INTERVIEW with Much Music ICON, Christopher Ward is back in ‘Black Velvet!’
JUNO Award-winning Christopher Ward is a man with a multi-faceted resume and as far as resumes go, this 72-year-old is among the nation’s most prolific. To leap by decades, he started out on the radio at Trent University, then he became a singer-songwriter and recording artist throughout the 70s, he was an actor, and comedian then after quitting his gig as a performer in Second City’s touring company in 1983 he was hired by Citytv co-founder Moses Znaimer and The New Music‘s creator John Martin to host City Limits, an all-night video show on Citytv, and became a television icon as an originating VJ for Much Music as an on-air personality from its inception in 1984. Christopher continued through the 80s where he interviewed artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, and Tina Turner until his departure in 1989 to focus as an artist manager with the career of rising star Alannah Myles, his then-personal and professional partner. Christopher also became a songwriter on hits for Diana Ross, Colin James, Wynonna Judd, Peter Cetera, The Backstreet Boys, Tina Arena, Roch Voisine, as well, he contributed more than 20 songs over 4 seasons to the soundtrack of the Epitome Pictures for CTV’s Instant Star, Christopher Ward co-wrote and was debuted on the Degrassi Next Generation Hollywood feature. The second Degrassi feature, set in NYC, was seen in the U.S and Canada and contains 5 new Ward co-writes, as well, he co-wrote for Cirque du Soleil with the Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, ‘Banana Shpeel,’ as well his songs have been performed on Idol shows around the world. He also wrote hit songs for Amanda Marshall like Beautiful Goodbye and had this to share, “This song, recorded by Amanda Marshall for her first album, was written by David Tyson and myself with a strict division of responsibilities – Dave had the music completely done when he gave it to me to write a lyric. It’s one of the most challenging that I’ve ever written, I think because I loved the music so much and wanted to do something that measured up. In the end, I wrote the lyric in what I thought of as the hard-boiled noir style of Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite authors, who wrote ‘The Big Sleep’ and ‘Farewell My Lovely.” As well, he shared his thoughts on the song Why Not? that he co-wrote for Hillary Duff, “Why Not was the original version of a song that eventually became Hilary Duff’s first single. The artist is Brooke McClymont, a wonderfully talented Australian singer who co-wrote the song with Matthew Gerrard and myself. The lyrics got tweaked the night before Hilary recorded it to make it more age-appropriate. She was 15 at the time & starring in Disney’s ‘Lizzie McGuire’ show; the song was number 1 on Radio Disney for many months and the TV show soundtrack went platinum!” His best-known and Juno award-winning hit is the worldwide #1 song for Alannah Myles, “Black Velvet.” Here is what Christopher had to say about his song, “This was shot at Alannah Myles’ family cottage in Ontario on the porch of a beautiful log cabin where she, David Tyson, and I wrote many songs for her first 2 albums. The gramophone was found in the root cellar, a happy accident considering the lyric ‘on the Victrola up high’. Guitarist Kurt Scheffter, who plays electric guitar on the song, but not acoustic guitar, is playing the acoustic guitar that I wrote the song on, my old friend the Martin D28 that I still play.”
“The creation of Same River Twice was a process of rediscovery, like falling in love again,” Ward explains. “I started to write songs that reflect my own life experiences, which I hadn’t done in decades and it led me to value what I have and what life’s about a whole lot more. I wanted to share that to empower people to listen to their own inner voices, as I came to terms with mine.” So, you know Alannah Myles’ classic “Black Velvet,” but have you heard it sung by the person who wrote it? Christopher, reveals a completely different experience of the song that’s so familiar? This song in the last year alone, has been covered by Kelly Clarkson, Melissa Etheridge, and The Masked Singer, along with a parade of talent on “American Idol” and “The Voice”
Christopher Ward has recorded a new take on his most recognizable song, and the Billboard #1 “Black Velvet is available now. This songwriter’s take on the classic comes 31 years later and It is worthy of your attention as he releases this song that precedes his forthcoming album, Same River Twice — set for release on May 28, 2021.
