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Fabulous Flip Sides of Alannah Myles with Christopher Ward

“Black Velvet” Canadian songwriter Christopher Ward discusses songs from his new album “Same River Twice”
C Ward main

GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Same River Twice, but first let’s go back a long time to “Once in a Longtime.” I grew up in Cleveland and my best friend John and I would listen to Canadian radio signals transmitting over Lake Erie. Right across from our suburb of Euclid was Leamington, Ontario, and a little AM station CHYR. They played “Once in a Longtime” quite a bit in 1977. That summer we took a ferry over to Leamington, visited the station, and bought the single. We also came back with a souvenir map of the station’s coverage.

C Ward CHYR

CHRISTOPHER WARD: I hear your Ohio accent, which is easy for me to identify, because every summer my family and I would travel from Toronto to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Lyndhurst, and we loved going there.

GM: Lyndhurst and Euclid are very close to each other. We would also drive to Toronto for record shopping, where the following year I bought your album Spark of Desire, which included songs which were released as singles from 1976 through the end of the decade. You were surrounded by so many wonderful singers and musicians on that album.

CW: The talent, in hindsight on that album, was so phenomenal. Steve Ferrone, of Average White Band fame, was on drums, and he went on to work with Duran Duran, Eric Clapton, and Tom Petty. Jazz bassist Mark Egan was on the record. Canadian legends like Moe Koffman were also there. Plus, we had the Brecker brothers. It was a feast of great talent.

C Ward LP

GM: I love Michael Brecker’s saxophone and Randy Brecker’s trumpet on the finale “Dreamboat,” which was the flip side of “Maybe Your Heart,” your single that we heard on CHUM.

C Ward flip side

Christopher Ward

Flip side: Dreamboat

A side: Maybe Your Heart

CHUM peak date: June 17, 1978

Peak position: No. 17

Warner Bros. CW 4035

CW: Thank you. As I have been promoting the new album, I have been honored to hear from people like you about my back catalog. I have heard those songs mentioned in the past few weeks more than I have in the last thirty years. I am happy that they still stand up. Artists and writers are ready to wince when we hear our old works, because all we hear are the flaws. When I listen to that 1970s album now, it kind of sounds like a different guy, who I know reasonably well, ha ha.

GM: At the end of the following decade, Alannah Myles’ self-titled debut album was released, filled with songs which you co-wrote. Let’s start with “If You Want To,” which was the flip side of “Black Velvet.” It was a bit edgy and mid-tempo, almost like what Celine Dion brought to that era with her initial global success.

CW: That was one of the last songs that David Tyson and I wrote for the album. We wanted to make an album that would be the first one people would play at a party. We wanted to make sure that it included a lot of good, rocking, up-tempo songs. Dave had the musical feel for that song, and it fell into place, and expressed Alannah’s sheer independence.

C Ward Alannah flip side

Alannah Myles

Flip side: If You Want To

A side: Black Velvet

Top 100 debut: January 6, 1990

Peak position: No. 1

Atlantic 88742

GM: “Black Velvet” offered such a subdued message, which I really love. Right after Elvis Presley died in 1977, around the time of “Once in a Longtime,” the song “The King is Gone” was released and I thought it was just too obvious. When “Black Velvet” and Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” were on the radio in the early 1990s, I felt that both of these songs were more fitting tributes.

CW: With “Black Velvet,” a key to not being obvious was not mentioning Elvis by name. It was about Elvis’ music and the impact of his music on his loving fans, more than about Elvis himself.

C Ward Yfantis

GM: I reviewed Vasileios Yfantis book Power Ballads and the Stories Behind earlier this year. In it, he interviewed Alannah about “Black Velvet,” which I quoted in the Goldmine article, “I learned it from its author Christopher Ward who sculptured songs with and for me to sing on my debut album. He wrote something special for me to sing while traveling to Memphis with a bus load of Elvis Presley fans, on their way to tape a special for a tenth year vigil since Elvis’ passing.” I like how you captured a new religion of rock and roll in the song.

CW: As part of my research, I read a book where the author went to the church in Tupelo where Elvis’ family attended and watched the preacher embody Elvis’ stage moves of falling to one knee dramatically, and that is where the new religion concept came from.

GM: You have released your version of “Black Velvet” on the new album, which our readers will enjoy with its sultry sound and harmony background vocals. My favorite song on your new album is “I Will Never Be Loved Like This Again.” It is so subdued and emotional, about an end of a relationship.

CW: Thank you. That one came from the heart, not that they all don’t in some way, but it was a very emotional song for me to write. I was trying to do something more restrained like a Nick Cave-type verse. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have a beautiful ballad called “Are You the One I’ve Been Waiting For,” which can be dark, but he lands on that chorus line so simply, as the answer to all the verses. I was trying to do something darker in the verses that had an honest overall emotional truth in the chorus. Then I launched off into a Beach Boys-like section, so it went through a few changes.

