kevin: If you could go back and talk to that 17-year-old Fred Geiger, whether it was the time around the McDonald’s inquiry or even a little bit beyond that, when you were investigating the fire department and you were getting restless with high school … what do you think you’d want to impart upon yourself, knowing what you know now?
Fred: “Probably to have found a mentor in the field of what I wanted to do.
“I really … I never begrudge what happened, because I believe that everything happens in due course. You develop at every step along the road and I’ve learned transferable skills that I use in my business today. And so I’m happy where I am and I’m happy about the road.
“But if there was something I could change, I probably wish I had have taken that job offer with that guy in McDonald’s, because I think that fellow would have taught me a lot.
And for that same reason today, I’ve encouraged my son to explore a Specialty Management program for university grads offered where he works. When you get an opportunity like that, there are jobs that you’ve never dreamed of in your life and you’re going to be exposed to it.
“I’m just a believer that where there are opportunities, you’ve got to take it and explore it. Because you never know where that’s going to lead you.
“I never would have dreamed in a million years I’d be doing what I’m doing. But it has really brought a lot of my passion together. It’s brought a lot of the entrepreneurship. And helping people. In earlier years, I wouldn’t have anticipated that it would come from this, but it has. And I think it’s a matter of having that open mind, saying, ‘Can it work?’ and ‘Do I want it to work?’
“It’s the same with you. You’re constantly exposed to things. Yet our training over time tends to direct us to think, ‘Ah, that’s not going to work’ or ‘there’s too much competition in that’ or ‘there’s too much this.’
We don’t need to think like that. Go explore it.”
To visit the Custom Mobility website, please CLICK HERE
To access, listen to and share the archived Podcasts of Fred’s “Ask the Experts” radio programs on 1290 CJBK, please CLICK HERE
Here’s another new song from Kevin’s upcoming EP, “Solo: The Return of No Schedule Man.” For this one, think pirates, palm trees, boat drinks, beaches, white sand, clear blue water and … freedom.
With our concert date approaching for the release of the new acoustic EP, “Solo: The Return of No Schedule Man,” my son and co-conspirator, Eddie, and I decided we’d try our hand at making our own “Vlog” this past weekend.
I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a production that would make even Steven Spielberg proud.
Hope to see you on February 21st!
Here’s a True Story …
In my days as Sales and Marketing Director at Delaware Speedway (a half-mile stock car racing track near London, Ontario, Canada), we were always looking for ways to expand our fan base and broaden our demographic.
And we wanted to appeal to kids. Future customers.
At one point, we came upon the notion that, perhaps, the track would benefit from the presence of a “mascot;” you know, like the San Diego Chicken, to whom the kids would relate. Armed with the knowledge that Charlotte Motor Speedway had such a mascot, named “Lugnut,” we decided to embark upon our own characterized adventure. After some deliberation, we settled upon the name “Dipstick,” for three main reasons:
- A dipstick was part of any vehicle’s engine. It’s how you checked the oil!
- “Dipstick” was what Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane often called Deputy Enos in the TV Show, “The Dukes of Hazzard”
- We wanted to poke a little bit of fun at ourselves
After agreeing on the name, I can well remember the discussions of character design: should he have a “T”-shaped head, or a “loop?”
We began examining the dipsticks of any nearby vehicle we could find and, in time, decided that a “T”-shaped head would make for a better character.
We also embarked upon the task of finding a company that could actually design and construct the costume for us (We eventually found a business based out of Edmonton, Alberta. The name escapes me, but they were the ones that made the costume).
In the preliminary drawings, Dipstick actually looked pretty cool, and somewhat agile.
In reality, he was shipped to us in a giant crate. And the costume inside ended up being one big, rigid, giant, heavy box that afforded the person inside almost no mobility, limited visibility and nothing for reach but the equivalent of little T-Rex arms.
In short, a lot of money later, Dipstick was a disaster.
Undaunted, we decided to unveil our new creation to the “world” (or, about 1500 people) at the race track’s annual appearance a London Knights Ontario Hockey League game (note: this was back in the day when the Knights played in a rinky-dink arena and few people followed them with much passion. Nowadays, the Knights pack around 9,000 people into almost every home game. This event pre-dated that trend).
Between periods, our new mascot was to take to the ice to wave to the fans and thereby represent the race track proudly and convert all in attendance at that hockey game into instant stock car racing fans. The plan was foolproof!
When the time came, the players left for their dressing rooms and the zamboni set about its duty, flooding one clean patch of ice down the middle of the rink to begin the task of cleaning the playing surface.
Dipstick stepped out in front of the fans and took a few tentative steps on the frozen stage. Gaining confidence with each step, he shuffled further into the center of the rink, only to come across the freshly flooded center spot where the Zamboni had just recently been.
As soon as Dipstick hit that flooded patch of ice, his feet went out from under him.
The box-like behemoth of a mascot landed with a resounding thud, and it quickly became apparent that the dimensions of the costume were going to make it a challenge for the person inside to get up and resume entertaining the crowd.
As if that were the only problem.
With Dipstick flat on his back, in front of the crowd during intermission of a hockey game at the old London Ice House, I walked over to him, along with young Stephen Richmond, a Delaware Speedway Junior Racing League competitor at the time. When we arrived at our fallen mascot, we both figured that we’d be able to take his hand and lift him back to his feet.
But that didn’t work.
We tried to raise him off the ice.
We tried again.
He didn’t budge.
It was then that I realized, with our newly minted mascot lying flat-out on our local hockey team’s playing surface, that we had a bigger problem on our hands.
Dipstick had frozen to the ice.
The “flood” left by the zamboni mixed with the fabric of Dipstick’s costume and, by the time he’d fallen, the water had frozen, taking Dipstick’s upper body with it.
He was stuck.
I can well remember it. People in the stands were howling. Tyler Anderson, who was inside the costume, was flat on his back and staring straight up at the ceiling. He commented that all he could see were, “bright lights.”
We eventually got him up and off the ice surface, and the game continued. I can’t recall who won.
But I can tell you this:
Next time you come up with the “next great idea,” take a few extra days and think it through. Once you’ve examined every angle, you may find it’ll work out fine.
Then again, you may end up with your Dipstick stuck to the ice.
Kevin is excited to announce the concert date for the release of his new EP, “Solo: The Return of No Schedule Man,” on Friday, February 21, 2014 in the Cellar Lounge at the London Music Club in London, Ontario.
Kevin will be joined on February 21st by Alexa Kay, an incredibly talented singer-songwriter who was recently awarded with the “Young Inspirations: Shine Your Talent Audience Choice Award” at Hugh’s Room in Toronto.
Kevin’s oldest son, Eddie Bulmer, and his good friend from 1290 CJBK Radio in London, Al Coombs, will also make appearances on stage.
Tickets to the concert are $8 in advance (available through the London Music Club Box Office) and $10 each at the door. Each ticket purchase includes a digital copy of the new EP, which will be distributed at the door the night of the concert.
Here is the poster for the event. Please feel free to share it with your friends!