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In 1967, the Calgary rock band, the Stampeders, made a pilgrimage to New York.

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Even in 1967 and even in New York, this entourage must have been a strange sight. At the time, there were six members in the band. They wore matching denim outfits that had been dyed canary yellow, black cowboy hats, black shirts and white dickies as they “strut around New York” and tried to set up meetings with types of industry. At one point, this motley crew even visited Ed Sullivan’s office.

“We were asked a few times if we were clergy students,” said Stampeders drummer Kim Berly.

A year earlier, the group had packed up in Calgary and made the long trip to Toronto. They drove through the prairies in a 1957 limo they had nicknamed “The Big Smoker” because it tended to fill with toxic fumes due to a hole in the exhaust. It would take four long, lean years before the Stampeders lost popularity with their single Sweet City Woman, ultimately turning them into one of Canada’s most successful musical groups. But even in those tough years, the band kept their eyes on the prize. Much of this was due to the unwavering enthusiasm of their ambitious manager, Mel Shaw. He drove the group forward even when things looked bleak and had a vision from the start. It was his idea to dress the group in dyed denim outfits. His wife, Fran, did this manual labor, transforming the beige suits into various showy colors using dyes in a tub. In the early days of the act, it was also Shaw who somehow convinced them to change their name from the Rebounds to the Stampeders, even though the new moniker seemed unbearably square to a teenaged Berly and the other members in 1965. C It was Shaw’s idea to not only move the band to Toronto but to join them in the Big Smoker with his wife and two young children.

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And it would surely be Shaw, who used to convince young Calgary bands to adopt visual gimmicks, for the then-unknown Stampeders to strut through New York in 1967 wearing dickies and eye-catching canary-yellow denim, Berly says. .

“He always had another idea, whether it worked or not,” he says. “It didn’t matter because we were always trying something. It was his genius. He would always keep you positive. You’ve never heard Mel say, “Well, I guess that won’t work” or “I don’t know how long I can do this” or anything like that. There has never been a maybe. It was a sure thing. For those of us who wanted to, we were all in.

Born in Banff in 1939, Shaw died Jan. 19 in Regina at the age of 82 after suffering from dementia. He has accomplished much in his 60+ years in the industry as a Juno Award-winning producer, manager and songwriter. He became a mentor to countless young artists and was a tireless advocate for Canadian musicians. He was the founding president of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In 1987, he led a successful campaign to increase royalty rates for songwriters in Canada. He presented his case in Ottawa alongside Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman and others.

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But he may be best remembered as one of the driving forces behind the success of the Stampeders, a band that continues to circle the nostalgia circuit due to their spectacular international success in the 1970s. He was already a driving force in Calgary’s nascent music scene when he met the then six-piece band. By 1960 he had recorded the rock ‘n’ roll single Mean Lover, which may have been Calgary’s first rock-pop single. He started the Calgary-based label, SOTAN Records, which released a 1963 single that Shaw wrote for a band called The Echo-Tones, which featured pre-Three Dog Night Floyd Sneed on drums. He became an avid cheerleader and spokesperson for the local scene in the 1960s as a Calgary correspondent for RPM, then Canada’s only music industry publication.

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A 1973 photo of Mel Shaw, right, with Stampeders Kim Berly and Ronnie King (standing) being interviewed by DJ Dave Mickey (seated).  Photo courtesy, Stampeders
A 1973 photo of Mel Shaw, right, with Stampeders Kim Berly and Ronnie King (standing) being interviewed by DJ Dave Mickey (seated). Photo courtesy, Stampeders Postmedia feed

He also hosted a local cable show called Guys and Dolls, where he met the first incarnation of the Stampeders. A 1965 “Calgary Stampede Special” edition of RPM placed a photo of the young six-piece on its cover and credited “Personal Manager Mel Shaw” for much of the group’s success. He was with the Stampeders through the early struggles in Toronto and their wild success in the 1970s after they were down to a line of Berly, Rich Dodson and Ronnie King. It was a heady time for the act, which enjoyed gold albums, world tours and a 1972 Juno Awards sweep, including a trophy for Shaw for producing Sweet City Woman.

Infighting and changing musical tastes led the group to fall apart in 1979, and Shaw eventually left for Nashville, where he continued to manage acts and produce records.

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But unlike many in the industry, Shaw never allowed his busy schedule to interfere with his duties as a doting father to son David and daughter Susan.

“My dad came from a broken home,” says David, now a Los Angeles-based musician and radio host who performs under the name Shark. “His parents separated and he was raised with his sister and brother by his mother. The thing is, he made sure that wouldn’t happen to his family. When the Stampeders toured the “Europe, he took us with them. Any other manager or businessman wouldn’t even flinch and say, ‘I have something to do, see you in two months.’ But he always took us with him. and really made it work.

Shark, who is now program director for the all-Canadian internet radio station Maple Music Cafe in Los Angeles, recalls attending shows with his father in Toronto, including The Who and an early Bruce Springsteen concert.

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“Sometimes he would just drive and drop me off and I would go see Devo on my own,” he laughs. “But it was definitely a positive thing and there was always music and a great home stereo.”

Shaw spent much of his later life developing a musical called Dream Singer, which he planned to put on Broadway. But even though he suffered from dementia, he was still energetic and possessed a fierce attitude.

“He was so full of ideas, all the time,” Shark says. “Sometimes my mom would just say, ‘Daddy wants to talk to you.’ And he said ‘And that? What do you think of that?’ A guy like him has never retired Even until a conversation I had with him a month ago where we talked about how much the industry has changed He was always running over all these ideas .

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Berly lost contact with Shaw shortly after the Stampeders split in 1979. But in 1991, Berly and Dodson were invited to appear on a “where-are-they-now” themed episode of The Dini Petty Show. The producers surprised them by having Ronnie King and Shaw appear on the show. This reunion eventually led to the Stampeders reuniting as a touring act that continues to this day. But Berly said the band decided they didn’t need a manager out of nostalgia, which he now admits didn’t sit well with Shaw. Still, he said they eventually reconciled and he remained friends with Shaw until his death last week.

“I call it North Star for the three of us,” Berly said. “He was our beacon. We were with family. He was a big brother, he was a mentor, he was a manager and he was loved.

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