Music journalist/historian Kevin Howes has been driving across Canada for the past 15 years or so in search of obscure vinyl records of the 1950s to 1980s.
Equipped with a flashlight, face mask and old compact car, the 41-year-old DJ from Richmond Hill, Ont., has scoured everything from flea markets to dusty barns in Hutterite communities and an abandoned hair salon — all in the name of highlighting important fringe artists and learning about Canada's history.
His tireless work has resulted in his first Grammy Award nomination for best historical album for Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985. He's nominated as the compilation producer alongside Greg Mindorff, the mastering engineer.
Howes said he's thrilled the Grammys are giving the artists a moment to finally shine, noting such a category doesn't exist at the Juno Awards in Canada.
"The Canadian music business is a little bit behind the times, I feel, unfortunately, in that capacity," said Howes.
"I hope that things like this can help to raise awareness because there's more than enough Canadian music that's brought back every year through reissues by companies around the world."
The nominated album has 34 newly remastered recordings — from Arctic garage rock of the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, to Yup'ik folk from Alaska and country blues from the Wagmatcook First Nation reserve in Nova Scotia.
The 23 different artists and groups represent a variety of First Nations, Metis and Inuit. They include Willie Dunn, Willie Thrasher, John Angaiak and Lloyd Cheechoo.
"These artists were fairly marginalized outside of their native communities where they were celebrated," said Howes.
"So I started reaching out to the artists, first and foremost to thank them for their music, which had affected me deeply, and then to ask for context: 'How were these records made? Tell me more about your life."'
The project, which also has deluxe sets with archival photos, is intended to bridge generations, cultures and "eras of technology from the analogue into the digital age."
"The vinyl records themselves were pressed in such small numbers, they're literally extinct today and could be lost forever," said Howes.
"People have thrown them in the garbage and disposed of them over the years, or they have a lot of scratches and what have you. So we wanted to digitize them and preserve them for future generations so they can know a little bit about what was going on in those days."
Howes also wanted to let listeners know that some of these artists are still alive and very active in music. And his efforts worked.
Since the album came out a year ago, some of the artists have received concert bookings and been on CBC Radio's q program.
The album has also been profiled in Rolling Stone magazine, Mojo magazine and the Guardian newspaper.
"But it's been more of a struggle in Canada and unfortunately the Juno Awards do not have a category that can recognize such talent," said Howes.
Juno Awards do not have a similar category
Howes said when he discusses the issue with people in the industry, they posit that there aren't enough projects to merit such an award here.
And yet at this year's Grammys, there's also another historical album with Canadians behind it.
The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, featuring music of Bob Dylan and Toronto's the Band, was co-produced by Jan Haust and co-engineered by Peter Moore, both of Toronto.
Howes said he'd like to collaborate with the Junos, the CBC and Library and Archives Canada to help preserve material that "people in future generations should know about."
"If the stories aren't documented, if the music isn't digitized, it could be lost forever and I think that would be a crime."