With this NEW album, the inspiration was drawn from the greatest songwriters of all time including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Willie Dixon, Laura Nyro, and Hank Williams, as Ward embraced the possibilities of limitless artistic self-expression and a continued and ongoing drive to create. A lover of the process of collaboration, he believes it ultimately makes for a better song — like traveling down a river to discover something new as the ultimate reward. This album was produced by Ward, Arun Chaturvedi, and Luke McMaster, the album signals a homecoming, or a return, if you will. After a career of writing songs for others, His album, Same River Twice, tells his own tale as an artist and writer, having this to share, “It’s a testimony, of sorts, from someone who’s been working life out on a guitar and in a notebook for half a century — and counting, and as times change, and we all age, we still have new stories to tell, ” Christopher continues, “The ground I cover in Same River Twice is personal, and the telling is honest and hopeful. These are songs that say it was all worth it, that our choices matter, and that we need dreams to live for, and these twelve songs of experience, make up “Same River Twice,” along with the reinvention of a classic, “Black Velvet,” that will take you to the places where the song was born.” =
I had the pleasure of engaging some questions with Christopher Ward and here’s what he had to share!
DEB: Q. 1. You began your musical career in the entertainment industry in the early ’70s while attending Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, (the home of The Wire MEGAzine since 1989), where you were a member of the school’s campus radio station. Back in the day, did you ever imagine your career would unfold the way it has?
CHRISTOPHER: “Hi Deb, I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told my fortune all those years ago. I did end up doing things that I love and for that, I am incredibly grateful, but I know that it takes a lot of luck and good timing. I often think about my days at Trent and the freedom I had to make music and then learn all about radio at CKPT, courtesy of Ken Cassavoy who hired me for my first job, doing the all-night show.”
DEB: Q. 2 Pre COVID-19, had you felt a major shift in the music industry compared to when your career began 49 years ago?
CHRISTOPHER: “The music business has changed greatly in the last twenty years or so. The biggest changes are the way that music is created and the way it gets to the fans. Underneath that, I think a lot of the things that make lasting entertainment are the same – great songs, powerful performances, and artists that people identify with.“
DEB: Q. 3. What was the best advice you were given about the ins and outs of the entertainment realm and what advice would you offer to an artist starting out in this day and age?
CHRISTOPHER: “More than advice, the best thing I was given was the faith that a small handful of people had in me from the beginning. I think being a creative person is a gift and a skill, and you have to commit to the work with everything you’ve got. It’s important to seek out talented people to work with and learn from and in the face of challenges, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.“
DEB: Q. 4 Being in the industry as an all-rounded entertainer as an actor, comedian, TV host, original Much Music VJ, broadcaster, on-air personality, artist manager, and author what would you say is your fondest memory to date?
CHRISTOPHER: “I only get 1? 🙂 I’ll give you 3. Being there when my daughter Rachel was born. Watching Joe Carter hit the World Series-winning home run from Row 15 on the third baseline, and seeing my song “Black Velvet” go to #1 on Billboard.“
DEB: Q. 5. Share with us your iconic songwriting process and how Black Velvet came to be? As well, walk us through your 5th album, Same River Twice.
CHRISTOPHER: “I started “Black Velvet” on a Much-Music assignment on a bus to Memphis with 40 Elvis fans and a cameraman. I was fascinated by the images of the south and the passion of my fellow travelers and I made notes that wove into a song once I got home. The ‘new religion’ that’s in the chorus is ‘rock n’ roll’. After some uncertainty, I decided to do a version of ‘Black Velvet’ for my new album ‘Same River Twice.’ We tried to capture a laid-back, front porch, storyteller approach to the song. The songs on the record are more personal; I usually write for other artists and have had the incredible good fortune to have had songs recorded by Diana Ross, The Backstreet Boys, Colin James, Amanda Marshall, and many others. The album was recorded very spontaneously with the players learning the songs the same day we recorded them. I wanted that loose and live feeling you get when something is fresh.“ Christopher continued to share, “I found something meaningful during the process of making Same River Twice, that I thought I had lost. I believe I’ve just made the best music of my life,” he adds. “And I’m not done yet.” He also had this to share, “Deep faith in the creative process led to the making of Same River Twice this past summer. A group of brilliant players and singers gathered in the legendary Orange Lounge studio, and we recorded in a way that harkened back to the classic Motown and Muscle Shoals style of working; I’d play the song on acoustic guitar for the band, then they’d run it down a few times, making notes and talking about the shape of the song. We’d press record.” He continued, “and once everyone was happy, on to the next! It was my belief that capturing a performance of the song, live off the floor and while the players were still discovering it themselves, would lead to the ‘loose and live’ feeling that’s so elusive in recording sessions.” As well, he shared, “How to get those songs recorded was going to be a challenge, but together, my collaborators and I found a way to work safely and still explore the intimacy of playing as a group, bouncing ideas back and forth as we went along. For the players, who had been working exclusively at home for a while, it was like coming out of hibernation, and for me, there’s nothing like the joy of playing together and seeing a song evolve before your eyes.”
