Exclusive: Canadian songwriter Jim Vallance

Interview with Jim Vallance

As I entered a recording studio facility on February 23, 2020, I first noticed the microphones and mic stands. There were instruments such as guitars, electric guitars, saxophones, trumpets, and more all around the room. I continued to walk through the studio and found a piano in another room. I proceeded to the control room, where sound engineers operate professional audio mixing consoles. The room was filled with recording, mixing, and audio production equipment. I’ll be honest, I had goosebumps. For a moment, I closed my eyes and imagined all the songwriting and creativity happening in these rooms. This is where I met Jim Vallance.  During the past four decades, Jim Vallance wrote hundreds of songs with talented recording artists such as Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, Heart, Alice Cooper, and Bryan Adams.

Canadian songwriter Jim Vallance
Canadian songwriter Jim Vallance

1. When did you know you wanted to get into the music industry? How did you become a songwriter, arranger and producer?

When I was 11 years old, in 1964, I saw The Beatles on television. It was life-altering.  At that very moment, I knew I wanted to be a musician.  The Beatles … and George Martin. I was fascinated by how self-contained they were: writing the songs, singing, playing, arranging, and producing.

2. You started your professional career as a drummer. Can you tell us about the rock band “Prism”?

I wasn’t a member of Prism for very long. I wrote most of the songs on the first album, and I played drums on the album, but I only did one short tour with the band before quitting.

3. You wrote songs for many famous international artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey, Tina Turner, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Europe, Kiss, Scorpions, Anne Murray, Glass Tiger, and Joe Cocker. How did you build relationships with these individuals?

You build relationships very quickly! My friend Bruce Fairbairn was producing Aerosmith, and he asked if I’d like to write with them. The short answer was – yes! So Bruce brought Steven Tyler and Joe Perry over to my house one day and said, “I’ll be back in a few hours, I hope you have a new song for me”. I’d never met Steven and Joe, so you hardly have a chance to get acquainted before you pick up your guitars and get started.

We wrote most of “Rag Doll” before Bruce returned. We wrote a bunch of other songs in the next few weeks, months, and years. That’s when we really got to know each other, spending time together, going out for dinner, having our children spend time together.

4. You wrote songs such as: “What About Love” (Heart), “Spaceship Superstar” (Prism), “Cuts Like a Knife” (Bryan Adams), “Heaven” (Bryan Adams), “Summer of ’69” (Bryan Adams), “Now and Forever (You and Me)” (Anne Murray) and “Edge of a Dream” (Joe Cocker) How did you come up with these wonderful songs?

There’s an excellent interview online, Ed Bradley talking with Bob Dylan. He asks Dylan, “How did you write those songs”. And Dylan replies, “I don’t know how I did that”.

I’m no Bob Dylan, but my answer would be the same. You just sit down with a guitar and a blank sheet of paper, and somehow, a few hours later, you have a song.

5. We would like a moment through your eyes. Can you walk us through the process of creating “Summer of ’69”?

It was just one of many songs were wrote in 1984, nothing special at the time. We had no idea how big it would be, that people would still care about the song 40 years later. In fact, we didn’t think “Summer of 69” was strong enough to include on Bryan’s “Reckless” album.

Canadian songwriter Jim Vallance with Canadian guitarist, singer, composer, record producer Bryan Adams
Canadian songwriter Jim Vallance with Canadian guitarist, singer, composer, record producer Bryan Adams

6. What inspired you to write“Summer of 69”

Sometimes you start with a conversation … like, “what do you want to write about today”? On that particular day we decided to do what Lennon and McCartney had done with “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields”: they wrote about growing up in Liverpool. Bryan and I grew up in different cities, but our experiences were very similar … first guitars, first bands, first girlfriends. So that’s what we wrote about. We wrote it together, from scratch.

7. You also co-wrote an Olympic song with Bryan Adams. Could you discuss this opportunity?

It was a project, a homework assignment … check the boxes, connect the dots, fill in the blanks, make sure the lyric is about the Olympics, but also make sure it’s energetic, anthemic and hopefully inspiring.

8. You co-wrote “Tears Are Not Enough” for Northern Lights for Africa. Why was this song created?

Quincy Jones, the producer of “We Are The World”, asked David Foster to write a “Canadian” song for African famine relief. David asked me to help him, and I asked Bryan and my wife Rachel to join in. Rachel wrote the French lyrics.

