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Al Mair, Canadian Music Industry Pioneer and Attic Records Co-Founder, Dies at 82

Over a career lasting more than five decades, Mair served as a label boss, artist manager and cherished mentor.

Alexander “Al” Mair, Canadian music industry pioneer, one-time manager of Gordon Lightfoot and co-founder of successful indie label Attic Records, died Nov. 25 at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital of cancer. He was 82. 

Former publicist and indie promoter Richard Flohil broke the news about his long-time friend’s passing on Friday, posting on Facebook that Mair “was a kind and generous man who will be missed — and always remembered — by his family and the organizations and individuals whom he helped and mentored. Al was always one of the good ones.” 

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Mair’s son, Sebastian Mair — who followed his dad into the music industry and now lives in Japan where he co-founded Music Solutions — tells Billboard, “My father was passionate in his love for music and championing Canadian culture. He was a mentor to many people in the global music industry, including myself. My family and I miss him very much.” 

In June, Mair was named an appointee of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor bestowed upon a citizen, “for his visionary and enduring contributions to the Canadian music industry.” On Nov. 22, Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell presented him with the medal in his hospital room. 

Among other industry recognitions, Mair was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2014 during Canadian Music Week and received the Builder Award from the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) in 2016. 

In a statement released Monday, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS) noted that Mair was “foundational in establishing industry infrastructure” in Canada. Allan Reid, president & CEO of CARAS/The JUNO Awards, who worked alongside Mair and his team at Attic Records for many years as part of the A&M family of labels, added, “Al was a pioneer in the Canadian music industry and helped shape the landscape as we know it today. I’m saddened to hear of his loss and my heart goes out to his loved ones.” 

Mair got his start in music in the 1950s when he was still a teenager, working at a record store and deejaying at dances and weddings. His first industry job was at Capitol Records overseeing royalty payments, followed by roles at London Records and Compo Company. He next joined United Artists, promoting such acts as Gordon Lightfoot and The Irish Rovers. In 1968, he began managing Lightfoot, a relationship that lasted until 1976.  

In 1974, Mair co-founded Attic Records with former Warner exec Tom Williams. Over its nearly three-decade run, the label’s roster included Triumph, Anvil, Lee Aaron, The Nylons, Teenage Head, Patsy Gallant, Hagood Hardy and rapper Maestro Fresh Wes, Canada’s first Black artist to go platinum. The company also distributed such international acts as Creed, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jennifer Warnes and Katrina and the Waves. Its publishing division represented the Canadian rights to such acts as The Beatles, Elton John, Genesis, ABBA, James Brown and The Cars

In 1984, Mair bought out Williams’ stake in Attic and, after running it solo for the next 15 years, sold the label to newly formed The Song Corporation in 1999. Song Corp. declared bankruptcy in 2001, and Attic’s Canadian catalog and masters are now owned by Unidisc Music.  

According to a press release announcing Mair’s induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Attic Records boasted sales of over $100 million in Canada and scored over 100 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums in Canada, the U.S., U.K., Holland and Japan.

Mair was remembered by those across the industry as news of his death began to circulate. A Facebook post by female-owned Six Shooter Records paid tribute to Mair as a mentor and called him “a giant in our music community. A true builder. Staunchly independent and staunchly Canadian, he was a leader in helping to build our infrastructure through CIMA (then known as CIRPA) to create tools like Cancon and FACTOR so that a domestic industry was able to take root and grow.”  

Others who paid tribute on Facebook included songwriter and publisher Vince Degiorgio, who praised Mair as a “trailblazer and legend,” while publicist and author Kevin Shea called him “a visionary leader [and] a wonderful boss.” Also on Facebook, Cadence Music Group vp of artist and label relations Linda Bush called him “more than a mentor to me, he was my industry Dad. His constant encouragement and critiques really gave me the confidence to turn a music obsession into a career.” In his own Facebook post, Curve Music founder Brian Hetherman added that Mair was ”a building block of the Canadian music industry,” who “not only gave me some of the best advice about starting a label I have ever had, he walked me through all the things I needed to do to survive.” 

After selling off Attic Records, Mair remained active in the music industry as a consultant. During this period, he became known for filling friends’ Facebook Messenger inboxes with links to the latest industry news and amusing tidbits. Over the last couple of years, a select number of his industry colleagues were invited for one-on-one chats at his local Shenanigans restaurant while indulging in a chocolate sundae, including Flohil, Greek-Canadian guitarist Pavlo and former Warner Music Canada vp Steve Waxman

“They actually took the chocolate sundae off the menu last week but I’m trying to get it reinstated,” Mair wrote after musician Pavlo posted a photo of the two of them at Shenanigans. It’s unclear whether he achieved that particular mission, though there are few executives who can rival his achievements in the Canadian music business. 

In a comment on Flohil’s Facebook post, Mair’s daughter, Jen Mair – a publicist at the National Film Board of Canada – noted that no funeral service will be held. “We will scatter his ashes as he wanted, and my brother and I have talked about doing some kind of celebration of life next year…stay tuned,” she wrote.