Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ben Kaye - Montreal Music Industry Figure Passes

Sadly, another music industry figure has passed away. Ben Kaye, well known and highly respected music industry artist manager and producer in Montreal, has died at age 68 from cancer. I have known Ben since I was in my late teens, just getting my own career underway, and even worked for him for a short while on a freelance basis in the early 70s. When I began my radio career as music director, Ben would often come by the radio station to promote his latest record production.

Here is the story from National Post.

Ben Kaye, one of the driving forces behind Quebec's pop music scene in the 1960s who later latched on to Celine Dion's rising star and went on to become one of her most trusted advisors, died of cancer Saturday at his home in Westmount. He was 68.

"I have always believed in one goal: fame and the fortune that goes with it," Kaye boasted in a Montreal Gazette interview 40 years ago when he was hustling to break in to show business. "I concentrate on the two most important factors: sound and sight.

"Everything starts with the song. If it's good, the sky's the limit. If you can't come up with a song, no matter how good the band, you're history."

****Benjamin Kushnir, a house painter's son, was born in Montreal on Dec. 12, 1938, and grew up in Plateau Mont Royal. While at Baron Byng High School, he wrote songs, skits and revues.

At 17, he was writing jokes for stand-up comics who played the El Morocco and the Bellevue Casino in Montreal. In the 1950s, he was the lead singer of a short-lived local band, the Four Kools.

At 20, he went to work as a promotion assistant to talent scout Ziggy Wiseman, who worked out of the Show Mart on Berri Street, then a venue for rock 'n' roll road shows.

Kaye's big break came in 1961 when he signed Les Baronets, a quartet who covered Beatles songs in French, and became full-time manager of the group.

One member of Les Baronets was Rene Angelil, who would one day manage and marry Celine Dion.

Kaye successfully promoted another Quebec group, Les Classels (Class Sells), who dressed in white, played all-white instruments and dyed their hair tomatch and went on to become a hit in the United States.

He also wrote two of their hit tunes, Le sentier de neige and Ton amour a change ma vie.

Brash and energetic, Kaye became a show-biz salesman representing Ginette Reno, Patsy Gallant, Michel Pagliaro and Roger Doucet.

When Angelil signed 12-yearold Dion in 1980 and made her an international star, Kaye went on to become a senior consultant in her production company, Les Productions Feelings, negotiating the diva's contracts, including her most recent three-year stint at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

"He was fearless, and what's more he had a terrific sense of humour," Dion writes in her biography, My Story, My Dream.

"One of his most amazing stunts was to form a chorus with everyone who happened to be in a particular restaurant. He'd have them all sing, even the waiters. If anyone refused to sing, he'd have them make noises with their mouths or play percussion. The result was tremendous."

In recent years, Kaye divided his time between Paradise Island in the Bahamas and Montreal.

© National Post 2007