Northern Lights for Africa Vallance was involved in the Northern Lights for Africa famine relief cause in 1985 as co-writer and executive producer of the song, Tears Are Not Enough. David Foster had been contacted by Quincy Jones, producer of the USA for Africa ensemble, asking him if he could the same by Canadian artists. The American artists had just recorded theirs and were interested in including one by the Canadian artists on the album. Foster accepted and immediately approached Vallance who he knew was working out of the same studio at that time. Although Foster and Vallance knew each other through the music industry, they had never collaborated on a song before this. Foster arrived at Vallance's home the next day and the two worked on the music in Vallance's home studio. Foster had to leave that evening to return to the studio and left the lyrics to Vallance. Rachel Paiement, Vallance's wife, wrote the French lyrics as she is Franco-Ontarian and a songwriter in her own right. Bryan Adams returned from touring the following day to help complete the lyrics. The title was taken from an unrelated, unrecorded song by Bob Rock and Paul Hyde of the Canadian band The Payola$ who Foster was producing at the time. The songwriting is credited to Foster, Vallance, Adams, Paiement, Rock & Hyde. The recording with the grand ensemble of Canadian artists took place on February 10, 1985 at Manta Studios in Toronto, Ontario. Vallance played the drums on the recording. Vallance was credited as executive producer for recording Bruce Cockburn's part in a studio in Hamburg, Germany.[6]
Tears Are Not Enough, Northern Lights for Africa (Society)

 

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Northern Lights for Africa Vallance was involved in the Northern Lights for Africa famine relief cause in 1985 as co-writer and executive producer of the song, Tears Are Not Enough. David Foster had been contacted by Quincy Jones, producer of the USA for Africa ensemble, asking him if he could the same by Canadian artists. The American artists had just recorded theirs and were interested in including one by the Canadian artists on the album. Foster accepted and immediately approached Vallance who he knew was working out of the same studio at that time. Although Foster and Vallance knew each other through the music industry, they had never collaborated on a song before this. Foster arrived at Vallance's home the next day and the two worked on the music in Vallance's home studio. Foster had to leave that evening to return to the studio and left the lyrics to Vallance. Rachel Paiement, Vallance's wife, wrote the French lyrics as she is Franco-Ontarian and a songwriter in her own right. Bryan Adams returned from touring the following day to help complete the lyrics. The title was taken from an unrelated, unrecorded song by Bob Rock and Paul Hyde of the Canadian band The Payola$ who Foster was producing at the time. The songwriting is credited to Foster, Vallance, Adams, Paiement, Rock & Hyde. The recording with the grand ensemble of Canadian artists took place on February 10, 1985 at Manta Studios in Toronto, Ontario. Vallance played the drums on the recording. Vallance was credited as executive producer for recording Bruce Cockburn's part in a studio in Hamburg, Germany.[6]
Tears Are Not Enough – Northern Lights for Africa (Society)

9. What was it like creating this song with an ensemble of Canadian recording artists on February 10, 1985, at Manta Studios in Toronto, Ontario?

I’m a huge fan of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Oscar Petersen, Burton Cummings. I was thrilled to spend a day in the studio with them.

10. Would you ever consider creating another song like “Tears Are Not Enough” with today’s younger Canadian talent?

It’s a huge thing to put together, getting all those people in the same room at the same time. Remember, we did it to raise money for charity. We sold 3-million singles, plus millions of copies of the album. That was “then”. Nowadays, people don’t pay for music, so there’d be no point in doing another project like that. You wouldn’t raise any money.

Jim Vallance
Jim Vallance

11. You won the Canadian music industry Juno award for Composer of the Year four times. Can you tell us how you felt when you won your first Juno Award?

Getting awards — like a Juno or the Order of Canada — you feel a combination of “Thanks, I’m very grateful” and “Really? Me? I don’t really deserve this”.

12. Just for fun, what was your favourite kind of music growing up? What kind of music do you enjoy today?

My favourite music growing up? Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys. What do I enjoy today? Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys.

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Jovin Tardif

Jovin Tardif is a freelance writer, storyteller, interviewer, reviewer and conversation starter.

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