The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) honored David Foster, Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance, Alanis Morissette and francophone legend Daniel Lavoie Saturday night (Sept. 24) at a gala ceremony at Toronto’s Massey Hall that highlighted their incredible hit-stacked careers, influence and legacy.
Hosted by platinum-selling Quebec singer-songwriter Marie-Mai, the three-and-a-half-hour show included tribute performances by such artists as Corey Hart, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and Ryan Peake, Alessia Cara, JP Saxe, Charlotte Cardin, Jessie Reyez, Serena Ryder and Chicago’s Neil Donell, backed by a house band.
Deborah Cox — the 2022 inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame — kicked off the ceremony with a showstopping rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” written by Foster and Linda Thompson for The Bodyguard soundtrack.
“It was a song that inspired me to write ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ that landed my own recording deal and got me signed,” she said from the stage. “So had it not been for you and your incredible music, I would not be standing here tonight.”
Her words epitomized an evening filled with praise for the inductees from other songwriters, most of them younger, writing and building on their own catalogue of hits. Serena Ryder — who performed a spot-on version of “You Oughta Know” — told Morissette her songs allowed her to “speak from a place of authenticity and truth.”
Foster, who was inducted into the New York-based Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010, was the first inductee of the night, “once known as the guy who drove Ronnie Hawkins’ tour bus,” Marie-Mae reminded us, who went on to pen hits for Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire and many more, and collect 16 Grammys. Fellow inductee Bryan Adams did the honors (Foster would later reciprocate), calling him “a superb creative legend in the Canadian music industry” with “as much talent as anyone has ever existed here.”
“He’s a musician, producer, performer, artist, label head and songwriter — and publisher too probably. Thank goodness he can’t sing; he’d be a f—in’ nightmare,” Adams’ quipped.
“Nevertheless, his talents are limitless. He’s somebody we all admire and appreciate for his contributions to the music world and philanthropy. I mean, he’s brilliant — and he’d be the first person to tell you himself. Here he is: David Foster.”
Foster, it is true, is not the most humble when it comes to his skills, and rightly so, but does have a sense of humor, used his acceptance speech time to say thank you to some instrumental people to his career, co-writers, managers, arrangers, label execs — and to Canada.
“That’s one of the great things about this country, this incredible community of artists and performers. We support each other. We raise each other up, and to be recognized here, in such exceptional company, is a great honor,” he said, later adding, “To come home and be recognized for songwriting, it’s really the highest praise a musician can hope for.”
Foster then launched into a quick story about his fear of elevators (“Fosterophobia,” he called it) in a tangent; one wasn’t sure where it was going. “A friend and great Canadian said, ‘You know why you don’t go in elevators? Because you’re afraid you’ll hear your own music in there,’” he said to roars from the mostly industry crowd. “I get it. It’s not Alanis. It’s not Bryan. It’s wallpaper music. It’s middle of the road. The kind of songs you play for your grandmother. I say ‘popular,’ but you can say whatever you want. It’s the music I hear and it’s the music that comes through my hands when I sit and play at the piano. I didn’t choose my sound; my sound chose me.
“And for the record,” he added. “I do love all kinds of music: Drake, Bieber, The Weeknd, Bublé — they’re all killin’ it — and they’re all uniquely” — he paused, his arms stretched out wide, as if conducting — and the audience yelled back “Canadian” along with him.
Morissette was next. Marie-Mae said she “has redefined the role and image of a female pop star,” while Jessie Reyez, who performed “Ironic,” lauded, “You contribute so f—in’ much to Canadian heritage and Canadian musicianship and making me feel at home in my imperfections.”
But the person CSHF brought in to induct Morissette is actually American, 19-year-old pop singer Olivia Rodrigo, not even born when Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995. The pair met last year for a Rolling Stone cover shoot. Rodrigo told the room she was 13 when she first heard that classic release. “My life was completely changed. Alanis’ songwriting was unlike anything I’d ever heard before and I haven’t heard anything quite like it since. And that voice — fierce and tender and sometimes funny and playful. I became hooked for life.”