GM: Vocally, I was initially reminded of Brandon Flowers from The Killers with some of his softer songs. I can relate to the imagery on your new song “One True Summer Night.” Across the street from my father’s restaurant in Euclid, there was a Texaco gas station, which closed while I was still young, but I do remember the sign in the winter nights, and I smile when you sing “Texaco is all we need for light.”

CW: It is a nostalgic song, looking back at the time that we all experience before our lives begin for real, in that last stage of innocence where we have some sense of independence, but we really haven’t hit the road to life hard yet. I love that suspended feeling that happens in late summer, not knowing if the people you are with will still be around with you the following year as we grow up.

GM: Your gentle vocal delivery reminded me of Rusty Young of Poco, who we lost just a few months ago, and you also captured that style on your relaxing love song “Sway.”

CW: Like Brandon Flowers, who you mentioned earlier, this is another great reference because Rusty was a great singer. Thank you. “Sway” is like a miniature painting, not trying to do anything too grand or sweeping. It is not a love song where you stand on a rooftop and proclaim love to the world like a Bon Jovi ballad. It is more subtle about people who trust each other and are comfortable with each other, yet the love is still deep and powerful.

GM: We highlighted the early 1990s earlier. As that decade went on, Shawn Mullins had a hit song called “Lullaby,” with a spoken delivery at the beginning. “One Voice Choir” reminds me of that song and even with a touch of country.

CW: Creative people are like sponges. We go out into the world and things that are sticky get attached to us, and later regurgitate them as if they are our own and it is not theft or plagiarism by any means. We absorb all the influences of everything we hear and maybe that is what happened with that particular song.

GM: “Bring Your Love” is an absorption of sounds. There’s a soulful chorus with female harmonies, along with a touch of Hot Tuna-type blues, which is an interesting combination.

CW: That song shows a certain aspect of the making of the album, which is that we did the record live off the floor. We had live musicians in the middle of the pandemic, safely socially distancing ourselves. People had been working from home, but I wanted to bring people together. I love the feeling of musicians being in a room, playing songs together at the same time, finding a feel, having eye contact, and sharing body language. You can picture “Bring Your Love” as a combo on a front porch. It is another one of those hot sultry summer night songs.

GM: With “Once in Longtime” in 1977, that second half of the bridge jumped out at me on CHYR and I feel the same way about “That Ship Has Sailed,” with an exciting full sound, which comes together nicely, but it is that quiet extended bridge which is a surprise reflection.

CW: It is funny to me that you would point that out. I had written this for an artist with a Tom Petty-type sound, but when I came to record it for myself, I rewrote the bridge, so I doubled the length of the bridge, and made it more lowkey than the original version, and I think it improved.

GM: It certainly jumped out at me in a very good way. You mentioned Bon Jovi earlier. The album starts with a guitar oriented, attention grabbing rocker, “Let the Wild Wind In.” What a great way to start the album!

CW: Thank you. It is one of my favorite songs. Having a smokin’ live band in the studio was very inspiring. It was the first song I had ready for the album, the first song we started recording in the studio, and is the first song on the album, so you know it has some significance to me.

GM: The album ends tenderly with piano and strings on “How Long,” a beautiful finale.

CW: Thank you. I really debated on whether that song should go on the album or not. I love the song but was concerned that it might not fit the style of the rest of the record. In the end, the people I was working with insisted that it made the cut. I got bossed around on that one. It is a song very clearly about loss and coming to terms with loss. The further we go on in life the more those experiences are going to accumulate. If you are writing about personal loss, it is hard to write about, not necessarily wanting to expose yourself, but in the end, as you make artistic choices along the way, I felt that this was something that had to be said by a man of my age and experience in life.

GM: It reminded me a bit of what you did with Amanda Marshall in 1996 on “Beautiful Goodbye.”

CW: Ah, that is a great reference point. That was one of my favorite songs that I have ever been involved in writing, which I co-wrote with David Tyson and boy that was a tough song to write. He had this piece of music completely finished and I wrote the lyrics to his music. I was very inspired and almost intimidated when he gave me the music, because it was so touching. I wondered how I could write words to match it. Thank you so much for your time today, not only talking about so many songs from Same River Twice, but also some of my older songs, which was fun. I really appreciate it, you, and Goldmine.

Two hour free songwriting class through christopherward.ca/event

Two hour free songwriting class through christopherward.ca/event

Related links:

Goldmine 2021 book review Power Ballads with Black Velvet

http://alannahmyles.com/

https://www.christopherward.ca/