Riley O'Connor was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Canadian Music Awards and Gala Dinner in Toronto last week. (Photo: Grant W. Martin)
During Live Nation Canada chairman Riley O'Connor's induction into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame - at the 30th annual Canadian Music & Broadcast Industry Awards and Gala Dinner in Toronto - the 40-year concert business veteran thanked his family and many of the people he has worked with along the way, but had a rather poignant message for the Canadian government.
He noted how he realized the dream of seeing Canadian musicians reach national and international recognition, but wants to ensure that Canadian music remains a viable and sustainable growth industry.
"In particular, I've always devoted a significant amount of attention to the amazing venues we have here in Canada and the wonderful people who run them," O'Connor said. "Venues in Canada need to be protected. They're the cathedral of our industry. We must make politicians, community leaders, aware that venues are vital to the artistic fabric of our community.
"If governments and rights organizations regard themselves as a taxation resource, then they should give something back to stakeholders and work with these venues, and, even best, nurture and generate revenue streams for thousands of people to work across Canada."
Arthur Fogel, chairman of global music and chief executive officer of global touring at Live Nation, who has worked directly with Riley O'Connor for 30-plus years, inducts his good friend into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. (Photo: Grant W. Martin)
After beginning in the concert business 1971, O'Connor co-founded Perryscope Concert Productions (which later evolved into House of Blues Concerts Canada) in Vancouver in 1977 with Norman Perry. In 1989, he joined Toronto-based Concerts Productions International (CPI), then House of Blues in 1998. He eventually took over Live Nation's Canada-wide operations in 2007.
The rest of his induction acceptance speech was a brief trip down that memory lane, giving nods to the many people with whom and for whom he worked - Arthur Fogel, Donald Tarlton, Norman Perry, Michael Cohl, Michael Rapino, all significant names in the concert business.
Fogel, he said, has been a "dear friend" and, as an electrician "also let me wire his house once." Tarlton "taught me the art of being a promoter and I will continually teach that art to my colleagues at Live Nation."
Burton Cummings of The Guess Who was on hand to pay tribute to the man who "made me feel like one of the Rolling Stones, always." (Photo: Grant W. Martin)
Of Cohl, he said he learned about risk to reward, "although his measurements were something a little different. Our risk is not having a sustainable business. Our reward will be a vibrant and distinctly Canadian culture of music."
O'Connor - who attended the awards with 40 family members including his three children and many of his wife's side of the family - was inducted by Fogel, chairman of global music and chief executive officer of global touring at Live Nation, who has worked directly with O'Connor for 30-plus years.
Fogel began by saying when he sat down at the dinner table at the awards gala, he heard a song by Martha & The Muffins playing over the speakers. Connecting the dots, he explained that he was tour manager for the group and "that's precisely how I met Riley O'Connor. Here we come full circle."
Fogel applied all kinds of accolades to his friend and colleague. "It isn't just about what you accomplish, but also how you do it and Riley has absolutely done it with class, a sense of humor, and perhaps the most balanced perspective of anybody I've ever met. A true Canadian," he said.
A pre-recorded video then rolled, which included more accolades from such music industry heavyweights as Cohl, Tarlton, Perry, Vinny Cinquemani ( S.L. Feldman & Associates), Randy Lennox ( Universal Music Canada), Bruce Allen ( Bruce Allen Talent), Jim Cuddy ( Blue Rodeo) and Burton Cummings ( Guess Who). O'Connor was called tenacious, honest, quietly dynamic, a warrior in the trenches.
Burton Cummings of The Guess Who sings two songs "only for" Riley O'Connor. (Photo: Grant W. Martin)
"When we started in Vancouver," said Perry, "we realized we had to be a full service company from unloading trucks to making sandwiches for the crew and that gives you an insight that almost no promoter really has."
When the video ended, instead of O'Connor taking the stage, Burton Cummings surprised everyone with two songs, "Albert Flasher" and "Break It To Them Gently."
"Riley you deserve this as much as anyone. Congratulations," Cummings said. "I'm only here to sing a couple of songs for you. Riley has been tremendous for me through the years. Never bullshitted me. If things were going badly or if grosses were down or if they were great, he never gave me bad information. And wow, I remember every time we came to Toronto and there would be a big show, there'd always be lobster for me later. He made me feel like one of the Rolling Stones, always.
"I'll sing a couple for you. They're not for anybody else. They're for you."