“Alanis captured the anger, the grief and the love of the human experience better than anyone. Her songs unite people and empower people and help them heal. Alanis, you’re a trailblazer and you’ve inspired an entire generation of uncompromising, radically honest songwriting. But even more than your long list of musical achievements, I look up to your character and your kindness most of all,” she said.
“If they had a Hall of Fame for being the most incredible human being with the biggest heart, I’m 100 percent positive you’d be inducted into that one as well,” Rodrigo added.
Morissette, whose speech ran 12 minutes, top and tailed it with a story of wanting to be a writer when she was just six years old. In between, she said, “I don’t want to be too precious about what it is to be a songwriter because there is an element of songwriting that is really non-precious and very stream consciousness.” She says her kids run around the house singing to her, instead of talking. (“I do hit record sometimes.”)
“The songwriting process for me is just so hyper present. It’s like a receptivity muscle that has to be cultivated because I hate writing, by the way; it’s the worst. So when I sit down to write, it’s that sort of daunting, torturous excitement, giddiness, and it’s incumbent upon me to just stop and listen and then hear it, heed it, write it, share it,” Morissette explained. “So when I write it, it’s for me, but when I share it, it’s yours. It’s everyone else’s to interpret as they will.” As an example, she recalled, bemused, of one lady who told her she loved “that song about being in love with your lesbian teacher,” and it was not her place to correct her.
She said she feels that writers and songwriters “mark a feeling that’s really intangible and hard to describe” and that she feels like “a distiller.” She credited Jagged Little Pill collaborator Glen Ballard and the late Tim Thorney for making her feel safe enough to express herself.
She ended her speech by actually reciting the lyric to the first song she wrote (and recorded) at age 6, called “Lungs.” “If that’s not the birth of a legend, I don’t know what is,” she said with a laugh.
After a 15-minute intermission, Manitoba-born francophone artist Daniel Lavoie was feted. His career spans 50 years and 24 albums, and he has written songs for Celine Dion and Nana Mouskouri, among others. His new album is No. 1 in Quebec this week. Fellow Hall of Famer Jim Corcoran inducted his friend, saying 1984’s hit “Ils s’aiment” “alone places Daniel Lavoie high in the tower of song, and that’s why he’s being honored here tonight.” He added that in the late ’90s, in France, “by popular demand” the single “was proclaimed the song of the century.”
“Now Daniel, I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you know more than anybody in this hall that the French are inclined to exaggerate,” Corcoran joked, adding, “On every one of his albums, there are profoundly poetic lyrics and beautifully inspired moments.”
Lavoie did his first acceptance speech in French, and then English. “I did go through 50 some years of songwriting and I realized something I hadn’t realized before — most of us who practice this craft with a good amount of passion, well most of us know how to write a good song. You give us a good subject and a couple of days and maybe a glass of wine or a joint, and we will write a good song. None of us — maybe David Foster excepted — none of us knows how to write a great song. The great songs are decided by you — the public.”
“You decide which of our good songs become great songs, and great songs are important because the great songs are the ones that pull us out of poverty and get us to meet celebrity and get us to make speeches like this at great soirees.”
Capping the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions was the masterful pop songwriting team of Adams and Vallance, honored together, but inducted separately, since they both have distinct and thriving solo careers.
The two met in 1978 at a musical instrument shop in Vancouver; Adams was 18. They worked seven days a week, 12-hour days in Vallance’s basement studio. And yet it took eight years to get their first No. 1 hit, and then their success was meteoric, particularly with 1984’s Reckless which was six singles deep, including “Run to You,” “Summer of ‘69” and “Heaven.” Still working together, they penned the score for Pretty Woman: The Musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2018, and they have three songs together on Adams’ 15th and latest studio album, So Happy It Hurts.
Vallance has also written songs for Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Joan Jett, Heart, Glass Tiger, Anne Murray and the Go-Gos. Adams has 20 Juno Awards, five Golden Globe nominations and three Academy Award nominations.
Vallance was inducted by Lawrence Gowan, a solo artist and frontman for Styx. They wrote two songs together. Gowan recalls suggesting they could writing something “on the fringes and a little esoteric.” But Gowan recalls Vallance “refreshingly, bluntly said, ‘Um, well, I’m interested in the top 10.” Added Gowan, “Jim has lived and triumphed by that credo all his life” and “never once have I ever heard him sing his own praises.”
Vallance kept his speech relatively short. He said he knew he wanted to be a songwriter after seeing The Beatles in 1964 on TV. “60 years later I feel blessed to say music is the only job I’ve ever had. I didn’t do it it alone. I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with and learn from some amazing artists, producers and songwriters. They taught me to dig deep, work hard and set the bar high.” But meeting Adams “changed everything,” he says. “18 years old, talented and tenacious. The only direction he acknowledged was up and I was ready to go on that ride with him.”
Adams, whose video tribute included lovely words from is “When You’re Gone” featured singer Melanie C (“you put so much confidence in me that that helped me go forward and have my own solo career”), was likewise inducted by Foster, who called him “the groover from Vancouver,” although born in Kingston. “You know how you can tell an icon from a pop star? You can recognize him by just their silhouette,” Foster said.
“These soulful ballads, and rock songs about heartache, longing and yearning for simpler times struck a chord with the public and would come to define the Adams-Vallance sound,” he said, noting that “sound reached zenith” on the milestone album, Reckless, “every song a perfectly crafted gem.” “I know for Bryan, success means waking up and getting to do it all again, write a song, record a song and hit the road again.” He’s currently on tour behind So Happy It Hurts.
Adams, who did get more “I love yous” yelled from the balcony than the other inductees, save maybe Corey Hart, congratulated all the other recipients, and praised the tribute musicians and house band. He watched all the performances, tapping his foot and often giving a standing ovation.
“The best advice I ever got as a songwriter came from a guitarist I was working with when I was at teenager,” Adams said. “This was when I was playing clubs and this was when I was about 16. It seemed to me the best way to get out of the sh-tty clubs and into the better sh-tty clubs was to have original music, so I said to him, ‘Man, we should write our own music.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Yeah! — You do it!” he recounted to laughter.
“I want to acknowledge that songwriting for me has always been a team effort. So thanks to all my collaborators, Mutt Lange and Elliott Kennedy and Gretchen Peters. And the thing that makes me most happy about tonight about receiving this award is seeing my great friend Jim Vallance be properly honored. Seriously, I met Jim, as you heard, at a music shop in Vancouver not long after the advice I’d been given, and I still don’t understand why Jim thought it would be a good idea to work with me because I hadn’t done anything. I was just 18 and I couldn’t even afford bus fare to his house; I had to borrow it off him. But Jim’s instincts were right because the first day we got together to write songs, we wrote songs.”
He then told a true story about Vallance’s roommate’s cat marking its territory at the rented house by pissing on their instruments in the basement studio. “The cat was either very territorial or he just hated music because he only pissed where we worked. Each day would start with us searching out what instrument had [been] pissed on, followed by writing songs,” he said with a laugh, making wiping gestures with his hand, then putting it up to his nose to smell — by far the best story of the night.
Adams got a record deal some years later. “The rest of the story is kind of a big catalogue of songs, which some of you may have heard,” he says. “And as my late father would say to me, when something went right, ‘Hats off.’ So in this case, hats off, Jim — and thanks for the bus fare.” He then invited Vallance to join him onstage and finished his speech by thanking his mom (she in the video for the title track to his new album) and longtime manager Bruce Allen.
The evening ended with a special surprise performance of “Tears Are Not Enough,” the 1985 charity single for famine relief, co-written by Vallance, Adams, Foster (and Rachel Paiement). Almost all of the performers from throughout the evening — plus another 2022 inductee, Murray McLauchlan (inducted at Mariposa Folk Festival) — joined some of the performers from the original recording, including Dan Hill, Jane Siberry, and Andy Kim. Foster played piano, and Adams stayed in his seat to take it all in.