DEB: Q. 6. With an in-depth career spanning nearly 5 decades, what would you say is your claim to fame and secret to longevity?
CHRISTOPHER: “I think people will know me for being the first VJ on Much-Music in 1984, and for writing “Black Velvet”. I believe you have to stay open to new ideas and ways of doing things and to enjoy the challenge of trying to live the creative life.” Christopher also shared, “I’m happy with the work I’ve done, but will always want to write another song,” Ward shares, “I can’t imagine retiring, it’s a terrifying prospect for me. I’m a storyteller with a restless imagination, and with this new album, I want to connect with the listener by trying to make the most out of who I am, how I’ve evolved, and by sharing the process of rediscovery. I write something true, that touches someone, that’s where the real gratification is.“
DEB: Q. 7. Some of the most historical and revered music always plays a deeper role in the transformation of societies. Some consider how their work relates to the current sociopolitical landscape or how the music can address these themes. Do you think some of your masterpiece originals touch on current social or political issues?
CHRISTOPHER: “My music lives in the realm of the personal; I’m not an issues-oriented writer. That said, I believe that songwriting that reflects our humanity and our shared struggles, is more important than ever right now.“
DEB: Q. 8. Some artists seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience of navigating the general music realm is, let alone add in Covid-19 and how hard they try to still be
ambitious about getting their artwork seen, heard, and or sold. What are some unique ways you’ve chosen lately to engage with your legions of fans, whether that’s within the top echelon of international art circles or based on your involvement with your local community, despite the challenges of trying to bring your art to the new formatted audiences at home thanks to the Corona Virus?
CHRISTOPHER: “These are challenging times for all of us, and I know that some artists won’t be able to sustain careers through these times. I’m very fortunate in that I’ve been able to make a living with my creative work. Lately, I’ve kept things simple, writing at home about what moves me and feels necessary to say. I bring half a century of songwriting to the process, but I do it with a spirit of adventure and gratitude that I still can! Making “Same River Twice” has given me the opportunity to reach a lot of people with a message of positivity and hope and the belief that our struggles are worth the fight.“
Christopher added author to the long list of his accomplished titles, so don’t delay, check out what he’s up to today by visiting these links below regarding books, podcasts and so much more.
As well, Christopher is involved with the FAMOUS LOST WORDS – THE PODCAST and you too can listen online as Famous Lost Words is a weekly podcast that features the greatest moments from one of the deepest interview archives in the pop world. Tom Jokic, producer of CHUM-FM’s ‘Roger and Marilyn’, and creator of the show, co-hosts with former MuchMusic VJ and Juno award-winning songwriter Christopher Ward as they give you highlights from interviews with everyone from David Bowie and Paul McCartney to Taylor Swift. From an archive of conversations with the elite of the music world, artists like John Mayer, The Bee Gees, and Pat Benatar are by turns revealing, hilarious, and deadly serious but always entertaining. Tom and Christopher bring the perspective of a lifetime in music as observers and participants in these incredible moments, so TUNE IN at https://www.facebook.com/famouslostwords
DEB: Q. 9. Last but not least, what does success mean to you?
CHRISTOPHER: “As your question suggests, success can mean many different things. I feel that being able to continue writing is a form of success on its own. Having the friends I do means the success of a different kind. Being part of a strong family is the best success of all.“
Thank you Christopher for your time today and for this wonderful interview.
Watch The Official Video https://youtu.be/pB7gYPvOw3E
Listen to Black Velvet https://wmcanada.lnk.to/BlackVelvetPR
Pre-Save Same River Twice https://christopherward.ffm.to/samerivertwice.opr
FANS CAN STAY IN TUNE by visiting Christopher Ward’s social platforms: