15 facts about Richard Flohil as he celebrates his 85th birthday
Iconic Canadian industry mogul Richard Flohil has already had lots of practice at birthday parties. He’s had so much practice at growing old gracefully that no one around the scene is currently laying claim to being older than him. At 85, he goes on connecting the dots, colouring inside and outside of the lines, as he has been for 51 years. “There IS no box,” as he likes to say.
His thinking has always been a step ahead, from promoting the euphoria of the jazz giants to being a first responder to the squareness crisis in ancient Toronto, driving the Mariposa Festival into a vertical whirlwind of talent that siphoned all the forces of 60’s counterculture into the city’s fabric.
He is hosting yet another epochal event, 85 Is The New 65, upcoming birthday bashThe Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto ($25 in advance / Doors: 8:00 pm), with all proceeds going to the Unison Benevolent Fund.
Given his loquacious and outspoken advocacy of folk, jazz, soul, country and blues music, in all varieties of publicity, in publications and in pubs, you may be forgiven for having already formulated an opinion about his renegade attitude and never-ending stories. Be not deceived. There’s waaaay more:
- Flohil Food: I have not eaten a vegetable since I was 16. The English are not good with preparing vegetables at the best of times, but during the war it was beyond awful. I said I don’t want any more vegetables. My mother said, “You have to,” but I was working at the Yorkshire Evening Press and paying rent, and my father said, “He’s a stubborn young bugger but he’s got a point.” Which is why I’m still alive and well. Chips and Cheesies.
- Flohil Fail: Downchild Blues Band, after spending 39 years with me, fired me on my 75th birthday. It was funny that they then came back and asked me to write the bio for the band because I knew more about them than anyone in the band. Donny has gone through over 100 musicians. At first I was going to just say stuff it. I was upset, but I did it. It’s a little unusual though. I don`t know if they`ve used it yet.
- Flohil at the Fountain: I’ve been withholding a lot lately, but dark rum and coke is my tipple. I may start drinking again just for this party.
- Flohil’s Fondest Successes: I got the most publicity ever for Sneezy Waters’ Hank Williams The Show He Never Gave. It was an epic show. One night he went downstairs in costume on the break, and a lady of indeterminate age came up to him and said, “Hank. I ain’t seen you since Belleville.” It freaked him out. Or Crash Test Dummies, whom I helped find a record deal. Or Justin Rutledge, whom I strong-armed Shauna DeCartier of Six Shooter Records into signing years ago. And as a concert promoter/publicist — B.B. King, of course, Buddy Guy, The Chieftains, Stephane Grappelli, Miles Davis, Leon Redbone, Bobby Blue Bland…
- Flohil’s Flock: Since I started some 50 years ago, I’ve always worked with smart young women — they’ve changed my sensibilities, and they’ve done well. Some, like Jadea Kelly and Melanie Brulée, have become successful independent artists. Others, including Sarah French and Laurie Lockhart, started their own publicity companies and have been remarkably successful. Some have gone into other areas — Sarah Erickson works with Allan Wells, who has a management company. Susann Weinelt is back in Germany, working with the German equivalent of CD Baby. Michelle Bateman promotes concerts in Northern Ontario. And others have built careers as wives and mothers and accountants — you name it — and I’m proud of every one of them. Two of the associate editors ofThe Canadian Composer, which I edited for CAPAC for 20 years, “graduated” to working at Macleans. I never paid them very much, — not because I was cheap — but I’ve never really made very much money, and I’m probably a shitty businessman, but they’ve been loyal friends ever since.
- Flohil’s Signature White Scarf: No real story — the scarf is just an affectation, an identifier! If I was a country singer, I’d have a cowboy hat. I’ve just got the one right now, given to me by my friend Nicole, who used to run a bar in Parkdale called Not My Dog. Every now and then I lose them, and it’s always a panic to find a new one…
- Flohil’s Festival Fetish: I am evangelical about folk festivals. I’m going to seven festivals this summer. My remains will return in mid-August. I went to Mariposa in 1965 and it changed my whole life. It’s so powerful and such a wonderful way to discover all these genres that make up folk. There was a woman last year named Liz Scott who absolutely put her stamp on it, and it was the most successful Mariposa they’ve ever had – the programming was superb.
- Flohil Goes West: My wife and I parted amicably, and I’m now in the west end. Sold the house downtown.
- Flohil’s Beef with Provincialism: I think that some audiences are more resistant to change than others. I’ve been a blues fan all my life, but the blues audience is pretty close. They don’t listen to much else. And artists who push the genre a bit, like Jenni Thai or Paul Reddick, don’t always get the acceptance they deserve.
- Flohil’s Friday Fling: This is not a party just for me. That’s just an excuse. Anyone is welcome to come and maybe discover some new music. The bill so far includes Ariana Gillis,Cat and the Queen (“eccentric, theatrical and over-the-top, totally entrancing”), Jay Aymar, Jenie Thai (“energized and a real communicator as an artist”), Loryn Taggart, Paul Reddick, Russell deCarle, Saint Stella (“a burlesque artist: funny and iconoclastic”), house band Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (“her great band did this for me on my 80th birthday as well”), Shakura S’Aida, Sonya Coté (“her daughter Lena will be joining her”), Washboard Hank (“he called me and said I’ve got to be on your birthday party”) and more to be announced! I love the idea that there is a financial resource for musicians, so I’m paying all the money made to the Unison Fund.
- Flohil’s Richardness: Don’t call him Dick unless you are Bonnie Raitt. Well. Are you?
- Flohil’s Future: Well when you’re 85, the specter of mortality hovers around you, and you don’t want to get miserable about it, but I have quite a few things still on my bucket list: trips to Australia and New Zealand and the book to finish and publish.
- Flohil’s Folio: This book project that I’ve been working on for eight years is going to be called The Night Miles Davis Tried to Buy My Car and 100 Other Mostly True Stories From The Edge of Music.I’m working on the layout now with my friend Michael Wrycraft and I think it will go to the printers late fall. Then I’ll go on the festival circuit next year and just flog it.
- Flohil Fever: I love the heat. I just want to lay there by the pool at Oasis and burn parts of me that don’t normally see sunshine.
- Flohil’s Faith: Whenever I lose confidence or faith, whenever anyone sends me a note thanking me, saying good job, whatever, I put it in a file called “Nice Letters,” and when I’ve screwed something up bigtime, I open it and feel like I’m not a complete idiot after all.