Cross Country Checkup·Q&A

Former VJ Christopher Ward on the return of MuchMusic & recording his hit Black Velvet

Parent company Bell Media announced last month that MuchMusic would return July 7 as a digital-first network on the social media platform TikTok. The channel's former VJ Christopher Ward says he welcomes it.

Songwriter shares his favourite summer song with Checkup host Ian Hanomansing

Songwriter Christopher Ward was the first VJ for the television station MuchMusic. (Submitted by Susan Willemsen)

Former MuchMusic video jockey Christopher Ward is looking forward to the revival of the iconic Canadian music channel that launched his career.

"I think it's fantastic and I'm available if they need a new VJ — not!" he told Cross Country Checkup host Ian Hanomansing with a laugh.

Parent company Bell Media announced last month that MuchMusic would return July 7 as a digital-first network on the social media platform TikTok.

Ward is perhaps best known as one of MuchMusic's first stars, helping to launch the channel in 1984. But he's also an accomplished songwriter. Ward is credited on songs by performers including Diana Ross, the Backstreet Boys, Roch Voisine and Alannah Myles — most notably on her breakthrough hit Black Velvet.

It's a challenge trying to reinvent something or go back to what worked before but my hat's off to them.- Christopher Ward on the return of MuchMusic

Ward, author of Is This Live? Inside The Wild Early Years Of Muchmusic: The Nation's Music Station, spoke with Hanomansing about his favourite Canadian summer jam, the relaunch of MuchMusic and recording his own rendition of Black Velvet.

Here is part of that conversation.

When you think of quintessential Canadian summer songs, what comes to the top of the list for you?

The first one I think of, Ian, is Sunny Days by Lighthouse. I just love that song. And in Canada, I mean let's face it, we have a deeper appreciation for summer because it's so precious. Sometimes it's like we sort of clutch onto every ray for fear that it's the last. 

But this guy in Sunny Days, he's got it all worked out. He's kicking back. He's listening to his radio ... and he is having the time of his life just letting summer unfold. And that, to me, is kind of the spirit of summer.

Let's talk about summers at MuchMusic a little bit in the early 80s. Reading your book, which was a fantastic read, [it was] a zany time at MuchMusic. Do any summer memories come to mind?

I have one very powerful one in the summer of 1985. I was sent on assignment to London [England] to cover Live Aid and we did a whole bunch of things and a lot of interviews and covered a lot of ground while we were there. 

But, of course, the peak event [was] the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, and that's just an indelible memory. I can close my eyes and picture the event and the people and just the crowd of 80,000 people, and just a great feeling that people had of making a contribution to something meaningful.

I bet there were places you got to go to — on stage, backstage, wherever else — that in 2021 would be locked down by security.

We actually did not, and I think it's partly because there were royalty there.... But normally, you're right, we had incredible access and it was kind of new found for the artists to receive that degree of exposure. [At] Much, we got on board the tour bus and we were backstage. We were in the dressing room and sticking a mic in people's faces. 

Before that, the kind of TV shows where people would see their favourite artists it was generally a performance. Maybe Wolfman Jack would come over and go, "Hey, how's it going?" and that would be it. So MuchMusic really broke a lot of ground that way.

MuchMusic is relaunching itself on the social media platform TikTok. What do you make of that?

It's interesting because they're appealing to a whole generation that never saw Much in its heyday and maybe even have zero idea of what Much represented to music fans in the day.

I do think that the chemistry could work again. I think people ... need that kind of strong connection to their favourite artists, the one that Much provided so completely back in the day. 

But I don't know, it's a challenge trying to reinvent something or go back to what worked before, but my hat's off to them. I think it's great.

You released a new album, Same River Twice. It includes a new version of Black Velvet. I know you co-wrote the song, but Alannah Myles's version is so distinct in our minds, in our ears. Her voice is so fantastic. You've taken on a pretty big challenge.

You got that right, Ian. I thought long and hard about this, and I almost backed out. And the co-producers I was working with said, "Oh no, we're doing it." So I kind of got bullied into doing it. 

But seriously, you know what it was? I thought I must, as the writer of the song, have something that I can bring to it that people haven't heard. So I try to go back to when I very first wrote it — imagine sitting on a front porch and tapping your foot on the wooden floor boards and it's that steamy night you're talking about. And I think I brought some of that feeling. 

Alannah sings this incredibly beautiful, powerful torch version of the song. I couldn't touch that in a million years, so I just didn't try.

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Arsheen Shamaila. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

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